Friday, August 29, 2008

Reality Check

So I started classes this week and realized that I have been living in happy-work-from-home land far too long. Biking and busing have been relatively successful to this point with a few speed bumps (literally and figuratively) a long the way. I have been going to meetings downtown, the grocery store, running errands, and meeting up with friends all without any sort of car usage... granted sometimes I end up soaking wet or late- but overall it has been a pretty laid back experience. But now there are A LOT of places I have to be, many of which are not exactly a "stones throw" away... and they are all happening in a really short time frame. I know that once I get into the swing of things, it won't be quite so crazy, but at this point I am in the middle of the learning curve. One challenge is when I have to be on campus for something in the morning, late afternoon and then again at night, but need to walk my doggle in between. I have spent the last week running to classes, missing the bus, walking miles and miles, getting run of the road by cars, trying to fix my chain, getting sun-burned, and most of all sweating.

Yet with all of the craziness, I am getting better and better everyday. I am continuing to meet interesting Charleston Moves and the Holy Bike Co-op which are making my bike life a lot easier/less lonely and inviting me to fun stuff like the Lady of the Alleycat race, the Midnight Mystery Ride etc. More info at: I also just found this sweet online site that has an open forum and an awesome magazine that you can download for free: While waiting for & riding the bus I have talked to a Russian immigrant, a History Professor, four first time freshman bus-riders, three hotel maids, and a retired school teacher. I have even read an entire chapter of a book in between conversations.

One event I am looking forward to, but missed out on is Critical Mass... here is a video of what its all about in Charleston:

Two Wheels One Love - Critical Mass in Charleston, SC from ReallyFastPictures on Vimeo.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Timing is everything.

The theme of the past week has really been timing. It is amazing how a few minutes in the car-free world can make all of the difference. This has especially been true because of the ridiculous weather that Miss Faye was kind enough to share with us. There is nothing like checking the weather and seeing those little storm clouds complete with lightening bolts with a high percentage underneath; for a whole week. Although what fails to realize is that Charleston has its own, very unique weather system. There can be tornadoes on Savannah Hwy and sunshine at the Battery... so while on one side of town you will need a rain suit- on the other you will want a swim suit. One element of the weather that I had never really considered before was the wind. Ahhh the wind. I had a meeting downtown last week, so I looked to the sky and felt confident that I would have at least an hour or two before the clouds sauntered my direction. The ride started off great, with just enough cloud cover and a nice breeze, but due to my awesome timing, it seemed the storm was actually rolling in fast. When I got to the bridge, well, wow. Holy wind gusts batman. I felt like I was biking through molasses with tires made of glue. I seriously considered getting off my bike and walking because it would have been faster. I pushed through because I figured that it couldn't be as bad downtown. Wrong.

I had forgotten that someone once told me Charleston had been designed to channel wind to keep down mosquitoes and cool down the city- or in this case, create wind tunnels. Needless to say, I hurried to get all of my paperwork done and raced home to beat the storm. I was in the final stretch when the skies literally opened up. I had a rain jacket with me, but as I was frantically pulling it out an SUV nailed the puddle I was standing next to and soaked me from head-to-toe in dirty street water. Awesome. Thanks jackass. I'm so glad you support our troops by putting a yellow ribbon on your gas guzzling two ton, high emissions vehicle. Smack yourself on the back of the head for me. (I am not bitter- just amazed at human stupidity.) What really destroyed me was that at the time, I was standing near a bus-stop where an older lady was huddled under her wind-blown umbrella trying to keep her uniform dry as cars like my SUV friend sped passed, spraying her down. It is now my mission to get every bus-stop in Charleston covered because no-one should have to go through that, much less a seventy year old woman who rides two buses so she can make beds for rich tourists that will later speed by her soaking her clothes.

Side note: My friend and I were talking about classy drivers such as this one today and he suggested that I buy some tennis balls, so I can lob them at the cars in revenge . I was thinking this would also be good for moments when cars almost back over you coming out of driveways.

So... after venting with my bus-stop friend we embraced that there was no hope for us staying dry, looked to the sky and shared a good laugh. How many times do you have a great excuse to play in the rain? I biked through the 4 inch deep high tide puddles on the sidewalk and took my time getting home, letting the rain cool me off. You can see the result of this joyride below:

By the time I got home, the rain stopped and the sun came out. I realized that you just have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. I managed to make it downtown two times after this without getting rained on and even discovered another fun sidewalk path on Lockwood. As for this week- classes start tomorrow- so let the adventures begin!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"We only understand what we are taught."

"Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything. 14% of people know that." Homer Simpson.
Who doesn't love a good fact of the day? I just came across some interesting statistics, facts, and random tidbits that I figured I would share with you. Don't quote me on any of this, because as Homer so eloquently points out, not everything you read is true.

