Ruth Larkin is an explorer by nature. A former Outward Bound instructor, she has led sea-kayaking trips in Maine, worked at a hang-gliding park in Georgia, and led caving expeditions in Tennessee. Her most recent project during the fall semester limited her travel range considerably. But it also led to new adventures in self-discovery and sustainable living.
As part of an experiment for her Delicate Balance course, Ruth pledged not to use her family's 2000 Mazda Protégé for the entire semester with the exception of medical emergencies and an occasional field trip required for class. She commuted to and from campus by bicycle (a ten-mile round trip) and used public transportation for shopping trips to Rutland. Perhaps it's not a monumental challenge for a typical college student. But Ruth is also a wife and mom - she shares a home in Poultney with her husband Tim and their one year-old son Zeb.
Tim gave his wholehearted support to the project, promising to limit his use of the car from late August to mid-December. As for Zeb? "He hasn't said much on the subject," Ruth wrote in her first blog entry that chronicled the experiment. (Her blog "A Car-Free Semester in Vermont" later became a three-part series published in the Rutland Herald).
"It's comforting to travel in a car when it's snowing outside," Ruth said of her experience. "But it's also a convenience thing. When you look at the big picture - how cars contribute so much to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere - well, we don't always have to resort to cars. With some planning, you can get around on a bike most of the time, even in winter."
With the start of the spring semester, Ruth still bikes to school whenever she can, with Zeb sometimes riding behind in a bike seat. She will graduate this spring with a self-designed major in ecology and sustainability practices and a minor in biology, a combination that allows her to explore her interest in how humans and natural systems interact.
What has she learned from her most recent adventure? "That the bicycle is a viable form of transportation, even here in rural Vermont," she writes in her blog. "That if you only use a bike for transportation, your 'home range' shrinks, but you get to know where you live, and you have a greater sense of place and distance."
To follow Ruth's blog, see carfreesemester.blogspot.com