Driving and Walking

As mentioned, she had some difficulty with her car yesterday. It appears that her radiator was low on antifreeze, so the nice folks at the garage up the street put in some new goop, and they’re holding it overnight to double-check that there’s no leak anywhere. They also changed the oil, and reset the diagnostic computer, to the tune of about a hundred bucks.

I took the car up about noon, as they have a small parking lot and couldn’t take it before then. I could have picked it up tonight, but they highly recommended letting it sit to confirm that it isn’t a radiator leak. The pressure test didn’t reveal anything, but they had to put in a gallon of antifreeze and they thought that might indicate a problem somewhere.

After I dropped off the car, I walked home. It’s about 5 miles downhill from the next town north, and I wanted to see how long it would take me: about two hours, maybe 2.25. It was hot, and I had Clio with me. It was so hot, in fact, that my phone overheated and locked up in the middle of trying to call me about quarter of one. So, once I’d gone about two miles downhill, I was incommunicado until I got home and refrigerated the phone for a little while (iPhone users be aware: on hot days, if your phone overheats, wrap it in a loose plastic bag and put it in the fridge [not the freezer] for a little while, and it’ll be possible to restart it).

The walk itself was long but uneventful. The countryside around here is beautiful, and normally I’m driving past too fast to enjoy it. I passed through two and a half country towns, with a town green, a cluster of beautiful houses, a couple of shops, a few schools, and a few churches. The architecture is rural Connecticut Federal or Neo-Italianate, and only a few of them were exceptionally run down. In the middle spaces, you see a lot of houses with a lot of junk in the yards and needing a fresh coat of paint, and sagging roof-trees; or you see beautiful mansions surrounded by mill ponds and open fields. Money buys space and privacy and views; lack of money buys houses located on main roads but too far from essential services, and no garden plot.

The road is in poor shape for a walking-based permaculture of the sort that they’re discussing on WorldChanging these days. For the foreseeable future, there will be cars on American roads. Even if prices hit $5/gal. by January or February (I’m thinking more like $5.50 or $6.00 myself), people around here will still be traveling longish distances to work and to commerce — assuming commerce functions in the US at $5.50/gal. The roadsides were overgrown with poison ivy and jewelweed and meadowsweet, and there was relatively little shade. So it’s not possible to create a ‘pedestrian/bike-friendly path’ on the side of the road yet, while still having space to support the occasional two passing cars.

WorldChanging had a piece today about the 4 Ps (Politeness, Prettiness, Pertinence and Protection) as being elements of sustainability. WIth that in mind, I analyzed my walk. On the whole, people were respectful of my space on the highway. Cars slowed down to pass me, and SUVs gave me a wide berth. It only takes one lunatic, asshole or crank in a car to eliminate or neutralize one pedestrian, though. So, in Politeness I’d give it a 5 of 5, and protection was about a 2.5-3.5; it could have gone very badly with one fool not paying attention, but it didn’t. Having Clio along was a minor psychic shield, but I was worried for her safety, too. Still, politeness counted for a lot. Pertinence mattered, too: I was walking my dog back from a garage five miles away. It was, if you will, a test of the emergency financial/political collapse alternate transportation system. And the truth is, my system works. I can walk five miles in a day, even on an ultra-hot day, and not pass out from exhaustion. I know that with a D&D 4e style extended rest, I can probably do 10 miles, maybe 15 in cooler weather. The dog is not up for 15, though. Not yet, anyway. And I know that I can do 12 miles in the mountains with 60+ pounds of gear and/or groceries. So this can work, at least for right now. I give Pertinence a 4.5.

On the other hand, I was under attack by black flies and horseflies for most of the walk, and Clio needed to stop more frequently than once every mile to drink out of a water bottle. The stream (drainage ditch, really) beside the road was largely dry, and the two ponds were quite literally crawling with hatching eggs and new flies. Ugly and beautiful at the same time. My guess is that the road (CT route 169) between Pomfret and Woodstock is not a particularly viable route in the age of $8 to $15 gasoline. It’s going to narrow to a footpath pretty quickly as the woods and the wild meadows eat into the land; and there aren’t enough people living on the road to make it worth holding open.

Why is it going to revert? There’s no reason to travel between these two particular towns. There’s no infrastructure yet to support long-term community living in the villages I walked through today. Kitchen gardens and some community aid services could survive for a while; but the houses aren’t livable (too big, too unwieldy, too exposed) in the villages very well.

The road east-west, though, between Putnam and Pomfret (for that matter, between Providence and Hartford) is more likely to remain open. I had a discussion about Putnam, CT this morning with a local businessman, who acknowledged that too much of the town’s commercial real estate is in the hands of long-distance landlords, while the town administration is … not hide-bound, but not particularly forward-thinking. On the other hand, the town has the best core commercial district in thirty miles (two gallons of gas for a fuel efficient vehicle), with reasonably good brick buildings (in need of some work, but at least temporarily solid) from the early-middle of the last century. It’s got recently updated bridges and flood control systems, and a functioning water system mostly gravity-powered, and a power plant to handle lights and some local services. It’s ethnically diverse but not racially charged, and it’s not a hotbed of political or religious extremism. It has some old mill buildings to support both squatting and localist businesses, and a two-days-a-week farmers’ market. There’s a bike/footpath into town, too. Lots of potential here, if we’re reduced to bicycling and walking.

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  1. I always thought scooters were cool, and it makes running errands more fun for me. I still consider getting a motorcycle sometimes, but for now, the scooter’s perfect for trips around town and such. I feel a lot more comfortable being able to keep up with the flow of traffic as opposed to being on a bicycle, where I always get a bit nervous sharing the road with cars as they all pass me.

  2. Climate trumps infrastructure… for now. I think that scooters are rather interesting and exciting possibilities for around here, but I’m reluctant to go buy one until I’ve done more experimentation with my bicycle.

  3. I’ve been thinking about alternate means of transportation lately. Driving my scooter a lot (coming up on 100 miles in less than a week – and all on a single gallon of gas!) I’ve gotten much more familiar with it, and I’m observing the ways cars share the road with a slightly slower two-wheeled vehicle. Since it’s a smaller scooter (49cc), it can’t go more than 40 on a downhill. On the back road routes I’ll usually travel around 35mph. On roads with a speed limit of 40 or 45, I’ll hew to the edge of the lane so faster moving cars can pass me if they want. It’s really an enjoyable means of moving about.

    Unfortunately, I can’t drive it here year-round (infrastructure or not, climate trumps it), but I’m trying to get the most out of it while it’s good weather.

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