Sunday, June 27, 2010

Carfree Under the Hot, Southern Sun...

Victoria, in her blog Smaller Living posted about trying to go carfree or at least carlite in Phoenix, Az and how the combination of summer heat and pollution in her area forced her into driving five months out of the year.  Oh, how I can relate! Fortunately here in Charleston smog is not an issue - instead we have the high humidity adding to the blistering temps, putting the heat index over one-hundred degrees on a regular basis. Just as our winter was colder than normal this year, we've hit the triple-digits earlier than usual. This is my second summer of walking and relying on public transportation, so I've learned a few tricks to deal with being carfree during Charleston's hottest months.

My work mornings start off with packing my food and snacks for the day in a large insulated lunch bag. I include several reusable icepacks purchased at Walmart last summer, for ninety four cents each. Talk about a great investment! The lunch bag came from my employer, one of the goodies they gave everyone for reaching some kind of goal. My stainless steel water bottle, filled halfway and stuck in the freezer the night before gets topped off,  and goes in the bag as well if there's room. Otherwise it goes in one of the pockets of my rolling backpack while the lunch bag goes in the main compartment.  I pack a complete change of clothes in the rolling backpack, as my outfits for walking and riding the bus are far from the business casual wear required by my employer!

Getting dressed for the day begins with a good layer of sunscreen as I'm already quite well -tanned. I skip the blow-dryer and makeup after my shower. Between the humidity and the sweat both are a wasted effort. My hat flattens my hair anyway. I have two primary outfits I tend to rotate, because they're so perfect for my needs. A pair of cotton gauze capris with a matching camisole made of organic cotton, layered over a cotton sports bra. Socks are either cotton or bamboo. Footware is one of two great pairs of athletic shoes that I alternate. One is well-cushioned while the other is designed for moderate support. The shoes don't help with the heat, but are essential for lots of walking! And of course this is all topped off with the hat pictured above.

When I walk I try to avoid the road, parking lots, and sidewalks. Walking on grass or even dirt is preferable to concrete, asphalt, or even worse a black-topped parking lot. Not only is it cooler, but it's easier on my heels and knees. Whenever possible I try to walk on the shadier side of the street. Of course it's always safety first, so sometimes I have to pass up the cooler, easier options to make sure I don't trip and fall or get hit by a car.

At work I have a luxury not everyone has, a fitness center with a locker room that includes showers and blow dryers. While I don't usually need the shower, they provide a nice place to change into a dry, more professional looking outfit. And I do mean a complete change of clothes, as every article is quite damp by the time I make it to work. As I arrive almost an hour early most days, I have plenty of time to blow dry my hair and apply makeup if I have an urge to do so. A second application of deodorant is also a must!

My rolling backpack has been a godsend, and the best thirty dollars I've ever invested! In addition to my food and clothes it's stuffed with what I need to get through a day away from home. An absolute must is my glucose meter and tablets, and cell phone. Other items I might need on my travels include allergy eye drops, ibuprofen, bus schedules, my digital camera, extra deodorant, folding umbrella, sunblock, and a small bottle of bug repellent. I also pack a small bag of cosmetic items and a hairbrush. Sometimes I toss in my netbook. Everything I pack is based on where I'm going, what I will need while I'm gone, and what I may need in an unexpected situation. The other consideration is weight. Sample size bottles or little baggies rule! I jazzed up the bag with some matching stick-on reflectors from the automotive section,  that cost less than two dollars each. While the primary objective was safety at night, I like the fact they match the colors of my bag!

If it sounds complicated and like a lot of effort, actually it isn't. Most of my travel items stay in my bag or are packed in a smaller bag I can switch into a purse or tote bag if I chose to. I do get some looks and questions about the rolling backpack. Between a herniated disc in my lower back, and some upper back issues from the car accident, I try to avoid carrying too much weight. Even a heavily packed purse is too much when I'm out hiking around town and climbing the steps to the bus. I popped my backpack on a scale we have at work once when it was fully packed, it was around twenty pounds - imagine toting that on your back, or hanging from your shoulder when walking half a mile or further between destinations!

There's no doubt in my mind that Victoria's decision to purchase another vehicle in order to make it through the summer makes absolute sense, especially with the smog issue.  I'm not in a position to do the same, but I have found some ways to deal with the challenges that come with summertime here in Charleston. And I have to stress, when going carfree in Charleston, one must always have a backup plan - along with plans B and C, and sometimes even a plan D. When something goes wrong, as it often does, being flexible and prepared help keep anxiety and frustration from soaring along with the temps!

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