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how to reconcile car-free life with the desire for the rural / more land

 
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I'm in the USA, so all of the following is based on USA's for-the-most-part car-centric transportation infrastructure.

I've lived the past 15 years, essentially my entire adult life, without a car. I fell in love with bikes for transport when I was 19, sold my old unreliable car, and never looked back. Over the years, I've refined my bike setup, and have acquired different cargo bikes and trailers and panniers to expand my carrying capacity. On bike, I've hauled animal feed, trees, logs, bricks, lumber, groceries, furniture, children, and more. It feels awesome to use your body to haul loads that most people couldn't even imagine moving without burning gas.

But the only way that this has worked for this long is by living in dense urban cities, where every place I might need to go is within 10 miles, with a densely connected grid of relatively quiet non-highway streets. From my house, it's half a block to the library and the park, half a mile to countless stores including a major grocery store and a big-box store, 3 miles to 4 different hardware stores and two feed stores and the doctor's office, and then I rarely have to go further than that, but if I did, any errand that I could conceivably need to do could be accomplished within 10 miles. That's not to say that living without a car is easy -- people still give incredulous looks about it, my wife (who is mostly on-board with being a car-free badass) sometimes doesn't want to ride up that damn hill again in the rain -- but there's just a lot you can get to within very comfortable biking distance, and people mostly view people who ride bike positively.

There are downsides of having so many destinations within such a short distance:
  • Price: my current house cost an unfathomably large amount of money (a good chunk of which I still owe), in part because it has a "big" (.20ac) lot for gardening and is so close to everything
  • Crowded: People are stacked on top of each other. I live in a neighborhood of single-family-homes with mostly fairly "big" lots, but I have to be careful when I pee on my plants so that the neighbor kids or the people on the balcony two houses over don't see. And pretty often, houses on my street get redeveloped as monster 8-plexes 2-3 stories tall
  • Livability issues: People steal things off of my neighbors' porches on a weekly (if not daily) basis. I had to chase a druggy around the block last week to retrieve a package she stole off my neighbor's porch in broad daylight. I check for needles and human poop at the playground before I let my kid play. I know several people on my street who have had tools and bikes stolen from their sheds/garages. There are a lot of shootings that happen nearby. Cars with loud exhausts racing up and down the street in the middle of the night. I'm 2 blocks from a bunch of restaurant dumpsters and other filthy establishments, so there's always huge quantities of rats running rampant and trying to set up shop in my garden or outbuildings.


  • I've been feeling a strong pull towards getting more land and getting out of the city. I'm always running out of space for growing more plants, and running into city regulations about keeping livestock. Building up systems to build soil fertility while producing most or all of my family's food currently feels like my most urgent purpose in life, and can't be accomplished to the level that I desire on my current city lot. And escaping from some of the livability issues would be great, too! A peaceful place where I'm not having to constantly be on the alert for threats would be awesome.

    So we've been casually looking at property listings, but the one thing I keep running up against is that I have based my entire life up until now around not having a car. I'm okay giving that up and getting some sort of vehicle, but even still, I don't think I could stomach living on a highway dozens of miles from anything, where, in order to get out of my driveway, I'd have to get in a car and drive. I've built my life around this premise for so long, I can't even imagine living a life where, in order to get anywhere I'm dependent on a car. That's not to say that I want everything to be walkable/bikeable, but just that I'm having a difficult time coming to terms with the level of car-centricity that seems prevalent in most places where one can actually get a few acres of land.

    If it were just me on my own, my threshold for car-centricity would be a lot higher (I used to ride pretty regularly on all sorts of highways that people thought I was crazy for riding on), but ideally I'd be able to take my 4-year-old out to something without getting in a car.

    Possible solutions I've been thinking about:
  • Edge of small town: Conceivably one could find a few acres on a road that isn't a main through-highway and be able to comfortably human-power oneself into the town
  • Bike Path: There a few places that I've found where there's a separated bike trail extending out of a small city or between towns, and living close to that might allow for at least having the option to sometimes ride bike into town, even if it's a longer distance
  • Go less places: (not sure that this is a feasible solution) I already don't go anywhere. I would be happy staying on my several acres all the time and driving to town every couple of weeks. My wife doesn't like that degree of isolation, though, and my kid is going to need to go to school in the near future and will hopefully have friends


  • I dunno. Anyone have any ideas for how to balance this value that has been the core piece of my identity for so long, with the strong desire to have more land and get out of the giant filthy city?

