Saturday, April 26, 2008

Living simply, simply living

Date: April 25
Mileage: 57.6
April mileage: 662.2
Temperature: 51

My housemate and I have agreed to shut off the heat as a way to conserve energy in this time of electricity famine. Although it's spring now and the weather has been really nice this week, the temperatures still drop into the low 30s at night and our northeast-facing apartment doesn't see much direct sunlight. The whole house has this icebox feel to it. The last time I walked by the thermostat, it read 57 degrees. I was really, really tempted to turn it up. But instead, I headed back out on my Pugsley for a little trail time after riding nearly 50 miles earlier today. Having no heat is actually a great motivator to get out. Cycling is still the best way to stay warm.

Right now in Juneau, saving energy is on everyone's mind. The prospect of having your electric bill increase fivefold will do that. The electric company recently reported that in a week's time, Juneau's energy use dropped 20 percent. It continues to drop more every day. People are making a conscious effort to turn off lights and appliances. They're hanging clotheslines in their living rooms (Drying clothes outside is rarely feasible in Juneau, although it has been possible this week.) My housemate and I went through and unplugged most of the cords in our house. Since I dislike cooking anyway, I happily stick to my salads and sandwiches and leave the stove turned off. We keep the refrigerator on - it seems like a luxury now. As does the computer, although it's off a lot longer these days.

It actually feels good to make these little sacrifices. Not because we're saving a ton of money (although, with the heat turned off, we are.) And not because we're staving off the burning of emissions-spewing fuel (although I do feel strongly about doing my part, I have my fair share of pessimism in this regard.) No, giving up a few electric luxuries feels good because it makes me feel more self-sufficient. I don't need electric heat to survive. I wouldn't even need it if it were winter - I'd pull out my -40 degree sleeping bag, my down jacket, my boots, my coats. There must be a reason I own all of that stuff beyond the agony of winter camping. It's survival gear, and I cherish it, because it means I'm free.

That's also the same reason I've resolved to become a more dedicated bike commuter. I was much too dependent on my car, even though I mainly used it as a way to travel to work in dignity (i.e. not showing up at the office wind-blasted, grit-coated and dripping rainwater.) But the truth is, I can duck into the bathroom, change my clothes, blow-dry my hair, and still walk up the stairs in dignity. It really was just an excuse to justify my car dependency. But eventually (and probably soon) that car is going to break down for good, and I'd like to believe I don't need to replace it. Because if I'm free to not own a car, I'm free to divert more of my time and income into the things I truly enjoy. So, yes, I'm aiming to go car-free for completely selfish reasons.

I really believe that the less dependent I am on things, the happier I can be. Of course I still have things I can't live without - my bicycles, my cats, my -40 degree sleeping bag, the poisonous cans of Diet Pepsi that I suckle with reckless abandon. I'm not aiming for extremes. I'm just trying to strike a balance between owning nothing and being owned by things ... a happy place, more freedom to move, more space to live.


  1. I concur with you! Your global footprint is a manifestation of how you choose to consume or not consume.
    Riding my bike every day commuting is a fundamental part of my independance from the car. As is the Everest sleeping bag, gas stove, 75L pack, boots, thermals, balaclava, compass, headtorch, tent. The ultimate freedom is running around in the mountains using map and compass and going far on calories alone with the support equipment all sitting on your back! Puts the world in perspective (and how small and privaleged we all are to be alive and well and fit and able-bodied!
    nuf said

  2. " car, even though I mainly used it as a way to travel to work in dignity (i.e. not showing up at the office wind-blasted, grit-coated and dripping rainwater.)"
    Whoa, this is messed up. Sure being a bike commuter for 25 years has brought me more contempt than anything else in my life. (A lot of insecure car addicts out there.) But there is nothing I am prouder of. You want dignity? You don't get that by being an able-bodied person riding around a giant motorized wheelchair. Do walk in to your office with the evidence of your bike commute dripping off you and know dignity. Drive a car to work if you must, but don't call that dignity. Maybe you meant to use the word "decorum". Anyway congratulations on the genuine dignity that comes with bike commuting.

