Lots of out of towner’s around this weekend as it’s graduation day at the University today. Which means lots of people walking in the bike paths, people (driving) using entrances as exits and exits as entrances, and just generally not being used to being around so many people on bikes. It’s not a big deal or a problem, but you do have to be a little more aware of what’s going on around you.
The grocery store a stones throw away from my apartment is undergoing a change in ownership and is currently closed. So, for the time being most of my groceries are fetched from stores 2.5 & 4.5 miles away. In my neighborhood there’s a little co-op that sells things like yummy eggs from local small farmers and a corner store where I pick up apples and bananas, but for all my bigger trips I bike it out of my neighborhood.
I checked the time before heading home from the store 2.5 miles from me with 4 big bags of groceries this morning; the trip took me 13-14 minutes. Cycling was at an easy, non-sweaty pace and, other than crossing one busy arterial (zero cars on it this morning), was on neighborhood streets with little traffic. Clothing wise, I was just wearing normal street clothes (50 degrees out) with the addition of full finger cycling gloves and a helmet.
For 4 bags of groceries you need more than just a backpack and handlebars to hang sacks from. I have a smallish set of panniers for my bike’s rear rack and a small front basket. The groceries filled all of it, but were easy to balance and weren’t a problem to get home.
For this size of trip you do need to make a little bit of an investment in bike racks and bags, but this sort of trip is easily doable and at sub 15 minutes each way the time investment isn’t a big deal.
Rating: with a small investment in gear, easily doable.
Getting around on foot and bicycle will be a recurring theme on this blog. I’m interested in talking about what’s feasible and do-able for most of us as far as getting around. I know that people move refrigerators, couches, and entire apartments via bicycles, and I think that’s fantastic. But, what I’m interested in is the more mundane everyday stuff and what’s doable for average folks that happen to have a bike or want to walk, not what the Super Cyclists are doing.
For this post I also wanted to figure out how to post pictures, so there they are.
Anyway, two trips to the library, call it 11-13 minutes travel time, in mid-30 degree weather. Doable? Absolutely. No need to fire up the car for this trip. My pace for both of these was casual, no sweating or heavy breathing required. Cargo wise a handful of library books is easy to transport requiring no specialized gear. Staying warm and comfortable while biking in mid 30’s temperatures is easy, anything that will keep you warm walking in these temps will also keep you warm on your bike, but you do have to think about the extra wind from biking, so gloves and some sort of jacket that will block the wind are needed and you might want to keep your ears covered up.
Rating: easily doable with no extra gear needed.
When I first moved to Eau Claire I had some of my neighbors in the Third Ward a bit puzzled. Was I connected to the university? No. Did I have family in the area? No. Did I move here for a specific job. No. Was I part of a witness protection program? I, actually, had multiple people ask me this and when I answered “no” they always gave me a skeptical look. My neighbors couldn’t believe that a person from the Seattle area, where apparently everyone on the planet wants to live, would move to a small city in Wisconsin, that western Wisconsin might be preferable to western Washington was a completely alien thought. I thought this first post would be a good chance explain how I got here and why.
In 2013 I was living outside of Seattle and caring for my father who was terminally ill. I was also realizing that someone like myself with a pretty whopping dose of Seasonal Affective Disorder and severe mold allergies living in the darkest, moldiest part of America wasn’t really the best of options. I figured after my dad pased away I’d take a cross country road trip and check out a few different places to live.
First I had to figure out the parameters of where a good place for me would be. The first parameter was light. I did a little research and discovered that there were rankings of cities based on the amount of light they receive and as long as I wasn’t in one of the ten darkest areas in America I’d probably be fine. The second parameter was cost of living. I wouldn’t have a job for a bit and I didn’t know if this experiment was going to end in total disaster or if I’d end up moving more than once, so cost of living had to fairly low. Third: Crime. I’m not that great about locking stuff up and since I do a lot of getting around by bicycle and don’t want my bike to get ripped off or things stolen off of it a lower crime rate was a must. The fourth parameter was outdoor recreation, was there easy access to hiking, paddling, biking, maybe some skiing. Last, but not least, bicycles. Could I do most of my getting around on a bicycle.
Blogs were read. Google maps was consulted. I spent several evenings on Craig’s List looking at apartment prices in different cities around the country. Much to my surprise places in the Midwest kept cropping up. I started making a list of places to visit and it ran heavy on the upper midwest. Then I picked up a newish Kathleen Edwards CD and read a few interviews with her and it turns out that most of the songs were written and recorded in someplace called Eau Claire, Wisconsin. She raved about the place in a couple interviews. Looking up Eau Claire online I found great biking, low crime, a low cost of living, a river running right through town, and cross country skiing right outside of town. I had front runner.
My dad passed away at the beginning of July in 2013 and later that year headed out on my cross country trip. I drove a zig-zagging course taking me all over the country, but while driving from Dubuque, Iowa to Eau Claire though the Driftless Area I figured I’d probably found my new home. The Driftless Area is just crazy pretty. I camped at Lake Wissota State Park for a couple of days and rode my bike down the Chippewa Trail to Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire. I got off the trail on the UWEC campus and explored the Third Ward a bit and that was pretty much the end of my search. I loved the old homes and the big trees. I loved the river and the ease of getting around on my bike and everyone I saw seemed open and friendly, a big change from the more private and passive aggressive Pacific Northwest.
My trip lasted another month or so and took me all over New England and the South East, but I knew the whole time that I’d be swinging though Eau Claire on my way back to the Pacific Northwest and making things final in Eau Claire. Everyone else can have Seattle. I’ll take Eau Claire with its whisky bright winter mornings, air that I can actually breathe, ever changing river, and some of the friendliest people that you’ll ever meet.