Interview with a 6-year-old.

It’s been four months since we sold the car.  I wondered how my son was feeling about it. Here is our short interview:
MOM: Why did we sell our car?
KID: We didn’t need it.
MOM: Do you miss our car?
KID: No.
MOM: What is the best thing about not having a car?
KID: Getting exercise
MOM: What is the worst thing about not having a car?
KID: Can’t go far places.
MOM: Do people think it’s weird that we don’t have a car?
KID: Some do.
MOM: Do you like hiking to the Rec Center for camp?
KID: No.
MOM: Why not?
KID: I just don’t like hiking.
MOM: But you do it anyway, why?
KID: (some whining and moaning; inaudible but something along the lines of “make these questions stop.”)
MOM: What is it like to ride on the trail-a-bike?
KID: It’s fun.
MOM: Who is better driver of the trail a bike?
KID: Dad.
MOM: Why is he better?
KID: Because he rides bikes more than you do.

A Head-On Collision Changes Nothing

We were having family game show night on our vacation, a homemade version of the Newlywed Game  with all the cousins, aunts, and uncles. My husband responded to this question: “what really, really scares you?” with this answer:  “car accidents.” The next day we learned that our neighbors, the ones from whom we love to hitch rides whenever we are in a pinch; the ones that showed their gritty side and took the train and hiked the trail to camp last week on their own.  Those very good friends of ours were in a serious car accident.

 

It was a head-on collision on Route 9D; the road that frequently scares the shit out of me when i am on my bike. Ironically, it’s also a road that scares the shit out of people driving in cars, because it’s one lane each direction, winding, beautiful, and oftentimes moving very fast.
Ninety percent of the road is marked by a double yellow line (which means do not cross me). It is the road that travels between the three towns of my own Cinque Terre of the Hudson Valley  It is a road that seems to bait reckless drivers to tempt fate and cross those “do not cross me” lines to gain a few extra minutes toward their destination.  Two days ago, an SUV crossed those yellow lines; the driver fell asleep at the wheel.  The SUV hit my friends head-on. Everyone survived. Amazingly, everyone was relatively unscathed. The mom (the driver) attributed her family’s aliveness to the brilliant engineering of her Volkswagen Jetta. “I will definitely be getting another one of those cars!” she reported via text when I was chatting with her from the ICU of a nearby hospital.  Their six year old got some internal injuries, which meant she had to stay a few cautionary days in the hospital. When I heard the news, I started bawling; uncontrollably sobbing.

 

 I worry about dying in a bike accident much more than I worry about car accidents. Statisticians claim that the car is by far more dangerous. But if we are honest about it, a bike accident is nothing more than a car accident that happens to also involve a bike.
I’m not suggesting that the driver of the car is always responsible. Accidents are never intentional. If my bike hits a pothole and throws me in front of a moving vehicle, I will get hit by that car. Not much that car can do to prevent that. On the other hand, if the driver is texting or drunk and they oh so inadvertently veer into the shoulder where I am riding my bike, well, that’s also an accident, but one that could have been prevented if the driver was actually paying attention to operating several tons of steel on wheels. Imagining this story is one of many that sends my heart racing right at that moment when I am trying to fall asleep but am instead picturing all the terrible ways in which the people I love may come to an untimely end.

 

I do what I can to garner some sympathy on the road. I know that lots of drivers hate cyclists. I don’t want them to hate me. I am just trying to get from work to summer camp to pick up my kid.
When riding on busy roads or roads with tight shoulders, I always wear a long skirt.  A skirt?! Yes, a skirt. If I am in spandex or shorts, then I become one of the cyclists that some drivers love to hate. They hate how we ride in the middle of the road for no apparent reason; aka just to piss them off. When I ride in the middle of the road, it’s usually on a blind curve, because I want to make sure a car sees me, especially if they are texting or not fully paying attention. Or the shoulder is filled with potholes and I am scared. I figure if I am wearing a skirt, you might consider that I am a mom. You might give me a pass and not assume I am a dick.

