Monday, January 8, 2018

The Annual Odometer Reset

Alrighty! 2017 is done, and the numbers are in:

In general I'm very happy with these numbers. I was totally stoked to get over 3000 miles on my bike - mostly I credit the good weather, especially the crazy warm & dry fall we had last year. So that's 591 miles more than I rode in 2016. Yay!!

The car numbers... well, while 668 miles is pretty minimal, it is 130.2 miles more than I drove in 2016. I think I can safely blame that on my many trips to various home improvement stores with all of my remodeling projects. So, while I'd love for my driving miles to go down every year - I think as long as I stay under 1000 miles per year, I'm happy.

So as I'm writing this, I'm listening to a podcast by climate scientist Kevin Anderson. He argues that in order to stave off catastrophic climate change, we will need massive changes - both technologically and societally. He thinks that when it comes to reducing personal emissions, the key thing is to do it publicly. In other words, the value of taking steps to lower one's carbon footprint is not so much the tiny amount of carbon emissions that one person can save, rather it's serving as an example to one's peers - because it's only through collective action that we'll solve this problem.

So in that spirit, I figured I'd blather a bit about my general philosophy when it comes to transportation. I want to be clear that my point here is not to criticize anyone whose choices are different from my own. We all have different realities and priorities. I'm simply trying to show you what works for me. And if I'm being perfectly honest, my motivation for staying out of my car has very little to do with trying to reduce my carbon footprint, and everything to do with trying to improve my quality of life.


The average American spends over 100 hours per year commuting. Good Lord! And there are over 3 million Americans who's daily commute is over 50 miles each direction! Can you imagine? Seriously, the mere idea of having to dedicate that much of my life just getting to and from a job sorta makes me want to stick an ice pick in my temple.

I wrote a post detailing many of my feelings about commuting a while back, so I won't bother to repeat it all, but suffice it to say, I am a firm believer that it is well worth the effort to arrange your life so that you have the smallest possible commute. Commuting is a non-issue for me these days since what work I do, I do from home. But even before I quit my job, my commute was only 5 miles. That wasn't an accident. When I bought my house, one of the things that was very important to me was that it be relatively close to where I worked.

Now, I'd like to claim that this decision was an altruistic one made out of concern for the environment, but the truth is that I just plain hate being stuck behind the wheel of a car.


I try to shop as close to home as possible. I am lucky. Even though my house only gets a walkability score of 55, I have the following resources all under a mile from my doorstep: 2 grocery stores, 1 laundromat, 1 post office, 1 dollar store, 1 convenience store, 1 veterinarian, 1 bakery, 2 liquor stores, 3 gas stations, about a dozen bars and restaurants, and a bunch of other things I've never visited like clothing boutiques and pawn shops. If I expand that radius to about 3 miles, those resources expand dramatically.

So the vast majority of my shopping chores can be accomplished very close to home. And once again, while I'd like to say that the decision to patronize the stores in my immediate neighborhood is done out of altruistic concern for the environment, the truth is a lot more like enlightened self interest.

The thing is, I really LIKE having two grocery stores a few blocks from home, and I want them to stay in business. So while it's sometimes tempting to hop in the car and drive a few miles to a bigger, more modern store that might have a slightly bigger selection, ultimately, I'd rather patronize the ones in my immediate neighborhood, even if it means I can't get some of the schmancy treats I'd like to have. Plus, when I do make a trip to a different store to get something special... it's just that: special.

There are, of course, some things that can't be purchased close to home, and for this I try to either group my purchases so I can make say one trip to the bike store rather than many. Failing that, I order online. Now I know there are people who claim online shopping is horrible for the environment, but I think the devil's in the details on that one. On the one hand, I can have something delivered... on a truck... which will be winding its way through the neighborhood making a bunch of other deliveries anyhow or, I can spend an hour in my car driving across town to get the same item... well, I think that's a toss up at best in terms of which is worse.

