What is reasonable for transportation?

So there I was this evening, sitting on my porch and thinking about Thanksgiving. I know, it’s a ways off still, but my family’s already asking about holiday plans–and probably with good reason, since I can be difficult to pin down.

The result, though, is that I’m sort of considering seeing if I can get down to California, which of course means I’m thinking about transportation.

To get to California, I see four options:

  1. I could take Amtrak. A train trip from Portland to Sacramento lasts about 16 hours (if it’s on time), plus about 40 minutes on either end to get to the train station and back. Average cost is about $200 round trip.
  2. I could rent a car. Driving from here to there takes about 10 hours when you factor in time to pee and maybe take a stretch break. Cost on the rental car depends on if I kept it for the whole time or went with two one-way rentals, but it seems like $45/day is sort of standard (not counting insurance or gas or anything). Maybe $300-400 total if I kept a car for 5 days, added insurance, and bought all the gas I needed?
  3. I could fly. Flying takes about 1.5 hours of flight time, plus an hour of waiting in the airport and about 45 minutes on either end to get to and from the airport. A grand total of about 4 hours of transit time. It looks like a round-trip flight around Thanksgiving costs about $200 right now.
  4. I could bike. Not really a viable means of transportation for a trip this far:) At least, not for a trip where I only have about 4 or 5 days off;)

I was thinking about these options, because it’s never an easy choice for me. I would really love to take the train, for example, since it’s (relatively speaking) an environmentally friendly option and I really like trains–but for a trip of only 4 or 5 days, upwards of 32 hours spent in transit just seems like too much.

Even a car feels like almost too much, not only because driving isn’t my favorite thing ever but also 20 hours is still kind of a lot of time. And it ultimately costs more than an airplane, which takes half the time. But on the other hand, even though driving by myself (or with James) in a car for 20 hours seems super long and fuel-guzzling, I know that it’s still better in terms of carbon footprint than flying.

If flying were less of a heinous impact on the world, I would probably fly without a second thought. But as it is, I always feel a little bad about it.

But then again, any way to get down to Sacramento quickly is going to have an environmental impact. This is sort of what I was thinking about. In Portland, I’ve structured my life such that I don’t ever have to do anything but ride my bike. Even most things I want to do involve nothing more than human power, or sometimes public transit. But in moving far away from where I grew up, I’ve also built into my life the fact that if I want to see my family, especially in quick snatches, I suck up a whole bunch of resources to do so.

I guess I was trying to figure out how I felt about all of that. Even though it’s been made normal by current culture, maybe it’s not reasonable to assume that hopping down to California (or wherever) for a few days is actually a viable use of resources. Maybe we shouldn’t be making decisions based on convenience. Maybe until we finally invest in really fast rail (that would be so sweet) or some other and less resource-intensive means of transportation–maybe until then, we should consider the cost of going someplace far away to be a higher investment in time.

But then again, why shouldn’t we embrace modern conveniences like flight? Though what if those conveniences are what contribute to destroying our world?

I can see you rolling your eyes now. I can see you telling me to stop overthinking it. But seriously. This shit is important. I’m sort of wondering if I should stop going to Sacramento unless it seems worth it to take the longer and less environmentally heinous transit options. If I should restructure my conception of what’s possible for long-distance travel the way I’ve consciously structured my life in Portland to make “possible” equal “accessible by bike.”



  1. I’m with you. We should definitely think about these things. We’ve made instant and unlimited transport to mostly everywhere too easy, and it does have an impact on the world.

    And I’m glad you’re deeply thinking about these things. I feel it’s better to realize what the consequences of our actions are, vs. buying “carbon credits” to offset the damage jet (and other) travel does to the environment.

    • I was actually thinking of you when I wrote this, since I know how much you also like trains:) Or rather, how you think of trains (i.e. the transit) as part of the journey.

      And yeah. Carbon credits are a crock of shit. At least, I think so;) It’s like saying it’s okay to do something that you know is totally horrible just so long as you apologize afterward. Lame.

      But what to do when there’s no real incentive to find an alternative to plane travel, since it’s seen as so convenient and cheap and efficient?

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