June 11, 2017

The Long Commute

The history of Europeans in North America is a history of mobility. From earliest times to the present, Americans have always been on the move. Today this often translates into long commutes to work.

Canada's largest city has the longest commuting times of all cities in North America. At 80 minutes per round trip, Toronto commuters spend 24 minutes a day longer getting to and from work than people in Los Angeles, 12 minutes longer than New Yorkers, and 32 minutes longer than residents of Barcelona, Spain.

As long as those commutes are, a flatboat pilot working on the Mississippi River in the 1800's would scoff at such rapid transit to and from the workplace.

Using long poles, these men would float narrow, flat-bottomed boats filled with grains and other farm produce from farms on tributaries of the Mississippi with the current down to the coast. It was a difficult trip that could take several weeks of traveling through what was still pure wilderness.

But that wasn't the hardest part.

Once the flatboats reached New Orleans they sold their cargo, for further shipment to destinations far and wide. Since the boats were not designed to return upriver against the current, they were broken up and the wood sold off.

Then the pilot and crew of four would... walk home. The flatboaters, after delivering their cargo, would often have to walk thousands of miles through the unbroken primal forest to return home.

When I first read about this ultra-ultra-long commute, I laughed out loud. I considered that most North Americans won't even walk to the corner store these days.

A round trip could take nine months. Now that is a commute. For the extra hearty. And brave.

I don't want to belittle today's extended commutes - they are not efficient or sustainable, or enjoyable in most cases. But imagine your commute involving walking thousands of miles through untracked wilderness.

That is the long commute. And carbon-free as well.


  1. My commute is a 30 min walk each way- because I own a car, people often ask me on rainy days if if I have driven to work..nope, I have a rain coat. Although my car is pretty economical (55 miles to the gallon) it is still better for me and for the environment to walk if I can.
    I had thought that people in the UK were pretty good at walking to places, so my colleagues surprise at me walking surprised me!

    1. Nicola,

      If at all possible (and it is usually possible), walking and biking are the way to go. It is fun surprising people with sensible, eco-friendly, and healthy decision making. I love the simple solution to rain - a raincoat! I went biking in the rain the other day, and it was beautiful.

  2. A longtime dream of mine was to go down the Ohio River to New Orleans. I grew up along the banks of the Ohio and that flowing current stirred longings for adventure. We live not far from the beginning of the Ohio in Pittsburgh, so there have been a few travelers that have passed through on just such an adventure. I can't imagine walking home! But that makes me think of John Muir's thousand mile walk to the Gulf. Can we even imagine such a trek today?

  3. Anonymous6/14/2017

    My commute is 10 minutes each way, and I also do half my teaching from home. I know I am very lucky to have the choice to do this. I could never go back to the city commute, and luckily I don't have to!



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