Travel and Entertainment

I once read that back in the 19th century, the vast majority of people lived their entire lives within about 100 miles from where they were born. That's pretty unfathomable by today's standards, but the idea of living one's whole life in a relatively small geographic area really resonated with me. It makes me think of my grandmother, who, though she was definitely a 20th century gal, lived her entire life in what, by today's standards, would be considered a pretty small area.

Grandma was born in southern Colorado, grew up in a mining town in the mountains, followed various husbands (she had 3 of them) to Denver, and several towns in both northern Colorado and southern Wyoming. Finally she came back to Denver where she lived the rest of her life. While I'm quite sure there were small vacations throughout her life that I never heard about, the big one was when she was in her 70s. My dad sent her and her best friend on a Caribbean cruise - and I never saw anybody so happy and excited about anything in my entire life. She literally danced around the Christmas tree hooting and howling when Dad gave her the tickets that year. It was just what I think a vacation like that really should be - a BIG, special deal.

Now, I'm not in any way suggesting that people should try to live like it's the 19th century, or even necessarily like my grandmother did. But I do find the whole idea of staying relatively put in a geographic sense to be wonderfully grounding. My house is only about 3 miles from the one I grew up in, and the older I get, the more I appreciate having a real sense of place in my life.

So here's a little secret - I haven't been  on a plane since 1993. Come to think of it, that was also the last time I made it outside of the state of Colorado! And you know what - I don't feel like I'm missing one tiny little thing.

Now, I'm not knocking travel - I did plenty of it in my younger days. I've traveled all across the US, been to New Zealand, Hawaii, Mexico, and through numerous countries in Europe & Scandinavia. But here's the thing, when it comes right down to it, a place is just a place. It's not that I don't have an appreciation for different cultures, but the thing is, when you visit a place as a tourist, you seldom get a chance to experience much about the culture you are visiting.

And while there are certainly days in the middle of winter when I think it would be wonderful to be laying on a beach in Hawaii, the reality is that in order to get to that beach, I would first have to find someone to take care of my house & cats, deal with traffic, crowds and airport hassles, then climb inside of a tin can with wings and deal with hours and hours of motion sickness and the probably migraine that would follow. And once I got there, every meal would be sort of like a dance with death as I struggled to communicate my many food allergies to some cook who  may or may not "get it."

So once again, I'm not being altruistic here, it's more like I've crafted a life that I have no need or desire to "get away from." And, that being the case, not having to deal with the hassles of travel is a monumental relief.

Now, CatMan and I do have some friends down in Manitou Springs - which is a lovely little town on the edge of the mountains outside of Colorado Springs, so we make the 150 mile round trip about once or twice per year. CatMan drives on those trips so it isn't reflected in my car mileage.

Plus, I think that my biking habit really fills the role of getting out and about for me.

For some reason, there is something infinitely more special about riding your bike to a beautiful place, than simply getting in a car and driving there.

Red Rocks Park - Photo taken on a bike ride last summer

Anyhooos.... those are my thoughts about driving, cars and travel. I'd love to hear what you think. Do you drive a lot? Does anybody out there hate it as much as I do?


  1. Cudos to you for figuring out what you need for a good quality of life and making it happen. I hope that your circumstances continue to allow you to live this way for a long time.

    I drive a lot more than you do, but driving is not my favorite pastime. However, my husband really enjoys it. We're a good match that way. And while I don't always have to go far, I find taking a vacation into an entirely new environment is good for my brain. It helps me reset things which I find very useful. I also find it's the best way for me to learn new things. However, while motion sickness is a problem for me also, I don't have to worry about food allergies. That makes travelling a whole lot simpler.

    I'm not a big bike rider and the lack of bike trails around here is not going to make me one anytime soon. I am much too nervous on two-lane roads with no berms. So my outdoor excursions are usually walks.

    1. CatMan likes to drive too... that's why he drives when we go down to Manitou. I think bike rides fill that role of allowing my brain to reset... and I know I am totally spoiled to live in a place where I can easily bike to three state parks as well as a whole host of other beautiful places - all on paved trails. I sometimes complain about the population boom here in Denver, but I do know that the wonderful system of bike trails that I enjoy would not be here if we had fewer people to support it.

