The highway slog and the desire to drive less

Our home state and the neighbouring capital territory have recently opened up to almost pre-covid levels. Sport has resumed, shops are fully accessible, children need ferrying around, and once more, I find myself on the road, patrolling the highway. I find this immensely troubling.

Our almost 3-month lockdown was, in many respects, a welcome relief. I appreciate it came as no relief to the many families trying to balance work and learning from home or those struggling to find employment to put food on the table. But for our family, it was a god-send and a long lost glimpse of life not on the road.

But with the re-opening of borders, schools, shops, and sporting facilities comes the almost never-ending journey down the highway with kids in tow and a head-full of ‘how will I maximise this journey?’. Perhaps I can fit in the shopping or pick up the chook grain? The car could do with a wash, and the library books are overdue. But the reality is that sport is in one direction and the shops and feed store are often on the other side of town. These spatial and temporal impositions dictate how we juggle our less-than-ideal schedule.

I want to do better. I want to free our timetable and recapture some of that sweet freedom afforded us during the lockdown.

We made so much pasta during lockdown – spinach and ricotta filled tortelli was our favourite.

I expressed in a previous post the desire to not quibble over my taxiing duties as children need to have opportunities to discover their passions. They are but children once, and I will long for this time of forced communication on our highway slogs when they have grown up and left the nest. I do stand by that claim but acknowledge it may have been somewhat premature! Life needs balance in every facet. Where there is activity, there needs to be rest. Where there is excitement, there needs to be calm. Where there is finite time-scheduling, there needs to be flexibility and letting go. So then, is ‘letting go’ the key? But what?

It is Thursday. Our one home day of the week. There are no after-school commitments and no other demands aside from the school and bus run. It is a liberating feeling, and the day feels full of promise. A day free of delays and interruptions is a day to invest in those activities and projects that demand your full attention. Without the pressure of an overburdened schedule, there is space for deliberate thought and action. Your work, whether at home or in the workforce, becomes focused. The quality and enjoyment of your work improve as the mental clutter caused by a too-full to-do list is eased. How good would it be if every day was like this?

I admit that I am not great at compartmentalising my day and my brain with it. With fewer constraints on my time, I am full of optimism and productivity. As soon as the page overflows and I know that I need to be at multiple places at varying times, I feel limited, and I struggle to get started. It is a mindset problem and one that I have tried to come to grips with over the years. I know that others are not so easily swayed by such things and hit the ground running with balls flying at them from all directions. I admire their tenacity and their blinkered, determined pace through life. Meanwhile, those balls knock me off my course.

I am somewhat underestimating myself. I am a productive and diligent worker and manage to get a lot done in a day. But, when I am cognisant of the need to head out the door and devote hours to simply driving from A to B, it is dispiriting and not from a purely time-related perspective. It is also because it encourages car dependency, at least from our rural location. There is no denying the convenience of having a car. If I had to walk with my kids to cricket for an evening training session, we would have to leave in the morning. But that convenience would be of lesser value if we had a more efficient and widely available public transport system. Perhaps, if public transport options were in place, my children could get themselves to sport without me. (Perhaps not, I am already becoming anxious by the thought!).

There are multi-faceted issues associated with car dependency. But, I have not started this post in the right tone to go deeper into this subject. And there are others out there who do it so much better. If you would like to explore some of the issues relating to car dependency, the safety, economic, social, personal issues, then check out Not Just Bikes and City Beautiful for starters. As an ex-urban planner, I find these topics very interesting and consider them essential conversations to have.

But for the time being, we are car-dependent. I need to work with that as best I can.

The most obvious change would be to combine shopping and ferrying children on the same trip, even if that journey circumnavigates the city! Farmers market shopping can happen en route to Saturday morning cricket. I can shop in bulk at the feed store once a month to limit journeys there. Meat can be bought in bulk at the butcher and stored in the chest freezer. Pantry and cleaning products can also be purchased in bulk at the supermarket, online or at a bulk bin store. If I choose the location of the feed store, butcher and supermarket in proximity to each other (which is possible if I dispense with shop and brand loyalties), then these journeys can all be made in a single trip. This style of shopping relies on good planning, stockpiling, organisation and keeping a good inventory of stock. I am learning!

Rhonda Hetzel of Down to Earth has written a couple of books devoted to home management and living simply. These are excellent resources, which I need to spend a bit of time (!) reading through again to help steer me in the right direction. Rhonda also has some great posts on her blog covering all these topics.

We can’t always dictate what our schedules look like or how we make them work. It is often its own beast, and we can choose to adapt to its demands or wallow in self-pity. I am doing my best to adapt (while I complain a little) and wait with anticipation for the summer holidays when we suspend schedules once more.

I would love to hear what you do to limit your dependence on car travel and how you manage your time, so please share in the comments.

I will share any successful changes I have made in this space in the future. I certainly know I am not alone in this dilemma, and if one person’s success helps another, there is value in sharing.

Until next time, take care.

6 thoughts on “The highway slog and the desire to drive less

  1. Car dependency is a blight of rural life and I totally sympathise with your situation because it was the same for us living miles from anywhere in Wales with three growing children. Combining trips, bulk buying and maximising home experiences were the strategies we used to keep journeys down as much as we could. When I was driving 20 miles to work, the local council wasted an obscene amount of money auditing employees’ journeys to suggest how they could be greener. For me, the suggestion was to walk 3 miles to the nearest small town (presumably carrying a rucksack of marked books, materials, etc!), catch the mid-morning postbus to the nearest market town then the service bus to the village where I worked – arriving in class at 2.30pm, in time to teach the last hour of the school day. Oh, and there was no way home as there were no return buses! Conclusion? Carry on driving! Of course, it would have made a lot of sense to offer me a post nearer home but that sort of joined-up thinking didn’t exist, and probably still doesn’t. Now with no responsibilities of children or work, we barely use the car at all and focus on being as self-sufficient at home as we can. We are still miles from the nearest facilities but I am happy to ride my bike as I have the time and as carrying space is limited, it focuses the mind on what we truly need. Don’t feel too guilty, you are doing a brilliant job and your posts are a joy to read. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. hahaha, that is funny and ridiculous, and yes those top-down baseless and unworkable strategies still exist. It is a shame things have not improved much. I love your blog, and am in the middle of reading your latest post, – you are so industrious, it is very inspiring. You are living my life goals!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Paula I am fully aware of everything that you are going through. When our children were at home we lived in the rural area of Darwin. I travelled 50km to work and had to juggle getting children to the school bus and then they had a bit of a trip to get to my work. We had one dancing on one side of town and the other with either footy or cricket on the other. Hubby worked in the opposite direction so he would get home, feed animals and make sure the watering was done. He cooked so we would get home to a meal made. I spent many years of leaving before 7am and not getting home till after 7pm. I have no advice to offer. My children, now adults with their own children, remember their childhood with fondness. You do the best you can when you can, where you can.

    Liked by 1 person

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