so I'm wondering if there is anyway to install Linux, transfer files I want to keep from my Windows partition to my Linux partition, and then wipe my Windows partition?
Sure just install linux on it's own partition on the hadrdrive. Then you will boot up to linux.
You can mount window partition and then copy files over to linux with the file manager.
But you really should spend the cash for a external usb drive. As would never trust my files to just one hardrive in case of failure. If they are important then are important enough to be saved to at least 2 different locations for safety.
Also you would be able to back up your linux setup in case of problems. I have mine backed up to external and can restore Win7 or Linux back to working in 20mins if something goes wrong with OS or software borking the system.