  2. Live and learn and I may be twins. I drive a lot more than you do, but I also don't love it--it's a reality of life, kinda like brushing my teeth or doing laundry. I do try to either do my shopping close by (within 2 miles) or to combine trips. For me, it's about using my time efficiently--the bonus is that it reduces wear-and-tear on my car and is better for the environment. I love to travel, and like L&L, it gives me a mental re-set. Actually ... we are looking at travel locations and may be considering Colorado this summer ...

    Your yearly bike mileage is impressive! I'm more of a hobbyist with my bike riding--also, I don't have wonderful places to ride like you do.

    Your grandma was so pretty! And wouldn't it have been fun to see how excited she was about her big trip?

    1. You know, I inherited all of my grandmother's photo albums. I'm now wondering if there are any pictures from that trip in there. Hmmm...

      Anyhow, as I mentioned to Live & Learn above, I know I am totally spoiled with our system of bike trails and all the wonderful places I can bike to. If I didn't have that release, I might feel differently about travel.

  3. I drive a lot less than I used to. I spent years being one of those people with a 50+ mile commute. I didn't mind it at first, but toward the end I pretty much hated it. I was filling up the car with gas at least twice a week, felt like I never saw my husband (his crazy hours didn't help with that), and was tired all of the time. Now my drive to work is in the 7 minute range. I think it's maybe 2 or 3 miles. I haven't actually checked it. I don't like my current job at all, really, but I try to remind myself how awful the commute was. I went from probably 600 miles a week to way less than that. I hate math, so I haven't bothered to do it, but we bought my car in August of 2015, and it has almost 25,000 miles now, which includes a few trips to the beach. I know that's crazy high compared to your mileage, but it's super low compared to what I was driving 9 or 10 years ago.

    I'm seriously impressed with your bike mileage. I'm not athletic at all, and I can't even begin to fathom biking that much.

    I enjoyed this post. I think you did a great job explaining your philosophy and why it works for you without coming across as preachy or like you think those of who have a different lifestyle are doing it all wrong. That's not the easiest thing to do, so congratulations.

    I have to ask, though, do you bike/walk to the vet? I can't imagine doing that! Of course, most of our cats are overweight and scream bloody murder when they go in the carrier, so I can't imagine what walking down the street with them would be like.

    1. Awwww... thanks so much for your sweet comment. I really don't want to come across as preachy, and I don't really hold myself up as some sort of model that people should try to emulate. I just know that this works for me and makes me much happier, so my aim was simply to share that.

      Anyhow, in answer to your question, NO - I don't walk to the vet. In fact, I've only used the vet near my house a few times - it was at a time when I didn't have a regular vet. But I love, Love, LOVE my vet, so it's worth driving about 5 miles to use him. All that being said, it is nice to know that there is a vet so close to home, just in case circumstances ever required one.

      And in terms of biking - when I started cycling about 6-7 years ago I would NEVER have believed that I could do this sort of thing. While I've dabbled in athletics throughout my life, it's never really been "my thing" and I never thought it would bring me the sort of joy that it does! For me the key was starting slow, and also the fact that it's something CatMan and I do together. It's not something I try to do out of some sense that I "should" - it's just soooo much fun that all I want to do is ride my bike!

    2. I'm kind of glad you don't walk to the vet. Maybe my cats are just especially bad, but that just sounds miserable. I totally get driving as far as you have to for a vet you love. We still take the dogs to the vet I took Emma to in SC. It's about an hour to an hour and a half drive, depending on traffic, but worth it. Emma had fear aggression issues and he was really the only vet she ever warmed up to. Even after Emma died I didn't want to switch the other dogs since he knows them. The cats go to a much closer vet (only about a 15 minute drive), but we love them and would keep going there even if the office moved further away from us.