    (note: I wasn't sure whether to put this in "Bicycle" or "Rural" or "Personal Challenges" forums, so I put it in bicycle)
     
    Rocket Scientist
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    Hi Tim;
    Think about a nice hay burner.
    A horse can carry bunches more than your bike and works well in winter.
    pack-horse-himalayas-annapurna-region-which-section-north-central-nepal-31743537.jpg
    pack-horse-himalayas-annapurna-region-which-section-north-central-nepal
     
    Posts: 176
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    +1 for hay-burner ....IF you can buy land with eoungh grass to feed mostly on your pasture or ask a neighbor


    2nd option is one of those electric bicycles

    3rd option is a motorcycle or moto tricycle

    either way man you've made it quite a while w/o gasoline.... if it helps you set-up for a gasoline free or minimal life then don't stress it we've been born into this industrial world and tough to just set out 100%

     
    master pollinator
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    I don't want to discourage you, but I couldn't live the kind of rural life I live without a pickup truck. I don't see it as an either or situation. I just bought an electric bike for my 16 miles round trip work commute. I ride my bike when I can, but I still need a pickup for so many things. Maybe you can find a compromise.
     
    Timothy Karl
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    Trace Oswald wrote:I don't want to discourage you, but I couldn't live the kind of rural life I live without a pickup truck. I don't see it as an either or situation. I just bought an electric bike for my 16 miles round trip work commute. I ride my bike when I can, but I still need a pickup for so many things. Maybe you can find a compromise.



    Yeah, I think I've resigned myself to that if I'm going to get more land and be in a less dense area, I'll pretty much need to get some sort of motor vehicle, and would ideally find a property where I'd still at least be able to use a bike sometimes to do some useful tasks. I think what I'm really struggling with is feeling like I'm betraying this value that has been such a core part of my identity for so long.

    I guess the way I wrote my post maybe it sounded like I was trying to figure out how to be rural but still use only bike. That would be cool if it were an option, but even I can see that it wouldn't really be feasible with US infrastructure & culture. I think what I'm really trying to work though is the abrupt shift it would be, going from a no-car life to a mostly-car-and-hopefully-still-some-bike life and feeling like I'm giving up part of myself.

    Regarding electric bikes and compromises, when we were having a kid, my wife wanted to get a car. So we got an electric cargo bike instead, which has expanded a lot of possibilities, at least in our current situation. It just feels like the amount of compromise that would have to happen to do the rural thing would be pretty jarring, and would require careful consideration of locations in order to still leave any possibility of being able to use bike for some things.
     
    master gardener
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    I can totally empathize with you Timothy. Considering what our local gas prices have done in the last 6 mnths, it totally feels like going the wrong direction in my heart, too!

    That said, we were lucky and choose a spot outside a small city on the west coast and have watched the bike infrastructure steadily improve and the drivers gradually become more respectful, possibly due to spending more time themselves on bikes, or family members on bikes. However, I'm in Canada, and even here we have areas that simply aren't either bike or walking friendly.  

    I do suggest is that you start looking around very carefully with the help of on-line mapping programs and see if you can find the small gems that exist.

    Originally, I was in Ontario and spent some time in the Kitchener/Waterloo region with its large Mennonite population. Horse and buggy has some advantages, so if you're really committed to no "gas" and a "big garden" a horse is win/win. I'm very disappointed that my horse manure producers moved to the Interior for retirement! An area with a similar population is more likely to have roads that aren't purely for cars.
     
    pollinator
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    How about moving to a middle sized town? You can live in the town and work in a nearby field. This way your family is not isolated, they can go to school and groceries and ammenities as always, and it's just you who must ride your bicycle more often.
    If you don't want to 'own' a car, maybe you could rent or borrow it whenever you need that pickup.

    My family has been living like this for decades: an appartment in the city (500.000 habs), commuting to the fields every day by car or bus (still feasible by bike), but then we didn't have animals. If you want to include animals into the equation, I don't know if it may work.

    I suspect the future will bring back those horse powered carts of ole, but we're not still there.
     
    pollinator
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    We live near a city of 15,000.  It is very possible to find 2-3 acres within 2-3 mile biking distance of many of the places you listed.  Just start looking (a car might be handy for that part!) Or, you might look for property near a trail head, just to have a nice place to ride for fun.
     
    pollinator
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    Tim you have got yourself into a interesting place!!
    Somebody has to say this, 'you now have 2 extra points of view to consider'
    As Trace has said, she sees the need for a ute as a no brainer and if you leave the present place of habitation you may have to suck it up as they say.
    I can say I have built houses with hand tools only and used bicycle power to save the world.
    It was hard and slow compared to using progressive techniques wisely.

