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  1. #1
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    Living car free in rural Maine

    Coming this November I will have been living car free for two years, and my wife is already well past the 1 year mark. The catch is, we live in a small town in Maine where the nearest mass transit is 60 miles away, and where the winters can be fairly brutal (see below).

    Riding home in a Nor'easter


    How do we do it? Well, we're not entirely car free for starters. About once every month we need to go more than 15 miles for one reason or another, and for those trips we do have a 250cc Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle (70MPG). Also, for the occasional winter trips to visit family, we use the Enterprise rental car service which will pick us up and drop us off (makes life a lot easier). For everything else, commuting to work, running errands, hauling groceries, visiting friends, etc. we use the bicycles.

    Back home with groceries for the week.


    For our commuting machines, my wife has a brand new Trek 6000 and I have my 2001 Diamondback Topanga Comp (still the best purchase I've ever made). For the winter, we use Nokian Mount & Ground studded tires which work wonderfully in both ice and snow, and we just occasionally spray the chain and derailleur with a fresh coat of WD-40 (the town puts so much salt on the roads that it's impossible not to have the drive train fried by spring). We've also found that we can ride in any weather comfortably (other than heat) by dressing appropriately in warm, layered, waterproof gear.

    Standard Maine "blizzard biking" attire.


    Yes, it REALLY snows here.


    Although, recently we splurged and treated ourselves to two BionX kits (to help with plowing through the snow) and two Xtracycle kits (for hauling groceries). We've only had these kits for a couple weeks, but so far they've been an absolute treat, and I even took mine for a 116 mile ride on the Cadillac Challenge Century.

    Finally at the summit of Cadillac Mountain after 105 miles of riding.


    So, what's our motivation? I'm not really a tree hugging hippie, but I've always been obsessed with efficiency (both financially and otherwise) ever since I was in high school. The idea of burning expensive gas to heave a 3,000 pound hunk of metal down the road, let alone the resulting wear and tear on very expensive parts, just to take 160 pound me to my destination seemed fundamentally wrong to me, so I rode my bike whenever I could. When I moved out to Seattle, I bought a motorcycle, finding it much more logical to use a 350 pound machine to haul me (and much easier to drive). However, the west coast has quite the car culture, and when I got married I inherited my wife's car, although I never drove it.

    Going on a hiking trip on my motorcycle in Washington. Who knew crotch rockets could take 20 miles of washed out roads


    Skip ahead a couple of years, and through a freakish series of coincidences I found myself back in Maine, while my wife stayed back in Seattle. I figured I give a purely car free life another try, and really enjoyed the freedom of not having to worry about forking over $2000 for that new transmission, or the latest spike in gas prices. I was also able to easily beat all my coworkers to work in the winter, because while they were out shoveling their driveways, I just hauled my bike out to the road, and headed on my merry way. My wife then came over to join me in spring, and took on my car free life-style as a personal challenge because people were saying she wouldn't last a week . Well, now a year and a half later we're still car free, and with the extra money we've been able to save up for retirement as well as for a 20% down payment on what will be our first home. I had a hunch that living efficiently would save money, but I never dreamed it would be this much. Now, seeing how much money we've saved living efficiently, my wife is in total agreement with the benefits of living car free, and I'm certain that this will be one lifestyle change we will be sticking with for the long run.

    Happy to be car free

  2. #2
    In the right lane gerv's Avatar
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    Very inspirational! Your story would make a great movie.

  3. #3
    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    Great story and great pics! I love ya guys and we've never even met!

    The first 3 pics had me thinking, "I can't wait for winter to get here."


    "Think Outside the Cage"

  4. #4
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    Llamero, great photos and story, one of the best I've seen on Bike Forum in quite a while. I lived in New Jersey for several years in the early 1990s, and spent many vacations in Maine (usually near Belfast). What area of Maine do you live in? I always liked the motto that said "Maine, the way life should be". Cheers.

  5. #5
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    It amazing how the internet attracts so many good stories to this forum. I've Googled and found this forum linked to so many different stores, it's impossible to not find us! Regardless, to be car free in Maine would be too much for me but this couple is doing it. Good for them.

  6. #6
    Senior Member wahoonc's Avatar
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    Good story and Excellent pictures....makes me glad I don't do snow.

