Thursday, June 6, 2013

Car-free living: The beginning


I have planned for awhile to write a series of posts about how and why I came to be living car-free. This is the first installment, chronicling my initial foray into biking and walking for transportation. 

Posing after walking home from the store in the rain, May 2004
Nine years ago this month I started regularly biking and walking for transportation. I did not take those first car-free trips out of concern for my carbon footprint, a desire to get fit, or the need to save money. I did it for a simpler reason: I had to. I would not have said so at the time, but I like to think that it was fate who intervened to get me out of my car so I could experience the joys of human-powered transportation.

I took my first steps toward a car-free lifestyle in April 2004 when I broke my right arm playing ultimate frisbee. My car was a manual, so a broken arm meant no driving for the month my arm was in a cast. Forced out of my car, I walked where I needed to go. Our campus was relatively self-contained and I rarely had to leave its bounds. When I did to make a trip, my usual destination was Wal-Mart--the primary shopping spot of students and locals alike.

The closest Wal-Mart was located just down the street from the college. When I say "just down the street" I mean that quite literally--the edge of campus practically touches the Wally World parking lot. Walking from the dorms to the front doors of Wal-Mart takes fifteen minutes, twenty if you are really slow or stop to chat with friends. If you take into account all of the time it takes to walk to a car in the campus parking lot, get in, drive down the street, park in the lot at Wal-Mart, and walk to the store's front doors, driving maybe saves five minutes.

Before I broke my arm, I always drove to the store. Always. I cringe typing that and find it embarrassing on many levels. It took me being physically unable to drive to realize how silly and wasteful it was to use a motor vehicle to travel half a mile. Unbeknownst to me, I had been a clown.

I am thankful for life's intervention (even in the form of a broken arm), because through it I discovered one of life's truths: walking (and later biking) is more fun than driving. No navigating parking lots looking for the best spot! No contending with angry drivers speeding to their destination! No wasting money on ever-more-expensive gasoline! Instead, I peacefully strolled where I needed to go. Bliss.

My cast came off a week before heading home for the summer. Inspired by my time out of my car, I went to the local sports shop and bought a bicycle. That summer I biked to work, summer league, the library, and friends' houses. There was no turning back; I was hooked.

It would be more than five years before I would sell Rocketstar* and officially become car-free, but m journey started when I made that first trip to Wal-Mart on foot. I would like to think that I would have gravitated toward biking and walking for transportation even if I had not broken my arm, but it is hard to say. All I know is that I am glad I was forced out of my comfort zone and reevaluated my driving habit. My life is richer** for it, broken bones and all. 

*Special thanks to Abby for so aptly naming my beloved 1992 Honda Accord
**Both literally and figuratively

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