Nothing New for a Year 2017- Cycling Across the USA
As I write this, it’s is September 2018. This blog is over a year late, but better late than never in this scenario I think. I had said I was going to do a monthly blog about my year of nothing new and I utterly failed at that. I acknowledge that and apologize on not following through on sharing this endeavor. I was just far too busy and overwhelmed in 2017, all by my own choices. I’m just finally catching up now!
To recap, 2017 was my year of buying nothing new (see the original blog for details). Basically, it meant attempting to go the entire year without buying or receiving anything brand new. Anything already used was fine, just no new items.
In my last blog, Nothing New for a Year- Spring Update, I had just finished a speaking tour in Europe. This blog is about my bike tour across the USA.
After returning to the United States from Europe I had just eight days to prepare to bike from New York City to Seattle, Washington, a 3,700-mile trip. I had been so busy for the last seven weeks in Europe that I had done very little preparation for the bike ride as far as my gear goes. The real challenging part about this trip for me, is that it wasn’t just me, it was about 30 of us cycling across the country, and I was the main organizer. I had way more on my hands than just preparing for myself. I was finding lodging and volunteer activities for about 60 stops across the country and planning out our route, among other things! The trip was called Green Riders- Good Deeds on Bikes.
This left me in quite the hurry to get everything together as I needed quite a few items to cycle across the country. I got to work right away after arriving in New York City.
My number one tip for anyone attempting to buy nothing new is to be prepared. This is me somewhat failing at following my number one tip.
First off, the most important thing to get to bike across the United States was a bicycle. I planned to get as little gear as possible and go with just the basics. The bike is definitely one of the basics. Some would think that you would need a lot of very specialized gear for a three-month bike ride, but you actually don’t, when you choose to live simply. Although I guess that many of the few possessions I have would be considered special gear to others, while to me they are just the necessities to being able to simply exist. Anyway, back to the bike. Since March 3rd of 2016 I had been traveling with every possession that I owned fitting into my backpack, which means I didn’t have a bike. The bamboo bike, and some of the bike gear that I previously owned I had donated to my nonprofit to be used as a community bike for others to do activism bike rides across the USA. Nobody had taken up the offer in summer of 2016 so the bike had been sitting since then. So, I decided that I’d use the bike for the summer and then at the end of the trip auction it off to raise funds for a nonprofit (here’s an update on what I ended up doing with it). Along with the bike, there was some basic bike gear including a bike rack, multi-tool, hand pump, lock, and spare tubes.
That’s how I managed to not buy a new bike, and if I hadn’t had this opportunity then what I would have done is bought a used bike off craigslist or a used bike shop. There are hundreds of thousands or millions of quality used bikes out there for extremely low prices. I’m often amazed at how little a quality used bike costs, often as little as $200-$300 for a bike that you can cycle thousands of miles on!
I did need some gear though so one of my missions before the trip was to get it all used. I knew this might be difficult in the very short period of time that I had. And on top of that I left a lot of it until the last couple days before the trip, which was my big mistake.
I had lost my tent in Costa Rica, so I needed a new one. I got a used one on eBay for about $100. Also, on eBay I got used panniers and a rear bike light.
The only new item that I purchased before the trip was patches, to fix flat tires. I searched online and some bike shops and just couldn’t find any used ones. It’s a very difficult item to find. So that was my first new purchase of the year, about half way into the year.
There were a lot of things that I was not able to find used in time for the trip and because of that I started off riding in a bit of an unideal manner just waiting to find used stuff. Once I got to Lancaster, Pennsylvania I found a bike shop called Cycle Circle that stocked a lot of used items and it really was my savior.
I purchased used tires to replace my nearly dead tires, handlebar tape so my hands wouldn’t be left black from my falling apart tape, chain lube, tire levers, padded bicycle shorts for my sore butt, and I actually found some patches too!
I was hoping to find a new rim because I had multiple broken spokes and the rim I had was sort of specialty which meant most bike shops weren’t able to fix it. It was a road bike rim and not good for touring with gear because it wasn’t designed for holding so much weight.
I really didn’t want to risk breaking down in the Appalachian Mountains, so I broke down and bought the new rim that they had in stock. I also bought a new star nut.
A great lesson that I learned here is to avoid specialty items if you don’t want to buy new things. It’s much harder to find the parts for specialty items.
After that I had everything that I needed for smooth sailing on the trusty bamboo bike.
During the summer I purchased a used helmet from Play it again Sports, along with a few other small items. Note in this photo how little trash was created from purchasing these used items. That is one of the big reasons that I prefer to buy used items, far less trash is typically generated.
Throughout the summer Cheryl and I would need random things such as blankets and clothes for the extra cold nights and we would just stop into thrift stores along the way. Then when we didn’t need them anymore we would just donate them to another thrift store.
About half way through the trip there were still some things that I needed and I purchased these things used online and had them shipped to one of my stops: sleeping mat (because mine broke), sleeping bag (because the one I had wasn’t going to be warm enough for the mountains that we’d soon be crossing), lavender essential oil, chain lubricant, a bike handlebar bag and a rain jacket.
