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Many city dwellers, and even some small-town dwellers, boast that they don’t own a car, which is a lifestyle choice unfathomable to a typical country dweller. Living far apart makes walking, and even bicycling, impractical.

We live in a rural community in which a car isn’t remotely optional. Our nearest grocery store is about a four-mile drive down a busy highway — “just around the corner” by country standards. My husband’s office is in the city, and, while he takes the train, the train station is a fifteen mile drive. Out here in the country, getting from home to…anywhere else, in the short time demanded of modern life, and safely, requires four wheels.

In our travels to big cities, something we always appreciate is the ability to be carless nearly 100% of the time we are there. We just walk everywhere! We have three kids, and at first they complain a bit. Of course their legs quickly adjust, and, as long as their shoes are comfortable and they are able to follow the journey on a map, they are happy to hoof it. Occasional treats help, too.

Whenever we return from city trips, we bemoan our home’s utter lack of walkability. Life with constant, built-in walks seems like an adventure! Seeing fellow walkers out and about, feeling terrain beneath feet, contemplating life without the unnatural sense-heightened hyper-focus required behind the wheel of a swift projectile–well, see, walking is great for social, physical, and emotional health.

Last year, we decided to go on a family walking adventure beginning in Auburn and ending in Old Sacramento, a trip we knew to be about an hour by car. We walked between 9 and 16 miles per day, over five days, for a total of 55 miles. Rather than taking the highway, we followed a series of paths along the nearby American River, which winds in and out of civilization. It even worked out to stay at hotels along the way, so we avoided the need for heavy packs. When we were done, we took a bus back to Auburn.

Without a car, we felt much farther away from home than we would have otherwise. Walking the distance reversed the illusion of the world seeming smaller, at least for those five days. We took in each change in terrain, each shift in the foliage and landscape, each bend in the river — each transition between rough trail and paved path, always gradual, always a discovery!

Singing happened frequently, along with terrible jokes. There were moments we all felt the grueling reality of what we were doing, our sweat soaking our hat bands as we plodded forward on shadeless paths rounding endless curves. In those moments, granola bars and gummy fruits sent spirits soaring back up.

The more we walked, the more we wanted to walk. Was that momentum a piece of ancient human migratory instinct kicking in? On the bus back, one of the kids said, “I miss the trail,” and all agreed. We were far from feeling finished.

This year, for my June birthday (in the midst of the pandemic) I wanted to do another walking trip. This one was far shorter, being from our house to that grocery store I mentioned–but along backroads rather than down the highway. I had mapped it out long ago, and I was eager to try it.

The kids and my dad joined the fun. We had to cross our creek at the onset, which involved bushwhacking and stone-hopping and kicked off the adventure with an explorer vibe. It was hot, hilly, and long for a mid-morning walk, but at the end of the road there was an ice cream case. 

Somehow, the knowledge that we can walk or bike to the store has made us all see our home differently. We don’t feel as isolated. Our two feet can indeed take us where we need to go! Trying the grocery trip on a bike will be next.

In a world set up for the drive, perhaps ditching the car whenever possible is a worthwhile, empowering pursuit. Environmentalists will surely agree

MaryJane Huenergardt

MaryJane finds the Sierra Foothills to be the perfect mix of quaint, crunchy, and modern. She and her husband have enjoyed living and raising three kids in the area. When she's not working she splits her time between adventuring, volunteering, and creating -- sometimes with kids, sometimes without.

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