  3. Jill,

    Another money saving tip; put your car insurance on hold. My insurer let's me do this as long as I wish to. Check with yours because it'll save you some serious cash and also motivate you to keep bike commuting.

    As for grocery shopping, try to carpool with your roommate or someone at work.

  4. Why is Juneau having such a shortage of electricity? I assume this isn't really a shortage, but the cost has gone up for diesel. Maybe they need to put in some hydroelectric. It seems it is hard enough to live in Juneau, let alone not heating your house. Can you really not afford the heat, or do you really think you are saving the planet keeping you house at 57 degrees or less? That's not good for your health. Meanwhile, Al Gore flies all over the country in private jets and uses 30,000 dollars of gas a month in is main mansion. I guess you need to make up for the fact that your food is transported thousands of miles. That really adds to the 'carbon footprint'

  5. Nice anonymous comment, A$$. Our house is around 57-58 degrees all winter, too, though it's not as cold outside. We're doing fine after several winters of that. If just a few more of us made some of the small changes Jill has made, we'd not only be a more self reliant nation, we'd be a healthier one. Kudos, Jill. Keep it up!

  6. All the poor sheeple will live in cold houses or caves while the elite liberals lounge in the leather cushioned chairs of their corporate jets, all the while preaching how you need to make these sacrifices for the good of the planet. This is all part of their plan to control you, and you keep putting them in office. Really smart and original thinking.

  7. Some elite liberals live in the sub tropics which doesn't alter the fact that what Juneau is going through thanks to an avalanche (reading and comprehension 101) is in the future for all of us to some degree (not 57 degrees , ever, please!). What I find missing in the mixture is the sense of fun that has sustained me much of my life. If it ain't fun (dignity and decorum aside), it's third world because they really have no choice, and they are the ones I admire in a population of 6+billion. The ones that soldier on without hope, who couldn't pay a $50 electric bill if they ate their own children. Ironic self detachment anyone? At home in my igloo in my sleeping bag? Brrrr!

  8. Interesting discussion everyone. Concerning the medical comments, it probably won't kill Jill, but I do worry about her as she rides in the rain, snow, and icy wind, yet can't get warmed up upon returning home. I hope you aren't taking ice cold showers as well! Please consider putting your heat at 62 at least for your health!

  9. Funny how the most audacious, vile comments always come from someone who won't sign their name to their comment...

    The remarks of Anonymous really illustrates what a privileged nation we've become, with a such a huge feeling of self-entitlement. Back in our parents' and grandparents' heyday, keeping the house at a temperature below 60 wasn't such an unusual thing, and in fact, was actively practiced to save money. Now we all think that our homes have to be at PERFECT comfort at all times, damn the consequences. Me, me, me. And you think the liberals are controlling you by suggesting conservation? Who do you think is controlling you by encouraging more and more consumption of fossil fuels? You wanna talk about sheep...

    I think the health concerns are bogus. We're talking about 57 degrees here, not -57. You simply do exactly what you would do if you were outside in those conditions - layer up. There's no need for us to always be able to walk around our houses in t-shirts in underwear. Put on a sweater and some warm slippers. Add a jacket or flannel if necessary. My wife and I have this fight all the time. She'll have the space heater blowing on her feet while watching TV, and she's only wearing a thin pair of socks. I tell her to put on some WARM socks, and some slippers/shoes, and turn the money-sucking and environment-killing heater off!

    Is one person keeping their house at 57 degrees going to save the planet? No. However, if we all practiced that habit, it just might... (and it'll save us lots of $$, too)

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  11. Blue sunny sky and melting snow.
    Doesn't that feel Great!

  12. It will be a cold day in you know where when I walk around the house in a Parka to save a few dollars on the heating bill. I'll be building a wood fire before then. Glad you are all saving some fuel for me though. My truck only gets 8 - 10 mpg.

  13. You go Jill! I bike instead of drive because I enjoy it so much more too!

  14. Wow, all of these anonymous comments are really funny. This is what I get for flying my freak flag. The fact that you took the time to comment tells me that you feel threatened by my lifestyle. I'm not really sure why.