In Odanah, Wisconsin we planted fruit trees in peoples front yards. One thing I hadn’t thought about when beginning my year of nothing new was purchasing plants. We purchased fruit trees from a local nursery. I don’t consider trees new, but the pots they came in might have been.
Somewhere in the middle of the country I broke my iPod touch, from putting it on the waist line of my shorts and then sweating all over it. Because it’s an older model and I was in pretty rural parts of the country I could not get it fixed. Instead I ordered a used one online and had it shipped to me. My plan was that at the end of the trip I’d get the other one fixed and then sell it.
In Fargo, North Dakota we did a day of action with Little Free Gardens and built some gardens in people’s front yards. They bought all the materials, so I’m sure that most of them were new.
In North Dakota I made a mistake that resulted in my buying another brand-new item, a tire. In North Dakota there was not an abundance of bike shops and the ones that did exist did not carry used items. But that was no reason to need to buy a brand-new tire. All I had to do was plan ahead. I knew my tire was going to wear out soon and I could have easily gotten a used one in great shape at a bike kitchen in Minneapolis and carried the spare with me, so I could change them out when the others were bald.
There were about 30 of us on this journey and the most common mistake that I saw was people not carrying a spare bike tire (or even two). It is one of the most common reasons that people get stranded on the road and end up hitchhiking. It is 100% preventable. I didn’t stretch it to the point of breaking down on the road, but I certainly had put myself in risk of that.
When I got to Glacier National Park I ended up having to buy new brake pads. They were in about as poor of shape as you can possibly imagine. Again, there was no reason that I needed to get brand new brake pads had I been prepared and gotten them in Minneapolis or started off with them at the beginning of the trip. It was another slip-up due to being unprepared.
In Idaho I had to have my brake cables changed. I managed to get brake cables that my friend Brad had with him and wasn’t using, but the cable housing that the bike shop put on were most definitely new. I didn’t ask but I’m pretty certain they must have been. I also purchased a rearview mirror, but that was used at a little bike kitchen.
Also, during that time, I had to get another new rim. But this time I managed to get a used one! In North Dakota I slipped off my bike and took a hard fall to the ground. I laid on the ground pretty shaken for a few moments wondering just how messed up my body and my bike were going to be. To my pleasure my body was fine, but my front rim had about a 30-degree bend in it. It was mostly not rideable. My friend Brad helped me bend it back into place and amazingly I put another couple hundred miles on it. Then Brad found me a used one when he was out at a bike shop and he gave it to me as a gift. It was incredibly thoughtful of him and I was very grateful.
Somewhere along the trip my headlamp also broke. That really is one of the greatest challenges of buying nothing new for me- I seem to break a lot of things. I should take better care of my stuff and that would reduce the need for new items.
However, the headlamp breaking was not my fault. I wrote Black Diamond because it was under warranty and it was a common problem that others were having as well. My plan was to have them send me a refurbished one if they had one, so that I’d manage to not get a new one, but once I filed the warranty, they sent me a new one without even letting me know.
For those who have not cycled hundreds or thousands of miles of roadside, this may come as a surprise to you, but a lot of what I’ve needed I’ve been able to find right on the roadside. So many things fly out of people’s cars that I’m often able to just keep an eye open for things I need and find them within a few days! An item I commonly need for cycling is rags, for cleaning the bike and doing tune-ups. Most any day I could find clean, nearly new rags on the roadside. This was also a great way to clean up some litter- and clean my bike while creating no waste. Other things I would grab on the roadside that I often needed were electrical tape (for the handlebars) zip ties and lighters. I also fashioned flags on my bike to increase my visibility to drivers, all from items found on the roadside.
Another place that I often use to my advantage of buying nothing new is the dumpsters. If you’ve never been dumpster diving, you’d be amazed at how much you can find in there. I usually dumpster dive for food, but one thing I commonly get is chargers for my iPod touch. Pharmacies throw them away constantly, and because they are so poorly made they break a few times per year for me. The dumpster is where I managed to get new perfectly good chargers when mine broke.
Lastly, there is one other thing that I sort of got new. I was trying really, really hard to find the exact toothpaste that I like used, but just couldn’t find it. During that time, when mine had ran out, I was using Cheryl’s tube. So, while I hadn’t bought a new one, it was basically the same thing. With that being said, unopened toothpaste is something that I’ve found dozens of times in pharmacy dumpsters (due to damaged boxes) so I certainly could have managed used, but I’m pretty particular about using a healthy toothpaste.
So, after all that to sum it up, I made it through the first half of the year without buying anything new. Leading up to the bike trip and during, I purchased a handful of new items and they all could have been prevented, had a I planned ahead. With all that being said, I’d say it was a very successful attempt at cycling across the country while buying nothing new. I did set out for perfection, but my message to is not that we need to be perfect. My message is simply that we can all do our part to create a happier and healthier existence on Earth.
Coming soon: The Nothing New for a Year final summary
Nothing New for a Year 2017 – Spring (February-May)