Smile When It Rains
by Elena Margo

After four years of living without a car, I can't believe I ever doubted I could do it. As it turns out, that is the most frustrating thing I encounter while biking: not the rain, not the bug in my eye, not the people walking their dog with the leash stretched across the entire width of the bike path. The most frustrating thing is the doubt of strangers, who stop and say, "I wish I could bike, but I can't."

Certainly there are valid excuses to use a motor vehicle. One person I know hauls 300 pound blocks of marble for sculpting. A friend in the Northeast faces a 20 mile commute in sub-freezing temperatures. A car is a tool we can use when we need it. But our car-obsessed culture turns our "needs" into limitations we put on our lives. We sacrifice energy, time, money, and the health of our environment to maintain an SUV "in case I need to go off-roading someday," never thinking we might have an even greater adventure on a bike.

We can change how we think about our lives, if we want to, but some people refuse to see the evidence in front of them. Once, in front of the grocery store, I was loading a full cart of groceries plus two kids into my bike trailer while a woman with one small child watched me, telling me that she could not do what I do. Some people I meet through my job learn of my bike commute, then tell me they have a shorter commute but could not do what I do. No reason. They just "can't." I must be superwoman to do these "impossible" things. But I am not. I am an ordinary person facing ordinary struggles.

It was four years ago when my partner and I realized that instead of making another car payment, we could OWN our own Burley bike trailer. For the cost of a major vehicle repair, we could buy a new bike. For the monthly cost of gas, we could buy raingear. We could be a little less poor, a lot more independent.

Of course, we considered the welfare of our four-year-old child and two-month-old baby. The laundromat and grocery store were a mile away. Could we do it? How could we subject our kids to such hardship and potential danger?

I came to realize that I am not endangering my kids; I ride carefully on the quietest street, the kids wear helmets, and we obey the rules of the road. It is the reckless, oblivious car driver who endangers us. As for hardship--the trailer is rainproof, and warm with blankets. Without car expenses, there is more money for playing. Plus the kids find the trailer much more fun than a car; they are the envy of every kid that sees them. Now that my eight-year-old must ride her own bike, she whines occasionally. But the experience gives her freedom, independence, and the knowledge that she can get around under her own power and navigation, unlike her helplessly chauffeured peers. She knows she can do it. That is the most valuable thing a parent could provide.

There was another occasion when I was unsure if I could continue commuting without a car--when we moved four miles from my work. I doubted that I could physically handle that much biking, since I am by no definition an athlete. I did feel extremely sorry for myself that first cold, rainy winter. My tears would join the raindrops coursing down my face as I rode the bikepath after dark. However, if someone could see me, especially someone inside car, I called to mind the joys of being on my bike: seeing the birds, hearing the river, feeling the fresh air, the freedom. Then I could smile into the rain.

These days, seeing rainclouds makes me genuinely happy, since foul weather makes for a clear bikepath: just me and a few others, grinning at each other as we pass under the showering sky. Now I feel lucky and grateful every day, rain or shine. So my experience mollifies my frustration at the people who say that what I do is impossible. But I still wish I could convince that interested stranger in two minutes or less--you CAN do it. You would find joy, freedom, strength. You don't need to be a mental slave to your car. For now, I am content just to show, day after day, that I, mother of two, commuter to work, can do it. And maybe people will see me and say, "If SHE can do it...."

Elena Margo