Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 21: Transportation

My all-time favorite vehicle has been and will always be a VW Bus. We had a couple of them when I was growing up - none of them lasted very long, but I loved the boxy, funky shape of them, and the fact that the engine was all mechanical and very simple was also appealing to me. I even liked the very distinct sound the engine made as one accelerated.

As we spend this last day of the world as we know it thinking into the future, hopefully, we won't be dwelling on the best automobile transportation, but rather focusing our thoughts on some more simple ways to get around. I'm hoping I can still find a VW bus, because I think it would make a great storage area, and while my (current) town ordinances won't allow me to have a shed, I can have one unregistered, undrivable vehicle parked in my yard. In addition, because it's not a "structure" (like a storage shed), I could park it anywhere in my yard that I wish without worrying about variances, and right along the perimeter, painted in bright, paisley colors, would also make it a nice security feature. In short, in our lower energy future, I don't see cars as being completely obsolete.

But for transportation purposes, I'm pretty well convinced that we'll need to find options that don't include gasoline-powered travel. In fact, I don't even think we'll be able to afford those cute little plug-in cars. I mean, if I am generating all of my own electricity, my first priority is going to be the freezer.

The other day Deus Ex Machina and I were talking with our girls about some of our past experiences. Deus Ex Machina mentioned a couple of really long (100 km) Volksmarchs in which he participated - one in France and one in Belgium. We also talked about the Nijmegen march (which is a four-day trek across the Netherlands with teams completing 40 km per day). Our Battalion in Germany sent a team to Nijmegen every year, although (unfortunately) neither of us were able to participate.

One of the great past-times in Europe is the Volksmarch, and I can remember, as a kid living in Germany, my family participating in several of them. At the end, we were all awarded a medal. I was not more than five or six at the time, and my parents made me walk - six miles - for a medal. ?!?!

But it was so much fun!

Deus Ex Machina and I have taken my parents' example, and we make our girls walk long-distances, too. Only we're meaner. There's no medal at the end. We just make them walk for the sake of walking. We walk through the woods along a lovely path to the salt marsh.

Sometimes we find a geocache.

Sometimes we take a detour and go for ice cream at Beal's. It's three miles there, and three miles back - and it's no big deal even for my youngest daughter.

When I was in college, I didn't have a car. I walked everywhere I went - to class, to work, to the grocery store, and I was fit. When I was in the Army, living in Germany, I didn't have a car. I lived within shouting distance of my office, but I was four miles away from the PX and commissary. If I wanted to go shopping, I walked - four miles there and four miles back. Most weekends found me walking the eight mile round trip, and I was fit. Not only could I walk eight miles in less than two hours, but I could run two miles in less than sixteen minutes.

Walking doesn't take any special equipment (despite what the shoe manufacturers try to make us believe) or skill. Most of us learn to do it before we have control of our bodily functions, and most of us don't stop until we take our last breath.

The best solution to our transportation woes is to walk - often and far - and the best use of the last of our oil money would be for our leaders to develop an infrastructure that encouraged us to walk, rather than hopping in our cars. Instead of repairing and expanding roads, perhaps they could be encouraged to close roads, and close off extra lanes for the exclusive use of non-motorized transport, like bicycles and foot travel.

We lived without cars in this country for hundreds of years, and in this world for thousands, and it's only in the last seventy that we've come to (mistakenly) believe that we can't survive without them. Cars are convenient, not necessary. It's a matter of "need" versus "want." Besides, walking is good for the body, good for the mind and good for the soul - and no one argue that we don't need more of that sort of thing in our society.

And this is it ... the last day. We can't control what happens tomorrow, but by our actions today we can shape what it might be. We have time ... not much, but some ... to be making some changes so that no matter what happens we will live comfortably, and dare I predict, happily. We don't need much of what our modern lives, the media, our government, our neighbors, make us believe is necessary for the good life. Adequate (healthy and wholesome) food - much of which we can grow or forage -, protection from the elements, clean water, proper sanitation, and the care and support of others, but probably the most important thing we "need" is a sense that we can provide for ourselves without much outside intervention - even if we live in the suburbs ... maybe especially if we live in the suburbs.

