The Excitable Scientist

Mostly cheerful, sometimes snarky commentary on life science research and its broader impacts

what #carfreeclerkship is not January 15, 2017

Filed under: biking,clerkship — excitablescientist @ 12:12 am

Lots of people seem to assume my aversion to car ownership is extreme and I seem to have succeeded in giving the impression that I’m a lot more hardcore than I actually am. So, score! A couple of days ago a random man on the street in Sechelt who saw me cycling proceeded to yell at me, “OVERACHIEVER!” (little did he know I’m a med student!) However, flattering as these assumptions may be, I feel like I should rectify a few misconceptions.


Most importantly: having my bicycle as my primary mode of transportation does not mean that I will ride it 20 kilometres uphill through snow while shards of ice falling from the sky pelt my face and baby cougars nip at my feet. #carfreeclerkship does not mean I am going to bike 100% of the way, 100% of the time. There are other ways to get to work, in this likely scenario and other circumstances, namely: taking the bus, walking, private jet, batting my eyes at people who have cars.


My preferred alternative is public transit. I remember a conversation with a friend of a friend who was headed to Vancouver Island to camp on a weekend that the forecast called for rain. Thinking that rain = misery and slippery roads = scariness, and having heard him say he was going to be short on time, I asked if he’d thought about putting his bike on the bus to get to the Horseshoe Bay ferry, at which he scoffed and said “that would be cheating”.




These performances of self-sufficiency/self-aggrandizement, glorification of individualism and scoffing at a wonderful public service and efficient mode of transportation are tiring a world in which we are all, beyond any argument, interdependent. I wanted to ask him if he also welds his own frames and grows and harvests his own rubber for his tires and tubes. You see, I use single-origin organic steel with a minimum 80% Fe-56 content that I extract by hand from the depths of the Earth. Oh and I only inflate my tires by mouth because bike pumps are cheating too.


On an oppressively hot, sunny Sunday morning last summer, I showed up at a venue across town to help friends clean up after a magnificent party they’d thrown the night before. Of course I didn’t bike there. My nausea and dehydration and my need to listen to Right Round on repeat (because it was a fun evening) were not compatible with cycling 10km up a hill in the heat. One of their helpers, likewise an enthusiastic cyclist, said something to the tune of, “well that must have been a nice treat to take the bus” and I wanted so badly to say that a nice treat that morning would have been to sleep more than 4 hours, preferably while someone administered parenteral fluids and Gravol. Public transit is a public service, and by definition a public service cannot be a luxury. Even for dedicated cyclists. And don’t even get me started on the elitism/ableism in looking down on people who aren’t able to cycle everywhere they need to go, all the time.


I post about my #carfreeclerkship adventures for many reasons including: because I was frustrated with the near-universal expectation that I would own a car, because I want to challenge the assumption that driving is the default. Because it brings me joy that far outweighs the inconveniences (and there is some inconvenience if we’re being honest). Because frankly, I think we all need to be thinking about how to live with greater reliance on each other and less on fossil fuels. Because I needed inspiration and I knew I wasn’t the only one.


If my comment section had any kind of measurable traffic whatsoever I’m sure sooner or later I would hear something like, “well she accepted a ride from a preceptor once because she didn’t feel like riding 20 minutes down an unlit highway at 11 o’clock at night (true story btw) so is the #carfreeclerkship tag really accurate, hmm?” Actually yes it is, in that I still don’t own a car. I know that if I did, I would drive much more than the occasional times I do now by carpooling, or using a carshare, or whatever. All my friends have had this experience; it just becomes too easy. And because they’re so rare, I really relish the rides I do get. My BFF offered me a ride once that was completely out of her way, even though there was a perfectly convenient bus option and I had time, because she could tell I was drained of all energy. Another friend drove me home when I was supposed to be the one helping him, because he wanted to give me a break from the slushy misery of Dec 2016 in Vancouver. These are the things I remember.


In conclusion? I think being flexible about how I get around has made living with my decision to avoid car ownership much easier. I think not giving ourselves options for dealing with extenuating circumstances is a great way to ensure we don’t stick with the decision in the long-term. Most of all, I am hoping that instead of thinking “she’s so hardcore!” people will look at me and think, “she’s not that hardcore but she manages anyway; I bet I could do it too.” 🚲


Porpoise Bay, shíshálh traditional territory, Sechelt, BC


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