I want to ride my (used) bicycle (Day 183)…

August 30, 2007

Deni

After selling my car and going on this cycling trip, I’ve officially rekindled my love of bikes and decided it was time to get a second one. Quentin is great for running errands around the city, especially now that he’s got a basket, and his mosaic of stickers help spread the green love. But I wanted a proper road bike for when I go on longer trips.

Over the weekend, I happened to be at a bike store in Toronto called Sweet Pete’s — the owner, Pete, did the Friends for Life Bike Rally (Toronto to Montreal) with Meghan and me a few years ago. He wasn’t there, but this other guy was, so I asked if he could suggest any places in the city where I might find a decent used bike — better to take the eco-friendly route and buy used sports equipment rather than brand new stuff, I figured.

“Well, actually,” he said, “I’d highly recommend NOT getting a used bike.” He then began to list off various reasons why this was a bad idea, from financial issues to potential safety problems, and added that there were plenty of new bikes for around $800 that would be way better.

“Uh huh,” I replied patiently. “OK … Mm hmm, I see what you’re saying. Right, I definitely won’t get a used bike.” So I paid for my patch kit and spare tubes and rode back home, whereupon I immediately logged onto Craigslist, found a listing for a vintage yellow Peugeot and arranged to meet Alex at the top of a parking garage in Kensington Market.

Well, Alex turned out to be a girl — albeit a girl with a mustache, greasy bike hands and a rose tattoo on her left earlobe (so, basically, she rocked). She pointed out the bike’s strengths (new tires, tubes, great frame, good seat and handlebars) as well as its weaknesses (a bashed-up derailer, sticky back brake, some rust spots), and then offered it to me for $80.

Sold!

Because it’s French, and I’m Canadian, I decided a French-Canadian name was only appropriate and so christened it Deni (that’s pronounced de-NEE for all you Americans), introduced it to Quentin and brought it home. And now Pete, who’s back from Denmark, has agreed to take a look and see what he fix. So with that, as of today, I’ll only be buying used sports equipment.

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Tuber or not tuber (Day 179)…

August 26, 2007

squash

On the recent cycling trip I took through the valleys of Oregon from Portland to Eugene, we stopped along the way at various organic farms. One of the most interesting was Sunbow, owned by Harry MacCormack, located near the university town of Corvallis.

Harry, it turns out, is a bit of a celebrity in the organic farming industry. He wrote The Standards and Guidelines For Organic Agriculture, which became the basis for Tilth certification and other programs in the U.S. and abroad. Now, local farmers will often use Harry’s soil to test out different crops.

On our first night there, he spoke to us for a while about how he became involved in the organic farming business and the current trend of local, sustainable eating. Then it got a bit frightening as he moved on to discuss pesticides and DDT, the latter of which can apparently linger on in the land for decades.

After about an hour or so, Harry had me convinced that pretty much everything that isn’t certified organic will give me cancer. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating, but he definitely persuaded me never to go back to commercial dairy products. Or strawberries.

But I didn’t want to fall asleep that night feeling like I could never eat anything again without an appetizer of anxiety, so I asked him what could be done on a consumer level, and his answer was: Never, ever, EVER buy squash that isn’t organic. In fact, even if it is organic, find out which farm it’s from and whether the soil has been tested.

The reason, he says, is that if there is any DDT in the soil, squash and other members of the tuber family will suck it all up and store it in their flesh. Tomatoes and fruits may get sprayed with toxic stuff, but it seems their skins doesn’t absorb much of it, so it’s not as important health-wise to enforce the organic rule there.

Now, I’m not about to go lurking around Ontario farmland with a chemistry set taking samples of the soil or anything, but I will be making sure that all the tubers I buy from now on are organic. There’s nothing I love more in the winter than a good butternut squash soup, and I’d rather it not be garnished with carcinogens.

Photo courtesy of Mexicanwave on Flickr


Getting cranky (Day 173)…

August 20, 2007

head lamp

While on this cycling trip a couple weeks ago, I quickly realized how ridiculously unprepared I was for the weather. Despite the gear list advising us to bring warm sleeping bags and heavy fleece jackets, I just flat-out refused to believe Oregon could possibly get that cold in August, and so instead packed this Equatorial +15ºC sleeping bag, which was so thin I actually wore it as a scarf most nights and slept in layers of other people’s sweaters.

I also brought a couple long-sleeved T-shirts I figured would only be needed if it rained or something, and didn’t bother with any hat or warm socks.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Needless to say, I was freezing almost every night. And then, to make matters worse, my flashlight died. It was some cheap thing that didn’t have replaceable batteries, but because it was pretty crappy to begin with, I decided it was time to get a real flashlight. I wanted one of those geeky headlamp ones, too, because it would allow me to do important stuff like s’more assembly and lip gloss reapplication with both hands.

