Living Well on a Four Ton Carbon Budget

Environmentally minded Americans recognize that global climate change is the single most urgent ecological and political issue facing the planet.  If you are like me, you want to live consistently with your beliefs about climate change. We all know we need to reduce our carbon impacts. But we don’t know by how much, and most environmental organizations don’t give us a clue what a sustainable carbon footprint would look like.  The rate of global carbon emissions overwhelms us, and makes individual action feel futile.  Giving up carbon emissions entirely seems inconsistent with a contemporary, comfortable lifestyle in the developed world.

But most people share the basic ethical sense that it is wrong to make lifestyle choices that cause harm to other people.  And we know that climate change will cause grievous harm to millions of people around the globe.  It’s easy to blame capitalism and large, impersonal oil and coal companies for climate change, but we can’t ignore our own complicity in the fossil fuel economy when we burn gas to get to work, jet fuel to go on vacation, natural gas to heat and cook, and coal generated electricity to light and cool our houses.  As cartoonist Walt Kelly put it forty years ago, “We have met the enemy, and he is us!”

This is a blog about living a good life with a sustainable individual carbon footprint of about four tons CO2 equivalent per year. The dual, mildly contradictory premises of this blog are that 1) we all share an ethical responsibility to live right now with a carbon footprint that will not cause catastrophic climate impacts to other people, and 2) life should be fun.

I think that an individual direct footprint of four tons per year is defensible as sustainable for a middle class citizen of a developed nation during the phaseout of all fossil fuels over the next few decades.  Some might argue that this is unjustifiably high (it is much higher than a per capita global allocation of the remaining carbon emissions budget), some might argue that it is impossibly low (few people in the US get by on a four ton carbon budget).  I will explain this in greater detail elsewhere.


I plan to use this blog to share my thoughts about the meaning of carbon sustainability, and to share my experiences with lowering my footprint for getting to work and heating and lighting my house, while saving some of my carbon budget for fun!


Leg the 14th – Tacking Into a Stiff Breeze in the West Ohio Sea

I woke in the dawn twilight and listened for the wind. All I heard was a rooster crowing in still morning, and I knew I should get up and make some mileage before the wind started to blow and the afternoon storms raged. So I was on the road by 620 am, missing my coffee fix because it turned out that gas stations didn’t open before eight am on a Sunday morning in the small towns of west central Ohio, far from the interstate.
I followed a delightfully curvy road for a long time. So seduced by its curves I was that I missed the turnoff for Bowling Green, and didn’t discover it until I was two miles south of the Northern Tier Route.

By now, the wind was piping up from the south southwest, as forecast. Now, no good sailor will waste two miles of southing when beating into a southerly gale, so I confirmed that my westbound course would eventually intersect with the proper route again, and continued on Rte 105 west. I soon ran into an obstacle: yet another critical bridge closed for construction, with a detour that ran dead downwind. I stopped at the open service station for coffee and confirmed that to the south, the next westbound road should take me towards an eventual intersection with the Northern Tier Route.
This road crossed the interstate, but dead ended soon after another north-south crossroads. But just as I was about to make a u-turn I saw a fortuitous rail trail at the cul de sac – this one I had found by accident, not by Google. Just as I was celebrating my good luck, the branch rail trail hit the north-south trunkline, so I tacked south, frantically checking my charts for a westerly through route back to the rhumb line. But it turned out all the charted westerly reaches were blocked by an obstruction – the bridgeless Auglaize.

But I also realized that I was getting a lift on the starboard tack, since the tree lined paved trail let me make good progress even while pinching into the increasing southerly wind. So I stayed on starboard tack all the way south to Rudolph, where the Defiance Pike presented a 30 mile reach to the safe harbor of Defiance. Boy oh boy, did that south wind blow then on the open West Ohio Sea! If I had the right sails, I could have made a screaming reach of it all the way to Defiance. But my torso-sail couldn’t generate much lift no matter how I trimmed it to the wind, and I powered on, buffeted by rolling gusts on the beam, for three hours, finding brief refuge in the lee of occasional islets of trees.

