Car-Free Diet Skeptics Blog


Every so often, a challenge comes along with opposing sides so polarized that the entire future of the universe hinges on the outcome of the competition.  Man vs. Man. Matt vs. Kyle. Good vs. Evil.  It. All. Comes. Down. To. This.

I knew that going in.  I was warned to watch out for Kyle “The Chain Killer” Lewis.  I’d heard rumors about his chain killing obsession.  But it’s different when you see the wreckage first hand.

On Wednesday of last week, I was scheduled to participate in National Walk at Lunch Day, a special day of the year where individuals and groups get together to take a walk during their lunch break.  A group had been organized by Arlington County and we were all meeting in Rosslyn at 12:00 pm.  There were probably balloons, and clowns, and free ice cream.  I don’t know.  I never made it.

Half way through my bike ride to Rosslyn, my chain mysteriously popped off my bike.  I tried to console her, telling her that everything would be fine.  Chains can be fixed after all.  But it was no use.  She wouldn’t pedal.  She wouldn’t switch gears.  She wouldn’t do anything.

And as I sat there on the sidewalk, holding the broken shell of what was once a beautiful bike, I knew there was only one explanation: The Chain Killer.

Rain loomed off in the distance.  Cars sped by, taunting me as I sat: a broken spirit, holding his broken steed, stuck in the midst of what had become the most dangerous of car-free competitions. What would the Chain Killer do next? Pop off another chain? Probably…he’s more or less a one trick pony.

Rosslyn, somewhere beyond the horizon, was no more than a dream to me.  I was stranded.  All hope had been lost.  I gripped the towel loosely in my hand, ready to throw it into the proverbial ring.

And suddenly, I saw him, a vision: Kyle, wearing his long black dress and big pointy black hat, cycling through the skies, laughing his little witchy laugh and making little witchy threats aimed at girls and their dogs, and men and their bikes.  I couldn’t let him win. Not this time. Not on my watch. Not again.

My bike squeaked, so faint that only someone with a deep spiritual connection could hear it.  But I heard it.  It rang out like the liberty bell, telling me to push forward, to keep fighting.  And just like Rocky when he infamously ain’t heard no bell, I too found a second wind.  The show, as they say, had to go on.

I walked the bike the remainder of the distance to Rosslyn.  I was late, that’s for sure.  The group had already left.  On a ordinary day, I’d have just gone home.  But this was no ordinary day, and it was no ordinary challenge.

From my pack, I pulled the ancient Flip Cam bestowed upon me by Arlington County.

“Use this,” they told me, “in your most troubled times.  Let it guide you.  Let it tell your story.”

So I shot. I shot and I shot and I shot until I could shoot no more.  People walking everywhere, enjoying the outdoors, enjoying the exercise, enjoying the company of those around them.  The rain, which only moments before had seemed all but certain to come in and drench the day in its downpour, now scuttled off in search of some other car-free competition.

I ambled along the busy Rosslyn streets, nodding and waving to all of those who passed by.  The battle had certainly been won, but the war was far from over.  I knew I needed to reach Revolution Cycles if I was going to have any chance of surviving.

So I scaled walls, and I crossed bridges and rivers, and I climbed hills.  I continued the journey.  The man at the Georgetown gate was nowhere to be found, and entrance into that land was uneventful.  Revolution Cycles welcomed me wholly.  A magician does not reveal his secrets, so I’ve no idea what sort of spell or charm was placed on my bike, but within seconds, the chain was repaired, and my bike was riding like it was brand new again.

I knew I was still a long way from home, and a long way from victory.  Still, for just a moment, I could breathe easy.  I hopped on the bike, my feet spinning atop the pedals.  With each car that passed, I thought about what still lay ahead for me in this car-free challenge; but I’ve no way to know what the future holds.  All I can do is try to be prepared for the unexpected.  And keep pedaling. Above all else, keep pedaling.

Please enjoy this video depicting my narrow escape from what could have been an untimely end to my car-free challenge. And enjoy the music! It’s a song I recorded just so you’d have music to keep your spirits up during an otherwise dark tale.

