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No Car Grocery Run

Just dipping my toe into using my bicycle as my main mode of around-town transportation, I went to the grocery store today, without my car. It was a whole lot easier than I thought it would be.

No Car Grocery Run
Parked in front of my house, the orange front bag bulges over the basket, crammed full of groceries after my inaugural human-powered grocery run. 

I'd be lying if I said that $6.50/gallon diesel fuel for Klaus (my trusty Volkswagon) didn't figure into my human-powered trek to Aldi today. Admittedly, I am cheap. But I've also long had a fanciful vision of myself as someone who uses a car only for large items, or when I have several passengers or for out-of-town trips . Today, I tested those waters. And they were quite temperate.

A bunch of bananas, bag of lemons, bag of oranges, some broccoli, can of corn, two bottles of bbq sauce (for the pulled jackfruit sandwiches I made for dinner, which killed!), pound of butter and two pounds of meat (for my cat's fancy-ass meals) and a bottle of baby aspirin (because I am an old man, shut up). Not a bad haul, actually. 

I didn't get much, as you can see. But I did manage to get a surprisingly good amount in that front bag, which was stretched nearly to capacity. If I continued to use only this bag, I'd have to make probably four trips to the store a week. That's far too much interaction with humanity. I'll have to up my bag game considerably if I'm going to continue this.

The trip itself was a lot easier than I had thought it would be. Six miles, round-trip. It took me about an hour total, and that's with stops at two stores. If I cut out the stop at Rite-Aide, it'd be about 10 minutes less. I'm not convinced that trip would have taken me less time in the car, actually.

That's not to say it wasn't more dangerous.

I do not live in an area that could by any stretch be confused for bicycle friendly. Or even bicycle tolerant, frankly. The roads are scary. There are no bike lanes. The roads barely have shoulders. And when there are, they're littered with glass shards, nails, screws and debris of all kinds, like the floor of a movie theatre for robots. Lanes merge, converge and materialize like they were drawn in crayon by an asthmatic toddler who just sampled 17 different bronchodilators. And there's always some giant Hot Wheels truck barreling down on you, unaware he's edging over the line and perilously close to rolling over you with his 4-foot-tall balloon tires, because he can't actually see the road from 22-feet in the air. And despite the new law in New Jersey requiring drivers to give cyclists 4-feet of room when passing, most give all of four inches while cursing you from inside glass at 45 mph.

But along much of the route to this particular store, there are sidewalks. I don't like riding sidewalks for a bunch of philosophical reasons, not the least of which is that, as a bicycle rider, I am part of traffic. I own and deserve to ride on those roads just as much as any motor vehicle. Sidewalks are for pedestrians. Riding on the sidewalks admits supremacy of the dominant, bullshit car culture that is killing us ecologically, separates us socially, stratifies us economically, and cedes the right-of-way to the autos, emboldening drivers' entitlement and further endangering other riders who bravely exercise their prerogative and righteously take the streets. I have no desire to leave my two-wheeled comrades twisting in the wind by taking the easy way out.

But I'm not going to kill myself for some bananas. So you're on your own, comrades. I'm on the sidewalks, living.

Aside from sidewalks, there were several other factors that conspired to make this a good trip.

The weather cooperated. It was dry. The temperatures were mild, around 61 degrees (Fahrenheit. This is America.) I also was not in a hurry. It was a Saturday morning and I had nothing planned. If it was wet, cold, windy, a Wednesday at 6 p.m. or I was just hungover from the night before, there's a 90 percent chance I'm driving  Klaus to the store.

But there were several personal choices I made that contributed to the success of this inaugural run.

I limited my list of things to buy to those I absolutely needed in the next couple of days. I learned that to do this kind of trip properly, planning and discipline is important. Neither of those is exactly my strong suit, either. So this is a learning curve for me. But I knew I had two solid hours before the rain was coming. Check. I knew exactly what I needed and bought nothing else. Check. It was a store I've been to often and I knew exactly where the items I needed were located. Check. As an experienced shopper, I knew that what I planned to purchase would normally fit in a single, regular-sized grocery bag. Check.

I also learned that I do not like carrying a load on the front of my bike. Neither does my bike. Turning, breaking, rolling over curbs was all quite nerve-wracking. I had to pay attention to my riding far more than I'm accustomed on the way back from the store. That was not fun.

But I have never felt more accomplished from a grocery store trip than I did today. Simply knowing that I can do it, that I can jump on my bike and go to the grocery store was liberating, nay, downright intoxicating. That feeling lasted for hours and energized me to get a whole raft of other household things done, far more than I would have done in any other day.

There are a number of improvements and accessories I'll have to buy if this is something I'm going to do on a regular basis – rear rack, panniers, backpack, kryptonite lock, for instance – and I've already started to price them out. There's plenty of clothing I'm going to need for various kinds of weather, too, but I've got a long list already to get started on my way to leaving that car parked far more often.