The Evil Plantar Fasciitis Foils Zero Car Mom’s Plans

My foot still hurts, despite obsessively massaging the fascia connecting my shin to my foot and pounding my unnaturally tight calf muscle. The self massaging helps, but since we don’t have a car, I still have to walk everywhere. When I go into New York City for work, I often ride CitiBike, but I always have the option to take the subway. With my heel throbbing, I am better off riding than walking.
I am not ready to give up. I will fight you Evil Plantar Fasciitis!  You will not destroy my zero car life!

Spiderwebs, mosquitoes, trains and trails.

A mom and her six-year-old embark on their first day walking 1.3 miles to get to summer camp.

IMG_3674For this last week of summer we need to catch the 8:30 train to travel one town over. We will hike the Arden’s Point trail to Marcia’s Mile which leads us directly to the Philipstown Recreation Center Day Camp. We woke late, so I had to hustle to make lunches and get out of the house on time. In our no-car life we rely on the commuter trains. When you have a car, you can leave your house late and drive really fast so that you still arrive at camp on time. Or you can just arrive late, no big deal. Not so with trains.
We had to keep a good pace for the ten minute walk to our train station. Lenny complained a bit, so I took his backpack so he could run to keep up.  If we position ourselves in the first car of the train we can usually escape paying for the 5-minute ride, because it’s a busy commuter train and they don’t check tickets at each station. We disembarked at Garrison and took a quick walk across the parking lot to the trail head.
It was shady and cool this morning, a departure from the 97+ (feels like 112°) heatwave that has kept us nearly housebound for the past two days. I was relieved. Lenny wanted to walk slowly. I doubled up the backpacks, piling his on top of mine on my back, and we started our walk.

 

At first Lenny complained, “I hate this path, it has too many rocks,” he said. “There are a million spider webs getting in my face.”

I took the lead so that my body would cut through the invisible threads across our path, clearing the way. We had not accounted for the mosquitoes. It was pretty buggy and we both said that tomorrow we need to remember bug spray. Once we accepted the minimal amount of suffering we would have to endure, Lenny grabbed my hand and started talking. We had a great conversation about nature, his friends, starting school in a few weeks, our upcoming vacation in Florida. We had twenty leisurely minutes to enjoy each other’s company, without phones or anyone to distract us.

 

When we arrived at camp, I told Lenny that it makes me so happy to spend my morning walking and talking with him. He surprised me when he said, “mom, you’re always happy.”

 

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View from the train platform to the hiking trail. Those trees are where we go to walk a mile to the day camp.
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Our commute.

On many of our car-less commutes, Lenny initially complains. He finds the small thing that could make the journey unpleasant—like a rocky path. I let him know that I heard him, but we don’t have another option, really, so we have to figure out how to make the best of it. I try to shift the focus away from the complaint; instead reflecting on my pleasure spending time with my kid. He usually follows my lead.

I can think of a dozen things to complain about when riding in the car: like all the traffic, we can’t go as fast as I want, there is nothing good on the radio, that truck just cut me off, the crumbs in the middle console are gross, I can’t check my messages while I am driving. Yet for over 30 years I still drove.

The return trip to the train station was a bit tight, I had to walk fast to catch the 9:30am train that would take me the rest of the way toGrand Central in NYC, my three-day-a week commute. This journey was not quite as pleasant; my flip-flops proving not ideal for the speed I needed. I was a just stepped out of the shower drippy mess when I hit the platform. I could not have looked more forward to the air conditioning on that train.

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Flip flops were not the best choice to race down a rocky trail to catch my train to work in the City.

It’s hard to walk a mile to somewhere you don’t want to go.

Today I walked at least four miles. On mile one, my six year old was literally dragging his feet. He did not enjoy his first day of camp at the Rec Center yesterday. He did not want to return today.

 

Unable to use the tried-and-true parenting method of manhandling him into the car and bribing him with ten minutes of game time on my iPhone, my son had to walk a mile on a wooded trail. He was really not into it. I wasn’t into it either, honestly.
My brain was into it, but my body was not. In recent weeks I have more than tripled my walking mileage and my body is feeling bedraggled. Extreme pain in my left heel over the past week signaled a potentially dire physical problem that could derail our hiking commutes. I have all the signs of plantar fasciitis: a painful foot injury that flares up with increased exercise, particularly walking or running without sufficient training. Yet, I was optimistic that if I stretched enough and wore running shoes instead of flip flops (see yesterday’s walk), I would be fine.