 

 

 


Last week, I took the two-wheel toyage out of closet storage for the maiden voyage. That’s right. The new bike transported me to work. I couldn’t tell you what to expect. Would I be run off the road in a fit of road rage? Would I forgo my fear of leather to join a biker gang? Would I embrace my inner Evel Knievel and jump the Grand Canyon? Only time would tell.

We don't dare look at each other

Sure. Tiny children are able to do it. But what adult in their right mind would wield a vehicle with only two wheels? There are no airbags, my six kids can barely fit in the children’s seat, and my nitrous tanks are useless! Clearly, this was going to be a sharp learning curve.

And what sort of supermodels can fit on these handlebars?

Well, the ride ended up being completely uneventful. There was no jumping through flaming hoops or drag races for pink slips. It ended up being calm, athletic, and actually faster than taking my car. In fact, the parking garage had a storage area for bikes! And they didn’t even charge me for parking! Afterwards, I ran some errands around town, and still got home in 10 minutes. While more tests must be run, biking may be my new favorite mode of travel.

Day 8: Work Week Errands

April 29th, 2011 by Kyle

Have you ever had one of those weeks where you felt like you didn’t have enough time to do anything? Ok. Now imagine that same week where you didn’t have a car. Unless you’re Lance Armstrong, I’m pretty sure this scenario is not for you.

Well Lance et. al., I’ve got to tell you that I’ve lived it. The truth is, it’s not all bad! Among the tasks seen in my video, I was also able to get groceries, play basketball (poorly) for the first time in two years, and make a couple happy hours. As added irony, I also helped push a truck down the road that had broken down. I thought I’d be done with that stuff when I went car-free.

A lot of people worry about a reduced social life following the loss of a vehicle. What you don’t realize is that you interact with people a lot more when you’re not surrounded by 2000 lbs of steel. You’d be surprised at how many conversations can strike up on the subway or sidewalk. So head out there Arlington! Shake hands with neighbors you’ve never seen! Meet some hot bitties on the subway! Go and get tanner than a Jersey Shore cast member!

First Video Blog for Car-Free Matt

April 27th, 2011 by Matt

Every day I receive SO MUCH fan mail asking, “Matt, what have you been up to? Please, please, please, please, please, PLEASE make a video that shows us your day to day.” That’s almost entirely true. Ok, it’s not true at all.

I DO receive mail though. From credit card companies.  And while I don’t open them, I imagine it’s completely realistic to assume they want to see some videos I’ve created.  So for all of the credit card companies (and readers) who have been itching themselves silly waiting to see a video, here’s one for your viewing pleasure.  It’s actually THREE, but I’ve combined the first few days into one video to make it as easy as possible for everyone to enjoy my adventures. Enjoy!

 

 


When I won the original challenge to become one of two contestants in the Car-Free Diet Skeptics Challenge, it seemed like there was only one thing anyone had to say: “You have to give up your car for thirty days? I don’t understand what you won.”

I’ll admit, it’s certainly not easy to explain how losing your car for thirty days is a celebratory event; but that’s on the surface.  For starters, Arlington County hooked me up with all sorts of flashy new gear.  Which reminds me, I want to give a big thank you to all of the stores that contributed, especially Revolution Cycles and Potomac River Running.  There’s absolutely no way I could be doing this without the new bike, shoes, and gear to help me go car-free.

Still, going car-free isn’t about the swag (much).  It’s about all of the positive aspects of not having a car.  I can see your faces now.

“Positive aspects of not having a car?!?,” you say.

“You didn’t let me finish,” I say. “Don’t be so rude.”

Yes, I just fabricated a conversation with a generalized version of my blog readers.  It’s my blog, and I’ll do what I want.

But all haha-ing aside, there really are a ton of positives to not owning a car.  Just ask Chris Balish.  Oh, you don’t know who Chris Balish is? Well, good thing I do and I’m prepared to tell you.