    An alternative is to try and work with your local community to improve things, I am sure others have done it.
    - have a central secure place for parcels
    - improve security collectively
    - establish a neighbourhood watch
    - try a community garden to build community.
    - maybe work with the homeless instead of hasslling them, if they want work with you
     
    master gardener
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    How to manage in a rural area without a car......in the USA.
    I'm based in a rural area of the UK and have never visited the USA, so have not got knowledge of US problems from first hand, but many of the challenges will be international I guess. We still have several cars (it's a hobby of ours) but our mileage these days is less than 5000 miles total for the pair of us, including business mileage. Having a car is not necessarily a bad thing, there is balance in everything.

    Two reasons that come to mind as to why you would need a car: excessive load and excessive distance.
  • Excessive load
  • Does the US not do deliveries? Our builders merchants and farm suppliers will deliver (minimum value) goods on a few days notice. If it's stuff of your own, that's more tricky. Again couriers do pick up though. Borrowing a neighbour's car or sharing may be another option.
  • Excessive distance
  • That's probably the more tricky and one which I think you would need to plan your purchase around. Where would you need to visit on a regular basis - can you get a property close to the school bus route? Usually it's visits to family that become awkward to do without your own transport.

    I hope we get some more good ideas going.
     
    master gardener
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    I have 2 gas vehicles and live about 3.5 miles from the edge of a town of 3000.  I am looking closely at an electric golf cart to eventually replace one of those gas vehicles.
     
    pollinator
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    Another option, consider a house boat.      You would have a movable home base...        

     
    pollinator
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    It's a difficult situation to be in, and honestly, in our case, we decided that our sustainability ethics outweighted our desire to live in a rural area.

    It might change in the future with the development of decent public transportation outside of big urban centers (one can always dream?...) but right now, moving would represent a very large increase in our carbon footprint and I could not live with that on my conscience. Urban living remains, unfortunately, more sustainable unless one wants to really live in full autonomy with pre-industrial era practices (aka you need to have a pickup to run a farm).

    However, I like to see permaculture as a community thing: we are part of a CSA and have built a personal relationship with our "family farmer". He has a pick-up truck (and a refrigerated delivery truck, and two tractors), but he feeds hundreds of families with that truck, and creates meaninful jobs for a dozen people (including interns who will learn about organic production).

    We also buy our meat (yearly) from a small-scale farmer whose practices are compatible with our values, and we consider them part of our "village". Those two things solve most of our food issues. The rest comes from our small garden, a mix of an organic bulk delivery service and our small local grocery stores (which are important to the tissue of the community, even if they sell non-organic food). I can even forage for herbals in a nearby area (that is "cleanish" because it borders our aquifer canal, so it's protected but still forage-able)

    We also try to play an active role in improving our immediate neighbourhood and community. I take an "active observer" role in municipal politics and ask questions about policies (for instance, I helped support a new bike path project). I talk to my neighbours and try to build a community where people can trust and help each other. And I try to be mindful of economical diversity, and observe my own judgement of "undesirable people" who are, in most cases, harmless and still human beings (I live close to a psychiatric hospital so we have plenty of people with mental health issues in transition houses, or just choosing to stay close to their resources).

    There are cities and neighbourhoods out there where you can live car-free and yet minimize the drawbacks of city living (we're in Montreal, so a large city by most standards, and we are a fifteen minute walk to the nearest subway station, so still fairly urban)
     
    master steward
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    Timothy said, " I've resigned myself to that if I'm going to get more land and be in a less dense area, I'll pretty much need to get some sort of motor vehicle, and would ideally find a property where I'd still at least be able to use a bike sometimes to do some useful tasks.



    I leave in a very rural area.  When we go to town which might be anywhere from 3 to 6 months we rarely see a vehicle. Our route is on a Ranch Road which would be equivalent to a Farm to Market Road.

    We do have about a ten-mile stretch on an Interstate where we might see a few truckers.

    Very rarely though I have even seen a few bikers.

    I would feel that Oregon has some remote areas such as where I live.
     
    Kena Landry
    pollinator
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    Oh, you might want to look at the RetroSuburbia project. It's Australia-based, so not everything applies, but I really like their principle of transforming suburban areas in sustainable places. I find their case studies a very good source of inspiration for the myriads of ways in which sustainable living can take form.
     
    Jay Angler
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    I think I will raise the financial aspect. What do you save vs what does it cost.

