I recently decided to give up on my aging automobile. When I bought it nearly 13 years ago, it was among the most efficient in its class. Now that it has nearly 175,000 miles on it, it’s starting to show its age; it needs new tires, brakes, and even the transmission is starting to get flaky.

Since the economy is urging us all gently to tighten our belts, I decided to see what I could to lower my cost of living. Fixing up
my car no longer fit into the equation.

The first step was to dust off my bicycle. The secong step was to get an Orca pass so that I wouldn’t have to worry about collecting change in order to get around by bus. The final step was to sign up for ZipCar. The bicycle is great for getting around the city; in most cases it takes between five and ten minutes longer to get around Seattle by bicycle than it does by car. To carry things with me, I am using a Windrider backpack by Hyperlite Mountain Gear. The backpack was designed for through hikers rather than bicyclists, but it works well as a bicycle backpack. The fact that it’s waterproof makes it a good choice for Seattle’s winter weather. Being designed for hikers, it carries weight well, also. Carrying a full load of backpacking gear on your back while bicycling doesn’t work so well, though — especially if you’re like me, and exceed reasonable weight limits. For my first hiking outing since I gave up on my car, I joined up with a Meetup group and carpooled. I took two busses to get to where I met my carpool, and although I had to leave a bit early in order to reach the park and ride in time, I made up for it with the time I had to read a book on the bus.

The obvious disadvantage to this is that it requires finding a group with at least one car to share a ride. There are a lot of social communities that involve backpacking, so that is an excellent resource for finding people with similar interests to share rides with. The bus system in the Puget Sound area isn’t terribly efficient, but it is extensive. There are busses all the way out even to Gold Bar and Whidbey Island, which are close to some good camping destinations. Some backpackers hitchhike to in order to increase their range, which is also an option — though there is obvious risk in hitchhiking. For day hikes, ZipCar is a viable option. It costs $60 per day, and that includes gas and ZipCar covers maintenance. The limit is the 180 mile range, after which you get charged per mile. Accounting for maintenance, insurance, and gas a ZipCar is quite a bit less expensive than owning a car, unless you drive all the time. You have to plan ahead a bit and reserve a car, so keep that in mind when using this option. Find a partner or two and you can share the cost for a day’s use. For longer trips, it may be more cost-effective to rent a car from Enterprise or Budget for a few days. For an overnight within a 180-mile drive, the ZipcCar works out, especially if you’re sharing the costs with another person or two. ZipCar also offers SUV’s and other more backcountry-friendly vehicles, though they might not be as readily available and they carry a premium.

Ferry and Rainier © Erika Klimecky

It is possible to be a backpacker without a car. Using bus and bicycle saves money and improves fitness. You save money on car insurance and maintenance, and burn fewer fossil fuels. The tradeoff is that getting into the back country requires a bit of extra planning.
I think the cardiovascular training, savings, and reduced carbon footprint are worth the extra effort.

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