    3. Good vets are worth their weight in gold.

  4. Do you live around Denver? That has been written about as being a great wheelchair-friendly city. Unfortunately for me, I don't live there and walkability scores don't reflect the reality of wheelchair users outside. We get stuck, run over things that puncture tires which can strand us if alone, get hit by cars, have things thrown at us from passers by and have to deal with loose dogs despite leash laws. This does not include bad curb cuts, poorly placed ramps, fall from chairs or tip when we hit uneven pavement, as I did in a crosswalk one day...I have an outdoor chair similar to a bike but much heavier and it must be put together on the sidewalk because it won't fit through the front door, kind of a pain by myself...our public transportation is equally bad...Do you use public transport at all where you live? You should try that and see if it is viable as the day may come when you can't ride your bike and no longer drive.

    I like your philosophy and can truly understand your dislike of driving. You are so fortunate to be able to use a bike and be short distances from where you need to go most often. This was a wonderful post. I tell people about my reality so that maybe before they get too old to vote and tell their representatives what they think, they will think about public transport rather than their cars.

    1. Well... if Denver is a wheelchair friendly city, I shudder to think what an unfriendly one must be like! The city has been committed to improving walkability, public transportation and accessibility, but trust me, there's a LOOOONG way to go.

      Sidewalks have been in the news a lot lately, mostly because they're in sorry shape, and because of the haphazard way the city grew up, sidewalk maintenance is actually the responsibility of the property owners, not the city. As you can imagine, this is a recipe for disaster. In my neighborhood we don't even have real sidewalks, they're more like extended curbs, and not nearly wide enough for a wheelchair - 30 inches I think? But get this... a few years back the city spent millions installing curb cut ramps at every corner. It's totally nonsensical. But no... in this neighborhood at least, if you're in a chair, you're in the street.

      Of course mine is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, so I imagine it's better in nicer parts of town, but with all the hills here (think steps) it's certainly not what I would call wheelchair friendly. However, gentrification is happening in my little barrio these days, so now that white people with strollers are moving into the neighborhood, perhaps something will finally get done about the sidewalks (she says without the slightest hint of cynicism.)

      Anyhow, the city recently did a big sidewalk assessment and created a master plan. But... I think I read that at current funding levels it would take them over 100 years to actually put the plan into action. Gah!

      Public transportation is also improving, but it's far from a complete system. About 10 years ago they started building light rail, and it's great... sorta. It basically goes out from the city center like spokes on a wheel, except they just happened to leave out the southwest quadrant of the city (the Latino part of town where I live.) Plus, it really doesn't help you if you want to get anyplace other than downtown.

      If you need to take the bus then heaven help you. In my part of town it comes every 30 minutes during rush hour, but only once an hour outside of that. There's talk of expanding the bus grid and providing more frequent service, but as of yet there's no money for this grand plan, so let's just say I'm not holding my breath.

      I have a good friend on the city council and I know they are working hard to address these issues, but it's really an uphill battle.

      Anyhow, I know that I am deeply fortunate to be able bodied and in good enough shape to ride my bike as much as I do - and it's something I don't take for granted.

      I sometimes have fantasies of moving somewhere up in the mountains, but then reality sinks in. That might work well if you're young and healthy - but it's gonna be a car dependent lifestyle for sure. And ain't no running to the store a for a few quick things when it's a 2 hour drive to the nearest groceries. And if you ended up in a situation where you couldn't shovel snow or chop wood, or god forbid you fell and got hurt/stranded... well that would be the end of that.

      Anyhow, I'm glad you liked the post. Maybe if enough people keep pulling in the same direction things will change. I mean things are changing, I just wish the pace wasn't quite so glacially slow.

    2. Well, so much for the article I read...and you're right, change is glacially slow.

    3. I'd love to read the article if you have a link.

    4. My city also has a sidewalk plan--and officially it's their job, and they own the front part of your property, though you still have to mow it yourself if there's not sidewalk there.

      Our sidewalk plan would also take forever to fully implement, but they are doing an amazingly good job of prioritizing! They add sidewalks to one side of a street only on all major streets that are good for getting to schools and libraries and such. They're even prioritizing poor neighborhoods over rich ones as if they know that poor people need them more. It's one of the few things my city does really well. (My electric company is also awesome. And that's pretty much it!)