    I touched on that with gas - the huge price increase seems to be entering a period of instability, but it's not likely to drop to 1960's prices! However, even bigger where I live is the cost of insurance. Cars and trucks are increasingly expensive to repair, and injured people have higher expectations of support and compensation for "pain and inconvenience" than in the 1960's also.

    So rural living will generally increase one's transportation costs.

    However, housing in some areas is less expensive. The land may cost less on a square foot basis, but you may still end up paying more than in a small city/town because you're probably going to buy more of it.

    However, property taxes are generally lower rurally - but that can be highly location dependent, so check before buying. In fact, think of all the bills you regularly pay, and evaluate/compare urban vs rural averages. Then consider your personal ability to lower those costs - can you afford a highly insulated house? Can you build an RMH to heat it? Those improvements can be made regardless of your address and will both lower your costs and your environmental impact and could offset some of the increases caused by vehicle ownership and use.

    Lastly, think about what is changing in the world. It sounds as if electric trucks are coming down the pipe. There are already smallish ones overseas which aren't technically legal for road use, but on a sufficiently rural road, you might get away with it if you're friends with the local constabulary and get them on-board with the environmental benefits. If you live in a sufficiently sunny location, or have a property with a small run-of-river hydro potential, you could produce your own "fuel".


     
    pollinator
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    I definitely second the idea, that you've totally missed a whole other category of life in a "big town" in my mind that's 25,000-85,000 thousand.  But I saw one mention of 500,000 up thread, so it's relative.
     
    Melissa Ferrin
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    Kena Landry wrote:Oh, you might want to look at the RetroSuburbia project. It's Australia-based, so not everything applies, but I really like their principle of transforming suburban areas in sustainable places. I find their case studies a very good source of inspiration for the myriads of ways in which sustainable living can take form.


    In addition to RetroSuburbia, you can get materials and ideas from the Transition Town movement. You might find your tribe among your neighbors, others looking to make changes that can help get some of the negatives undercontrol right were you are now.

     
    John C Daley
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    Transition Town network
    A movement of communities coming together to reimagine and rebuild our world
     
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    I live very rural (US).  My sustainability ethics wouldn't allow me to live in a city.

    I have a truck for convenience.  I could easily set things up to where I made only one or two trips a year to town.  A younger, healthier person wouldn't even need to do that.  I suppose I don't really "need" to either.

    I use my bike for maintaining and moving fences, checking on critters, pretty much for whatever others use their ATVs.  Sometimes I just walk.

    If I had to deal with porch pirates and porch poopers I think I'd need a backhoe.  
     
    Posts: 98
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    I'm in a similar situation. Right now I'm living in a large city, but on a 5000 sqft "large" lot. I'm not entirely car free, but we walk the kids to school, I bike to work, we walk to the grocery store. My hubby and I both grew up in the suburbs and agreed we either wanted to move into the city so we could walk more, or out to the country where we could have land. We got the most veggie friendly lot in the city we could get as a compromise. I do prefer the more liberal diverse urban schools, particularly grateful in the last two years that they actually wore masks and increased air filtration, unlike many of the surrounding rural districts.

    But my heart still yearns for more land for more growing area and animal area. I would like to move to the outskirts of a medium town (an outer suburb of Seattle), where I could get 4-5 acres and still be near our most used destinations: school, work, grocery store, hardware store. And stay near our extended family, which are mostly in the same city. Our kids are pretty entrenched in their schools and friends now, so I don't think we'll move until they both become adults, at the earliest (hubby has become less and less interested in rural self sufficiency, so we'll see).
     
    pollinator
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    I forget which author said to treat a car like a well cared for tool that you just don't use very often. A used small car with a hitch and a utility trailer can add  endless function to a rural life without breaking the bank or compromising your ethics. I don't believe in absolutism myself. Car centered life is the problem not the cars themselves.
    I wish you well as you ponder your future.
    Cheers,  once urban biker now happy rural dweller with car David Baillie  
     
    pollinator
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    At various points in my life I have lived without a car in cities, suburbs and small towns, though my family does have a car now. If you’re used to getting around the city by foot and by bike, you may find it easy enough to get around smaller towns the same way, even if most people drive. Spend a good amount of time in a place before committing, though. Cities do not have the market cornered on theft, drugs, and poop!
     
    pollinator
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    While I haven't had the opportunity to explore this option first hand this year as I had hoped, I was fortunate when I found my property to have a very wide river 2 miles away with a state forest (with bike trails) another mile down the road. There is also a large lake 3 miles the other direction, and a huge lake 10 miles away where the closest commercial center is located. You could potentially leverage similar types of natural areas for recreation close by.

