Friday, July 30, 2010

Slow biking - this is the biking for me:

Um, I'm accidentally following my own blog, and I don't know how to unfollow. Can we say blogger incompetent? Oh well nowhere to go from here but up I suppose.
We rode in Critical Mass tonight! And it was so much fun. This is the first time we've ridden this year in it, and of course we took the Xtracycle. I was a bit nervous because everyone there is so much more of a hipster than I, and frankly I look like a dweeb trying to get on and off the bike, plus I don't ride fast. So we went, and starting off we were leaving a crowded park and I felt all shaky and worried. But the blockers encouraged me to go ahead of them, and soon we were riding confidently along the road. It was great. We took some main streets, dinged our bicycle bells, and yelled stuff like 'We like bikes!' and 'We're not causing the traffic, we are the traffic!' (The 'causing' bit is my Japanese friend's interpretation of the slogan, I think it's usually 'blocking.' Love that). The 6 year old was mesmerized by the guy who was awesome at curbhopping and getting good height while doing it, and the guy with no saddle who sat sideways on his bike for a bit. Cool tricks she is determined to try at some point (probably not soon, realistically, but hey who's gonna tell her that).

Awesomely, we did the whole ride, me and both kids and I just came home and plotted the ride up, the Critical Mass ride, and the ride home, on google maps. 13 km. Did not feel hard. Which is awesome because I've been wondering if I can commute to school. It is 4 km from my house to the 6 year old's school, and then 7 km from her school to the university - the first bit I would do with both kids, second bit with just the 2 year old.

I'm thinking I can totally do it. Just go slow and I can go really far.

And I need to start taking more pictures to post on this blog!!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Just took the 2 year old for a spin on the Xtracycle to do some shopping. We went about 8km or so, picked up some tomatoes and corn at the downtown market, some grips for the 6 year old's handlebars (I phoned her at her dad's from the bike shop and she chose white - the colour is uber important dontchaknow), and then headed for the east end market, but turned around a block from it because 2 year old passed out in the PeaPod.

The Xtracycle is very, very easy to ride with just the 2 year old. I feel so light and springy on it with just her that I'm getting really cocky and super enjoying the ride. But managing the bike when I'm not actually on it is another story. I don't have the double kickstand, can't justify the price right now ($135 US I believe), so although the single kickstand is surprisingly sturdy I leave one hand on it at all times with the toddler on it. Which makes for some fun times at the outdoor market buying tomatoes, finding money, and digging my shopping bag out of the panniers to load it up and put back in the pannier, all one handed and ready to support the weight should the bike start to go down. I actually did pretty well with that, but getting the bicycle through doors is hilariously unwieldy. I am sure I looked ridiculous going both into and out of the bike shop downtown for example. My strategy is to support the bike, open the door, get myself and the first part of the bike through the door, and then kind of fling it open and yank the rest of the bicycle through before it bangs shut. Ahhh!!!! This is actually pretty doable with nobody aboard the bicycle, but with the toddler on, her weight makes the back end of the bicycle hard to lift up and move, so it's difficult to get a good angle on the bicycle to go through the door without banging handlebars, stoker bars, the 6 year old's foot pegs, and then whatever is in the panniers.

Coming home, she was asleep so I left her in the seat. To get into my building I have to come up a ramp, turn the bike 90 degrees, walk it a few feet, and then turn it as close to 90 degrees again as possible to get in the door. This is hard enough with an empty bicycle and a 6 year old holding the door. But today I had no 6 year old, and the 2 year old in the seat. It took me so long to get thru the first door that an older woman with a walker came to help me get in the second!! But I turned my key, went to open the second door, and... promptly dropped the bicycle!!! Holy bad mama moment. Thankfully I was able to brace it enough to make it fall slowly, and the 2 year old briefly woke up and then went straight back to sleep, still halfway between the floor and upright! She was well protected between the baby seat and her helmet and didn't seem to care. But I freaked myself out so badly that I took her right out of the seat and put her in the baby carrier to go upstairs in my building. The bike was easier to manoeuver, but the transfer to the carrier woke her up and now I am faced with a napless toddler.

Ahhhh!! I sure appreciate automatic door openers, and wish we had them in my building.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

So, did I mention I spend an average of $400/month on my car? During the school year, that is. Maybe $300 during the summer. Totals:

Insurance - $105
Parking at home - $20
Parking at school - $50
Gas - $150-200 during the school year, probably $50-100 in summer
Repairs/license plate fee/the odd ticket - $100 month roughly

Oh that's actually well over $400/month during the school year. Wow.