You've had twenty-one days to get ready, and tomorrow, in the infamous words of Porky Pig, that's all folks.

The question is, if you knew twenty-one days from now some catastrophic event would result in the end of the world as we know it ... what would YOU do?


The winner of The Great Neighborhood Book by Jay Walljasper is Allison. Congratulations! Please leave a comment with your full name and address. Comments are moderated and I will not publish your information.


  1. A great series, Wendy.. As for today's article, I have to admit that in the past, I have taken for granted the luxury of 2 cars in our family (now 2 cars and our daughter's truck).. On days when I thought, I should just walk to work, I often had something to take with me, or hadn't left enought time. Solution: backpack and plan better ;) This spring, I have been taking 40 minute walks with our dog, just to get some exercise and to enjoy the spring sounds and sights, and I hope to carry that through til winter!

  2. Thanks again for the great series. As for transportation, it is so easy to become complacent about driving a car, and seemingly dependent on one too! My husband and I have been in the Middle East for a while and one adjustment we had to make was no longer having his and her vehicles. The horror! Actually, we rather like it, and hope to keep only one car when we move back home. It is a bit tricky walking two little boys a kilometer to the park when it's over 35C! but then, we usually find things to do around home when it's just too hot to walk. When we move back to the US, we're hoping to find a homestead within biking distance of the things we might want or need. Fingers crossed!

  3. Cars have killed many small towns (sometimes they leave a marker behind, like a closed store) and stretched many others along their highway. In many parts of Planet Georgia, a town (or the visible remnants of one) can be found every 4 to 7 miles along the highway. This means that someone unfortunate enough to be exactly between two towns had a 3.5-mile trek (one-way). An hour's walk, or 10-15 minutes by bicycle.

    A good sturdy bicycle will be more necessary in the times to come than a car is now. They can be maintained with 100 year old technology and can save a lot of time over walking for short trips.

  4. What about those who can't walk? A manual wheelchair is pretty maneuverable, but rough terrain (and that includes most loose-gravel or mulch trails) is extremely difficult to manage for any distance. In a lower-energy world, will the bike trails and/or roads get maintained enough that chair users have a way to get around? How? With what techniques and resources?

    Not that I think anyone particularly has the answers to this, but I think it needs to be considered. Biking is great, and so is walking, but plenty of people can't do either, or not for any significant distance. If we're going to have to rethink how we all live and our resource use, we can't afford to ignore the needs and input of such a large subset of the population. There's a lot of intelligence and needed skills out there that's getting around on wheels, crutches, or canes.

  5. Fae - think smaller. In a lower energy world, no one will be going quite so far as we do now. I imagine that a ten mile radius will be the outer reaches of where most of us go.

    But to address your specific concerns re: wheelchairs, what would prevent some very entreprenuerial-minded bicycle shop owner from developing a hand-pedaled bicycle/tricycle with an electric assist? In the winter, people who are not able to walk could get studded bike tires, just like those who ride bicycles all winter long up here. A better solution would be a cart and horse, but in the suburbs we don't have room for a horse ... but ... what about a couple of large dogs to pull a cart or a sled?

    To your concerns regarding path maintenance, a well-used dirt path doesn't really need any maintenance if it isn't used by heavy motorized transport. There's a nice, flat, walkable, bikable and stoller-pushable path back through the woods near my house. No one maintains it, but people walk it and keep it cleared, because we walk on it. It's been there for decades.

  6. I'm overweight right now - actually too heavy to ride a bike (the one we have has a small weight limit). I'm walking a lot now and once I get my weight down, I plan to splurge on a really nice, easy to repair bike and a cart to pull along behind it.

    When I was in my early twenties, I was a single mother with a toddler. We didn't have a car, but we had a bike with a kid's trailer behind it, and that was our main form of transportation. I loved it! I would ride the bike half a mile to the daycare, leave the kid trailer there, and bike the five miles to my job - it only took 45 minutes. Another five miles back - plus the half mile from the daycare...a total of eleven miles a day, five days a week. And that didn't include trips to the park or trips to the grocery store!

    I was in MUCH better shape back then - can't wait to get down enough to ride a bike again.