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A peek into Low Carbon travel
I made two posts about my recent bike tour.
From the second day things didn't go as expected, and after traveling county roads through Solon Springs, Iron River, and Ashland, I made a loop through a few lakeshore towns and went home after 200 miles. I'd fallen short of my goal, and short of a 2019 tour (350 miles, over 2x as much time). Even after leaving the bike to be shipped, I had to hitchhike the final stretch to the county airport.
One of my goals, if I dug deep enough for real motivations, was to explore traveling without a car or public transit support. I recently stopped a digital nomad / peripatetic lifestyle (visiting cities or neighborhoods for a month each, traveling to tech conferences) and moved more permanently to Chicago. The first-level adaptation was classic New England or New Yorker: having a Warm Vacation in the winter and a Remote Working Vacation in the summer. This year that was zipping through Belfast, Isle of Man, France, Belgium, Dresden, staying only a few days in each place before taking a train or ferry onward.
By contrast the Midwest Low Carbon vacation could be any long weekend biking to a museum in Milwaukee, or taking a train somewhere remote then biking back. This isn't super easy, convenient, or popular, but luckily Chicago is the hub for many Amtrak lines.
When I think about the future, maybe it would be nice to set up a boutique AI studio in Malaysia or a ICT4D program across Oceania, but these don't line up with how difficult we expect climate change to be over the coming decades. And who knows how demanding that type of work would be for me, personally. It would be nice if I did low-carbon, less-expensive travel not just on work days, but quashed my wanderlust without these far-flung vacations.
At one point I had several routes researched from Minneapolis or Cedar Rapids or Green Bay or Muskegon (a ferry ride across Lake Michigan), but ultimately decided to fly north to Duluth and ride toward home. The concept was that I am unlikely to put in effort to bike up to Lake Superior and the Upper Peninsula and then come all the way back, so it would be better to start there and check it off my list.
After I have a bike, it's possible to take it by train to more places. And as long as I don't wander too far, I can return to the next Amtrak station when it's time to head home.
Early into this trial trip, I got discouraged. I was doing limited miles in a day, yet showing up exhausted. Every overnight at an Airbnb or motel was expensive. When I did my 2019 tour in Hokkaido it had been easy to pop into a 7-Eleven or a diner, but this route had long isolated stretches. I saw forests and farms of Northern Wisconsin up close, but it wasn't registering as fun. A trip that I was considering for next year - train to Kalamazoo then biking up to Mackinac - now seems totally out of reach unless I can better prepare. The last biking day did feel easier, and I learned how to use bike repair tools, but wow.
Going forward, I still want to incorporate the bike in more trips over the next year. I invested too much into repair and shipping not to! It seems likely I'll read the Herbert Hoover book on my shelf then visit the museum outside Iowa City. If I make it to Springfield (Illinois) I could see where my grandma grew up in Jacksonville. Maybe I could present a project in South Bend, or see how far north I can bike from Grand Rapids. Basically anywhere you could idly drive in a car, if it's not too isolated, it seems possible to convert it into a low carbon tour.