1. Half an hour of bicycling daily can increase your life expectancy by up to four years.
2. Trips under 3 miles are often faster by bike and trips between 5-7 miles are take about the same amount of time as a car.
3. One-quarter of the carbon emissions produced in the US come from the tailpipes of our vehicles.
4. Two point three BILLION gallons of gas are idled away every year by Americans while stuck in traffic.
5. If one million people replaced a five-mile car trip once a week with a bike ride, CO2 emissions would drop by about 100,000 tons a year. (That is only 0.3% of the population)

So those are things that "experts" have come up with, all of which are impressive. There are hundreds more of these fun little facts and if you are lucky I will continue to sprinkle them into the mix on future posts (try to contain your excitement, please...)

Based on my own highly structured and official research, here is some data that might also be of interest.

1. When using a bike as transportation you are less likely to: take unnecessary trips, compulsively shop, and eat greasy food (ugly was the day that I horsed down fries before my ride home... needless to say, they did not make it back to the house).
2. Selling your car doesn't just give you the initial cash but also results in huge savings on gas, parking, and maintenance... based on my own finances over the last two months I have saved roughly $400 in gas alone and will save another $400 in parking this fall. (PLUS no more taxes, tags, insurance, or maintenance). Note: I am not factoring in all of the guilt meals, presents, and favors I am extending to my carpool friends.
3. Biking gives you sweet, sweet legs. (Hello, hottie biker calves...)
4. Who doesn't want to a legitimate reason to rock out in spandex?
5. Almost anything is possible with a bike... I mean, just check out this little guy below.

Monday, August 11, 2008


I did it. I drove a car...two actually. It started with helping my friend move, which I really don't think counts, since I was only doing it to help someone else. As for the second car, well, as my friend put it, just might cause me to lose my "street cred" with my fellow bikers. I am currently house sitting and the job came complete with a car... which considering the location of the house, is pretty essential. After the last few weeks, I had thought of plenty of things that I would do if I had a car (like not get caught in the rain with a ton of shit strapped to my bike). So the minute I had the keys in my hand, I was on a mission. I managed to go to Whole Foods, Target, COSTCO, the eye doctor, the movies, to work, and to my house. My cabinets are beyond full of food, toiletries, and work supplies.

But all of my gas guzzling, CO2 producing, errand running did not go unnoticed by the bicycle gods. I managed to get locked out of my friends house at 5:30a.m. wearing skimpy PJ's with the two dogs and no spare key. While this may not seem like an obvious sign to stop driving, I think the fact that the car I am driving stalled out today is a more clear warning to get back to the two-wheeled life. I saw this cartoon by Robert Ariail today, it pretty much sums it up...

Someone asked me this weekend if it was nice having a car again and while I enjoyed the convenience, I had to admit that I am sooooo over dealing with cars and definitely addicted to my new bicycle lifestyle. To further prove this point, I actually said no when someone I work with offered to let me use her old car for awhile (yes, my co-workers rock.) It has not been a smooth transition so far, but it also has not been rocky enough to knock me off course. Like anything new, the beginning is always a little awkward but everyone is being so supportive that it has been fun so far (or at least funny). There is such a huge community surrounding biking that it impossible not to make friends and enjoy the experience. A lot of cities have bike co-ops and ours in no different... thanks to a tip from a fellow blogger I have hooked up with:

A majority of the population does not realize that owning a car is a choice... so much so that people have said to me "but you HAVE to have a car". Well damn. I must have really missed something in middle school biology. Air, Water, Food, Sunlight, Shelter, AND Automobile- obviously. For some this might be true, but it is not the case for me. I am lucky enough that I do have the choice. While I do not judge my friends who choose to own cars (especially those that are rad enough to pick me up and carpool), I am sad that their transportation will never help them make new friends, get in shape, or protect the environment. I am looking forward to returning the car tomorrow and getting back on my trusty steed...which I have named "the grasshopper".

I just want to say thank you to all of the people that have been cheering me on, giving me rides, and laughing with me through all of the craziness so far. Special thanks to Ash for the bike :-) I hope you all continue on with me... I have no doubt that it will stay interesting.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

throwing some pics in the mix.

This picture is my moment of glory where I reached 20 mph- not something that happens often, but hopefully will not be as much of a challenge in the coming months. Someone made a comment to me like "well biking shouldn't be too hard, you are already so fit". Haha.. umm... yeah, I am definitely not in shape, so most of my rides end with me red faced, soaked in sweat, and sprawled out on the nearest piece of furniture. I hope that eventually I will be able to show up to meetings and not look like I went swimming fully clothed.

