As of a week or so ago, it’s been officially been a year since I last used my car. Instead, I’ve been riding my bike. It’s been just me, the bike (the pedal kind), and the weather. Over the last year, I’ve learned and changed so much, and an incredible part of that has been riding my bike.
First of all, I absolutely love riding my bike. That’s the primary motivator behind this. When I get on my bike, it’s like instant therapy. It’s relaxing and keeps me centered. On days I don’t ride my bike, I seriously feel like I’m missing something. I don’t do this to preach the cycling gospel. It’s just because I love it.
Now that that’s out of the way, I’m going to tell the story of me and my bike over the last year. We’ll start at the beginning of last November, when I began tossing around the idea of giving up my car completely.
Up until this point of the year, the weather hadn’t been too bad. It was pretty typical Montana. We had some snow mid-October, but that wasn’t unusual. I had been riding my bike off and on over the last month, and increasingly using it instead of my car. Part of this was to save money. Part of it was because I began to realize that I really, really enjoyed riding. My car came into play on the colder days, but otherwise remained dormant.
I began tossing around the idea of giving up on my car completely. It made a lot of sense to me. I loved my bike. I never really liked the effort required to own a car, rather I just like the idea of owning a car. I was only driving once or twice a week. And above all of that, I was paying more for car insurance that I was for gas. And that felt completely ridiculous.
The idea was also crazy. I live in Montana. Winters in the Big Sky State have a ton of snow and can be pretty brutal. The only usable bike I had was a cheap fixed-gear with about inch-wide tires. The roads get icy. Winters also get really freaking cold. Most days are sub-20 degrees, with a solid amount being sub-zero. How would I hang out with friends? How would I go about everyday things like buying groceries? How would I ever go on a date? What would I do when it got below zero?
I’ve come to like going against the norm over the last couple years, and that attitude was beginning to reach a fever-pitch at this point. So, I decided, “What the hell? Let’s try it.” (Yes, I often talk to myself as if I’m a group of people.) I figured I could always go back to using my car.
It wasn’t too hard at first. I still was using my car on the really cold days, because I was still a bit of a wuss. One day mid-December though, that option stopped existing.
I was feeling a bit bored, so I did what I always do when I’ve got nothing going on. I went to Off the Leaf. I was talking to my friend Jackie, who worked there, about desiring adventure. She challenged me to go find my own adventure. The more I thought about that line, the more I realized I had just been complaining about my lack of creativity. So I decided to change that with a drive to Molt.
Molt is a tiny town that is about 25 miles from Billings. There’s a gorgeous driving loop you can do that takes about an hour. I drove out to Molt, and was about halfway home when I missed a slight curve in the road. The roads were icy, so when I hit the brakes, I ended up sliding into a ditch.
So, what’s the very first thing I do? I call Jackie, laughing, and tell her how I’ve found my adventure. That’s me, always doing the practical thing. I eventually end up getting pulled out by a stranger.
In the midst of getting pulled out, my passenger-side front tire gets shredded. So I put the donut on and examine the front of my car. The right side of the bumper is destroyed and the radiator’s cracked. I thank the stranger, and begin driving home. I get around halfway there before my car begins to overheat. My mom and her boyfriend come pick me up, and I drive the car the rest of the way home the next day.
Basically, at this point, my car is toast. I decide this is a sign I shouldn’t be driving it anyways, and leave it to die.
I decide at this point that since the decision to ride my bike is my choice alone, that I alone should bear the consequences of it. Basically, I decide not to be a mooch. I commit to never ask for a ride, to never be reliant on another for getting around. I also knew however, that I love it when people take me up on my generosity, so I decide not to turn down the generosity of others. So, I’ll never ask for a ride, but I won’t turn down the offer of one.
The winter shapes me. I figure out how to get around. I slip and fall on the ice a lot. I slowly piece together a wardrobe that keeps me warm. I learn how not to fall as much. I end up losing my super nice gloves and get by with a combination of glove liners, work gloves, and a pair of the cooler gloves that grocery store workers wear. This is not nearly as effective. We had a few days where the temperature is below negative 10, with a wind chill of negative 40 or below. There’s a few days in which Montana is the coldest place on the planet. I don’t leave the house on these days. My friends are very generous and give me rides often throughout the winter. Over time, these offers lessen in frequency, which I’m okay with.
I don’t have long socks, or good shoes, so my feet and ankles are always cold. I learn that your extremities get cold, warm up a bit, get cold again, warm up once more, and then get cold again for good. (I recently found out there is a scientific name for this process, so I’m not crazy.) My hands get really cold. I get used to the cold. I begin to like being told I’m crazy. I learn that it really frickin hurts to warm them back up once they’ve reached the permanently cold phase. I learned that it helps just a bit if you run cold water over your hands, since it slows down the process of them heating up.