When I went to Grassroots today, I found exactly what I was looking for: the “Dynamo-powered” (ie. crank-up) LED headlamp from Novelty Imports. It said it would never need batteries or bulbs, and could even charge cell phones with the right adapter.

I suppose I could have gone the solar-panelled route, too, but then there’s something a bit more satisfying in producing light with my own energy.


Quiet activism (Day 111)…

June 19, 2007

bike stickers

I’ve mentioned before that sandwich boards are an unflattering look for me and, you know, my biceps just aren’t what they were 10 years ago, so holding up big signs is not an option. Plus, I figure, if I’m going to get off my butt and start marching around, I may as well be marching towards the nearest shoe store.

Protesting, then, is pretty much out of the question. However, I’m all for quiet, small-scale activism, raising awareness about environmental causes with some humour and perspective. Stuff like the PB&J campaign, for instance, is right up my alley.

So are stickers. I love stickers. And while they are made from evil materials like plastic and vinyl, they can also get a worthwhile message across and strike up conversation. Recently, I got some These Come From Trees stickers, which I’ve been sneakily adhering to paper towel dispensers in public restrooms. And I also got a bunch for my bicycle, which pronounce hardly controversial but still pointed statements like “Treehugger”, “I [heart] my bike,” and my favourite, “Mend Your Fuelish Ways”.

A little while back, some readers suggested I make a sticker saying something like “I’ve been reused!”, so people could refill their empty brand-name shampoo bottles with natural product but let everyone else know that, actually, it’s not Pert Plus in there, thank-you very much (note to readers: I’m on it, but making stickers can be expensive).

Then, of course, there are the tote bags, the T-shirts and the wristbands, plus tons of other merchandise, most of which I think is a bit silly, but still, plenty of outlets through which to convey my point of view. And lastly, this here blog gets a message across every day to at least a thousand people — granted, a lot of it is just preaching to the choir, but there are always some newbies who stop by every now and then to pick up a few tips about where to get vegan-friendly floss or how to survive without a fridge.

Today’s change then, is simply to make sure that I step up the green publicity, raise environmental awareness whenever possible and — much like Alina did with her blog — come out of the closet as a organic-eating, handkerchief-carrying treehugger.


Just a hops, keg and a pump from home (Day 46)…

April 15, 2007

mill streetI was hoping to put off any green changes involving precious, precious alcohol until later in the game, but because Toronto happens to have two great micro-breweries — Steamwhistle and Mill Street — I’m going to limit my beer intake to these local brands, both within cycling distance of my apartment.

Now, when it comes to which is best, it’s hard to say. Steamwhistle boasts of its natural ingredients, which include “2-row malted barley from Saskatchewan, a selection of three imported German hops and yeast from the Swiss company Herlemann.” But it also trucks in Crystal Springs water every week — would using Toronto’s finest really screw up the flavour that much?

Well, OK, it probably would. But they could surely create some sort of large-scale, in-house water filter to do the trick, no?

Then there’s Mill Street, which obviously takes the lead with their Original Organic Lager, a 100% all-natural brew that contains no pesticides, insecticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers.

steam

But it also uses imported organic Hallertau Hops from New Zealand, which is a lot further from Toronto than Germany, where Steamwhistle gets its hops, and a brewer’s malt from Briess Organics, which is organic, kosher and apparently a “certified woman-owned business,” but is based in the U.S. — it would have been nice to see a Canadian-sourced ingredient somewhere in the mix.

I think the only answer here is to drink both beers, in mass quantities, until I’m too sozzled to care about which hops is tops.

Photos stolen while under the influence from Steamwhistle and Mill Street.


Everybody’s walking for the weekend (Day 30)…

March 30, 2007

walk

Well, at least I am — or riding my bike, or taking public transit — because from now on I’m leaving my car parked in the garage on weekends, from when I wake up on Saturday until I go to sleep on Sunday (so if I happen to sleep-drive at 4 a.m. Monday morning, that is totally acceptable!).

Here’s the part where everyone leaves comments like, “You know what you should really do? GET RID OF THE DAMN CAR!”). I’ve considered this, and it might be a possibility in the future, but because it takes me an hour and a half to take transit to work (streetcar, then train, then bus, then walking — it’s not my fault, it’s the office that’s in the boonies) and it takes me almost two hours to bike (I tried last summer and had to shower three times that day), yet just 20 minutes to drive, I need the car for work.

On the weekend, however, especially now that it’s Spring, leaving the car behind shouldn’t be that big of an issue. Even if I’m getting groceries over at the St. Lawrence Market or going out for a drink at night up in the Annex, I think I can manage with two feet and two wheels. Of course, like many of my green changes, I’m sure that come February of next year I’ll be crying into my homemade compost bin about it.

Photo courtesy of pastorbuhro on Flickr