One year. Without getting into a car. Seriously.

Kurt Hoelting pauses during a recent walking tour of the Skagit Valley. His goal is to explore his home region during his car-less year. - Photo courtesy of Kurt Hoelting
Kurt Hoelting pauses during a recent walking tour of the Skagit Valley. His goal is to explore his home region during his car-less year.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Kurt Hoelting

It all began with a casual conversation over breakfast. Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” was a big hit and the subject turned to global warming.

“This is not the world I want to bequeath to my grandchildren. I don’t want to wait until Antarctica is hospitable to crocodiles before I decide it is time to change,” Clinton resident Kurt Hoelting said.

Hoelting made a bold move. He decided to not use his car from winter solstice to winter solstice and only travel within a 70-mile radius from his home on Whidbey Island.

He has vowed not to get in a car during the year, and will rely instead on public transportation, walking, biking and paddling to get from point A to B.

No quick trips to the store in a car. No business trips by plane to Alaska.

“Whenever I feel stuck or inconvenienced

I just remind myself why I do it,” Hoelting said. “In the past I have put too much emphasis on convenience instead of survival — survival of the living world.”

Hoelting has thought about global climate change for years.

“I’ve been concerned for a long time. I’ve been frustrated that I wasn’t able to respond in a more meaningful manner,” he said.

Denial is a powerful force, even when we know better, Hoelting explained.

He recalled taking a “carbon footprint survey” online. He expected to do reasonably well.

“After all, I drive a hybrid car. I live in a modest-sized house. I recycle,” he said.

“Despite the efforts I had made and buying a hybrid car, my carbon footprint was 2½ times the national level,” Hoelting said.

For his job as meditation teacher, the South End man travels all over the country.

But a single cross-country flight sucked up most of his “carbon allowance.”

“One roundtrip flight to Asia is the equivalent of driving an SUV for months,” he said.

Air travel made up three quarters of Hoelting’s carbon footprint.

Now, he has taken a travel sabbatical and will not fly for work or pleasure.

“I use it as a chance to do what I do more locally,” he said. Hoelting hopes that he will gain many clients in the area throughout the year so he won’t have to travel so much for work.

But once he eliminated air travel, the next step wasn’t far behind.

One day, Hoelting pulled out some maps of the region and started drawing concentric circles around his home in the Maxwelton Valley.

At a radius of about 60 miles, he found that the circle passed directly over the summit of Mount Olympus to the west, the highest point in the Olympic Mountains. It passed directly over the summit of Mount Baker, the highest point in the North Cascades. It passed directly over the summit of Glacier Peak to the east, the highest point in the Central Cascades. And it just caught the San Juans at the north end of the Puget Sound basin.

Hoelting decided that he would finally get to know his home region and explore this

60-mile circle that contains 12,000 square miles of rich geographical terrain by foot, bicycle and kayak.

His goal is to arrive where he started - home on South Whidbey - but to really know the place for the first time, he said.

He wrapped up a walking tour of the Skagit Valley recently and plans to paddle his kayak around Whidbey this month.

Now, a little more than two months into the project, Hoelting is still going strong.

“It’s more doable than I expected, he said.

But undertaking such a massive life change is not easy while living in rural Whidbey.

“If you were in the city, it would be much easier. I live five miles away from every town center, bank or post office. I have to plan more,” Hoelting said.

But there is a little secret to his success. He is doing the planet favor, but it pays off for him, too, Hoelting said.

“If I make changes that benefit me, it will work,” he said. “The question was how can I turn it into something that is fun.”

Since he began riding his bike everywhere, he has lost weight and he can tell he is fitter than ever.

“I’m in a lot better shape,” Hoelting said.

Then, there is the sense of accomplishment that follows him on his journey.

“It’s satisfying to get from place to place on my own,” he said. “There’s a sense of freedom, a sense of contact to the place.”

Hoelting hasn’t cheated a single time. He hasn’t hopped into a car once, not even during Whidbey Island’s inhospitable winter weather.

“I expected the winter to be harder,” he said. “But the relatively small inconvenience of getting a little wet or cold is not a big deal.”

“Rain and wind are much more intimidating if you look at it from inside the house or car with the windshield wipers. If you’re in it it’s energizing,” he said.

Being out and about has had another side effect.

“I get the winter blues. I get down in the dumps,” he said. “This has happened not one time this winter.”

Hoelting said things have been working out much better than planned overall.

“I am doing it on my own. I was concerned I might drop it like New Year’s resolutions. I haven’t had the impulse to drop it,” he said. “I have a lot of people holding my feet to the fire.”

Because he is the only one in his family who made the change, he feared that the experiment could become a point of conflict.

“I expected this to be challenging on my relationship with my wife,” Hoelting said. “I was pretty nervous about that. But it has brought us closer together.”

The reason might be because he is not preachy about his mission.

“I’m not looking at it with ideological purity,” he said. “My wife shops with the car. When I go climbing, I get there by bicycle, but my climbing buddies drive, bringing my climbing gear.”

Though his wife Sally is not participating in his vow of car-lessness, she joins him on his walking trips and his kids Kristin and Alex plan to join him on his explorations as well.

Hoelting hopes that by making this relatively small sacrifice, he will inspire others to look around and reconsider what they can do to slow global climate change.

Info - Kurt

Kurt Hoelting grew up in the Pacific Northwest, graduating from the University of Washington and Harvard Divinity School. He has worked as a clergyman, a commercial fisherman in Alaska, a wilderness guide and a meditation teacher. He leads a migratory lifestyle with winters in Puget Sound and summers in Alaska.

In 1994, he founded Inside Passages, a sea kayaking outfitter-guide business in Alaska that combines his love for wilderness exploration, conservation and contemplative practice.

Inside Passages offers trips and retreats for a broad spectrum of leaders in environmental policy, healthcare, business, religion and philanthropy, utilizing contemplative practice and immersion in the wild.

He lives on Whidbey Island with his wife Sally.

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