Monday, August 31, 2009

Day 8 - Bicycle Blog

We took our bikes (Mane, Vespera, Mango, Novio & I) to the bike shop on the Greenway today (2 miles round trip) to get a drink holder, fenders & a light for Vespera, and some little part for Mango to be able to take the trailer attachment off his bike & give it to me. Once I have a trailer, I'll be able to do "real" grocery shopping with my bike.

Over the weekend we took the car to Petsmart to get bedding for our little rat. Target was right next door (read: did not involve extra driving). So, I picked up what we needed at Target. Later I did a run with the car to the co-op for a larger quantity of groceries than I can carry on my bike. And we drove to my parent's house (an hour drive) for their annual fiesta. It looks like SO MUCH driving after spending most of the week on a bicycle.

Ok, so you're all curious about Martha, right? Well, the simple truth is that Martha is the name of Mane's bicycle. She called her first bicycle Martha, and she's decided that it's ok for successive bicycles to be named Martha as well. It's somewhat useful for her bike to have a name, as we can talk about how hard Martha is working and how we know she can make it up the next hill with a little help from Mane. Mane loves the imaginary game and is willing to keep going just a little longer, even when she's worn out. She can often be heard saying, "Come on, Martha! You're doing great!" or, "Don't worry Martha, we don't have to go too fast." When she leaves Martha in the garage, Mane tells her to enjoy her rest with her friends (the other bikes). When it came to writing a blog about cycling, it just seemed right to commemorate Martha! So, there you have it. Plain and simple.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Day 4 - Bicycle Blog

We biked to the co-op today for our second round of groceries this week (3 miles round trip). I'm learning just exactly how much I can fit in that crate on the back of my bike!

I love how friendly people are when we're out biking. I love it that people always smile to see Mane riding along on her bike with her pink basket & streamers. I love feeling NOT hurried. I don't know why I felt hurried before. It's not like I've been in a big hurry to grocery shop, but somehow the fact that we're biking lets my brain know that we're not in a hurry. We're just living life and doing what needs to be done.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Day 2 - Bicycle Blog

We biked to the library today...approximately 6 miles round trip. And I've decided I'm not sure how I feel about taking a 7 year old "city biking." We ended up in downtown during rush hour with hurried car drivers and lots of street noise. Mane behaved excellently, but I found it a bit stressful myself. She's too young and small to ride on the street. So, we use the sidewalks. This means the people turning right don't care if we're getting ready to cross the street in front of them. They barely even slow down on their way around the corner. I only had to grab Mane's arm once to keep her from riding in front of an oncoming car, but that was enough. I'm thinking I might be putting some more planning into what routes we use and possibly avoiding downtown entirely by taking the light rail instead.

I was going to write about Martha today, but it's getting late. So, I'll save that for another time.

A Bike Named Martha

If you want to follow our progress with the biking experiment you can go to my newest blog: A Bike Named Martha. It's still a work in progress at the moment, but I wanted to start writing about it right away!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Day One - Bicycle Blog

We biked to the co-op for whatever amount of groceries would fit in my bicycle "crate," and we biked to the clinic to pick up a medication refill. Total distance today: 4 miles. Mane's current record is a little over 6 miles in a day.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Biking Everywhere

We have some friends. Let's call them Mr. & Mrs. Bicycle. They bike everywhere...literally. They have no car, and they live here in this city. They are happy, well-adjusted people with real jobs, and a child. There's a second child on the way, too, by the way. They don't flaunt their no-car status. In fact, it's kind of hard to get them to talk about it. They just live like this, and I completely admire them.

I'm not sure what attracts me the most. Of course, there are the environmental benefits of riding a bike, rather than driving a car. The kind of car driving I tend to do is the absolute worst - city driving, stop and go, quick trips here & there with lots of turning the car off & restarting after a quick errand. I've been aware of this for some time now, though, and it hasn't compelled me to do a whole lot about it. (For which I feel somewhat guilty.)