And so I made the 65 miles into the safe harbor of Defiance before lunchtime and before the storms. I was hoping to find a lunch spot downtown, but all the downtown eateries seemed to be closed on Sunday, and as I left town there was a choice of KFC, DQ, Subway and Ed’s Ice Cream Factory. I nearly turned around for the KFC, reasoning that I was burning so many calories that I could indulge some of my favorite really unhealthy foods, but then reconsidered and decided I should give the non-franchised Ed’s a chance. The only non-beef on their menu of not-ice cream was popcorn shrimp, so I ordered some and asked to use the restroom, and I was informed there wasn’t one. Not even for emergencies.
Nor was there an electrical outlet, so I finished my popcorn shrimp hastily, and went the block back to the Subway, where the staff rally wanted to know where I was coming from and going to, where they had a restroom, and where they welcomed me to sit and watch the rain for a few hours while charging my phone, all for the cost of a six-inch sub. I made reservations for the night at the Bittersweet Inn in Paulding, another 20 miles on (per adventure cycling) or 26 miles on (per Google).

Adventure Cycling proved correct: it was an easy 20 mile ride into Paulding in the post squall line showers. Shortly before I reached town, the sun came out over the verdant flooded fields. And I got my fried chicken dinner at the very very local Red House Pizza shack.


Thirteenth Leg – Rolling West With the Lakeview Limited

Today I made 91 miles, to the White Star campground in Gibsonburg, Ohio. Or 94 miles, if you believe the Runtastic cycling app, which always seems to give you two or three miles more credit than the mapping apps, which is really frustrating, when you think you should have arrived and you have three more miles to go. Any way you measure it, it’s the farthest day of the trip so far. But it was easy rolling, all flat terrain with gentle (and occasionally favorable) winds.
The routing maps made it look like I would be riding along the Lake Erie shoreline, and I had pictured one of those coastal roads with a beach on one side and the houses on the other. It was the draw of this inland coastline that pulled me north to Cleveland instead of drawing a straighter line west. But I was disappointed to see that nearly the entire coastline was private houses and clubs, with only occasional glimpses of the grey horizon of the lake in the cold morning rain between the mansions, or one of the few public parks. The Supreme Court may have declared 150 years ago that Illinois could not sell the entire Chicago waterfront to one company under public trust principles, but that didn’t stop the privatization of the Great Lakes shoreline piecemeal, apparently.

As I rolled farther west of Cleveland, the waterfront mansions grew smaller and less ostentatious. My rule for lunch is the later of 11 am or halfway to the days goal. Fortunately, I made my 46 miles in Huron, Ohio, my last chance for the Erie waterfront before turning inland. The local breaded perch and sidewinder fries at the Harbor House were excellent, but check your bill carefully, or they will try to charge you extra for the coleslaw. The place was a Mecca for bikers on this sunny Saturday afternoon, and I don’t mean the quiet kind with derailleurs on their chains. But they were courteous bikers.

I am following the Adventure Cycling Northern Tier Route now, for the next 500 miles to Muscatine, Iowa. This route took me south of the lake from Huron, then west for 15 miles on a road as flat and straight as a line of latitude. I joined the North Shore Inland Trail bike path near Clyde. The shaded trail was a nice break from the open farmland and bumpy roads. The trail took me to Fremont, where scores of fishermen were up to their waists in the Sandusky River hauling in perch. I bought groceries for dinner there and pedaled the last 12 miles west to the White Star campground, a county park.

 Camping is a friendly sort of lodging, I have made friends here at the campground here already, with a young couple recently relocated from Portland, and with an older couple wearing Great Allegheny Passage cycling shirts.

Tomorrow promises to be challenging, with 20-30 mph winds in my face and likely thunderstorms

Leg Twelve – Down the Cuyahoga Valley Into Cleveland

Made 70 miles today, to Lakewood, just west of Cleveland.