I just spent a ton on my Xtracycle, so thus far I'm not exactly down for being carfree. Haha! But it's a one time expense and will pay for itself within a few months of being carfree. I have also insured it lest it be stolen, at a rate of $35/month. And I'm still paying $22 on my car policy (not sure what exactly that buys me, not even fire and theft I don't think). I get a free transit pass in September (should have one now but I lost it last fall and didn't care to replace it since I just drove everywhere).

I do notice I'm far more apt to shop at the expensive grocery store a block away, rather than take the 20ish minute bicycle ride to No Frills. So I'm up a bit on groceries, hard to account for how much, but definitely some.

I bought bus tickets at the beginning of the month for $19 and I still have several left! The beauty of biking/walking everywhere in the summer, most excellent.

We did also take the train to TO at a cost of $60 each (myself and my daughter's father).

So apart from the Xtracycle cost, and notwithstanding the lazy grocery habits, I'm paying $75 this month (tickets, car insurance, bicycle insurance) on transportation. Remarkably lower than the car.

And, at least right now, I really really don't miss it one bit. I haven't even looked at it all month. I really need to go start it, but I'm a procrastinator.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Yesterday we cycled over 10 kms, did two grocery hauls with the Xtracycle (market and grocery store), and stopped at a downtown festival. We cycled home in the rain but the bike has disc brakes and they worked great. I found balance a bit tricky under load, especially the first load because I wasn't overly careful about balancing it. I learned by the second time we went out, and did better bringing a LOT home: 4 litres white milk, 2 litres chocolate milk, 2 litres juice, a bag of sugar, frozen veggie burgers, some garden produce a friend gave me, and several other items. That is a lot to fit on a bicycle along with two kids! Couldn't believe I could get everything in. (Disclaimer: That's the heavy/bulky stuff. I swear I don't only buy junkfood, haha!) The first load included a big bag of flour, big bag of oats, bananas, a few other groceries and an umbrella stroller! Which from now on I know to remove from the bike BEFORE trying to get it on the elevator - oy!

Today we took the train to Toronto for Pedestrian Sunday in Kensington. The guy who organizes it, he owns a restaurant called La Pallette (spelling? I hope that is right), we met up with him while my 6 year old was admiring his rickshaw and he gave her a ride in it. Soon it became obvious he knew everyone on the street, and he told me he hates cars and is able to pick up everything he needs for his restaurant in his rickshaw. He said it weighs 400 lbs and can carry 1000 lbs of weight. Amazing!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Our Xtracycle is here!!! I love it, so so much. It arrived a couple of days ago, and the first night riding was challenging - managing balance with three people on the bike was hard, especially up inclines. But I've gotten so much better since then, and I've decided that for now I will take the streets with their slow inclines rather than the beautiful but hilly bicycle trails. This bike definitely gives that 'Wheeeee!!!!!' feeling. Here we are on it, on our first ride. I know the 2 year old is not strapped in tightly enough - she was so terrified that it was all I could do to get her into the seat. Thankfully within half a block she was a convert and is now thrilled to go in 'red seat.'

And here is our rig on its own:

I was kind of horrified at how much this bike ended up costing. And I lock it with two locks *and* I have theft insurance for it, because otherwise I think I would be too jumpy to really use it to go everywhere I want to. But it is amazing. They say it is a great way to replace a vehicle and I get what they mean now. It is so much fun to ride, and I can carry tons of groceries and all our swim stuff in the panniers.

In related news I called my car insurance company and took my policy down to fire and theft, effective August 9th (I am driving my car in lieu of a rental to an out of town gig on August 8th). I can call and get the car back to driving status with 24 hours notice, but the kicker is that there is a 45 day period during which I am committed to keeping it at fire and theft. So I can't drive my car from August 9 until at least Sept. 24th. Which means I will have two weeks of being back in the swing of school and daycare to see whether I can go without the car entirely. I'm kind of freaked, kind of excited. Two weeks is definitely manageable. I *can* do it. Whether I will enjoy doing it, or be willing to do it for one nanosecond longer than two weeks, remains to be seen.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Still carfree and loving it. It is becoming pretty much routine at this point, uninteresting. The fall will be a challenge though once life's routines start up again.