    Aaron
    Webshots is bailing out, if you find any of my posts with corrupt picture files and want to see them corrected please let me know. :(

    ISO: A late 1980's Giant Iguana MTB frameset (or complete bike) 23" Red with yellow graphics.

    "Cycling should be a way of life, not a hobby.
    RIDE, YOU FOOL, RIDE!"
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    "Steel: nearly a thousand years of metallurgical development
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    Which one would you rather have under your butt at 30mph?"
    _krazygluon

  7. #7
    cyclocommuter hairyman's Avatar
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    Excellent story! You're fortunate to be in (what appears to be) one of those small towns that has decent employment opportunities and convenient shopping centers. I've lived in Maine my entire life and have always thought about how hard it would be to go carfree anywhere but the larger towns and cities.

    I'm carfree now but living in Portland so I'm kind of spoiled as far as public transportation and proximity to things go.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by hairyman View Post
    Excellent story! You're fortunate to be in (what appears to be) one of those small towns that has decent employment opportunities and convenient shopping centers. I've lived in Maine my entire life and have always thought about how hard it would be to go carfree anywhere but the larger towns and cities.

    I'm carfree now but living in Portland so I'm kind of spoiled as far as public transportation and proximity to things go.
    You're exactly right. We live in Bar Harbor, ME which fortunately has a small grocery store in town and my wife and I only live 2 miles from work. When I was growing up in Waterford, ME, I was begrudgingly forced to buy a car because the nearest grocery store was 20 miles away, and my job was 50 miles away. However, I'm now all the wiser to the fact that it's much cheaper to pay extra to live near work and not own a car. And it's a lot more pleasant, where my wife and I have lots of free time, compared to when we were living in Seattle and each of us had a 1.5 hour commute to work.

    As a part of maintaining a car free lifestyle, we've already considered the fact that wherever we end up, we will need to be able to live near work and have a grocery store nearby. However, in most metropolitan areas this shouldn't be a problem.

    All in all, going car free definitely has its perks, but its hardships too. Inclement weather is inclement weather no matter how well you dress, and its now a total delight when we can just hop in a rental car and drive through rain with no discomfort. In the end, it needs to just come down to a lifestyle choice, and whatever is most important to you and will ultimately make you the happiest.

    Btw, the Portland transit system is nice, and one of the cheaper mass transit systems out there. Enjoy it while you have it!

  9. #9
    Commuter JohnBrooking's Avatar
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    Llamero, thanks for posting! I run a Bicycle Commuting Meetup group based in the Portland area (although it's online so theoretically one could participate from anywhere), and someone posted a link to this on our message board. It's nice to hear of another year-round Maine transportational cyclist! And especially from rural Maine, where as you say, it's not usually easy or even possible to be car-free.

    Are you a member of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine? I was up on Mt. Desert this summer and got together with a board member who lives there to ride up Cadillac together, which I had not done before. I was surprised how quick and easy it really was. My wife was amazed at only took us 20 minutes! (She drove the minivan with the kids and met us at the top.)
    Quote Originally Posted by MadfiNch on Commuting forum
    What's the point of a bike if you can only ride it on weekends, and you can't even carry anything with you?!
    Portland Maine Bicycle Commuting Meetup

  10. #10
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    I actually heard of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine inadvertently, when I was helping Allen Jones from EpicPlanet TV coordinate a video of a ride around the park loop and finishing with the climb up Cadillac. It was mentioned by one of the prospective riders that there was a century at the same time Alan wanted to film, and that's when I learned both of the Cadillac Challenge Century (and what a century was for that matter) and the Bicycle Coalition of Maine. I'm not a member of the Coalition as I'll likely be leaving the state once I graduate, but I am now a convert to riding centuries, and am already looking into longer rides as when I finished the century this year I felt a twinge of disappointment that the ride was over (I guess I'm hooked now).