 

I was mostly fine, but thoughts of “you should just rest, this is stupid to try to push through” disrupted the peace. Mixed with a child whining, “I don’t want to go to camp” and  pleas for me to “walk slooower” didn’t make the trip more fun. But we kept walking. There was really nothing else to do.
I suggested a game that switched our attention to the trail; we searched for the most beautiful rocks. Soon after, even after we stopped rock hunting, we stopped complaining. Once at camp, all was well. Lenny ran away from me to sit with his friends. I turned on my throbbing heel and headed back down the mile plus trail to wait for my train home.

Killing the idea of “killing time”.
This day was one of two in which I work locally and do not need to take the train to NYC. Unfortunately, that does mean that I have to wait 40-minutes for a train headed to my town in the other direction. The trains going away from the city arrive less frequently, as would be expected. Today was my first camp commute where I needed to kill some time.

I consciously slowed down my pace and calmed my monkey brain by focusing on the sounds and beauty of the trail. I asked myself, “would you rather be speeding down Route 9D in a car getting home in just 10 minutes?”  I decided that this extra space in my day could be a time to meditate. I re-framed what could have been annoyance with a long wait on the train platform into something that would benefit me.
I didn’t choose to hurry down the trail to get extra sit time on the platform for refreshing my Facebook page or reading the New York Times. I decided to enjoy the time and meditate on the strength of my body at midlife and to commend myself on my commitment to being car-less; despite the bugs, heat, and pain in my foot. I got home with a well-earned hunger for farm fresh tomatoes with burrata cheese and a thirst for a strong iced latte. I started to write that the latte was my reward, but that’s simplistic and incorrect. The reward is that I feel really good about myself for staying committed to doing this different thing; to not having a car.

This Prius is Making Me Soft.

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The street we live on looks a lot like this. There are at least six of these cars parked on our block.  So far, the Prius owners are the first to offer us their cars when they leave town.

Friends lent us their car while they are away on vacation. It’s a nice gesture and we appreciate the wheels when we have them. I am somewhat embarrassed, however,  to admit that we having been using the loaner car everyday. It is a Prius. The second one that has been loaned to us.  For a few days I didn’t feel bad about driving it because it was a Prius.  I wasn’t hurting the environment that much, I figured. Do Prius owners drive more, because they feel like they can? It doesn’t cost as much to drive because the gas mileage is so good. I have a neighbor who frequently drives to the city instead of taking the train. She may subscribe to this “it’s not bad to drive” rationalization in her hybrid.

The car has been convenient, but I am falling out of the habit of being a gritty, resourceful, car free individual. I liked myself better as that person.

August 9
It’s 95 degrees. We have a borrowed car. Our friends are away on vacation. I am getting lazy. Even on the ride home from Beacon I found myself disbelieving that I had just a week earlier ridden my bike on the same road in similar heat. The impulse to be soft is powerful.

August 11

Today is the last day with the borrowed car. It was calling to me. I was feeling weak.

I didn’t get a good night’s sleep. Plus, it was oppressively humid. Holy hell, besides being so tired, I would come back from camp drop off looking like a drowned rat. Arriving at camp fresh from the A/C in the Prius, one of the counselors asked hopefully if we had ridden our bikes again. “I was thinking about you,” she admitted. She was impressed with our choice and I could tell she was thoughtfully considering all the pros to getting rid of the car, yet she identified her reason-why-not (everyone always does), “I can’t strap my guitar to my back.” But I was delighted to see that she didn’t let herself off so easy: “or I could just attach a trailer to my bike.” A bystander, who lives even closer to the camp, contemplated his excuses—he has art materials to carry. But he talked himself out of them as well. I felt good that maybe these like-minded folks might ditch their cars on occasion and walk or bike when they could.