Chris is the author of How To Live Well Without Owning A Car. He is also an award-winning feature writer, reporter, and broadcast journalist and began his career writing for Writer’s Digest magazine and Writer’s Digest books.  But, just like his bio will tell you, the most important fact about Chris is his passion for living an improved life by going car-free.

After he wrote the original book, Arlington County commissioned Chris to add a special appendix just for Arlington County!  It’s a really great guide to help figure out how to start your own car-free lifestyle.

 

 

 

As Chris explains in the book, going car-free is for everyone who:

  • Is fed up with high gas prices
  • Finds owning a car is a hassle
  • Has financial problems
  • Worries about money
  • Has credit card debt, student loans, or personal loans
  • Longs for the freedom and serenity of a debt-free lifestyle

 

Of course, there are a ton of naysayers.  That’s understandable.  Going car-free can be extremely scary.  But you know what else is scary? Ghosts. And that didn’t stop any of the following from trucking right along:

  • Bill Murray in Ghost Busters
  • Demi Moore in Ghost
  • The Ghost Writer Team in Ghost Writer

 

And THEY had to deal with ghosts. Ew. All you have to do is give up a car.

Still, it’s a daunting task and it never fails, people will laugh, mock, and dismiss the possibility that THEY could EVER give up their car.  So here are a few facts and statistics from Chris’s book which might help sway the non-believers:

  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2003 Consumer Expenditure Survey, the average American spends eighteen cents of every dollar earned on transportation (1/5 of your income). That makes our cars the second largest expense behind housing.  And don’t forget, that report was from 2003 when gas was $1.55 per gallon.  It’s nearly $4.00 today.
  • According to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine, the best way to cut costs and save money is to go after one big expense, rather than a bunch of little ones.
  • According to a 2004 American Automobile Association study, the average American spends $8,410 per year to own a vehicle.  That includes car payments, insurance, gas, oil, car washes, registration fees and taxes, parking, tolls, and repairs. If you invested that money at an 8% annual return over thirty years, you’d have $1,043,251.  A millionaire people.
  • When you buy a new car you are spending thousands of dollars on an asset that will lose 20% of its value the day you buy it, lose another 10-15% of its value each year thereafter, require you to go into debt to pay for it, make you pay interest on the amount you borrowed to buy it, and force you to spend hundreds of dollars a month to continue to own it.
  • According to the Surface Transportation Policy Project, the average American driver spends 443 hours behind the wheel each year.
  • According to a 2005 Federal Highway Administration study, the average American spends 51 hours each year sitting in bumper-bumper traffic.
  • A study done by the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that sitting in traffic nearly triples the risk of suffering a heart attack a short time later.
  • A study done by the RAND corporation, the nation’s largest independent health policy research organization, found that sedentary suburbanites are more likely to suffer chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, asthma, headaches, diabetes, migraines, urinary tract infections, back pain, and obesity. In fact, co-Author, Dr. Deborah Cohen, states, “To improve our health the study suggests that we should build cities where people feel comfortable walking and are not so dependent on cars.”
  • A study done by the California Air Resources Board found that exposure to air pollution may be up to ten times higher INSIDE vehicles than in ambient air outside.
  • According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration there were 6.3 million motor vehicle crashes on U.S. roadways in 2003.  Nearly 3 million people were injured and 42,643 people died.
  • In addition to traffic and health concerns, cars cause road rage, noise pollution, animal casualties, and sprawl (irresponsible, poorly planned development that destroys green space, increases traffic, crowds schools, and drives up taxes).

 

And I haven’t even gotten through the first three chapters of his book! If you want to retire early, save up to travel, or pay off your house, then I genuinely suggest picking up Chris’s book and giving car-free living a go.

I guess what I’m trying to say, is that some things in life ARE scary, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth the risk.  And it doesn’t mean the pay out isn’t more than you would have ever expected.  If fear or doubt is holding you back from going car-free or going “car-lite”, then take it in steps.  Try it for a day.  Try it for a week.  I doubt you’ll regret the decision.

