Sunday, November 15, 2009

Patience with cats and rain

Patience is the name of the bike trailer that we're using, and she continues to be remarkably useful and sturdy.

On Friday, I had to take our cat, Tycho, to the vets for tests and shots. Turns out the cat carrier fits perfectly into the trailer. I was worried that the ride would be too bumpy, so I lined the bottom with plenty of towels. But with the pneumatic tires, it's really not that bad. I also worried whether the cat would freak out at being in the trailer. Whenever we go for a ride in the car, he yowls and meows and lets me know that riding in a car is a weird, unpleasant experience.

Oddly, he didn't seem to mind riding in the trailer at all. He made one small meow at me, and that was about it. My theory for this is that riding in a car is an intensely strange experience for a cat--the air is still, so it seems like we must be inside a house, but yet there's a sensation of movement. In the trailer, it was clear that we were outside. He could feel the air moving, and he could see me right in front of him. He could hear the sounds of the world. He didn't seem to mind it at all. (And, for the record, it's a pretty short ride.)

Yesterday, I put Patience to the test in the rain. It was pouring out all day long, and I'd agreed to a handyman job out in Newton, 6.2 miles from our house (each way). I wanted to keep the job, and I thought I'd give the trailer and my rain gear a good workout.

It certainly got it. I loaded the trailer with my toolbox and other tools, probably 20-30 pounds of tools, and hit the streets. Remnants of hurricane Ida cascaded from the clouds. Autumn leaves blocked many of the storm drains along the route, making huge puddles and swiftly flowing streams covering the roads. Luckily, traffic was light. Still, I made sure I had all my lights and flashers going so I could be easily spotted.

I didn't mind riding in the rain. My jacket and rain pants kept me pretty dry, and my baseball cap under my helmet kept most of the rain off my glasses, so I could still see. Pulling the cart through the water and up the hills was a pretty serious workout, but within my abilities (funny how you tend to gloss over the hills when you drive a car, but I can tell you that between Cleveland Circle and Newton Center, Beacon Street goes up and down a big-ass hill).

I got to the job with my feet soaking wet, but otherwise dry underneath my gear. And the trailer kept my tools completely dry. Unfortunately, I got a little lost just as I was approaching my destination. I'd printed out a google map of the area, and it lasted just long enough to get me unlost before the rain dissolved it into a soggy clump. Getting lost in the pouring rain on your bike is not a happy feeling.

The rain came down even harder on the way home, and the front seam of the jacket leaked a bit onto my shirt, but the pants were great. I need to find some better waterproof shoes for riding at some point.

It was a good adventure, though I confess that I was awfully tired and wiped out when I got home and had to take a little nap in the afternoon.

The temperature was in the mid 50s, so the ride was surprisingly fine. I expected to be cold and miserable, but I didn't mind riding in the rain at all. (Tracy might just say that shows that I'm a little nuts.) The trailer handled beautifully in the rain--I'm really getting used to hauling it around. We'll see how it goes in the wintertime when it gets old out.

Monday, November 9, 2009

One more quote from No Impact Man

In No Impact Man, Colin Beavan wrestles with the question of whether individual action has any significance in our current ecological struggles. His answer is both yes and no. He writes:
I'm not sure that reducing individual resource use is the entire way forward. At the root, religious philosophies say to do less harm, yes, but they also say do more good. There is a limit to how much less harm I can do. But my potential for good is unlimited. All of our potentials for good are unlimited.

The question becomes not whether we use resources but what we use them for. Do we use them to improve lives? Or do we waste them? My life itself is a resource. How shall I use it?
I agree with Colin that it will take both individual and collective action to effect that need to occur. Us giving up our car is certainly a tiny drop in the bucket, but it does have an impact, and it also increases the awareness of the people around us (and ourselves), and that can ripple outward in a powerful way.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

a few thoughts from No Impact Man

I'm currently reading and very much enjoying Colin Beavan's book, No Impact Man. Tracy and I were fans of his blog, even before the book and the movie came out

In his section on reducing carbon footprint and on stopping using fossil-fuel based transportation, Beavan offers these interesting statistics about cars and America:
  • American adults average 72 minutes per day behind the wheel of a car (twice as much as the average American father spends with his kids).
  • 17 percent of the average American's income goes toward the costs of owning and running a car.
  • Americans spend the equivalent of 105 million weeks of time sitting in traffic jams.
  • People who ride bikes or walk to work are 24 percent more likely to be happy with their commute than those who drive cars.
I think we'd qualify for being pretty happy with our commutes right now. And we're on our way to cutting expenses, though we've been doing a bit of investment in our bike infrastructure lately.

It's a very thoughtful book, much more than just an attention-grabbing stunt.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bike Trailer

At our 200 Foot Garden work day last weekend, I happened to mention to our neighbor, Alexis, that I'd been thinking about getting a trailer to use with our bikes. It would make getting groceries and supplies (including garden supplies) a lot easier. "Oh," she said, "We have one you could use. We haven't had it out for a while."

After a tiny bit more conversation, we worked it out and they dropped it off on our doorstep yesterday, just in time for our weekly grocery run. This particular trailer is from Bike Friday, and is a BicycleR Evolutions "Shopper" Trailer and is basically a large 24 gallon Rubbermaid container bolted to a frame with wheels.

The hitch hooked up to my bike with no problem, and once it was on, it was smooth riding. Supposedly it can hold up to 100 pounds, which would make it very helpful for getting pet and garden supplies. I gave it a ride to Stop & Shop and came home with 68 pounds of groceries (including a 20 lb can of kitty litter). When empty, it drove with no problem whatsoever--I hardly even knew it was behind me. The universal joint on the hitch rotates in all directions, so it doesn't exert any unusual force on the back wheel.

On the way home, fully loaded, it still pulled smoothly, though with almost 7o pounds in the trunk (plus 17 lbs for the trailer), I definitely knew it was there. I'm used to riding with a lot of weight in my basket and backpack, but this was a different experience. With the basket and backpack, the weight is a lot more uneven and the balance is thrown off a bit on the bike. With the trailer, the balance stays the same, but I just had to get used to this pull from behind me--uphill was a bit more work, and downhill required a little vigilance to modify the extra momentum. Keeping up a steady pace makes the ride a lot more pleasant, so you just have to shift your gears a lot more actively and consciously.

Overall, pulling the trailer is a little more work for the legs, but clearly much easier on the body overall, and definitely a lot simpler to handle loads with volume, extra weight, or large objects. I couldn't have carried this whole load home with just my side basket and backpack.

One of the coolest parts of this particular trailer is how easily it can be stored. We can just stick it on its end in our bike room, and you hardly know it's there (it's very lightweight), which is a big plus because the small bike room in our condo building sometimes has as many as 11 bikes in it.

It was also just fun to pull the trailer--it make me feel like a serious biker. I'm looking forward to many more trips with it behind me.