    This gets more complicated with more people involved, as the crossover of similar interests may not line up with fewer options available. Also, some places may close up for the season which would be good to learn about in advance. Perhaps you could look into private properties used for mountain biking clubs with family friendly trails and recreation beyond pedaling. In my case, there are campsites and cabins for rent relatively cheaply, as well as boats and fishing guides. That plus the handful of little stops for food and basic supplies without having to go all the way into the larger town is a big part of why I got my property where I did.

    It's honestly pretty amazing. My property was in an area that was partitioned out to become a typical HOA style neighborhood, but it never materialized. When looking for land, it was really hard to find something like that which wasn't encumbered by some sort of HOA, even when no one was living there and the presence of the HOA was the reason no one would buy any of the land. Hopefully you can find a property close to suitable recreation that doesn't have a HOA.
     
    gardener
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    I'll suggest looking at small towns.  In particular you might want to look for areas where old rail lines have been turned into pedestrian/bike trails.  I'd like to say that's what I was searching for when I got my property, but honestly I wasn't even thinking about this back then and it has turned into a happy accident.  What is especially nice about the rails to trails programs is that because these were functioning rail lines at one time they directly and efficiently connect many towns, villages, and cities.  Also a great deal of embodied energy was put forth to even them out into what is known as "railroad grade", meaning the steep hills and valleys were smoothed out to be long gentle hills up and down, great for biking.

    In my situation I'm about 2 miles from the nearest village with a few stores and a great library.  I'm about 5 miles from a slightly larger town, with a major grocery store being another mile out from the edge of that.  12 miles puts me into a larger town yet, and roughly 25 miles would have me in the second largest city in my state.  It's not inconceivable that I could live without a car given all this, while still enjoying my rural homestead.  Personally I do still have a car.  These years I only drive it 4000 to 5000 miles a year, preferring to use my bike for most trips to the nearest towns.  However, I have been seriously tempted at times to get rid of the car.  (Usually when it's acting up and bleeding me of money!)

    It sounds like you are already well versed in living without a car.  Hence, I imagine that if you were in a location such as I have you'd be fine.  I'd start looking for those old rail trails, see what small towns there are on them outside of bigger cities and then begin looking for property around these.
     
    Posts: 10
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    I just moved, and this was very similar to my struggle. I lived in NYC and knew I wanted to continue living a car-free life. But I also knew I wanted land and a culture that would allow me to pursue my sustainability and self-sufficiency goals. I ended up creating a spreadsheet with criteria that was important to me, including things like walk and bike scores and where I could collect rain or keep chickens. I ultimately settled on southwestern Virginia, and I found that it is possible to find a few acres of land within biking distance of the major towns there.

    Ultimately, though, for me, I decided to buy a small lot in town because I figured it would be easier to be car-free that way. As a young, single female, I figured I may want to take advantage of various social opportunities in town, and I did not relish the thought of biking home alone on dark country roads at night after attending events. But that may not be an issue for you.

    The place I ended up is not known for being car-free or pedestrian friendly. Nearly everyone has a car and expects me to get a car as well. But, so far, I have found that getting around by bike is very accessible. I have grocery stores, library, bank, and post office within walking distance, and hardware and big box stores within biking distance.

    Which is to say that I recommend keeping a broad mind about where you can be car-free. All the lists of car-free places in the U.S. focus on major urban centers, but there are less heralded places were there is serious potential for going car-free. Pre-industrial towns, college towns, and edges of towns can provide car-free, sustainable land options.
     
    Posts: 64
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    I wonder if the dichotomy (either little land with bike, or lots of land but car) the original poster presents is something that can be complicated some more.

    A few posters have mentioned small towns, where one could conceivably live relatively nearby and use cargo bikes.

    If you hope to do most work on the farm by hand, then you may not need as much space as you think. We're finding one acre is a LOT to work by hand, and if close to a city, the productivity possible on an acre keeps going up for a long time, because there's so much organic matter available for free.

    We lived close to the centre of our city, car free, with a cargo bike and a folding bike. it was amazing and we experienced the city so differently from our peers. (our city is NOT bike friendly).

    Then about 7 years ago we moved to an acre on the outskirts of our city, and bought a small vehicle because there was a mountain, and very little public transportation, between us and my extended family. Plus we had a third child.