This morning I got to practice breaking solo camp efficiently. It did not rain after all, and I struck the dry tent while my breakfast water boiled. Breakfast was three envelopes of instant oatmeal and an orange. Camp coffee for one is too complicated, so I picked up a cup at the first gas station, eight miles on my way. With a reusable stainless straw in my cup holder, I could sip coffe while pedaling for the next half hour.
Google gave me a choice of routes – the second choice was 4 miles longer, but included the full length of the Ohio and Erie Canal towpath through Cuyahoga Valley National Park, so it seemed worth the extra miles.
The first part of the ride was on successively smaller two lane roads until I found the Freedom Trail rail trail outside Akron. The Freedom Trail carved gentle slaloms around telephones, setting a nice biking rhythm while chipmunks and bunnies scampered out of my path in the morning mist. But Google told me to turn right down a steep hill at an intersection, even though the rail trail continued. At the bottom of the hill, google told me to rake a left turn over a bridge – that was very closed for construction. So I had to pedal back up the steep hill, ride one more section of the rail trail, and rejoin the google route, my cell phone telling me to make a u turn the whole way.

The route soon picked up the Canal towpath, but with one unfortunately strenuous construction detour near the start. The rest of the towpath was a delightful spin through fragrant woods and meadows and wetlands on a generally good surface. I didn’t stop to take many pictures, but this site has a good collection. I stopped in Peninsula Ohio for lunch at the Winking Lizard tavern, then rolled the rest of the way into Cleveland. Unfortunately,my phone battery died about 2 miles short of my destination, so I had to find the Travelodge the old fashioned way, by asking people on the street for directions until I found someone who actually knew where it was.

This evening I took the bus to downtown Cleveland. Unfortunately, the only Clevelander I know was out of town today, but she told me to say hi to the water taxi driver in the Flats, so I I went down to the Cuyahoga waterfront and introduced myself to Scott Sanders – a fellow bluewater sailor, and we swapped some sea stories, and I got a good restaurant recommendation. I took the train back out to Lakewood. I like to check out the transit options when I visit a City. Cleveland has a bunch of shiny new train stations, but the trains on some lines (blue and green) never seem to run, even though I checked the website for service cancelations.

My feet and knees feel good today – even in the morning, I had less knee pain than usual. I hope that’s a good sign.


Eleventh Leg – Out of Pittsburgh and Into the Ohio Countryside

Made about eighty miles today, from Pittsburgh, PA to Lake Berlin, Ohio.

Robin and Justin left at five to get Justin back to Harrisburg in time for work, so I am on my own now. I was at the hotel breakfast bar at six and rolling out of Pittsburgh at seven am. 
The route towards Cleveland followed Route 51 northwest along the Ohio River. Google tried to take me to a dead and street with a bike path that itself deadended in a pile of gravel within 50 yards, so I ended up in the traffic on Carson Boulevard, and nearly got clipped by a city bus. A few miles further along, Google tried to avoid the worst of the hills by detouring to Bruno Island, but the bridge it tried to send me on was definitively closed for construction, so I was left with the formidable hills of route 51. So I did not end up crossing any of the fabled bridges of Pittsburgh.
Route 51 varied from nice shoulders to no shoulders. It is also known as PA Bike Route A. Somewhere around Aliquippa, it became a four lane divided highway with no shoulders and a tight guardrail, but traffic was light enough by then that I could take the lane.


In Monaca, I crossed the Ohio and the Beaver rivers, and 51 began its long slow climb out of the Ohio River valley. It narrowed to a two lane road, and I passed a prefab home manufacturer. Unfortunately, that meant that sever wide-load semi trailers hauling actual houses passed me on the road, with the house hanging out over the shoulder. I would never have known what hit me if one passed too close. At least the drivers seemed very aware of the potential mishap, and slowed down until they had room to pass or I could pull over.
I crossed into Ohio at mile 45, and the road got bumpier. Pennsylvania,s industrial landscape had long since faded into countryside of dairy farms, woods, and meadows, I did my grocery shopping in Columbiana Ohio at the last supermarket I would see before the campsite, and ended up eating l7nch at Taco Bell because I managed to miss all the more local restaurants and wanted to make just one stop. My knees do better if I avoid multiple stops.

I am camping tonight at Philabaun’s Hidden Cove Resort and Campground in Deerfield, Ohio.