    As for climbing Cadillac, it's really not that hard at all, just 3 switchbacks and you're at the summit; the biggest challenge is not getting run-over by all the tour buses. If you want an awesome Acadia experience, you should definitely do the loop road, finishing with the summit of Cadillac, and I'd also highly recommend coming out for the Cadillac Challenge Century. It's super laid back, low key, just enough hills for a good challenge, and just an all around informal, fun ride. You can check out the link here: http://web.mac.com/zorbathegeek/Cadillac/Home.html

  11. #11
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    Llamero,
    Thanks for the writeup and pictures. Makes me wish we had a little snow sometime. One tip. WD 40 is a solvent not a lubricant and not good for bicycle chains. Use a chain lubricant or just a light oil and wipe off any excess by backing the chain and holding a rag loosely. You will see a difference in how the chain performs and longevity. I use to make the same mistake.
    Again, thanks for doing your part.
    Tony

  12. #12
    Senior Member vredstein's Avatar
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    This pretty much mirrors my experience of three car-free years in Maine. Brought to Maine through freakish circumstances, commuted in Spring, Summer, Fall, then said, "What the hell", and tried it in winter, one ride at a time, Nokian tires, Noreasters, dressing based on experience, needing a car for occasional practical uses, etc. I have bad luck with cars, don't know how to fix them, and don't trust others to fix them. But I have good luck with bikes, know how to fix them, and trust myself to fix them. And after oiling the chain, finding the snow/rain wipes that out in a couple of rides, I resigned myself to spraying WD-40 to keep it clean and just going through more chains than someone living in Tucson.
    I think it would in some ways be harder to do if you set out with the intention of doing it. When it just evolves naturally, with a bit of motivation, it becomes the way of life instead of an "Ultimate Challenge" thing you suffer through.
    And I saved enough money to move to Tucson, still car free, going on year 13.
    Last edited by vredstein; 10-22-09 at 09:46 PM.
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  13. #13
    Senior Member nwmtnbkr's Avatar
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    Great that you have the flexibility where you live to rent a car when you need one. I retired to a rural area in NW Montana that not only has no mass transit, there are no rental car companies nearby. Most people cannot go completely car free since medical care and any specialized items or services require a road trip of 90 miles or more. That said, if you can keep you vehicle a long time after it's paid off, you can minimize expenses while using a bicycle for most local errands. Have a safe winter. (I like that xtracycle.)

  14. #14
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    Thanks for sharing your story

  15. #15
    Senior Member mike's Avatar
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    Wow, Llamero, what a fantastic story and excellent photo journalism. Contact the media and share your story to a greater audience. It is so refreshing and so hopefull!

    I hope you can continue your car-free life for a long time. Just in case you start thinking about car-ownership life again, remember that it is a ball and chain.

    Once you join the fold again (I am only car-lite and my family is car-heavy), you are a slave to the automobile lifestyle. The oilmen and automen will own 1/3 of your life and income.

    Enjoy. Keep up posted. You and your wife are our heroes.
    Mike

  16. #16
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    Just yesterday my wife and I were coming out of the grocery store, and a couple were taking several photos of our bikes. Who knows, maybe we'll win some car-free converts

  17. #17
    Humvee of bikes =Worksman Nightshade's Avatar
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    To be totally car free one must be in young or in super shape. Damn arthritis!!
    My preferred bicycle brand is.......WORKSMAN CYCLES
    I dislike clipless pedals on any city bike since I feel they are unsafe.

    Originally Posted by krazygluon
    Steel: nearly a thousand years of metallurgical development
    Aluminum: barely a hundred, which one would you rather have under your butt at 30mph?

  18. #18
    put our Heads Together cerewa's Avatar
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    To be totally car free one must be in young or in super shape. Damn arthritis!!
    Plenty of folks are totally car free and neither young nor in super shape. But not in your living situation.

    Would be neat to have communities meant for walking, everywhere in the world.
    Some awesome folks who are working to give Haitians the ability to manage their safety and their lives:
    Haiti Partners

  19. #19
    Humvee of bikes =Worksman Nightshade's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cerewa View Post
    Plenty of folks are totally car free and neither young nor in super shape. But not in your living situation.

    Would be neat to have communities meant for walking, everywhere in the world.
    Yes, It would. To slow down would benefit all.
    My preferred bicycle brand is.......WORKSMAN CYCLES
    I dislike clipless pedals on any city bike since I feel they are unsafe.

    Originally Posted by krazygluon
    Steel: nearly a thousand years of metallurgical development
    Aluminum: barely a hundred, which one would you rather have under your butt at 30mph?

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