It may be a work-out, but I'd still rather have the wind in my face and a view like these on my morning commute... you can keep your air-conditioning and bumper-to-bumper :-)

"When I go biking, I repeat a mantra of the day's sensations: bright sun, blue sky, warm breeze, blue jay's call, ice melting and so on. This helps me transcend the traffic, ignore the clamorings of work, leave all the mind theaters behind and focus on nature instead. I still must abide by the rules of the road, of biking, of gravity. But I am mentally far away from civilization. The world is breaking someone else's heart." ~Diane Ackerman

A little street graffiti to keep the ride interesting...

I am passionate about being the change I wish to see in the world.

Monday, August 4, 2008

when it rains, it pours.

Again, I am sorry to not have any pictures to illustrate the ridiculousness of this story. I will just try and paint a vivid picture for ya. Last week was the first session of a LEED class that I am hosting with the US Green Building Council- something I have been planning for weeks. Since life has kept me pretty busy, I definitely was not as prepared as I had planned on when the day of the class arrived. Needless to say I had to re-structure the schedule, create a sign-in sheet, read the first section and create sample homework exercise (all of which was suppose to be neatly organized in a binder). In addition to the paperwork, I had to buy all of the refreshments for this shin-dig. Luckily, my amazing friends Sandra and James offered to hook me up with some carpooling. After going for my morning 4 mile bike ride (something I have been doing to try and build some endurance) Sandra scooped me up and we did some grocery shopping. I spent the rest of the afternoon preparing all of the paperwork until I realized that I had forgotten about the binders. With two hours until the James picked me up, I figured I could bike the two miles down to K-mart, get what I needed and be back in time for a quick shower. Ha. Was I ever wrong.

On the trip to the store I realized that the greenway was a mud-fest and that I might have a little bit of a challenge ahead, but I did not give up hope. My plan was to buy this little rack for behind my bike, fill my whole foods bags with binders, strap it all to back and be on my way. As I filled my cart with 34, 1/2 inch binders and two reams of paper I realized that it was quite a lot of stuff. I made my purchase and headed out to my bike, still hoping that I could still make this work. I unscrewed some of my reflectors and slid on the rack, only to realized that no matter how much I tightened it, it was waaaaaaay too loose. I wedged some paper in around it but the grease was just too slippery. I had to get this stuff home, I didn't have my cell-phone to call anyone, and I didn't have time to make more than one trip.

I stopped myself and thought: "What would Mcagyver do?" So, of course, I went back into K-mart and bought a roll of duct tape, a basket/trashcan thing, hemp string, and a pair of scissors. At this point, it was about 100 degrees outside, humidity 200 percent and I am covered in sweat, realizing that my time is running out fast. As I am strapping the rack on the back and the basket on the front with every last inch of tape/string, this jack-ass walks up and starts telling me how I should be attaching this ridiculous contraption. Man, did I ever get lucky! What are the odds that a professional rack-basket-bike-duct tape-string installer had come to my aide?! I turned to him and said: "Did you hear me? .....Oh, you didn't? Thats because I didn't ask for your help." He started to say something but instead just opened and shut his mouth silently in shock before walking away. Needless to say, I got the whole thing on and slowly started my trip to the greenway, without anyones help. This is the part when you are going to start thinking: "Really Nikki, are you making this up?". My answer: Believe me I wish I was.

Right as I hit the entrance of the greenway, the dark skies that had been threatening all day, opened up and poured down rain. I mean, there might have actually been cats and dogs coming down- I just couldn't see anything because my glasses were so wet. I guess the rain loosened up the hemp, the tape, or something, because the basket sagged down and hit my front tire. Not enough to stop me, but enough to feel like I was biking up a mountain (a very slippery, muddy one, at that) . Of course, as I rode past a fellow biker, he alerted me to the fact that this wasn't safe. While this should have triggered anger or tears, I was so far beyond either that I started laughing... the desperate on-the-edge-of-crazy kind of laugh. Realizing that I was never going to make it in time, I got off my bike and just started running with my bike for the last mile. I got home in time for my ride to pull into the driveway. I jumped in the shower only to wash off the mud and pulled on the first clothes I could find. We rushed together trying to load the car and deconstruct the abominable duct-hemp monster I had created. In the end, I showed up to my own class 15 minutes late with empty binders to a class room full of people expectantly waiting. In all of my hurry, I had not realized that I had managed to put on a white t-shirt that was at this point completely soaking wet. Ah.... the icing on the cake.

The moral of this story...
Know your limits, always come prepared, wear dark clothing in the rain, and however long it takes you in a car, double that time when you have a bike.

P.S. Don't worry-I am still optimistic about all of this :-)