    Then we built a small house for my parents, who moved in with us, and we sold our car and share their 1999 vehicle.
    Then another person moved onto our little acre, and he brought his tiny ancient bakkie (I don't know if it would be called a truck in the U.S., it's too small, but it's 2 seater with a back area)

    We're close enough to the city centre that we attract lots of organic waste without having to go and pick it up. We are also close enough to the city that we can serve as a hub/market for farmers to drop off their produce, for us to sell on to neighbours. So what we can't grow, we have delivered and sell on. Which also means we have a very strong community of people who are willing to try out our produce when we have extra (where it would be really hard to sell a few extra kgs of salad greens or 30kg of lemons for any profit, we can do it because people are already coming to get other stuff).

    It's a ways before we can go back to being completely car free, but I see it as a kind of wave, where we just make the next best choice and that takes us somewhere, and slowly we're able to see our way forward. At the moment, slowing down is one need to allow more biking; helping our kids bike/walk further is a second; figuring out how to feed our goats WITHOUT going and cutting invasive vegetation on the side of the road is a third. We're working on all of these things, and I sense maybe we'll still be using cars well into the future, but less and less; and ideally in careful ways that make good use of the vehicle, and the fuel. We also use a chainsaw and a chipper, because it seemed to make sense for our needs and the inherent compromises we need to make to help move our family forward.
     
    Posts: 40
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    The Amish do it, so t can definitely be done, in the USA.

    One of the key factors may be community. If you can establish yourself in an active community (or build an active community), then I think things definitely get more feasible in a no gasoline scenario.

    What about the good ole Amish horse and buggy? Then the world is your oyster, or mollusk, as Terry Pratchett would say.

    If the carbon footprint thing is non negotiable, then instead of thinking along the lines of how much you may need a car to exist on a rural property, think along the lines of "What is the opportunity here?"  This is one reason why the Amish Choose to live as they do. They value, amongst other things, family and community more than they do ease and convenience.

    I think the ease and convenience part of the existing paradigm is a kind of prison that prevents us from thinking different. Keep turning the telescope around and looking from the other end (then throw the telescope away). You have a dream, of course it can be done, or you would not be dreaming it.

    Research global communities who live without gasoline. Could you see yourself in any of these scenarios?

    Think outside the nine dots.

    I applaud your vision and look forward to hearing about what you create.

    Hugshugs from early winter New Zealand where it is raining a lot, and the garden swales are like little moats, much to my 97 year old father's surprise! And my feet, when I found myself with very, very wet ones. You would think I would know better... after all I built them myself only a few months ago.

     
    gardener
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    Regardless of what you end up doing, I tip my hat to you sir! As a child of the 70’s, I biked everywhere, it was my social media. You knew where your friends were when you spotted a pile of bikes on a front lawn or next to the wall leading to the woods. I was in my late 20’s when I first past my test and got a driving license but only because my job required it. I carried on cycling. I had high aspirations when I moved to the US and didn’t want to be car dependent. The reality was very tough. Having a cargo bike and fitting a small electric hub was a game changer. I never grow bored of cycling. I do have a fall back option, my wife’s car. No one ever stops to chat about it though when I arrive somewhere. You have a complex problem especially factoring your four year old into the equation. I really hope you find a solution that enables you to still enjoy the connection and feeling of wellbeing from cycling.
     
    pollinator
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    Timothy Karl wrote:I'm in the USA, so all of the following is based on USA's for-the-most-part car-centric transportation infrastructure.

    I've lived the past 15 years, essentially my entire adult life, without a car. I fell in love with bikes for transport when I was 19, sold my old unreliable car, and never looked back. Over the years, I've refined my bike setup, and have acquired different cargo bikes and trailers and panniers to expand my carrying capacity. On bike, I've hauled animal feed, trees, logs, bricks, lumber, groceries, furniture, children, and more. It feels awesome to use your body to haul loads that most people couldn't even imagine moving without burning gas.

    But the only way that this has worked for this long is by living in dense urban cities, where every place I might need to go is within 10 miles, with a densely connected grid of relatively quiet non-highway streets. From my house, it's half a block to the library and the park, half a mile to countless stores including a major grocery store and a big-box store, 3 miles to 4 different hardware stores and two feed stores and the doctor's office, and then I rarely have to go further than that, but if I did, any errand that I could conceivably need to do could be accomplished within 10 miles. That's not to say that living without a car is easy -- people still give incredulous looks about it, my wife (who is mostly on-board with being a car-free badass) sometimes doesn't want to ride up that damn hill again in the rain -- but there's just a lot you can get to within very comfortable biking distance, and people mostly view people who ride bike positively.