A few years back I wrote a story for a Creative Writing class at Towson University.  We had to discuss a moment that changed our lives; it didn’t matter how small or large the moment, just so long as it was an event which shaped who we would become.  I thought it was relevant so I wanted to share my story with you.  It’s a very literal tale, smacking of symbolism.  Whether you’re standing on the edge of a cliff or holding your car keys in your hand considering tossing THEM into the abyss, sometimes you just have to take the leap.

Life 56 Feet Above Sea Level

 

In addition, here are a few links to help you calculate just how much you could save if you decided to give up your car.  I definitely recommend using the Car Free Diet Calculator. It’s VERY useful AND if you fill it out, you’ll receive a coupon for a free copy of How To Live Well Without Owning A Car.  That’s a win-win-win. One extra win because I said so.

This link will help you determine how much you can save by going car-free:

Car Free Diet Calculator

This link will show you just how much it costs to own YOUR specific car each year:

True Cost to Own

As always, thanks for reading gangaroos! And if you have any of your own tips, suggestions, or questions, feel free to comment and let me know.

 

 

 

 

Day 4: Easter Weekend in Arlington

April 25th, 2011 by Kyle

Well, life is slowly but surely reminding me about my lack of motor transportation. This past weekend was Easter, and while most of the area were driving around to meet loved ones and hunt for eggs, I was trudging through the rain sans umbrella. But it wasn’t all bad. I got to get some new shoes, tried out Capital Bikeshare, and kept dry (or drier) by taking the Metro.

One of the first things that you start noticing about being Car-Free is the extra time that you have to allot for travel. What may have taken you 10 minutes to travel by car may take 20 by bike, or 40 by foot! However, this isn’t always a bad thing. Biking will give you the chance to get some exercise on an otherwise lethargic day. As for walking, it’s given me a clearer view to the neighborhood in which I live. I’ve already gotten to meet a few local residents, eaten at a few unknown restaurants, and scouted a new church that otherwise would all be blurry images out a passenger-side window. Metro wait-times on the weekends could stand to be better, but I struck up a conversation with a group of people heading my direction. Turns out they lived right down the street from me!

 

19 minutes for the next Blue Line train?! C'mon WMATA! This isn't Riyadh!

 

As for the weekend itself, Friday proved to be the most challenging. Overcast and rainy are not favorable conditions for travel, no matter what the mode. Additionally, when I went to the office after lunch to get my umbrella, I found that I’d actually left it at home. This made for quite a waterlogged trip to Potomac River Runners. Once there, the staff did quite an amazing job. They were able to assess my running style, gave me several shoe options, and even did a hands-on critique of my feet. Trust me, NOBODY wants to get near these things.

 

What the Terminator sees when looking at feet.

 

Saturday, I went searching for clues instead of eggs. As mentioned before, Capital Bikeshare has opened up 4 new stations in Arlington (with a fifth coming soon). To celebrate this, Bike Arlington sponsored a scavenger hunt for those who went to all four stations. The contest is still running, and you can get some cool prizes just for participating! See The Scavenger Hunt Page for more details.

The rest of the weekend was perfect. And with more great weather on the way, I’ve written this haiku to get you all out and about:

Nice weather outside
Should get people out biking.
Unless the Caps play.

 

Old Rag, New Diet

April 24th, 2011 by Matt

Sorry I’ve been distant the past few days gang. I spent the weekend camping along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. Turns out, the wilderness still hasn’t caught up with modern technology. Their version of “wireless” involves absolutely no wires. Ever. That said, I’ve been a bit out of touch for the past two days and I wanted to catch you all up on my adventures.

I woke in Arlington Friday bright and early. My first thought was how much I wanted to drive somewhere to grab some breakfast. It was a little chilly and biking has never been my “go-to” form of transportation so I debated whether or not I REALLY wanted breakfast. Turns out I did.

So I biked to Subway to pick up a delicious breakfast sandwich. The whole world was alive and kicking early in the morning! I can’t stress enough, not using a car really makes you appreciate everything that goes on around you. I saw a father walking with his little daughter, couples walking their dogs, fellow bikers waving as they passed, houses I’ve overlooked the entire time I’ve lived in Arlington, and so on and so forth. Moving from Pennsylvania, and working from home frequently, it’s been hard to really feel like I was part of the community. When I’m on my bike, I actually feel like I belong. So, thanks Car Free Diet!