One day in February, it’s about -10 degrees outside, and I ride to Off the Leaf to meet some friends. My hands reach permacold phase about 10 minutes before I get there. This is bad. I know I’m risking frostbite, and worse, my hands will be in extreme pain for about 10 minutes once I get there. When I do get there, I strip off my outer layers as fast as I can, (which takes a minute since I usually rock about 4 or 5 layers on these days.) I then run to the water cooler, fill up a glass, and alternate submerging each of my hands. My friends are sitting there the entire time watching me, wondering what the hell I’m doing. I try to explain why I look like a crazy person while trying not to cry because my hands hurt so freaking much.
In the midst of the winter, something happens. The suffering, the daily ass-kicking, begins to change me. Proving to mother nature, and mostly to myself, that I can fight through the suffering, and do it repeatedly, on a daily basis, teaches me to lean in to the suffering. I get really excited about life and start pursuing some other crazy ideas of mine.
One day in late-February, when we’ve had a warm stretch, I get invited to hang out at my friend Stephanie’s parents’ house, which is up in Rhebergh Ranch, which is on top of the rims. The rims had always scared me a bit, and I had yet to come up with a good way of getting up them. I had been trying to avoid riding up them. To get up to that house though, I would have to. After my shift at Faith Chapel that night, I rode up Shiloh, over to Zimmerman, and up to the road-closed gate(which wasn’t closed). I take a quick break to contemplate the enormity of the task before me. I am going to attempt to ride up a really-long hill, climb 400+ feet, at night, on a fixed-gear bicycle.
I decide that I will not stop, regardless of how tired I am, until I reach the top. I get about a minute into the ascent and I’m barely crawling. I’m putting all of my strength into every pedal stroke, and just barely moving. I get a about halfway up and realize that I might actually pull this off. When I do make it to the top, I am ecstatic. I’m on cloud nine. I ride the rest of the way to the house, and upon arrival, promptly tell everybody what I just did. I’m exhausted, starving, and extremely sweaty, but I don’t care. I had just conquered the world. About a month later, I would ride up Airport Hill, for the same reason, to the same place. It was still a major accomplishment for me, but not quite as life-changing as the first one. In the time since, I’ve ridden up both streets a couple more times, and every time still feels magical.
Winter fades away, and it get’s a lot easier to ride my bike everyday. For most of the winter, my average day was about 10 miles, getting up to 20 miles on Saturdays, when I would ride between the far west-end and Off the Leaf three times over the course of the day. In mid-April, I was invited to a party at my friend Hannah’s house. She lives out near Laurel. It would be an 8-mile ride one way, which would be the longest I’d ever gone in one stretch. I go for it, and am pretty exhausted when I get there. At the end of the night, I get offered a ride home, which I take. (People are awesome.)
Over the course of the summer, I ride my bike more and more. My average day begins to be around 15 miles, with a 25-mile day being an easy stretch. I do begin to notice myself losing excitement about life. I think back to what was different about winter, and remember the benefits of intentional suffering. I wish I could say I actually did something to change my situation, but that would be lying.
By the time fall comes around, riding my bike is like walking. It requires basically no effort. I put in a 40-mile day on my now single-speed(the fixed-gear broke) and wake up the next day feeling no different. I marvel at how my body has adapted. When I started riding, I ate a significant amount more than usual. (I already ate a ton, but now it was just ridiculous.) At this point, I’m back to eating what I had before. Not only is riding my bike not really a workout anymore, it’s apparently doesn’t really require that much energy either.
Fall passes into winter, and I begin to suffer again. It’s tough at first, but I begin to lean in and enjoy it again. Riding my bike doesn’t feel nearly as crazy as it did last year.
So, it’s been a year now. I’ve changed a lot. I’ve learned that intentional suffering is good for you. It reminds you that you are a badass, and can conquer anything if you attack it with some creativity and a ton of effort. I’ve learned that you’re body can adjust extremely well to the conditions you submit it to. Seriously, that part’s amazing. I’ve learned that your friends will probably adjust to whatever radical life change you make, and will still love you in a year. I’ve learned that being different from the vast majority of people is awesome, makes you more interesting (or at least memorable for being insane), and that you will get so used to it that you regularly forget that new people don’t know you ride your bike everywhere, and are surprised when they ask what the helmet is for, or why you look like you were hiding from a polar bear.
Giving up my car for my bike is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I have no intention of going back.
By the way, I still haven’t figured out how to take a girl out on a date. Any ideas?