This weekend we took public transit to a downtown festival, and home. Walked around our neighbourhood, to the local pool, park, etc. for a few days. Today, still waiting on the Xtracycle, we took the bike and trailer loaded with both kids to the post office and grocery store. Unfortunately I overestimated how much stuff would fit in the back of the trailer once loaded with two kids, and ended up balancing a lb of strawberries on top of a bag, thinking the trailer's back flap would hold everything in. Got home, the flap is still closed, but no strawberries! They must have fallen out somewhere along the route, just fell sideways and then snuck out under the closed flap (it only velcroes shut at the sides). Boo! No strawberries for us, as I'm sure they are smashed up somewhere, and I just don't have it in me to go back looking for them with a toddler due for a nap and myself drenched in sweat from riding in the humidity. I will pack better next time.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The last few days I haven't noticed I am carfree very much because we have stuck very closely to our neighbourhood. It has been extremely hot, 31-33ish but with a high humidex, so 'feels like 38-40' kinds of temperatures. Today is another extremely hot day, and I've kind of worn out the swimming/local library combination. 6 year old is with her dad, and I'm considering going downtown to an air conditioned playcentre with the 2 year old. Trying to decide whether to bicycle in this heat or take the bus, which might mean standing in the heat waiting for a transfer for a pretty short distance, but also would permit me to take the stroller, which will be useful if the 2 year old falls asleep, which she well may. With the car I would have let her fall asleep in the carseat and then transferred her to the stroller, which I would keep in the trunk (if I remembered it). So, figuring out new routines.

I am having an Xtracycle built (, and am super excited about it, but the whole ordeal has taken forever. I started looking for parts in May, eventually found an instock Free Radical and longtail kit at a cycle shop in Toronto, and had a friend pick it up for me when she was there. Then it has been about getting a bazillion parts and taking them to the bicycle mechanic who is building the bike. He is using an old Panasonic frame, giving me upright cruiser style bars, and building me a very strong back wheel. It is going to be an awesome bike, it is going to be comfy and (relatively) fast. The other, biggest, glitch has been trying to get my hands on a Pea Pod LT seat, the baby seat that is compatible with Xtracycle, and has been on backorder and then had to be ordered from the States because nobody in Canada could tell me when it would become available here. It is currently being Fed Ex'ed, and should be here within a few days? Maybe a week.

Then I will have my Xtracycle! Which will be amazing for us. Currently I have a bike and trailer, a Chariot trailer which is great and a Trek women's hybrid stepthru bicycle that I found on kijiji and which I love. But there are two problems with this set up:

One, I live in an apartment building and the trailer is too unwieldy to bring in the elevator along with the bike and children. I tried that once and was dripping with sweat by the time I got the rig set up, and it was a relief to get on the bike and ride to have a break from the exertion. Ha! I briefly rented a storage locker in the basement, but it was still about unlocking the trailer and locker, hauling it thru two doors and up a flight of stairs, with the children. Still not fun. Once I knew the Xtracycle was happening I grew more fearless about having the trailer stolen, so have taken to locking it up outside on the bicycle rack. So far so good, it's not stolen and using it is doable, but still a bit of a pain because I bring the bicycle downstairs, must go thru the basement thru 3 doors, down a long hallway and up that flight of stairs to access the trailer locked up at the rear of the building. With the Xtracycle I can just wheel it out my door, into the elevator (it should just fit, especially with a wheel turned, I have measured and now I will pray), out the front door, and go.

Second issue with the trailer is that I have a 6 year old who is good at riding her own bicycle, but obviously I am not comfortable having her ride on busier roads. We are relegated to sidewalks and quiet areas which limits where we can go a lot, in terms of riding for actual transportation and not just for fun. She also loves riding with her little sister so right now I am pulling both in the trailer. The 6 year old barely fits and it's a fair amount of weight (about 80 lbs total) to be lugging. The Xtracycle will permit a spot for her to sit behind me on the bench, which she will prefer I think, and which I think will make for easier hauling with the weight up on the bike instead of lagging behind it.

I will post pictures of our ride when we have it!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Well the 2 year old woke up officially sick this morning, early, despite my confidence yesterday that she was over it. I hope she made no other toddlers sick at the party.

It is 35 degrees here, feels like 41, according to the weather network. Btw that and the sick babe, I am doing approximately nothing. 6 year old went swimming with her daddy at the local pool, and I went for a walk to get a few groceries and bland foods for the toddler. There is a (friendly, with a good selection, but high priced) grocery store, and a health food store, only a 10 minute walk from here. So we just went there with the stroller, which I probably would have done if I had the car anyway. I just moved to this neighbourhood in February and it is so convenient to be so close to amenities.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Another successful bus journey, this one to the north end of town for the b-day party I mentioned yesterday. It took less time than I thought, the bus was air conditioned (super nice as it is 33 degrees out today). Spent $3.80 total on transportation today (I think gas would have been $5 or $6) and got 45 minutes of walking that I would have otherwise avoided. Nice.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Well the trip out to Toys R Us was downright pleasant.

I made some newbie bus mistakes - mistimed on both ends and waited the full 15 minutes each way. Haha! But actually the waiting was alright, as the 2 year old was easily occupied by games on the way there, and was asleep on the way back so I read my new book.

I also accidentally got on a 'B' version of the bus I wanted, which made a funky turn about 3 (long) stops from my destination. But once I got off to walk, I came across the farmers' stand that I've seen a zillion times at an intersection too busy to stop near when I am driving. Got a huge load of strawberries for $6, tasted one and they are the sweetest I've found all year. So that was awesome.

Also just lots of human experiences that I miss in the car - a car full of tourists shouting at me about where is a downtown street, then yelling in gratitude as I waved them the right way. The trees along the street near my house smell nice, and the independent drug store has lots of natural supplements and vitamins. I never notice more than the sign when I'm driving by. In fact I am realizing right now that I've thought there are no pharmacies in my neighbourhood apart from one a few blocks over that always seems to be closed. This one is almost right behind my building, no more than half a block, and it has never occurred to me to go there. Wild.

I justified pizza for me and the babe (who refused it), since I was out so long on the transit ya know. But I would have justified Starbucks in the car so whatevs.

Bought 10 bus tickets for less than $20, and was able to use one ticket for there and back on my journey today. A big perk of our transit system is it allows you to use the transfer wherever, for stop overs and anything you want, as long as it is within 90 minutes of starting your journey. And many drivers cut them generously, so today my transfer was good for 2 hours.

2 year old has no appetite so not sure about the party tomorrow, but I'm feeling really good about the longer bus/walking trip if we go. Cool.

A downside of car-free travel: It's weirdly isolating going somewhere on the bus, when virtually everyone else drove. Weird crossing parking lots with the stroller, not heading to a car.

An upside: Exercise. This is huge! So much more exercise just taking public transit, and it's that good feeling exercise, just using the body to get around.

Total $ spent on transportation so far this month: $19 - I've used $1.90 of that so far. :)
Today we are going to get a b-day present for one of my 2 year old's little friends, and tomorrow we are attending his birthday party - hopefully (2 year old was vomiting last night, tho seems fine today, this is assuming no further symptoms and that the little guy's mom is fine with us coming still).

I notice part of me is all resentful, like omg I have to go to the toy store now, this will be a chore without the car. The thing is our city is structured so all the big box stores are on the outskirts of the city. I try not to shop at them, but for something like this I have no creative alternate ideas? So we're heading to Toys R Us. Before I could get too far into the 'poor me' about it though, I looked at the bus schedule and realized that although the TRU feels like it's in the middle of nowhere (super carland with no sidewalks even), there is a bus that comes 10 minutes from here, runs every 15 minutes and goes straight there. Can I complain? No. Other than to say that only a few years ago there was a lovely toy store right in our neighbourhood, walking distance. But it's closed up and gone now, and I can't think of any independent toy stores in the city, nor any toy stores in the city centre at all.

The actual birthday party is at the north end of town, and it's going to be a hike. With the car we'd be there in 20-25 minutes, but on the bus it's going to take well over an hour and will involve 20-25 minutes of walking because there is no route that goes directly there on Sundays. Should be interesting. I feel like things like this are rare in my life, events at the edge of town, but I guess actually living it this month will tell me how accurate that is.

My kids are stoked about the party tho, it's one of my 2 year old's only little friends (they don't really have friends at this age), and the first time she has been invited to a birthday party! Hopefully she will be well and we will make it.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Today was interesting. I had some errands to do and did them by bike with my 2 year old while the 'big kid' was off with her dad. I had to go downtown to pick up protein powder and register for a swim pass at the local pool. Downtown is about a five minute bike ride - did this no problem. Except the actual swim pass had to be picked up at the pool, but the pool near our house was sold out. So I had to go pick up the pass at another pool, they said I could swing by anytime to get it.

No problem. This pool was nearish the grocery store I was going to anyway. Except it was kind of off the track and thru a hilly-ish area, which felt like a lot of work to get to without the car, since I'm so used to just hopping in and going.

Biked there from downtown with the babe, tho it was arduous *for me*, given that I'm a pretty slow biker and kinda out of shape. But I sucked it up, didn't put it off til tomorrow, didn't get the car. I went. Got there, and the pool was closed! Ahhhh. Nobody there at all. Which felt like such a big deal compared to how it would have felt had I driven there, and if I knew I could just drive back tomorrow. I feel like, I trekked all that way! For nothing! Crazy.