After that though, I have some bad news. I got in a car. It wasn’t my choice, but the campgrounds were over two and a half hours away, and my dad and brother didn’t seem to think we could get there without using a car. I have to wager that they were probably right. The trunk and backseat were loaded down with tents, sleeping bags, camping equipment, etc. If any you have any suggestions on car-free long distance traveling, or traveling with A LOT of equipment, I’d love the advice.

The good news is that once there, I insisted we remain car free, which wasn’t too difficult since we spent most of our time hiking. My family has been camping in the Shenandoah Valley area since I was just a baby. I’ve spent countless days wandering the trails of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but the one summit we never dared to conquer was Old Rag. My brother and my father and I have always said we’d do it. “One day,” we’d say, “we’ll hike Old Rag.” Saturday was that day.

It’s a 9 to 12 mile hike depending on where you start and involves the “rock scramble”, a 9/10 stretch of the mountain where you are forced to climb up and down rocks/boulders which take the place of a more traditional trail. Suffice it to say, it’s a bit of a task, burning around 3,500 calories when all is said and done. That’s a full pound of calories! I made sure to wear my Car Free Diet t-shirt and was able to talk about the contest with a few curious passerbys (though the conversation was in between deep inhales and exhales)!

We also spent time doing other activities and made sure to check out Shenandoah Caverns while we were there. If anyone gets the chance, you should definitely get down to the the Skyline Drive area. It’s a great chance to do some car-free living for a quick weekend get away. Just gorgeous.

It was a great opportunity to get in some exercise and prepare myself for the next 28 days of going Car-Free. And guess what (you won’t believe this) we got the chance to see a bear. Unlike the last blog post which involved a lot of fake bear talk, this bear was real, albeit a cub, but still real! I didn’t stick around very long to find out what the cub was doing in a tree, or where the mama bear was, but I did think it fit in perfectly with my bear theme!

But now, I’m glad to be back in Arlington and I’m ready to get back down to business here in the city. I’ve taken a few bike rides in the past week and I’ve been using an app on my Iphone called “MapMyRide” which is a great way to track where you’ve been riding along with total distance and calories. For those of you who like to run or bike, I suggest checking it out. I’ll be posting my treks in upcoming blogs so keep a look out for that!

I have so many things to say, and a lot of questions I’ve thought of over the past few days but I’ll hold off for a bit. I’m pretty drained from hiking and for now, I just want to curl up, put on a movie, and be as car-free as possible right from my own sofa!

Here are a few pictures from my trip over the weekend, and a link to more pictures taken by my brother. Enjoy! And let’s keep in touch. I’ve missed yins.

Old Rag Picture Gallery

Day 2: Welcome to Earth… Day

April 22nd, 2011 by Kyle

April 22nd is a time for many celebrations. It’s Good Friday, my sister’s birthday, and the day when we celebrate the big blue marble called Earth. Everyone is reminded to recycle, reduce, and reuse. Going car-free is the best way to do them all. You can reduce your CO2 emissions, reuse water bottles while walking, and recycle by biking multiple times (get it? Re-cycle?). Normally, I celebrate by watching every episode of Captain Planet on an endless loop. However, I had errands to run, so I braved the rain with camera in hand to get some shots for my next video blog. It should be up later this weekend. In the meantime, check out Day One’s video below (pardon the rough cuts – it won’t happen again):

Until the next blog, go out there and do some Earth Day themed stuff! Here are some ideas below:

1) See how much you’re spending to own your car. Check out the Car-Free Diet Calculator. It can tell you how much you’re spending on a daily or monthly basis. I’ve done it, and my numbers are below:

With every mile I drive, I:
Spend $0.76
Release 0.9 lbs of CO2 into the atmosphere
Burn 2.1 calories

In a typical week of driving, I:
Spend $211.86
Release 238.2 lbs of CO2 into the atmosphere
Burn 594 calories

2) Some new Capital Bikeshare stations have opened in Arlington. To celebrate, BikeArlington is sponsoring a scavenger hunt. I’ll be participating in it tomorrow, so I hope to see you out there! BikeArlington Scavenger Hunt Details

3) National Walk at Lunch day is this Wednesday, April 27th. Get off your duffs and get some coworkers on the streets! Beats eating that hoagie at your desk any day. National Walk at Lunch Details


Buses and Metros and Bears, Oh My!


