Today brings a close to the thirty days Kyle and I spent competing against each other in the Car Free Diet Skeptics Challenge. I was chosen as the grand prize winner, but the truth is that Kyle and I both are winners; and I’m not talking about the prizes we were given.
Over the past 30 days we have both learned how to survive without a car. We went from absolute know-nothings to certified know-some-things. Maybe we haven’t hit the know-it-all status, but we’re on the right track. The transformation is significant. There was a time when I would have been terrified if my car broke down, but that seems so very long ago now.
Today I stand a wiser, happier man. And as I stood with Kyle during Bike to Work Day, I could tell he felt the same. It didn’t matter what name they pulled out of the envelope as they announced the winner. In all honesty, for all the times I’ve tried to bait Kyle into a friendly rivalry, the name in that envelope didn’t matter at all. I looked around at all of the people enjoying the day, celebrating a common desire to lead a healthier life.
The Car Free Diet is about more than Kyle and myself, and it’s about more than Ross and Todd. I saw that today, as strangers came up to congratulate me on the win. They asked about my videos. They inquired about my grandfather. They’d followed along with the competition. When I missed my interview, they’d been there. When I got the job anyway, they were there. I wasn’t alone in my mission to use my car less. Kyle and I had become part of something much larger than the two individuals we had been on day one. And it felt great.
I look forward to seeing who Arlington chooses as Skeptics in the future. Last year Ross and Todd showcased their own Skeptic style. This year Kyle and I did the same. What will future competitions bring? I’m not sure, but I can say that each year, as the competition gains more and more exposure, the Car Free Diet Skeptics Challenge holds amazing potential. I moved to Arlington just over a year ago. I saw people biking and running every day, but I felt like an outsider looking in on an elite group of athletes and hobbyists. This challenge opened the door and let me into that group. I wonder how many others are out there, contemplating using their car less just like I was? From the responses and support I’ve received over the last thirty days, it seems like there are many, many people like me.
And perhaps more important is the connection I’ve been able to make with people who have been biking and going car-free for years. I found that the group I had perceived to be elite and unwelcoming was just the opposite. They gave advice. They cheered us on. They welcomed us to their bike lanes and trails with open arms.
Bus drivers were always willing to answer my questions as I bumbled along. It’s POSSIBLE to put your bike on the front of the bus? HOW?! Is this bus headed towards Pentagon City or Tokyo? Are these seats taken? You think of a stupid question, I’ve asked it over the past 30 days.
Monday I’ll probably wake up and walk to the bus stop so I can catch the bus to Rosslyn and head to work. Or maybe I’ll ride my bike in, or to the metro and metro in from there. The options are mine now because I know they exist and I’m not afraid to use them. 30 days ago, you would never have heard me saying those words. But I don’t need my car. And quite frankly, I have no desire to get back to using it unless I absolutely have to. I haven’t felt this sort of freedom since I followed up on that dare to streak across the football field when I was in high school. Or that time I was dared to streak across the parking lot in college. Or the time Kyle dared me to streak across Farmer’s Market yesterday. Yes, freedom like this only comes during a few rare moments in life.
So as I stand on the edge of one journey and the verge of another, I can only describe my feeling as excited. I’m excited to keep losing weight. I’m excited to keep saving money. I’m excited to meet new people and learn new tips and tricks. I am excited about living life in Arlington, for the first time since I moved here. No more speeding or parking tickets. No more 4 or 5 dollar gas prices costing me hundreds every month. No more traffic. Imagine that if you can. No. More. Traffic. It feels like a million pounds just lifted off of my chest.
I don’t know where my path will lead now. Maybe Kyle and I will continue to blog and post videos of our adventures. I hope Arlington supports that idea. I’d love to remain a part of the car-free circle. But even if not, you can be sure that I’ll keep living my life being as car-free as possible. I’ll sip orange juice on the bus in the morning, I’ll enjoy the wind on my face during every bike ride. I’ll use the extra time walking to and from the bus stops to plan for the day or unwind on the way home.
Maybe some of you were able to read the short story I wrote, Life 56 Feet Above Sea Level. It was about finding my smile again, and taking chances even though you might be terrified. Moving from a small town to Arlington was overwhelming, and somewhere between the traffic, and the masses, and the concrete, I started to feel very far from home.
But then I was given a bike, and running shoes, and a smart trip card- and I was told to go out and seize the day. So that’s exactly what I did. And on the streets and railways of Arlington, I found more adventure, and more support than I could have ever asked for. I’ve found myself loving being car-free and loving Arlington. I found a place to call home.
And that’s more important than any tangible prize Arlington could have given me.