Living More-with-Less

Transportation & Travel

Destination: Paraguay.

Jonathan Spicher and Lars ┼kerson powered their trip to Paraguay not by fossil fuels but by some leg work and hospitality. Spicher and ┼kerson biked 7,700 miles from Harrisonburg, Virginia, to Asunciˇn, Paraguay in time for the 2009 Mennonite World Conference. Along the way, they dealt with landscapes ranging from deserts to mountains, fought tendonitis and saddle sores but most of all, steeped themselves in the kindness of those they met.

The idea for the trip grew out of an Oregon-to-New Jersey bike trip called "Bike Movement," in which Mennonite young adults talked about what it means to be the church. Afterwards, some riders wondered how they could expand the conversation to include voices other than those found in American churches. Jokingly, someone suggested biking to World Conference.

That joke got Jonathan and Lars thinking, and they decided to take up the challenge. Aside from a few pre-planned stops with churches and church organizations, the pair relied on the hospitality of strangers for their food and lodging—so much so that they only twice used the tent they carried and spent little more than $200 (U.S.) during the first five weeks of the 184-day trip.

"That gives you an idea of the kind of hospitality we received," Jonathan says. "Unexpected, lavish hospitality—something that made me believe in my fellow human beings."

That hospitality included a pizza passed through a van window in the Mexican desert, strawberry jam from the Missionaries of Charity in Chimbote, Peru, and countless free meals all along the way. "The blessings kept on coming and kept on surprising us," says Lars. "Our needs were met beyond what we could ask or imagine." Their slow, simpler mode of transport allowed them to see God at work in twelve countries. "God's economy is an economy of abundance and not scarcity," Lars says.

Submitted by Paul Boers, Goshen, Ind.

Fuel for peace.

Each time he gets on a plane to go to the Middle East or drives to Arizona, Rich Meyer, a farmer and mechanic who works with Christian Peacemaker Teams, contemplates whether the peacemaking efforts he pursues when he arrives at his destination are worth the fossil fuel required to get there. The conundrum of international travel, even on behalf of peacemaking, in an era of climate change does not go away.

But Rich says that global peace work is not antithetical to creation care. "The U.S. military is the world's largest single consumer of fossil fuel," Rich says. "Military ordnance is the source of almost all depleted uranium contamination in the world. It destroys farmland and pollutes water and air." Thus, any analysis of the costs and benefits of travel on behalf of peace must include the scope of environmental destruction done by armies around the world, says Rich.

"One could say that any peacemaking effort—whether it's mediation or standing in front of tanks—that decreases the activity of armed forces anywhere needs to be recognized as having a 'creation care' benefit. I would guess that some years the Eastern Mennonite University Center for Justice and Peacebuilding has saved more fossil fuel through mediation than all the Mennonite agencies use in a year for airline travel."

Plug it in.

Carmen Schrock-Hurst of Harrisonburg, Virginia, loves her electric car. "It's so convenient," she says. Though the car's maximum speed—twenty-five miles-per-hour (forty kilometers-per-hour)—is not what everyone would consider convenient, Carmen sees it differently. The car fills all her day-to-day driving needs, takes no more energy than a computer, makes little noise, and is small enough to park easily. "Plus you get the feeling that you're not leaving a huge carbon footprint," she says. People ask her about the car almost daily.

Carmen says that this tells her that people are "hungry for alternatives." "I'm hoping this is the wave of the future," she adds.

Submitted by Paul Boers , Goshen, Ind.

The adventure of being self-propelled.

The "Self-Propelled Adventure Contest" held by an outdoor gear cooperative gave a new name to what we'd always done. The adventures described in the contest did not need to be exotic, long, or in the wilderness—they just had to be self-propelled, all the way from home.

Whether we were packing library books, toilet paper, and groceries around our children in the bike trailer on a daylong string of errands, or cycling the fifteen miles to church on icy-cold mornings, or figuring out how to haul a garden bench home with our tandem, we've delighted in finding free adventure in daily living. As a bonus, we get fresh air and exercise and save the money and fuel of driving those miles.

Sue Klassen, Webster, N.Y.

Love that 'commute.'

When my husband and I lived in the city, we had a one-hour commute by car each way. In the small town where we live now, my husband had a twenty-minute commute to work each way by walking. Over the course of twenty-six years, he saved almost a full year in commuting time. In addition, there were no carbon emissions. He did not have to sit behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. He received the health benefit of walking. And he received the social benefit of walking his daughters to school or meeting and walking with a friend.

Delores Plenert, Dawson Creek, B.C.

Fundraising with feet.

Low-emission travel can be rewarding for the slower pace, environmental impact, or the physical challenge. In some cases, it can be used to raise money. Jonathan Taves is one of five members of Moving Muscles, a cross-Canada bike trip that raised funds for Muscular Dystrophy research. The trip took 88 days and covered over 4,800 miles.

Originally, the trip was just for fun, Jonathan says. Then, they got connected with a friend who was struggling with muscular dystrophy. They decided to use the trip to raise awareness and funds for the disease. All told, they brought in over $150, 000.

"I can't believe how good a response we got," Jonathan says. "It blows my mind."

Another team, brothers Eric and Kevin Martin, hiked the 500-mile Bruce Trail over forty days. They raised $24,000 for an organization that sponsors low-income kids to go to camp. The Martins also started out with little more than a trip in mind until they realized that it could be used to gather money for a cause. They decided on campership because their love of nature and hiking had grown out of their experience working at Silver Lake Mennonite Camp.

While the travel was physically taxing at times, the slower pace allowed them to notice things they would have missed if they'd been traveling by other means: flowers in the path or fox cubs wrestling. "Life became a little more poetic at that speed," Kevin says.

Submitted by Paul Boers, Goshen, Indiana

For more information

De-Motorize Your Soul: A campaign of Geez magazine, this is a "guilt-free experiment in untangling the human body, mind and soul from the oil apparatus."

Voluntary gas tax: A website explaining the rationale for and methods of taxing yourself for oil consumption.

Environmental Defense's Tailpipe Tally: Calculate the fuel consumption, cost, and emissions of any vehicle from 1978 to the present.

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