    5. Hmmm... well, maybe our city council should take a field trip to Austin! :-)

  5. You are to be commended! We have a very unfriendly bike environment where we live and have to load our bikes on the car and DRIVE to places we can ride. Crazy, but we love riding so we do it. I'd love to have your trails and it's great that you utilize them.
    Just want to mention that when you say vacation traveling doesn't give you a true picture of your destination that it depends on how you travel. I've done a lot of traveling and none of it was as a typical lie-on-the-beach, eat-in-the-generic-hotel-restaurant variety. If you want to travel, live and eat like the natives and get to know them (which is what I want), there are ways to do it. Do a work-stay on a coffee farm, stay in people's homes through AirBnB, volunteer at an orphanage, make friends with bloggers in other countries and exchange visits, stay in one place for a few weeks, and so on.
    Here's to wonderful journeys in 2018!

    1. I am totally spoiled with our system of bike trails. Living in Colorado is so weird. In many ways our tax system is completely backwards... but we do have these special areas where people have decided that taxes are OK (marijuana & the Colorado lottery) and it's the lottery funds which make most of our trails system possible.

      Anyhow, I LOVE your approach to travel - working on a coffee farm & volunteering at an orphanage - have you actually done those things? I fear at this point in my life all that sounds rather exhausting, but if one was going to travel, that would certainly be the way.

    2. I have volunteered at an orphanage, helped in building/repairing and schools, teaching exchanges, and a coffee farm in Nicaragua is on my bucket list. My Airb&b experiences have been great for mingling and getting to know the locals, practicing and learning the language, cooking local foods, and sharing in their lifestyles, too.

    3. I am duly impressed. That's what travel should be, IMHO.

  6. Sadly I'm one of those that commutes 25 miles one way 5 days a week. On the plus side I always bring my lunch so I don't have to go out into the rat-race to get lunch. I would love to live closer to work but I bought the home we grew up in from my parents and my mother still lives with me, she's 81 and she knows the neighborhood and it's a small town, her church is at the end of the block so she can walk there every morning to mass. Someday though I hope to sell the house and move to the big city...Bakersfield so I don't have that commute. I love to drive, but unfortunately on the drive home I tend to relax and unwind and by the time I get home I don't want to do anything!

    1. Well, at least you don't hate driving like I do. I sorta can't imagine it being relaxing, for me it just turns my insides to knots. Perhaps it's a control thing.

      I think it's wonderful that you're living with your mother - I'm sure she appreciates it deeply. If it were me, I'd ditch the job and keep the house, but I'm a little bit crazy that way. :-)

  7. I don't know how much I drive. I normally fill my tank about once a month, so definitely more than you. And these days it's more like twice a month because my boyfriend uses my car for long commutes.

    I checked again, and my walkability score is about the same as yours: 52.

    Unlike you, I have a home improvement store in walking distance! (I wish they wouldn't have built it right on top of where an important road used to be, so that bad decision can never be un-made, but there's no denying it's in walking distance!

    On commuting, I agree. I've always made sure I could commute by bus, so I could get a lot of reading in. When I look for jobs now, I'm only looking for ones in walking distance.

    When I hear about people having long commutes, I hope they have cars they really like that are comfortable and have good sound systems and good things to listen to.

    On shopping: When my friend got a postdoc in Switzerland and invited us to visit her, I loved that she had two grocery stores in walking distance. I now also have a grocery store I like, plus two grocery stores I don't like (one is a high-priced, low-selection neighborhood store; one is a Hispanic store with no whole grains or organic anything) plus at least four convenience stores. There used to be two smaller Hispanic stores a lot like the little stores they had every block or two in Spain, that I liked--they had good produce and meat.

    However, my boyfriend loves grocery shopping as a daily outing and makes regular trips to not only our favorite local store but also, in order by popularity, Trader Joe's, MT [Asian] Supermarket, Whole Foods, and the local food coop. I also love things at every one of those places.

    On travel: I love travel, but one trip per year is about the right amount for me. We don't have anything awesome like Red Rocks in biking distance, but that's awesome!

