Car Free in Cortland (Part III)

When people think of summer vacation, they might imagine loading up the car with duffels full of swimsuits and sunscreen, squishing coolers bursting with sandwiches and beverages of choice between the kids in the backseat. Others might think of hopping on a plane to visit family or friends in distant states with sea-studded and sand-laden shores, or immersing oneself in a foreign and captivating culture.

About a month ago I took an early summer vacation and touched not car nor plane, not ship nor bike, RV, nor other vehicular derivations. I visited four different state forests in four days and spent nights under star-lidded skies. Days brought sunlight riddling through canopies of birch and maple leaves aglow. I walked from my front door to Taylor Valley State Forest, through Hoxie Gorge, Tuller Hill, to Kennedy and ate my last bite of GORP (good old raisins and peanuts, aka trail mix) in a stunning and stunningly empty park in Virgil.

Backpacking is an adventure I’ve had the opportunity to build a love for during at least thirteen of my twenty-three years. I’ve also had the pleasure of introducing people to the independence and challenge of strapping all the necessities to your back and walking as much as eighteen miles in a day. That’s a distance equitable to the width of the City of Cortland times nine.

You don’t need a car to go camping here in Cortland County, and I think that’s amazingly fortunate. Growing up in a big city – smack in the center of a big city – walking to your campsite wasn’t an option. Camping required a firm amount of planning and resources, and getting the right gears to turn in that sticky machine that is family scheduling was barely short of magic.

And I understand that it’s likely the same for the scads of people who have a colorful pastiche of spontaneous and planned commitments here in Cortland. I’d be wildly happy if half the people here went camping this summer. I’d be wildly happy if half the drivers here went without a car for a week. I’d be over the perigee moon if people tried to do both at once.

A couple of weekends ago, I had the opportunity to attend an amazing event – TEDxFlourCity – in Rochester, NY. I’m working to organize TEDxCortland (www.tedxcortland.com) for November, and I wanted very much to attend the event in Rochester to experience firsthand the incredible wealth of ideas and collaboration that TEDx events offer. But I also wanted to investigate whether the car free lifestyle is suitable to such whims as going out of town for the weekend, to a destination not exactly within walking distance.

I awoke at 4am on a Saturday to catch the Greyhound leaving from the County Office Building to Rochester via Syracuse. From the station in Rochester, I walked a couple miles to the venue and, after nine or so hours of filling my senses with the wit, emotion, and ideas of the Rochesterian community, collapsed onto my hotel bed, delightfully exhausted.

There was absolutely nothing I could find to complain about or constructively criticize regarding the bus service. I found myself to Rochester and back without a hitch, and full of the kind of revitalization exposure to new and different cultures and experiences can offer.

The more I explore life without a car, the more I feel truly independent. It’s not cars (and in some cases not even transportation) that give people access to fresh and fulfilling experiences. It’s initiative.

by Emma Ignaszewski

This is Part III of a multi-part series, Car Free in Cortland.

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