Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Living without a car in the Great North Woods

Nope. Not ready to do that yet. Can't cut the car culture umbilical cord yet.

That's one of the big differences between rural and city life. In the city, a car more often than not is a liability. It costs a lot to own. Parking is a problem. Public transport is usually pretty good. Much of what you'd want to go to is in walking distance. Sometimes a bicycle can get you where you are going faster than a car.

Where I live there are no public transportation options. The nearest bus stop is 14 miles away. No cab company services my area. Oh, I'm sure if you paid a cab driver a lot of money he'd take you just about anywhere, but that hardly counts. There used to passenger train service, but that disappear many decades ago. Not only are there no train stations anymore, some of the towns that trains used to stop at no longer exist. The town of Copperville comes to mind. Not only does the train no longer stop there, if you don't know where to look, it's difficult to even find the ruins of the town.

The nearest decent sized settlement with a population over 10,000 is about 10 miles away. Within 15 miles it's possible get groceries, building supplies, hardware, and most basic needs. 15 miles isn't too bad a bike ride, even considering all the hills here in NH. Using a bicycle pulling a cart, it would be possible to transport most of the things you'd need. I've traveled the distance in a canoe. Even walked it a few times. My grandfather used to think nothing of a 30 mile walk, so half that isn't outrageous.

That could work -until the snow piles up. Bicycling is out of the question. The river is frozen, so the canoe stays in the shed. What does that leave? Walking.

Scenario one: Other people are still using cars, but you aren't. The roads eventually get plowed. Walking on plowed roads is much better than on unplowed, but that doesn't mean it's easy. Odds are there's plenty of snow or slush left on the road still. There are no sidewalks so you share the icy roads with fast moving cars that can't stop easily. It's a miserable hike into town, but doable.

Scenario two: Nobody is driving cars and the roads aren't plowed. You'd better have a real good reason for heading into town. Imagine five feet of deep drifting snow. Even with snowshoes on, you sink a good foot before the snow compacts enough to support a person. Five miles of breaking trail through powdered snow is a tough day's work. I'm not getting any younger.

A group of people do better than one alone. Each member of the party takes a turn doing the hard work of breaking trail. When that person gets tired they fall back to the end of the line and walk on the trail packed by their companions. It's a break until it's your turn at the front of the line. If you ever have to carry a good sized load, it's much better to use a tobaggon than a backpack. Let the snow work for you. Much easier to slide a load than carry it.

I've cross country skied 15 mile distances, but not though unbroken powder. Most people ski on groomed trails. The modern cross country ski is made for use on packed trails. Wider off trail skis can still be found, but they aren't common.

There are snowmobile trails into town, but snowmobile use more gas than a car does. No savings there.

I suppose back in the day most people didn't travel far in the winter. Perhaps they'd hitch up the horse and take the wagon into town once in a great while. No doubt people just walked if they had to. Mostly, they must have stayed near home.

Worse comes to worse, it'd be possible to do what our ancestors did. However, I'm troubled by that idea. There must be ways of winter travel that aren't petroleum dependent. We must have learned a few things since the railroads stopped running the North Woods. Just can't think of what it could be.


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