    On entertainment: I like really cheap entertainment: books, movies, parties, board games, blogs. And I prefer watching movies at home because we can have subtitles (good for tough accents), talk during the movie (subtitles makes it easier to not miss anything), pause to use the bathroom, not wear earplugs, and cuddle (actually I like to knit while resting my feet on my boyfriend).

    On driving: I've heard that a lot of women like driving because it gives them a sense of power; they are just as strong as everyone else on the road. I am not one of those women. I'm a below average driver who does not like to merge. (It's not just my fault but also the fault of my car. It turns out people don't let navy Toyota Corollas merge as easily (fearfully) as they do red Toyota T100 pick-up trucks.) I also have no sense of direction. I do like being a passenger when other people are driving, though. I love looking out the window, or if it's boring outside, I can read without getting carsick.

    Also related, I love living in a city. Cities are big. I can't live close to all the things I love at the same time. (Although, since they built my favorite grocery store and favorite movie theatre nearby, it's getting pretty good!) Also, my friends have mostly moved out into the boonies. I can't complain too much--because so many people are willing to do that, I can afford to live a lot closer in. I seriously considered getting rid of my car again before I bought my last one, but I love my transportational freedom. Last time I had no car, all my friends lived on buslines--those days are over.

    I also love being able to lend my car to others while theirs is being repaired. Now that my sister has moved away, that's only my boyfriend, but I also loan it to him for long job commutes because it pollutes less and uses less gas than his truck.

    Nowadays, I basically use my car to drive to friends' houses, to meet a friend halfway for exercise, and to go to far-away parts of town I like (stores, the wildflower center,), and to visit my parents (and a couple of other people I know) 3.5 hours north of me.

    1. P.S. I love that walkability link, though I don't agree with it. My neighborhood feels extremely walkable to me (even at 52), though it's no NYC.

      I have a transit score of 46 which feels too high. Basically, there are three bus routes near me, two of which go nowhere of interest to me and the other of which comes only every 35 minutes and meanders around so much that if I want to get to campus (3.5 miles away) by a certain time, I have to leave over an hour before then if I want to be sure. It's nothing like Boston where I could get anywhere but the beach by subway and did not have to check the schedules.

      And my bike score is 78, "Flat as a pancake, excellent bike lanes." That seems too high. There are very few bike lanes (much fewer than there used to be), they tend to disappear at intersections (excuse me, merge with right-turn lanes), and are narrow and scary. I like to ride on sidewalks (and yes, I am careful at intersections and driveways), and there are lots of places I can get to on back roads, so if I could keep my bike accessible, I would definitely like to ride it more often, at least to the library and grocery store.

    2. You know, the thing with walkability, for shopping at least, is that it's not just being able to get somewhere on foot, it's also the hauling of stuff. I was thinking about having a home improvement store so close, and while that might be great for times when you just need a small tool or part, most of the time when I head to the Home Cheapo, I'm hauling back bags of mulch, or concrete, or other similarly heavy items. Likewise with the grocery store - I love walking there when I only need a few things, but try hauling a 50 pound bag of cat litter!

      Perhaps this is where the bad sidewalks in my area come into play. They're really narrow - more like extended curbs, and you can't reasonably use any sort of cart or wagon or something to haul things. I know this because I tried at one point, and gave myself a pulled muscle in my back trying to twist around to pull my little cart thing directly behind me - since there's no room to pull it out to the side. Hmmm... maybe a little cart that could be pushed in front of me? It would have to be pretty narrow since the sidewalks are only about 30 inches, and in many spots there are bushes etc covering up a few inches of them.

      I checked my neighborhood for bike-a-bility and it also says it's flat as a pancake. Hmmm... I'm remembering the time a friend drove me home in a snowstorm, and literally could not make it up the hill to my house. Not sure how much faith to put in those numbers!

      Public transportation in Boston is wonderful, isn't it? Just hop on the T and you can get anywhere. Sigh. Denver is experimenting with driverless electric vans to try to shuttle people to and from our sparse bus & light rail routes - it's a good sign but somehow I'm not holding my breath!


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