Doubled back to the grocery store, and found I can haul 100 dollars worth of groceries as well as a (somewhat squished) two year old in the bike trailer, no problem! And in even better news, from the grocery store to my house is almost all downhill on a soft decline. Which is perfect, because I can bike up with an unloaded trailer, and almost coast the whole way home with groceries. It is not hard at all.

When I say I 'trekked all the way out to' the pool, let me check the distance on google maps, it is probably embarrassingly small... okay yes, it was 4.4 km's from where I was downtown, and 1.8 km's from the grocery store I was going to anyway. So I went 1.8 km out of my way (and back!).

Yes, I'm lazy and not used to exerting physical energy to get around.

All told I biked 12.3 km today, according to google maps. That is a TON for me, wow. I find I can bike longer distances more enjoyably when I am not in a hurry. Hopefully I can get stronger while I'm on summer break and able to go at a super leisurely pace, and get more used to these distances.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Carfree for the month of July

I've decided to ditch my car for the month of July. Starting today.

When I got my car, because my ex partner and I were moving out of Toronto to the country, some 9 years ago, I had no idea how dependent on the darn thing I would become. I didn't think of it as some Permanent Move that I would never undo. I was 24 when I got my license and lived from 16-24 in Toronto without missing a vehicle, using public transit and bicycling to get around. Obviously a car was a necessity in a rural situation, but I didn't realize at the time that I would become so used to it, that I would construct my life around having it, and that it would be so damn scary to try to break the addiction to it.

I live in a mid-size southern Ontario city now. I am a single mama with two kids, ages 6 and 2. My 6 year old just finished grade 1, and will enter grade 2 in September. She is at a special program which permits increased parental involvement, but it is not walking distance (4 km's from my house), and there is no school bus - parents (that would be me) are responsible to transport the children to and from the school. Her Dad picks her up on Thursdays and Fridays, but that means 8 times/week it's me.

My 2 year old goes to daycare. I pull her out for the summers and whether we will get our spot back is always tenuous. Thankfully I already know she has a spot in September at the daycare she was in last year, which is right on my university campus, which streamlines the running around I have to do daily during the school year.

I attend university, and take 3 courses/year instead of the usual 5. I go to campus 4 days/week.

Last year I drove constantly, so much that I began to hate my car. Partly I feel like a hypocrit needing it so much since the degree I am doing is in social justice and global economics. Partly I dislike the isolation factor of driving, the laziness factor, and the ominous responsibility and money pit that the vehicle represents. I want to break loose, man. I also know it gets me around in a very streamlined, time efficient fashion, and that it keeps us warm and dry in crappy weather, and cooled down with air conditioning in the heat. I couldn't get away from it last year because of where I lived in the city (pretty far and not on good bus lines relative to my daughter's school or her dad's house), and when my classes were (3 days/week my morning class started 30 mins after my daughter's school bell rang).

But this year I'm thinking ahead. I've moved so I'm within blocks of my daughter's dad and much closer to her school. Two busses stop outside my door and at least one more a block down. Yet another line or two come down a major road maybe a 10 minute walk from here. This is as good as it is going to get for me in terms of location and access to transit in the city. I've scheduled my classes so I physically can use the busses to get there, although it will take me four busses to drop my daughter to school and get myself to my university. I have a bicycle and I'm getting stronger at riding.

And hey! Right now it's summer. I have no commitments. Nobody to get to school, no school of my own to get to. If ever I can manage carfree, this would be the time. I am going to try it. If I cannot do it, I will hang my head in shame. If I can, I am going to consider continuing carfree for the rest of the summer and into the school year, see if I can hack it when life gets rolling again.

I may drive up to one or two weekends this month. What I am trying to do is approximate what my life will be like if I am carfree. My daughter's dad has no car and he often rents cars on weekends. He pays $35/weekend inclusive, and his Visa card covers insurance. $70/month and two weekends with a car would allow me to still do things like go to the beach, go berry picking, maybe camping or to the fun water park in a nearby town where no transit runs. And it sure beats the heck out of the upwards of $400/month I spend during the school year to run my car (gas, insurance, repairs, parking at school). And it would mean I only use a vehicle for things I actually cannot do without it, not for runs to the grocery store, for example, which is a ten minute bus ride from here and the bus stops outside my door.

I'm stoked! And kinda stupidly freaked out. I hope I can do this!