There are health benefits, too, to be sure. One certainly burns more calories and builds more muscle on a bike than in a car. It actually occurred to me how funny it all is, actually, when you think about sit down and have the car carry you half a mile to the grocery store. Half a mile was easily in the daily or several-times-daily repertoire of our ancestors.

But, still, the health benefits are not the most compelling.

About a week ago I went to Mr. Bicycle's house in the afternoon along with Vespera. She helps him run a bicycle repair and refurbishing business/charity out of his garage a few afternoons a week. Mango & Mane came along. I went because I had a trail-a-bike type apparatus to give to Mr. Bicycle. We all stayed because we'd biked all the way over there, and, well, it seemed like a comfortable place to be. We got our hands dirty repairing a few bikes. Vespera dug right in, knowing exactly what to do and where everything was kept. All kinds of people, from up and down the alley and all through the neighborhood stopped by. Some already knew Mr. Bicycle, and some came to ask a favor or buy a bike because they had been referred by someone else. A few came to practice their Spanish or teach a few words in Somali. It was unhurried, even leisurely.

Yes, that's it. Mr. Bicycle is never, ever in a hurry. In spite of the fact that he must plan all of his trips with extra time for biking (though he is fast), he's somehow never frantic. Maybe, just maybe, cars contribute to our hustle and bustle, hurried lifestyles. We can get somewhere more quickly so we squeeze more into the day and wait until the last possible moment to leave for anywhere. Even I, as planful as I am, often feel hurried, though I'm notorious for being on time or even early. The truth is, being early requires hurrying, too.

Mr. Bicycle said something when we were there in his alley the other day that rings so true, too. He said that he hated the winter until he started biking in it. Imagine that! Most of us, even here in hardy Minnesota, might agree to a 3-season bicycle experiment. But to bike in WINTER? Minnesota Winter? I wouldn't believe it, except that last year all the kids & Mango got snowboards, and I went out on skis, and we had fun in the Minnesota winter. I had been looking on-line for ways to beat the winter blues in MN, and I read somewhere that if you're going to live in the winter in MN, you have to embrace the winter, you have to get OUT into the winter and enjoy it. And how true that we can often find something to embrace when we just stop struggling so hard against it.

Next to not being hurried, I find that I enjoy the simplicity of biking. Mango told me the other day that the bicycle is the most efficient human-powered machine ever invented. That attracts me somehow. If you get around Minneapolis much, you'll see that many people have turned this bicycling simplicity into an art form. Bicyclists are inventive and creative in the ways they find to convey themselves and carry cargo. Very creative, and, yet, still so simple...homemade, backyard solutions. Anybody can learn to fix their own bike. Most people will never learn to fix their own car. And fixing a bike takes a few minutes, maybe an hour. Putting a new transmission in our car took all day.

Mango uses the word "freedom" when talking about riding a bike. He talks about how biking is "coloring outside the lines." It's outside the box, maybe even outside the rat race. It doesn't confine you to following google maps to get to your destination. It frees you from consuming the world's resources, unplugs you from the grid for just a little while. Biking allows you the freedom to stop and say "hello" to your fellow commuter, to not just move from "one climate controlled environment to another" (Mango's words again), but to actually experience the world and interact with it. Biking means being out in the world in a way that you cannot be if you're commuting in a car.

This is what attracts me. It's the simplicity, the living and breathing of real life, the interaction with the world and fellow human beings.

I also love it that Mane sleeps really well at the end of a "biking" day.

So what am I doing about it? As a homeschooling experiment, Mane & I are going to keep track of the errands we run, the places we go every day, and where we could go bike. We're going to keep track of how much we use the car, and how much we use it when we didn't have to use it. It isn't to make anyone feel guilty. It's to raise awareness, to play with the possibilities, to increase our dependence and our freedom. I have blocked out an hour and a half each morning on my extremely flexible homeschool schedule for getting out and getting active. Building biking into the plan will hopefully turn it into a habit...and then a lifestyle.