This week we are happy to highlight EcoChallenger Bradford McKeown’s guest blog post about his experience with NWEI’s EcoChallenge. For last year’s EcoChallenge Bradford did all of his trips by bike or foot (riding 225 miles in 2 weeks!). This year he is taking on sustainable food as his EcoChallenge. Thanks Bradford for sharing your thoughts with us!

It seems like I always have a running mental list of changes I want to make in my life. Some of the things on the list would be good for me (like getting to the gym a little more often) and some would be good for me and the planet (like cutting back on red meat). But with a full-time job and a busy social life, it’s hard to get around to crossing them off the list.

That’s why October 1-15 is my favorite time of year—that’s when the Northwest Earth Institute’s EcoChallenge gives me an annual opportunity to focus on kick-starting personal (and environmental) progress.

Here’s how the EcoChallenge works: participants choose one change that will reduce their environmental impact and stick with it for two weeks. Challengers pick from one of five categories—water, trash, energy, food or transportation—and set a goal that is fun, stretches their comfort zone and makes a difference for themselves and the planet. Each EcoChallenger shares their challenge with friends and family (via e-mail, social media and the EcoChallenge website), which provides an extra incentive to stick with the goal for two weeks.

For my first EcoChallenge, I committed to using human-powered transportation (my bike or my feet) for all local trips of less than 10 miles one-way.  

Prior to the EcoChallenge my bike hadn’t seen much use in a while. When I hauled it out for a tune-up and a few upgrades it was a dusty mess with two flat tires. The first time I saddled up I was a bit apprehensive. My commute was only four miles each way, but half of the route was on a rural road with a 45mph speed limit and a narrow, bumpy bike lane with a steep ditch to one side.

At first, a couple of trips into town and back in a single day left me pretty worn out.  However, I was surprised at how quickly my stamina and confidence increased. Finding better routes and giving myself a little extra time so I didn’t have to pedal quite so hard also made a big difference.

Perhaps my most pleasant discovery during the EcoChallenge was how much more engaged with my environment I was when biking.  I could hear the fellow playing the guitar on his porch as I passed by, smell the chicken pot pie someone was cooking and feel the difference between a chilly morning and a sunny afternoon. 

And after riding a few miles I was also more awake and alert than I ever was after a cup of coffee (not that I’ve given up my morning coffee). The extra calories burned certainly didn’t hurt my waistline, and I found I was even sleeping better.  An added bonus was spending less money at the grocery store when going shopping on my bike, as I had to consider how much I wanted to haul home (though I should note that I was impressed with how much I could carry with a couple of panniers and a few bungee cords). I received all kinds of encouragement from friends and family too—some were even inspired to try biking more themselves.

At the end of my first EcoChallenge I’d ridden approximately 225 miles that I would have otherwise driven, and I had also saved enough in gas money in two weeks that I’d already paid for half of the cost of the upgrades I made to my bike. Today, two years later, I’m still biking to work all the time.

For this year’s EcoChallenge, I’m committing to choosing sustainable food options. It should be an interesting adventure, since I‘m not much of a cook. But I know from past years that I’ll learn a lot along the way and my life (and diet) will end up better for it.

If you’re interested in joining me, find out more and choose your own challenge at www.ecochallenge.org

*It isn’t too late to sign up and join in the fun through the 15th!

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