Friday, October 22, 2010

Ferries, Feet & Folding Bikes: A Car-Free Vacation on Lopez Island, WA

Some people vacation in neon palaces, gamble that something different is something better and roll the dice in towns where the only sure bets are found in casino stocks. Some folks leave cold climes for warm and beaches or dull small towns for exciting big cities. Still others leave exciting big cities for quiet found in small towns.

Christine and I lead small lives in a smallish town where we get around by foot and pedal power. Sometimes we take the bus or some other big machine with a big motor when we are going far or fast, but day to day we do not need to rush. For the past few decades, we haven't owned any motor vehicles and contrary to the questions we're sometimes asked, it's not a hardship. It's a simple life we love.

Each autumn we go elsewhere, not to get away from who we are and how we live, but to live under a slightly different sky, to know a different home for a few days. Autumn is when we met and when we wed and our annual outings remind us how lucky we are to have each other and how little we need to be happy in this world.

This year we go to Lopez Island. We have small bikes that fold up even smaller when they need to go on a bus and a shuttle bus takes us north from Seattle to the ferry terminal at Anacortes, WA. We roll our bikes onto the ferry at Anacortes and sail on still water beneath bright blue October skies to Lopez Island.

Weather is a gamble in October and we've hedged our bets on a cozy cottage, a wonderful wooden octagon in the heart of Lopez Village. This is mid-week and the off-season and the village is tiny. It is perfect for us.

We walk. We ride. We explore. We wander and we wonder. We read books. We buy groceries at the market, cook and eat small meals. We talk and listen. We walk on beaches, gaze at gulls, see deer feasting on October apples. We see the sunlight on the water, hear the water lapping on the shore. We gather shells and memories.

We do not go fast or far, but we go and when it is time, we return home. The bikes fold up, and what we need fits in our backpacks. We pedal and walk and ride the ferry and the bus back to another small town, the one we call our own.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Life'll Kill Ya

My Twitter friend Arleigh (aka Bike Shop Girl aka @arsbars) was hit by a car last week. Prior to being wisely "advised not to write, blog, tweet or facebook update until things get settled," she shared these thoughts on Twitter:
"Mentally I am really screwed up. I'm a safe rider and this was a calm afternoon and bike commute. Nothing I could have done different. Scary."
"Bicycling, commuting & encouraging others to do the same is my life. I was just hurt badly by that lifestyle..not sure how to swallow that."
I've never met Arleigh in the real world (the one with bikes and cars and roads and traffic) but we've traded bits and bytes and thoughts and pictures and I think of her as a kindred spirit, a fellow rider and a friend. I wanted to write a "it'll be OK, get back in the saddle, keep 'em rolling" kind of thing but as Arleigh noted, things like this are scary. Damn scary.

I've been where Arleigh was, rolling along, then flat on the pavement and then in the back of an aid car. I've had friends die on bicycles. But I've also had friends my age who've died from being sedentary or died at their own hands because they've lost whatever reason they had to live. Too many people die slowly as fear takes the world away from them, bit by bit. It is a scary world but fear is the mind killer. Courage is not the lack of fear, courage is facing the fear and acting anyway.

We can gather stats to rationalize our choices. Here's a lovely excerpt, placing the odds in perspective:

Too Dangerous

The notion that bicycling is too dangerous has been propagated to provide an excuse for those who feel guilty for not cycling to work. About 24 times as many people die on stairs and ladders as die on bicycles. Nonetheless, some motorists have terrible driving habits, especially when late for work. I suggest 1) starting a little early and 2) taking roads generally avoided by the rest of the traffic, 3) obeying all of the traffic laws, and 4) keeping alert at all times. Read my articles on Is Cycling Dangerous? and How to Ride in Traffic.

If the real problem is not that cycling is too dangerous but that you are afraid, remember that fear of doing anything new is quite normal and healthy. While I was a construction worker, I was assigned to working in an area high above the ground with only narrow forms to walk on. For three days I crawled around until I adjusted to the height, and I was only well-adjusted by the end of the week. At that time while we were talking during lunch, I thanked everyone for not laughing at me, because I surely would have quit. But one of the carpenders said, "Hell, we were all crawling around on our first day up here." The way to get over your fear is by gradually acquiring experience by riding on the weekends. Get used to traffic gradually, and get the wobble out of your riding, before you try to ride to work. That's what all of us experienced cyclists once had to do.

The quote above is excerpted from some very good writings on bike safety written by the late Ken Kifer. Ken was a very experienced cyclist who was struck and killed by a drunk driver a few years ago. You can do a lot of things right, heck you can do everything right, and things can go wrong. You can die. Warren Zevon said it best when he observed that Life'll Kill Ya. And back in 1997 America's Finest New Source confirmed that despite all our efforts, the world death rate is holding steady at 100 percent.

I am not trying to make light of the dangers of this world but rather pointing out that we carry on by telling ourselves lies, lies that we are safe. My favorite bike safety website, How to Not Get Hit By Cars, has lots of good information, information that if followed will improve your odds. But you can follow all the advice given there and still get hit. Arleigh was doing everything right and got hit. You can never be 100% safe, but you can be safer if you know the most likely things to fear and you take reasonable precautions.

Here's why I ride, why I have to ride.

Let's say I said "screw it, it's too dangerous" and I got something big, with a motor for all my getting around needs. Heck, as long as I'm being safe, I'll get something with lots of cup holders. I've amplified my mass, I've amplified my speed, I've amplified the danger I pose to others. I haven't improved my reflexes and I've dulled my sense of fear with an illusion of safety. I'm part of the problem now.

I can't do that.

Gandhi advises us to “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I love to ride. I'm one less car in traffic, one more bike in the world. We make the world safer for cyclists by being cyclists. Every man, woman and child on a bike or on foot is taking a small step or a tiny pedal stroke towards the world in which I wish to live. I have to be out there with them.

I may die on a bike today or tomorrow. I know that's a real risk. I take the precautions that I think are reasonable but I do know that in the end, life'll kill me. But I'm not going to waste the life I have stuck in a box or racing around making a world in which I don't wish to live.

I'll be out there, rolling. Arleigh, I hope to see you out there too real soon. Heal up, Bike Shop Girl.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA