September 19, 2009

Do I Really Need A Car?

My partner and I still own a vehicle. And it is no micro, go-cart that I need to watch lest a rogue pack of Girl Guides tip it over. Neither is it a hybrid. It is a small North American truck with four wheel drive. It is thousands of pounds of glass, rubber, steel, and old pollution-reduction technology. But it is black and shiny, and I knew when I first laid eyes on it that we were destined to travel the open and rough road together.

I agreed to feed it regular fuel, oil, and other mechanical fluids, as well as lavish it with a large portion of my monthly income in order to keep it in top shape. It, in turn, promised to free me from the drudgery of the every day, and propel me and my stuff to any exciting destination of my choice. And return me home safely. All the while making me look like a rugged and able individual (ick, how North American).

It was a useful and completely justified purchase, I told myself. I had visions of stream crossings, water fans spraying up from gnarly tires. Steep hills, washboard logging roads, and deep snow were now nothing against the four clawing wheels of my uber-mobility device. It would be worth it. If you live in North America you need a car, right? And if a two wheeler is good, a four wheeler is better.

We haunted the backroads and logging roads of British Columbia for a couple of months each year after we bought the truck. This was not so long ago when the Provincial Forestry Service maintained hundreds of back country camp grounds, most of them free. Only a few are free now, and many others have been decommissioned due to funding cuts of years gone by.
While it lasted, though, it was a great way to spend a few weeks of rustic camping for low cost. However, most of the time our truck, which was "built tough", was handling the hazards of a modern city: construction zones, potholes, terribly rough pavement, the odd foot or two of snow, and appearances at the opera. Of course, my friend Sarah handles all that on her daily mountain bike commute, although I am not sure she can get the valet parking at the opera.

Today, living in our truck and driving crazy roads far from everywhere for weeks at a time seems extravagant, both in the outlay of money for fuel, and the environmental impact. However, it was probably nothing compared to my daily slogging commute to school in the city.
When we were in the city we asked ourselves where we would like to be when fossil fuels ran out. What if we couldn't, or chose not to, drive? We figured we better like where we were if the farthest we could get was under our own power. We decided on the west coast. When we got here we gave ourselves a limit for driving: an area 50 kms (31 miles) from home. After a while we reduced that to 40 kms (24 miles), then 30 (18 miles). Since then we have discovered more than enough in our immediate neighbourhood and community to keep us busy and adventuring for the foreseeable future.

Currently, we drive just a few times a month. Often that is for work. The rest of the time I have been using my bicycle for errands. We are now to the point where we are wondering why we should keep a private vehicle at all. The shiny truck feels more like an expensive ball and chain than the freedom machine that manufacturers' ads depict.

I am rediscovering cycling, and am having the best year for cycle adventures since I was a 10 year old hippie-in-training living in Eugene, Oregon (while my dad went to school). My bicycle has delivered the freedom that the auto manufactures promise, but can't deliver with their current products. I roll along my local roadways and trails completely carbon-free, feeling fit and completely liberated from the complication, expense, and danger of driving.

Perhaps I can trade the truck for a cycle rickshaw, and transport my partner in style, carbon-free. Better yet, maybe someone will think of a simple, sustainable solution to our personal mobility needs, although it is difficult to improve on tried and true technologies.

Top photo by: ВиКо (modern cycle rickshaw in Moscow)
Bottom photo by: K.C. Wilson (Alternative Transportation In Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada)


  1. Enjoyed the article. Best of luck on your endeavors.....

    A fan

  2. Thank you. I am looking forward to the day I can post about being car-free.


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