Trying to be less car-dependent

When I was a kid we didn’t own a car until I was 15. We lived in a neighborhood in St. Paul and so bus service was readily accessible. As I got older though I started to dream of the day I could get my license and experience freedom. I even tried to take my driver’s test on my 16th birthday (spoiler: I didn’t pass). Once I had my license I drove everywhere. I don’t think I took a bus again for years.

A couple of years ago I waxed poetic about the freedom that cars give you. In that post I did mention the big downsides of cars as well, and recently I’ve thought more about how dependent I am on trying to get around in my own private vehicle. Partly, I think I’ve been influenced by all of the biking I’ve been doing this year, and the whole bike commuting culture. When I changed jobs this year I moved to an office that is only 9.5 miles away from home, and it meant that I had more options. The Northstar train goes through my suburb and so there’s little reason that I need to drive into the city. I can bike or train it without much difficulty.

However, I found myself driving even the 1.8 miles to the train station, which in some ways seemed silly. It’s close enough that I’ve even walked it at times. Why would I bother moving my car such a short distance when I have options that don’t use gas or pollute? Therefore, I’ve committed to trying to make a change.

I’m going to commit to getting to work by bike and public transit four days per week. One day per week I have to be in St. Paul and that commute will only happen occasionally. However, there’s very little reason why every other day when I’m in Minneapolis that I couldn’t leave the car parked. I’ve been working on doing this for the past couple weeks and have been mostly successful. I had a conference to be at a couple days last week, but otherwise I’ve tried to leave the car in the driveway.

We’ll see how well the winter goes, but even on a cold snowy day, 1.8 miles to the train station shouldn’t be too bad. Once there I have a nice bike locker where I can store my bike out of the elements, or I can bring it on the train with me in case I want to bike the whole way home, or somewhere during lunch. I’m excited to give this a try, and hope to report nothing but success over the coming weeks.

Gear review: Osprey Nebula

Continuing the theme of gear, I recently contemplated the idea of switching from a messenger style bag to a backpack. In the end I decided to go with a backpack. Then began the arduous task of selecting a backpack that I liked. I first hit up an office supply store, but didn’t find anything that really fit well.

Eventually, I made my way to REI and after a couple of visits to try on various models, I decided on the Osprey Nebula, a 34 liter commuting pack. I was looking for something that wasn’t too large, as most of the time I travel very light for work (laptop, headphones, mouse, etc). However, I wanted the ability to also stuff in a bag of workout clothes for those times I want to run at work. This lead me to the Nebula, as it has an expandable middle pouch that compresses down when not in use, but can expand to hold a complete set of clothes as well as shoes.

IMG_1687.jpgThe laptop compartment is pretty simple, just a padded pouch for your device, as well as a zipper’d mesh pouch for a tablet. Since all the laptops I use are rather small, this compartment doesn’t take up much space. It does what it needs to, and the real work is done by the third compartment. This third space is filled with pockets and compartments of all shapes and sizes. It has more than enough space and spots for all of my miscellaneous junk, like phone charging cables, tablet pen, etc.

IMG_1686.jpgThe middle section is the really great section for optional workout clothing use. This section pulls flat (there are even buckles to really compress it), but when you pull it open completely it shows why this is a 34L backpack. The other day I managed to fit a pair of shoes, and a drawstring bag with a complete change of clothes in this compartment. This is alongside all of the standard gear that I carry for work.

IMG_1688.jpgAdditionally, there are other small pockets and pouches, including a waterproof brain pouch, and some mesh pockets on the side and back. The side pockets are the perfect size for my coffee mug, with a strap to keep it tight. I actually brought this bag over to the Hydro Flask display at REI and made sure my mug fit before purchasing! The large mesh pocket on the back can hold a full bottle of wine or 750ml bottle of beer. I’ve tested it…

As for fit and feel, this bag rides great. It’s nothing less than I would expect from Osprey. The shoulder straps are nicely padded, and there is a sternum strap that really helps to keep everything tight and comfortable. There is also a waist strap, however, I’m not sure how much it helps distribute the weight, since there is no fabric that wraps around the sides. It still is a nice feature to have though if you’re needing to walk a long way with a full bag. The mesh along your back is soft and slightly vented with a honeycomb structure to it. Overall, everything fits really well.

I’ve been using this bag for a few weeks now, and I’m so happy that I moved over to a backpack. It’s more comfortable for my walk to the car, and everything fits really well. The pockets and features of the Osprey Nebula work great for what I need, and I’m incredibly happy with this model. As with most Osprey items, they aren’t bargain priced, but I feel like the construction of this bag will last me for a VERY long time, meaning this is money well spent.

If you need a good commuter bag, give the Osprey Nebula a look. It might be the perfect bag for you.

Getting to bike commute again

This week I got to commute to work via bike for the first time this year. I managed it a few times last year, but this year it just didn’t seem to be in the cards most weeks. I love the idea of biking to work for a few reasons.

  • It’s a great workout, and starting your day with physical activity just seems to make everything go better.
  • The morning can be a beautiful time to be out and biking. The pic above was from crossing the Mississippi at 694. All the people on the interstate missed that view.
  • It’s better for the environment, and it’s easy to find parking.
  • Traffic isn’t a big issue (though construction still stinks).
  • Despite being tired, the ride home is still good for me and I burn off a few more calories from lunch.

Only one of my offices is really close enough for me to bike, so I need to really try to take advantage of it when I can. Hopefully there will be a few more opportunities this year to get out there and pedal my way to work.