Tenth Leg – Out of the Mountains and Into the Industrial Midwest

We rode the 60 miles from Connelsville to Pittsburgh today. It was mostly an uneventful ride, as the woods gave way to towns and vacation homes, which gave way to the gritty industrial landscape from McKeesport to Pittsburgh. For the fist time, the sun shone most of the day. Justin set a fast pace, and my knees hurt more towards the end of today’s sixty mile ride than they did on the seventy-three mile ride yesterday. I think that’s because we hit some short, steep hills for the first time since starting the C&O Canal – and because of the quick pace.

Pittsburgh marks the end of the first phase of this trip. It’s the end of our family vacation with our son; Robin and Justin will be driving back east early in the morning. I have finished a week of daily long rides, and my legs and knees have not completely given out on me. I figured that if I was completely incapable of this trip, I’d probably know by the 0end of the first week. I am west of the Appalachians now – no more mountains to climb until I get to Wyoming – though I expect Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Nebraska will have some respectable hills to climb. I am going to have to pick up the pace when I get to the flatter part of the country. And there is good news – looks like the Cowboy Trail in Nebraska is mostly reopened after the big floods.



Leg Nine – Tunneling Through the Eastern Divide


We made 73 miles today, from Frostburg to Connellsville on the Great Alllegheny Passage. Frostburg lived up to its name with a chilly and drizzly morning, and we slept later on our BNB beds that in our tents the previous night. Between finding a cafe for breakfast, packing the gear we had left out to dry, and trying unsuccessfully to find raisins for homemade trail mix in walking distance, we got a late start on the trail – 10:30.

The bike trail climbed gently again for the first eight miles to the Eastern divide. The first highlight was the Big Savage Tunnel – 3900’ long, but lighted. The divide was not much farther on – at 2300’, it’s the highest elevation I will see until I get to the Great Plains. From the divide, we started down the longer and gentler grade towards Pittsburgh. We soon fell into a family draft pack. We let the 30 year old on the light road bike with skinny tires lead and pull his parents along, and we were soon making 12 mile hours. I rode cleanup since one wanted to draft behind my bike with the guitar neck sticking out beyond the wheel.

Our lunch stop was at the Rockwood Opera House and Mill Shops. One of the pleasures of bike touring is finding quirky little eateries along the way. This one had a model railroad set running around the wainscoting. The counter woman wore an engineers cap.

After Rockwood, the spectacular Salisbury Viaduct brought us into the Cassellman River gorge. The Pinkerton Tunnel was a little further down the way with a trestle over the deep gorge, leading to the 850’ (very dark in sunglasses) tunnel, followed by another trestle over the gorge.

This was beautiful riding through a lush symphony of laurels and hemlocks, and occasional stands of tall straight spring-green trees (sycamores?), with a bass note of the churning Casselman River down the steep bank to the right, and occasional tenor notes of the waterfalls cascading through rocks and laurels to the left. I don’t know if I have done a pleasanter ride through the woods. This is the landscape that inspired Frank Lloyd Wright; his Falling Waters house is nearby.
By the time we reached Ohiopyle, Justin”s rear tire was losing air. The bike shop was closed though (the sign on the door said it was usually open until five or six but sometimes closed at four). We kept stopping to pump air in the tire until we were stopping every mile, with fifteen miles to go. So we finally broke down and got out the patch kit. Fortunately the patch was successful, since we didn’t have proper size spare tube for Justin’s bike.

With the flat fixed, eager to make Connellsville before dark, we picked up the pace and through the evening woods at a fifteen mile per hour pace. We are staying at the Connelsville BNB because the 43 degree forecast is too cold for our sleeping bags. It’s great to see all the businesses that cater to bike tourists along the GAP trail – a long distance bike traveler feels welcome here, not the oddity

Leg Eight – Into the Rain, Into the Cold, Into the Stream, Into the Tunnels, Into the Gap and on to the GAP

May 13

Sixty Miles today – Fifteen Mile Aqueduct to Frostburg.