Ok, so no bears (yet).  But even without those adorable deadly beasts, Arlington was a little really scary for me today on Day 1 of my Car Free Diet.  From 12 am-7:30 am everything went extremely smoothly.  I was bundled up under my sweet Urban Outfitters quilt, resting atop the cloud-like pillow topper strapped to my bed.  I can’t say for certain, but I bet I was even dreaming about awesome bears. Life. Was. Good.

Then I woke up and things went slightly down hill.  I had an interview scheduled for 11 a.m in Rosslyn.  I was fairly jazzed about the opportunity so I made sure to wake up early enough to eat some breakfast, get dressed, comb my hair just so, and grab the bus to Rosslyn.  Here’s how that went:

1. No cereal.  Not enough time to bike to the store and back so I made due with a glass of orange juice.

2. Suit jacket…missing?! Turns out, I left it in the car yesterday (Yuh, so what if I wear a suit jacket two days in a row.  So does P-Diddy. Maybe). But, as I had no need for the car, my girlfriend had already left with it to go to work.

3. Hair product in my laptop/shoulder bag, also in the car.  Without it, my hair does more of a “wah, wah” than a “ka-boom”.

4. I arrived at the bus stop just in time to see the bus driving away.

So I went 0 for 4.  I made a quick mental note to become MUCH better at preparation for the following day.  It’s a good lesson.  I thought I was prepared, but I wasn’t.  There isn’t really a good way to describe the feeling of having NO idea how to get yourself to an interview on time except to say that it’s a little more scary than crossing paths with a bear.  Actually, that’s a fantastic way to describe the feeling so now I’m embarrassed; I apologize for being so quick to assume there would be no good way to describe how I felt.  You know what they say: when you assume, you miss interviews.

Fortunately, they were nice enough to let me reschedule for a little later in the morning.  Problem averted.  But it won’t always work out and I know that.  It’s time to get serious about planning ahead!

On the way home I caught the metro to Ballston and the 23A bus back to Northern Arlington.  I know I didn’t go far, but it was the first time in a long time I had to rely entirely on public transportation.  I’ve seen buses and metros.  I’ve (gasp) even used them.  But in the past it was always with the understanding that if I WANTED to, I could just drive.  It became a whole new ball game when the wheels were gone and going car-free became real. Yes, a whole new world.  Not shining.  Not shimmering. Not splendid.

But I’m of course just over-exaggerating.  The experience was actually a lot of fun.  It may not be exactly like Al Addin and Prince S. Jasmin described it, but I’m really looking forward to a whole new world over the next 29 days.  It felt great to get in the extra exercise, see some new faces, and go on an adventure.  Because really, when you go Car Free, every day can be an adventure. Adios monotony. Hello Arlington (and maybe bears)!

On a side note, take a gander at the new Car Free Diet Skeptics Intro Video. It’s the beginning to a tale of two gorgeous men pitted against mother nature, the odds, and each other. And bears.

That’s all for today! Stop back in to follow along with the trials, tribulations, triumphs, and…wait for it…waaaaiiit for it…bears.
 

 

 

Day 1: A Whole New World

April 21st, 2011 by Kyle

Good morning Arlington, and welcome to the first day of the Car-Free Skeptics Challenge! I must admit, the road ahead looks daunting; mostly because that road doesn’t have a car on it. But I’ll be keeping you abreast of all the goings on of the Car-Free world! Stay tuned for periodical updates, videos, and foot-friendly events.

And if you haven’t seen the new Intro video, you can see it below:


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