Hannah Peterson walks 80 miles through desert to catch bus; Biodiesel advocate Lousia Aronow repents.
Hannah walked miles through the desert, and she speaks of the conscience that prevents her from using cars. In my memory of this article I imagined her resting in meager shade during the day, and then walking in the crisp, stellar, desolate silence of the desert night. Below is the carbusters version of what Lousia Aronow wrote, so that the rest of us with the carfree conscience can learn from Hannah's example.
When Hannah Peterson decided to start walking over a year ago, she was living in the tiny, high (5,129 ft/1,563 m) desert town of Young, Arizona. The closest bus stop was 80 miles (129 km) away. “As long as my conscience makes it impossible for me to get in a car I'll keep walking, biking and using public transport,” explained the 23-year-old woman, who now lives in Mendocino County, California.
I was astounded. I had never met a conscientious objector to private vehicles before. As an alternative fuel activist I knew the rap about devastation caused by the petroleum industry. But a completely carfree existence in rural California—a state colonised by the car—requires major lifestyle modifications. She wouldn't even accept a ride in my spiffy silver biodiesel car! I knew I had something to learn from this woman.
While working on a fire crew for the forest service, Hannah became increasingly frustrated with the impact of vehicles on the environment and her life. “It was driving me crazy,” she said. “I'd be in these beautiful places and just looking out the (truck) window. . . they were always driving so fast. That's not how I want to live.”
Diligently the young woman planned her walk along miles of a winding sparse creek bed through cedars, piñon trees, and ranchland to the bus stop in Globe. Her friends were very concerned and offered rides but Hannah was prepared. She consulted with longtime residents and examined forest service maps of the Cherry Creek area. “I was scared at first,” she admitted. “I tried to plan as best I knew.”
When the fire crew was laid off at the end of the summer, Hannah set off with all her possessions and two gallons of water on her back. She did her walking in the cool hours, slept in a shady spot during hot hours, and usually found a water hole every ten miles. There she purified drinking water with iodine and refilled her water containers. The weather was “super hot—in the upper 90s.”
“I spent the first day of my walk dropping out of the high desert. The tributary canyons became steeper and more rugged, but there were still nice lush oases in the canyon bottoms. The last two days, there were no longer trees in the landscape, just saguaro and prickly pear and a assortment of cacti, rattlesnakes and tarantulas.
“I walked late into the night one night and saw an amazing sight growing on the side of the road out of the gravel—a white, desert mushroom.” Hannah was expecting the hike to be less than 60 miles (97 km) because the gravel road from Young to Globe is only 42 miles. She discovered that the twisty river bed route is much longer—a good 80 miles, so she was putting in over 12 miles a day.
“I was pushing it. I was in a hurry to see my boyfriend Chris,” she added blushingly.
Since that first six-day walk to the bus stop, Hannah has taken several walks with all her possessions on her back, including a 120-mile (193 km) walking trip to Santa Barbara with her partner, Chris Kinney.
Hannah and Chris met me for lunch in the small northern California town of Ukiah. They had traveled three miles down a mountain road to the bus stop, and then had ridden the cozy minibus 25 miles (40 km) over the mountains to get there. As we perused the elegant organic menu, the absurdity of low-carbohydrate diets was revealed to me. People who walk don't need low-carb diets.
I thought of all those people eating dainty little salads and driving away in their calorie-burning cars. Then I realised I was one of those dainty salad-eaters, and wondered if I could handle life without a vehicle.
“One of the things about walking is that it becomes a lifestyle change,” said Hannah. “It makes some things impossible. You have to get used to not going places [and to] be content where you are. Sometimes on a Saturday night you want to go out but you stay home close to your fire like you did all week.”
“The best thing about choosing to walk is that it's so fun getting to know the road. Now I know [it] well, and see little things change. I get to appreciate where I'm at.”
With her modest clothing, long brown hair, and wire-rimmed glasses, Hannah looks like the quintessential college student. However, she exudes an uncommon glow of vibrant health, and speaks with the focused clarity of a person whose mind is not cluttered with excess obligations.
“One day recently I was thinking about canoeing in the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota,” she recalled wistfully. “But there was no way I could get there. Then I realised that the whole time I hadn't been noticing the fields I was walking through.”
Her comment made me realise how much time I spend in a vehicle, stressfully destination-bound, with my mind oblivious to my surroundings.
Hannah's summation of her philosophy has stayed in my ears: “Walking requires a totally different pace of life. It takes time and space and puts it in the measurement of a human footstep.”
My husband and I are proud owners of two biodiesel cars. The beloved 1989 VW Jetta has passed into the irreparable zone, and since my discussion with Hannah Peterson, we decided not to replace it.
Living ten miles from town without a personal vehicle always available requires a lot of tactful negotiations, long bike rides on hills, long waits at a lonely bus stop, and peaceful walks, but we're going to give it a try.