It didn’t rain much overnight after all, but in the morning it started raining while I fixed breakfast – with temperatures in the 40s. We got an early start despite the rain, since we let Danielle take the wet tents away. We immediately got lost trying to find our way back to the paved rail trail – at first it looked inaccessible on a trestle over the road, then the promising ramp to the right ended at a fence, while the parking lot across the street clearly provided access. After about two miles down the paved trail, it dead ended at a nonexistent bridge, a dirt road led in the general direction of the towpath, but that route also dead ended with a choice between a road submerged in a stream, or a gate marked “private”in the wrong direction. We eventually settled on fording the derailleur-deep stream.

The first highlight of the day was Paw Paw tunnel – a quarter mile canal tunnel through a hill that avoids a long bend in the river. It was nice to get out of the rain and ride with our lights through the dark tunnel.

After Paw Paw, we slogged the muddy and increasingly less maintained towpath with an early lunch and warm up stop at the restaurant in Old Town in mind, twenty miles down the towpath. When we finally made it, we figured out that the restaurant was closed on Mondays. So we slogged on in the cold rain. The next option to warm up and eat was not until Cumberland – another twenty miles on.  The trail got muddier and muddier, with 100 yard stretches of standing water hiding occasional deep potholes. Our bikes got caked in mud, so much so my front derailleur jammed again.

In the last five miles before Cumberland, the rain let up and we started to see some cyclists heading in the other direction. The Cumberland Gap was a welcome site, and marked the junction with the Great Allegheny Passage Rail Trail to Pittsburgh. We stopped at the Crabby Pig for lunch and to warm up and charge up.

After lunch we biked the fifteen miles to Frostburg, 1600’ of climbing up a gentle but unrelenting grade on a faster crushed stone trail. We had breaks of sun, and more rain, and we sheltered out the last storm  at the trail access shelter right below town. The Trail Inn advertises a bike wash and a laundry as one amenity, and we took advantage of it to spray the mud off our bikes and wash our clothes.

Tomorrow we are off to the Eastern Continental Divide and on down the GAP trail.

Seventh Leg – 40 Miles on the C&O Canal for Mother’s Day

We made about 40 miles up the C&O Canal towpath today.

I woke early to the sound of rain on the tent fly, which was expected. I checked the radar on my phone to look for a gap on the rain that would let us make breakfast and break camp. There was a bit of gap in an hour, and I boiled water for instant oats and hot cocoa while Robin packed up our tent and Justin roused himself.
The first part of today’s ride was a slow slog through a steady cold rain on a muddy, soft trail. My bike stopped shifting into high gear, but that hardly mattered because I didn’t need it. Our first landmark was going to be Fort Frederick, where the paved Western Maryland Rail Trail starts.

After over two hours of pedaling though the lush green – but cold – wilderness, we reached Fort Frederick and headed up the road to the fort restoration. We entered a bit of a time warp. After traveling through the deserted forest for hours in rotten weather at about the speed of a trotting horse, we reached the restored Wort’s General store, an outpost from the 18th Century frontier, with a sign offering hot coffee and a chance to warm up. We took advantage of both, as well as an ahistorical outlet for charging my phone, I also bought a miniature American flag as an ensign for my bike.
We dawdled at the fort restoration, standing in front of the barracks fire while the period interpreters, hungry for some visitors on a rainy Mother’s Day, regaled us with stories of life during the French-Indian war. We hoped the rain would stop before we had to set out again, but it didn’t.

Our next destination was Hancock, and a Mother’s Day lunch at a real restaurant. After a couple for false detours into truck stops, we found Buddy Lou’s Antique Shop and Restaurant. They were very nice and made space for us even without reservations. I now know that an order of crab fries will feed a family of four. Robin found a footstool she liked at the antique shop part of the place, so I piled that on the back of my bike along with the tent and the guitar.

It was still drizzling when we left Buddy Lou’s at 3:30, but we made quick work of the next twenty miles to the Fifteen Mile Aqueduct drive-in campsite, where Danielle met us with the dogs and a brand new camp dining shelter. We were the only people a the campground, so we changed sites to one with a better view of the Potomac and had a leisurely evening and dinner. Tomorrow promises more rain and a many more miles of riding – we are aiming for Frostburg, 63 miles away and well up through the Cumberland Gap.