    There are downsides of having so many destinations within such a short distance:

  • Price: my current house cost an unfathomably large amount of money (a good chunk of which I still owe), in part because it has a "big" (.20ac) lot for gardening and is so close to everything
  • Crowded: People are stacked on top of each other. I live in a neighborhood of single-family-homes with mostly fairly "big" lots, but I have to be careful when I pee on my plants so that the neighbor kids or the people on the balcony two houses over don't see. And pretty often, houses on my street get redeveloped as monster 8-plexes 2-3 stories tall
  • Livability issues: People steal things off of my neighbors' porches on a weekly (if not daily) basis. I had to chase a druggy around the block last week to retrieve a package she stole off my neighbor's porch in broad daylight. I check for needles and human poop at the playground before I let my kid play. I know several people on my street who have had tools and bikes stolen from their sheds/garages. There are a lot of shootings that happen nearby. Cars with loud exhausts racing up and down the street in the middle of the night. I'm 2 blocks from a bunch of restaurant dumpsters and other filthy establishments, so there's always huge quantities of rats running rampant and trying to set up shop in my garden or outbuildings.


  • I've been feeling a strong pull towards getting more land and getting out of the city. I'm always running out of space for growing more plants, and running into city regulations about keeping livestock. Building up systems to build soil fertility while producing most or all of my family's food currently feels like my most urgent purpose in life, and can't be accomplished to the level that I desire on my current city lot. And escaping from some of the livability issues would be great, too! A peaceful place where I'm not having to constantly be on the alert for threats would be awesome.

    So we've been casually looking at property listings, but the one thing I keep running up against is that I have based my entire life up until now around not having a car. I'm okay giving that up and getting some sort of vehicle, but even still, I don't think I could stomach living on a highway dozens of miles from anything, where, in order to get out of my driveway, I'd have to get in a car and drive. I've built my life around this premise for so long, I can't even imagine living a life where, in order to get anywhere I'm dependent on a car. That's not to say that I want everything to be walkable/bikeable, but just that I'm having a difficult time coming to terms with the level of car-centricity that seems prevalent in most places where one can actually get a few acres of land.

    If it were just me on my own, my threshold for car-centricity would be a lot higher (I used to ride pretty regularly on all sorts of highways that people thought I was crazy for riding on), but ideally I'd be able to take my 4-year-old out to something without getting in a car.

    Possible solutions I've been thinking about:
  • Edge of small town: Conceivably one could find a few acres on a road that isn't a main through-highway and be able to comfortably human-power oneself into the town
  • Bike Path: There a few places that I've found where there's a separated bike trail extending out of a small city or between towns, and living close to that might allow for at least having the option to sometimes ride bike into town, even if it's a longer distance
  • Go less places: (not sure that this is a feasible solution) I already don't go anywhere. I would be happy staying on my several acres all the time and driving to town every couple of weeks. My wife doesn't like that degree of isolation, though, and my kid is going to need to go to school in the near future and will hopefully have friends


  • I dunno. Anyone have any ideas for how to balance this value that has been the core piece of my identity for so long, with the strong desire to have more land and get out of the giant filthy city?

    (note: I wasn't sure whether to put this in "Bicycle" or "Rural" or "Personal Challenges" forums, so I put it in bicycle)



    I also highly respect and even envy you for all you’ve been able to accomplish so far in this journey. I think you could be a good example for other city dwellers.

    That aside, I highly recommend moving to a small town. That would be less dramatic of a transition than city to farm. We live 3 miles from a small town (5,000 people). You could certainly bike to town daily if need be, although being a small town has some drawbacks: we need to drive about an hour to do certain shopping. Other than that, the community is more intimate than cities and less isolated than living in the woods. And with an acre or two, you can almost live totally off of your land (we dont but I’m working on it!). So even if you still need a vehicle and have to drive to get certain goods, that can be as infrequent as you make it.
     
    pollinator
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    I'm in southern Oregon outside of a small town, pop. 3000. I am 3 miles to the heart of the town which can be biked to. I drive but biking is possible. Honestly the hills and dirt roads are the biggest issue. I have 80 acres. I don't worry so much about owning a car, just how much mileage I put on it. I have a 1998 truck with 125,000 miles on it. There are plenty of places closer to larger cities around here where you can buy acreage. Many people from Portland have moved down here for just the reasons that you mentioned and it's still close enough to visit old friends.
     
    pollinator
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    Timothy Karl wrote:I dunno. Anyone have any ideas for how to balance this value that has been the core piece of my identity for so long, with the strong desire to have more land and get out of the giant filthy city?

