Thursday, January 7, 2016

Car-Free in the Winter: The Reckoning

Everyone always asks how we do the car-free life in the wintertime, and I wrote my response to that question a couple of years ago. I'm not saying that I'm changing my story now, but it turns out that we were blessed with very mild winters our first two years in the area. This winter is turning out to be more typical, and oh boy.

It's been snowing almost every day since Thanksgiving, up to about two feet. We've also had below-freezing temperatures down into the single digits. It hasn't snowed for a week or so at this point, but it's been cold enough for the old snow to stick, freezing and melting on the sidewalks and roads.

The great thing about not having a car is that we still have to get out there. The worst thing about winter is the feeling of being trapped inside all the time, lacking air and exercise. When you have to get groceries and library books (yes, those two things are roughly equivalent in importance), your only choice is just to bundle up and get outside. We often have kindhearted people offer us rides when the weather is inclement, whether raining or snowing, and I like to reply, "We purposely don't own a car so that we will have to walk in all weathers."

That said, getting around in winter isn't always easy, especially with young kids (I'm sure that comes as a shocker). Here are some of the tricks and strategies I've refined so far this winter:

Clothes, clothes, clothes. The great secret to getting out in the cold is, you guessed it, clothes. Wool underlayers are a must; these are my favorites for babies and kids because they aren't itchy at all. Adults can wear less expensive wool and polyester base layers intended for skiing and sports.

Our kids need the full gamut of coats, mittens, hats (or balaclavas), and cowls when they're riding in the double stroller, and the baby gets the warmest treatment in a full snowsuit, as I usually carry her on my front or back. The adults only need about two layers plus a jacket (usually not a thick overcoat) because we keep warm while walking.

Gear for the weather. Our Burley trailer/stroller has big wheels that will push through a few inches of snow easily enough, but it gets caught up in more than that. It has a full cover that keeps kids warm even in cold temperatures.

We have actually been enjoying using a sled to get groceries or pull the kids when the snow is too deep. We could get snow tires for our bikes, but we haven't found it necessary so far; we usually bike when it's cold and dry and use other modes of transportation when it's snowy or icy. If we were very committed, Burley offers a cross-country skiing conversion kit for our trailer.

Take the bus. I have been very thankful that we chose a location close to a bus line. In usual circumstances, we prefer to walk or bike, but in this weather, I have no complaints about a bus system that can get us where we're going relatively efficiently, with no need to drive or park in the snow.

Plan in advance. This is an obvious one for all parents of young kids, but I find that if we need to get out of the house in the morning, it is now imperative that I prepare everything the night before, right down to the wool long johns and mittens. There is nothing more frustrating than running out the door to catch a bus and realizing that one toddler snow boot is missing.

Enjoy it. This applies whether you have a car or not. The best antidote to the winter blues is just to get out in it to walk, run, or sled!

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