    This Juneau "energy crisis" really is one, albeit not a catastrophic one (after all, it has been pointed out that people in Bush Alaska live like this all the time.) But it is a big change from our cheap hydro energy, so everyone has to adapt. Alaska Electric Light & Power is a fairly small utility that is putting all the money up front to pay for diesel fuel, somewhere in the range of $300,000 a day. Something has to pay for all of this fuel, and since the utility has to get regulatory approval to raise its rates, most of this money is not currently coming from customers, but from loans. Interest-bearing loans. Eventually, the utility is going to ask for all of this money back from its customers. So, essentially, ever ounce of fuel Juneau saves right now not only saves money for individuals, but for the whole community.

    When Geoff and I heated our 2,000-square-foot cabin in Homer with oil, we always kept the heat at 60 degrees, all winter long. We didn't die. There's a large gap between need and want. Sure I don't feel totally comfortable just sitting around the house right now, but that's all the more reason not to sit around the house.

    xed, I didn't mean to imply that I think bicycle commuting is undignified. It's just been tough to face the regular prospect of showing up for work in wet rain gear with wet hair. I spend the time cleaning myself up because such a state is against company policy. It could get me fired. It's obviously not a big deal and totally easy to spend 10-15 minutes at work cleaning up, but that's been the biggest barrier to everyday bike commuting for me. Laziness, really. Time to cowboy up.

    Ok, enough chatter already. Time to turn off the computer and go for a bike ride. :-)

  15. I'm somewhat dismayed. I had a long rant all ready and lost it. That speaks for my tech skills.

    Anonymous...not even worthy of a comment at this point.

    xed...San Diego, some good advice, but the chest thumping over your hardships while on a bike, come on.
    Ohio...Try Minnesota on some -42 degree morning. Thanks, but I'll take my car and it has nothing to do with decorum.

  16. For me the hardest part of returning to bicycle commuting was the first few weeks of getting into the routine. Once you've solved the little riddles of what you need to carry and how to clean up, the rest is just like, you know, riding a bike. Have fun!

  17. Just to give you hope, I managed to kick a lifelong gallons per day Diet Pepsi habit. It took me a year, and I started drinking coffee in the process (not a ton), but I've been completely Diet Pepsi free for a month now. It was so bad I had to plan my day around it. When traveling, I had to make sure I'd have access to it. It sucks being a slave to something, anything, whether it be electricity or soda. I do feel free without it. I'm not car-free, but on most days I put a lot more miles on the bike than the car. I'll keep working on it.

    Thanks for the blog. You are an inspiration to me.

  18. All this talk of sacrificing is making me crave a nice ice cream cone.

    congrats on bringing out the right wing wackies Jill, a true testament to your journalism.

    Wheezie! Get me my slippers!

    -the liberal elite

  19. If you do want to kick the Diet Pepsi habit,
    you might check out Michael Pollan's new book,
    "In Defense of Food". I found it eye-opening.
    Highly recommended, to pretty much everyone,
    for several reasons. It won't tell you how,
    but it may give you some more reasons why.
    If not, it is still worth reading.

    Matt Newlin

  20. I have found that once I get into the routine of riding my bike to work every day, I cannot bear the thought of getting into a car.

    I definitely show up at the office physically disheveled, but my mental state is far better after a ride through the woods in the morning.

  21. jill- I hope my frustration at everybody else didn't come across as towards you. Basically anyone who is even mildly supportive of efforts to bike to work is ok by me. Anyone who actually attempts it is downright heroic whatever the outcome. The reason I say there's so much contempt for cyclists was made clear when I took my son to work last week. While pulling a kid's trailer on my normal commute, I was pretty amazed at how much less interested in killing me car drivers seemed. It's like they thought, oh, I could kill a child, I'd better be careful.

    vito- I have tried Minnesota, thanks. I crossed it by bike while riding to Alaska, where I once lived for 3 years. It sometimes got "Minnesota cold" there which was fine since I preferred commuting on skis. I'd love to have that opportunity again.

  22. I had my thermostat turned down to 52 degrees all winter long just to save on heating costs. My highest gas bill was around $135, and last month's bill was only $68. A big waste of money is in the summertime when the furnace isn't running at all, but the "pilot light" is still burning, that's around a $30/month right there.


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