Sarah Bellum Interview- Part 2
OR: You had a mission recently where you spent a year without getting into a car. Tell us about that.
SB: Yeah, I did. My bike tour was part of that. I challenged myself not to get into a motorized vehicle for a year, from January 1st 2016 to January 1st 2017. But I actually started in December of 2015, and it included my bicycle tour up the West Coast (from San Luis Obispo to Astoria, and then to Portland, Oregon). I didn’t get into a vehicle until February 2017, so it was more like a year and a month.
Other than that bike tour up the West Coast, and another trip to the (Columbia) Gorge, I stayed within 8 miles of my house for a year. When people offered me a ride, I didn’t say, “I’m not getting into a car.” Instead, I’d tell them, “I’m spending a year celebrating human-powered transportation!”
OR: What was it like to bike everywhere vs driving a car?
SB: Amazing. I felt like I was getting in touch with the ancient medicine of traveling slow. Noticing the flowers, things changing around you. I learned a lot of patience, and I learned how to plan my time well. I got better at “stacking functions”, at accomplishing multiple things in one trip.
I spent a year of never sitting in traffic! That was awesome. When I’m in a car, I feel indifferent to the places I travel through. I can pass right through a place and not even think about it. In a car, you kinda zone out. You don’t notice the little things.
I do value cars to move quickly and to get out of town, like going to the hotsprings or the beach.
OR: What was your first ride in a car like, after that year of bicycling?
SB: I got onto a bus and... it was so familiar. It was anticlimactic. I got a little bit carsick.
OR: Tell me more about your motives for that solo bike tour up the West Coast.
SB: I was involved in a local chapter for the Surfrider Foundation, which is a nonprofit organization that's all about protecting and enjoying ocean waves and beaches. I used to run the plastics beach clean-up program for the Central Coast.
I crocheted my bicycle all over with plastic bags that I found and cut up. I found them on the street, on the beach, in the dumpster. People collected them for me too. I used 188 plastic bags. While I was crocheting I was kinda thinking of doing a tour, just from San Luis Obispo to San Franciso. I wanted to promote my art in different ways. I wanted to make a documentary of it.
OR: Did you end up making a documentary of your bike tour?
SB: In the beginning I thought, “I’m gonna make a documentary!” Then halfway through, I thought, “Fuck that.” It’s so hard to take pictures, I just wasn’t thinking about that.
OR: What were you thinking about on tour?
My bike tour was all about Zero Waste. The local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation ended up sponsoring my trip, which was amazing. I met a lot of people who were connected with Surfrider up and down the West Coast, and I was stopping to visit recycling centers. I was getting tours and meeting activists, artists, and trash enthusiasts. It was really cool to meet other people that were into the same things as me. It’s all on my blog (SarahBellums.com).
I did most of the tour as Zero Waste... I carried glass jars in order to avoid using plastics. They were heavy. I was definitely on the heavy side of bike touring. Some of the hills I walked my bike up.
OR: In light of the recent “Me Too” movement on social media, have you ever been sexually harassed while you were on your bicycle?
SB: Yeah, totally. People hollerin’ at me. That actually happened on my tour, it was really creepy. I was walking up the biggest hill of my tour, which was two thousand feet of elevation change and these guys pulled over in their truck and tried to offer me a ride. It felt really weird. I said something like, “Oh, no, my friend is waiting for me up there.”
OR: Do you feel like your bike makes you more vulnerable to harassment than if you were in a vehicle?
Yeah, your bike definitely makes you more exposed. When you’re in a vehicle you’re in a little bubble. When you’re on a bike people can see who you are, that you’re a young woman traveling. It’s obvious.
OR: I’ve been struggling with that lately, that I love riding bikes because I’m vulnerable and exposed, it feels real. Unfortunately, it also makes me vulnerable and exposed to people’s negative energies. So, what makes you keep riding your bike?
SB: I can’t imagine life without her... transporting me but also being my friend. I talk to her, I can have conversations. Every time I get on to her and ride with her, I feel happy. No matter what the weather is, it’s always fun to ride a bicycle.
Plus, when you get in car and go to a party, you can get stuck with someone. When I ride my bicycle, I never get stuck places without a ride home. She’s like my broomstick.
OR: How do you overcome fear, especially when the danger is real?
SB: It’s amazing how our culture puts fear into us. We’re supposed to fear each other. In so many ways, through politics, and "male vs female", our culture tells us not to trust other people.
On my bike tour I met so many sweet people. I didn’t know what their backgrounds and values were, but I knew they were compassionate because they were showing me compassion and helping me. People gave me food throughout my trip, gave me places to stay. It’s just amazing the amount of goodness in the world.
The other day a friend and I were talking about, “What do we need to change the world?” Women need to take over, right? (laughs) We need female empowerment toolkits. With your book, Olivia, I feel like you’re writing a female empowerment tool kit. Getting out there by yourself.
OR: Thank you. What activities, besides biking, help you be a better cyclist?
SB: Walking really helps me value how fast my bike gets me around places. Also, the bus... I get kinda depressed on buses, then I get on my bicycle and it’s so different. It’s just the most fun way to transfer yourself.
Also, my yoga practice makes it so I’m not super tight all the time. That’s a thing with biking: my calves get really tight . It’s nice to stretch them out.
OR: What are you excited about these days?
SB: Elly Blue! She just wrote this book, Biketopia: Feminist Bicycle Science Fiction Stories in Extreme Futures. I saw it and thought, “Did all my dreams just come true?!?!!!” And I got to meet her here in Portland. That was so cool.
Inspired? Learn more about Sarah Bellum and her projects on her website, SarahBellums.com