Leg Six – Down the Burgs to the Mason Dixon Line

(May 11)

Today’s goal was Williamsport, MD to connect with the C&O Canal towpath trail along the Potomac. Google gave us three suggested routes – through Biglerville where Danielle’s parents live, through Gettysburg, or down the valley through Mechanicsburg, Shippensburg, and Chambersburg. I originally thought we’d go through Biglerville and drop in on Danielle’s parents, but it turns out that her father was away at a sailing regatta and their house is several miles and a long steep hill out of the way. So we settled on the flattest route for my longest day yet – 83 miles.



 Until now, I have been travelling light, since I was staying at BNBs and houses. Since Robin was driving out to Harrisburg to join me as far as Pittsburgh (and to drop the dog off), I let her bring my camping gear. Justin is also join8ng us to Pittsburgh. So we did a Father-Son ride 54 miles to Chambersburg, mostly flat riding with a tailwind and ten mikes of rail trail. Danielle dropped Robin off with our heavier gear in Chambersburg and we had lunch at the Old Oak restaurant. Somehow it turned out that my sleeping bag got lost in the shuffle. 


 Robin was fresh for the remaining 25 miles to Williamsport, so Justin an I drafted behind her, and we fairly flew down the road and across the Mason Dixon Line into Maryland.
I had just assumed that there would be a grocery store or market in Williamsport, which is a fair sized town that gets a lot of visitors to 5he C&O Trail. But there was nothing to be found except for the Desert Rose Sweet Shop and the Dollar General. And I thought food deserts were an inner city problem, not a rural one! Robin bought cakes and salads at the sweet shop, and I cobbled together a rice and canned chicken dinner from the shelves of the dollar general. 


 When we got down the hill to the river and 5he towpath, we discovered that the towpath link was closed for construction, and we had to bike back up the hill for the detour. No matter, we still made it to the empty NPS hiker biker campsite by five, plenty of time to make camp, cook, and eat before the rain came


 My foot feels much better today – the gel shoe insert seems to be working. Now my butt hurts more than my foot, which is the way it should be!

Fifth leg – Undulations of Road and Rain

Made the seventy five miles to my son’s house in Harrisburg today without too much trouble. I got an early start at 730. The bike route followed Old Route 22, parallel to Interstate 78, which was often in view, more often in earshot, and never more than one ridge away to the north. Old Route 22 rolled through dairy country in a never ending series of hills, none too steep or too long, but each one just enough to break my pace. The first two hours of the ride were in a steady cold rain, too.

Towns as such were few and far between. After five hours of riding and more than half the day’s objective, I promised myself I would stop for lunch at the next restaurant. Jonestown looked promising, a real collection of houses and churches on top of a hill. The first eatery on the way up the hill was a pizza joint but I decided to h9ld out for something more interesting. At the top of the hill, there were hardly any businesses at all in the town. I doubted I could sit down for lunch at the general store. My stomach rumbled as a rolled down the hill on the west side of town. But I wasn’t going to bike back up over the hill to the pizzeria. I got lucky, though. At the bottom of the hill on the west edge of town, a sign next to a brand new building announced that Ivana’s Italian Bistro was “now open.” I was the only customer.

West of Jonestown I had to decide whether to follow the Google maps suggested route on Route 22, or keep following Johnstown Road west. Graded four lane highway with incessant traffic and wide shoulders, or a rolling two lane road with the occasional dairy semi trailer full of milk or manure and no shoulder to dodge it.  After fifty miles of rolling hills, I chose the gentle grades of Route 22, but the traffic and commercial strips were a jarring contrast to the quiet country roads of the morning ride.

I also figured Rte 22 was more likely to have shops I could duck into when the afternoon line of storms came through. I could see the rain coming a mike away, and decided to check in to the Sleep Inn for twenty minutes. Or its portico, anyway. I don’t think the receptionist ever noticed I was there.

I Got to Justin’s house in Camp Hill right at five, and Justin and Danielle had cold beer and snacks ready! 

My legs feel fine, but my right foot has swollen up from the pressure of the bike cleats, I think. I am going to try some gel inserts in my bike shoes for tomorrow’s ride.