    (note: I wasn't sure whether to put this in "Bicycle" or "Rural" or "Personal Challenges" forums, so I put it in bicycle)



    Timothy, I'd like to just say that your identity is so much more than your mode of transportation!


    Now, let's think about how to decouple the two, shall we?  When you say "balance this value that has been the core piece of my identity," let's figure out what that is, precisely.  My advice is to pinpoint what the value or values are.  Why is your bicycle and bicycling valuable to you (and those you care about)?  What are the values of bikes/bicycling that you feel are resonating with your identity? Make yourself a big ol' list.   For example:

    "I like my bike / bicycling for..."
  • A sense of independence
  • A rush of adventure
  • Competency, I can fix my wheels when things break down
  • Exercise
  • Saving money
  • Emission-free
  • Making me feel special, when surrounded by others doing life a different way
  • Being a part of a cultural group
  • Personal time with my family
  • Environmentally friendly

  • Once you have the list, then you can probably decouple the value from the bike.  For example, there are a variety of other ways to save energy, help the environment, get exercise, travel emission free, etc. other than bicycling.  The bike itself is not the value.

    So we've been casually looking at property listings, but the one thing I keep running up against is that I have based my entire life up until now around not having a car. I'm okay giving that up and getting some sort of vehicle, but even still, I don't think I could stomach living on a highway dozens of miles from anything, where, in order to get out of my driveway, I'd have to get in a car and drive. I've built my life around this premise for so long, I can't even imagine living a life where, in order to get anywhere I'm dependent on a car. That's not to say that I want everything to be walkable/bikeable, but just that I'm having a difficult time coming to terms with the level of car-centricity that seems prevalent in most places where one can actually get a few acres of land.


    A bike is a machine too, just a thing.  In time all machines (whether a bike or a car), will eventually rust and break, need maintenance, get stolen or destroyed in accidents, or maybe even become obsolete technology.  And all machines depend on various material supply chains or energy inputs.  Some maintenance/energy we can do or supply ourselves, other things not so much.  I've had to replace a bunch of flat tires on cars, for example, but I've never actually swapped a new tube on a bike.  But either way, I am dependent on a rubber factory!  

    Basically, I have a hunch that you're feeling a sense of loss, and perhaps even a little fear of the unknown.  So if you're feeling that, just know it's 100% normal.  It's a brand new sub-culture after all.  Just gotta' "move with the cheese".  We're all dependent on others and technology and energy in some way shape or form, urban or rural, bicycle or car.

    But remember, the bicycle itself is not really the "value".  It is us as living beings that give machines their meaning and value.  And the the values you have concerning your bike may not be unique to bicycling.   You are more than a bicyclist!

    P.s. Long distance biking in rural areas is still very much a thing!  Just because it's harder for us Americans to imagine it compared with those in Europe who see it daily, doesn't mean it doesn't exist or isn't possible.  And if we really want, we can still make it happen in the USA.  Bike networks are happening!  And who knows, Timothy, perhaps you'll be a catalyst for rural bikeways some day around your future homestead community?
     
    pollinator
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    Lots of excellent advice in all the comments so far!

    Car-free is laudable, but it's more practical in an urban context where the roads are paved (and those are certainly not carbon free).

    Hauling a load behind a bike on a gravel road for any significant distance would take a lot more work (rolling resistance). Pretty hardcore.

    Still, mostly car-free is possible. Use the bike for light transportation. For hauling jobs, if you have a valid driver's license and a credit card, trucks/vans can be rented by the hour or the day. U-haul, Home Depot, etc.
     
    pollinator
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    I understand your feeling Timothy.
    I'm so lucky I never need to change my habit of riding a bicycle, living here in the Netherlands, the ideal country for bicycles. Already as a teenager (I'm 66 now) my choice was not to get driving lessons, because I could go anywhere on the bicycle or with public transportation. Of course this choice influenced my other choices in life, like where to live.

     
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    Cletus Hatfield wrote:If I had to deal with porch pirates and porch poopers I think I'd need a backhoe.  



    That's a big part of why I hate living in cities.  Everyone feels that they're anonymous which means that some people think they can be complete peens without consequence.  Same reason that the interwebz trolls exist who also behave horribly.  There's just a percentage of the human race that sucks and gives the rest of us a bad name.  
     
    We're all out of roofs. But we still have tiny ads:
    Our perennial nurswery has sprouted! 🌿
    https://permies.com/t/174246/perennial-nursery-sprouted
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