Last year, when the lease on Teresa Hernandez's Volvo V50 wagon ended, instead of grabbing a new set of keys, she excitedly grabbed a new lease — on a car-free life. It was a day she met with anticipation and angst. It was a day she planned for and contemplated. It was a day that came to fruition because of the reality of the recession and an honest evaluation of her values — which, in a nutshell, came down to the fact that she wanted more out of life than just a pretty car.
Hernandez, at the time, was both a resident and business owner in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood. Her store, Pura Vida Worldly Art!, was a 15-minute walk away from her front door, as was the post office and many shops and dining hot spots. Her life existed within a fairly small circumference; that made her decision to use a bicycle as her primary mode of transportation easier. Naysayers amongst her friends thought she was crazy to do it, but with only 4,000 annual miles on the odometer, and $8,000 spent for gas, maintenance and insurance, she ignored them. And, now, fully settled into a routine, she's glad she did.
Since we spoke with Hernandez last year for Creative Loafing's first Transportation Issue, she's done quite a bit of moving. She's moved her store to NoDa, and she's pedaled several thousand miles around town. We recently caught up with her, and she gave us an update on how she's doing.
Creative Loafing: So, since last time we talked, what has been the biggest adjustment you've had to make?
Teresa Hernandez: I have three bikes now. I have a bamboo tricycle from Vietnam that is really cute. It chug, chug, chugs along and goes really slow, but it's the "errand runner." I can get four bags of groceries in it. The basket is 3 feet by 3 feet, so a person can actually fit in it. I also have a turquoise vintage mixte road bike for when I want to go really fast and have fun. My third bike is a hybrid; it's the one I take to work because it's steadier than the road bike. So, if I want to get in my head a bit and think about my day, I can. I ride this one the most. I also follow a lot of cycling blogs now to keep me motivated, and I use some of the bike maps on Google maps.
How have you handled riding in changing weather conditions?
I don't check the weather hourly like I did in the beginning, but I do check it regularly. First thing in the morning, I check to see what I should wear. If [the weather forecast] says it's going to rain, I'll wear something different than if the forecast is sunny. Today, however, I woke up late, ran into the shower, hopped on my bike and took off without checking. It was sunny, but started raining at the end of the day. I didn't have my rain jacket. By the time I left work, it was still sprinkling, so I got a little wet. One time, it hailed, and it was pummeling my face. At first, it freaked me out. When I realized it wasn't killing me, I kept going and I was fine. But other than that, as far as the weather, you just adjust and wear different clothing.
Have you considered heading to the car lot?
In December, when it started getting cold, I seriously doubted I could make it. I'm a Texas girl. I like heat. I'd gotten used to the Charlotte weather being a little bit cooler, but I wondered if I was going to cave in and get a car. But, I just took it day by day. I wore a lot of thermal underwear, and I wore ski socks. I also wore a ski helmet over my bicycle helmet to stay warm and to keep my hair from getting really frizzy. It really wasn't a big deal.
Have you had any scares on the road?
During the week that it iced, I hydroplaned and fell off my bike twice. So, I would never ride on ice again. Ever. It's just not worth it. The only other thing I can think of is this guy cut me off once as I was making a left turn at a light, and his car was, like, seven inches from my bike.
How often have you hitched a ride from a friend or hopped in a cab in the last year?
Not that often. I've gotten a ride like 20 times in the past year. Typically, it's been when a friend invites me to go somewhere that's a little far or it will be late when we come back. I've taken a taxi four times.
Generally speaking, how cyclist-friendly have you found Charlotte to be?
When I first started riding, it was more of the element of "let me make sure I don't get killed." But I was also still learning how to ride in heavy traffic. And part of the process was I was still learning to be a good cyclist. But overall, I've found Charlotte drivers to be pretty friendly to me when I'm cycling. I don't think they want an accident any more than I do. I do my best to share the road and be courteous and predictable. I've only had someone scream "Get off the road!" once while I was riding on a very busy street.
Charlotte, as a city, is not cyclist-friendly! There aren't enough bike lanes. I would go as far as saying the bike lanes here are a joke! They don't get you anywhere. Some of the bike lanes are so short, it doesn't even make sense to have them. I wonder why the city bothers creating a bike lane for, say, three to four blocks only. Worse, sometimes the bike lanes end into a very busy road. So, you feel safe riding in a bike lane and all of a sudden you're dropped off into a super-busy street! I would love to see more bike lanes and see them designed intelligently — where you could go from one side of town to another. Also, I think the city needs more bike racks! I've actually taken my bike inside stores and locked them to something inside because there was nothing outside that I could tie my bike to. I don't want my bike stolen; it's my transportation. It's like leaving a car unlocked with the keys in the ignition.
What do you enjoy most about your life without a car?
I always tell people I have a convertible. I used to have a convertible, and the reason I bought a convertible was to connect with nature while I was commuting. On a bicycle, I'm completely connecting. So, really, that's one of the biggest benefits. I fully connect with nature and notice so many more things. Now, when I'm riding in a car, it feels weird — like I'm in a little bubble. I never felt like that before. Plus, before I turned in my car, my friends and I would plan to go ride our bikes every couple of months. Now, I'm doing something I consider fun every day, and it's really relaxing and meditative.
Yes. Meditative because you're working out. And also because you're feeling the sun or rain or wind. So, once you're comfortable as a cyclist, it's easy to enjoy the ride and not be tense. Some days, I get home too fast. I go in and drop off my laptop bag, and then go riding for another few miles around my neighborhood to think and unwind.
Carless in the Queen City — revisited
U.S. Cycling Center sets up shop in Rock Hill
9 must-have items for cyclists
The best and worst neighborhoods for biking
One biker's 'dream cycles'
Get ready to 'Bike! Charlotte'
Learn to ride, courtesy of Harley-Davidson