Take the Bus! Good for the Environment, Your Wallet, and Your Wanderlust

And now for something a bit different!


We’ve been writing a lot in the past few weeks about life as a graduate student or some of the things we are learning while on our respective doctoral journeys.  However, if you will recall, we also love to go on journeys in general.  Meridith and I have always been avid travelers.  We have visited numerous other countries together (South Africa, Costa Rica, Panama, England, Aruba…) and separately (Kenya, Argentina, Ireland, Thailand…).  While traveling overseas is, literally, one of the best things ever, one of my favorite bar questions to ask people is, “What are the top 5 locations you want to visit in the United States?”  I think we spend a lot of time fantasizing about getting to far-off, exotic locations, and that can cause us to overlook the beauty in our own backyard (so to speak). (Editor’s Note: This is so true! One of my big epiphanies from my summer traveling Europe – by bus and train! – was that I had totally under appreciated all there is to see in the good ol’ U S of A.)  And while I might get to visit friends or make new friends when traveling overseas, getting a co-conspirator for your State side adventuring is a bit easier.


As Mer is one of my all time favorite partners in crime, she and I have always made a point to visit one another regularly.  Our college roommates (and often an all-star cast of their amazing boyfriends/girlfriends/partners/pals/siblings) make a point of gathering for New Years Eve.  That’s always a treat, and usually involves doing a multi-city flight out of California, to home, to the NYE destination (Boston 2015!), and then back to California.  While well worth it, that gets expensive.  If you add onto that a trip home during the summer and plane travel really starts to take a bite out of your budget.  So, what’s a budget-conscious, environmentally-minded person with a severe case of wanderlust to do?  Well, you can hop on the Greyhound and get to a regional destination with little money, hassle, and C02 wasted.  When I was living in Long Beach and Meridith was in Las Cruces, we were frequenting the Greyhound route between Long Beach and El Paso on a semesterly basis!
NYE 2014 Crew
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, Rachel.  Take the bus? I have a car!”  Yeah? Then find a bunch of friends and pile into the car.  Carpooling is great, and sometimes it is the most logical option.  But, maybe you have a more flexible schedule, you’re traveling solo, or you really want to cut your carbon emissions.  In that case, you should really be looking up the local Greyhound and Megabus schedules.  I’ve written about my internal conflict concerning the environmental impacts of travel here, and I’d suggest you check it out.  For those unwilling to read my previous ramblings, my conclusions are simply that bus travel is the most cost effective and environmentally friendly way to transit regionally.  Since writing that post over a year ago, I’ve had numerous conversations with people who just can’t seem to get over their bus hang-ups.  Maybe this isn’t the most glamorous way to move about the world, but if you are a reasonable traveler who keeps their wits about them, you have very little about which to worry.


Maybe you’re willing to give it a try?  I’ll give you a few tips from my numerous Greyhound adventures and misadventures to make your first bus trip a breeze.                     



Cat Bus.  The best kind of bus.
First, and foremost, put your patient pants on.  Unlike plane or train travel, hitting the open road on a Greyhound requires a little less coordination on the part of the company.  This might also be part of the “you get what you pay for” part of this equation.  I’ve been on some very punctual bus trips…I’ve also waited and waited for my connection.  Really though, I’ve slept in plenty of airport chairs waiting for my connecting flight when it was delayed.  So, meh, I’d call this a wash really.  I just tend to expect the bus to be a little behind its time. (Editor’s Note: For most people this goes without saying: double check your departure time AND date. I’m going to share my most shameful Greyhound experience because I love y’all. I’m not even sure if I ever told Rachel this, but last NYE my partner and I bussed to/from Chicago and I totally made us miss our bus because I was in charge of the tickets – we were still new and he didn’t know yet how horrible of an idea this was – and got the dates mixed up. So when we were leaving to catch our bus, I took our tickets out and realized that our tickets were for the day before. Cue full shame meltdown and us having to buy a whole ‘nother set of tickets day of, which meant paying full price.)


Once your bus arrives, where you sit matters a little bit more than where you sit on a plane.  Really, you don’t want to sit near the bathroom.  Obviously, right?  You should also choose your seat mate (if you have to have one) with at least a little care.  My brother has a theory that, when you’re on the bus, you’re much less focused on how you might die than when you’re 10,000 feet above the ground.  So, I have (unscientifically) concluded that people are generally less inhibited on the bus.  For this reason (or something), I’ve had a lot more interesting and friendly conversations on buses than I’ve ever had on planes.  If you want to chat, look for the person who looks like they want to converse.  Want to sleep?  Look for a fellow napper.  In my experience, there is generally at least one bus occupant who really needs to drop the mic; I would suggest not sitting with them.    


Mer took a 12 hour bus ride so we could surprise our friend
on his birthday!
Seat selection handled, now it’s time to occupy yourself.  If you’re doing a regional tip, you can try to choose an express bus that has wifi.  The wifi on buses is free, unlike on planes.  You probably won’t be able to stream Dr. Who, but you can check your email, access gDrive, and generally get some work done.  There are also, often, power outlets so you don’t have to worry about your computer or tablet crapping out on you.  This is my problem on, literally, every flight.  Why don’t I learn?  I’m not really sure if there is a cause and effect situation here, but I have found it much easier to get work done on the bus than the plane.  Again, maybe because I’m still on the ground?     


Normal travel tips apply on the greyhound as well.  Climate control can be something of an issue on the bus.  Consider your relative hot/cold scale when choosing an aisle or window seat.  Wear layers so you can add and subtract as needed.  Also, you really do want a blanket and a pillow.  There will be no smartly dressed attendant to hook you up with one if you forget.  Bonus points, you can bring liquids on the bus!  Beverages, peanut butter, hummus, and anything else delicious and spreadable is totally allowed.  This makes it way easier, for me at least, to avoid the pull of buying weird airport or plane food that is strange in my tummy and wrapped in a bunch of obnoxious, ultrathin plastic.


Night bus.  Also a good option.
How long will your bus adventure be?  The longest I’ve been on a Greyhound trip, to date, was 20 hours from El Paso to Long Beach.  It was a haul.  And as stifled and dehydrated as I usually feel getting off a plane, I felt downright stinky when I disembarked in Long Beach after a 20 hour coach trip.  You’ll feel way better if you can brush your teeth, change your shirt, and apply some deodorant during a layover.  Do yourself and the person receiving you at the end of the line a favor and stay fresh.    


Last tip?  Don’t be a douche-bag…or something like that.  The most common argument I hear from those reluctant to travel via bus is that it isn’t safe.  Not to sound harsh but, these may be the same people who want apps on their phones to keep them out of “bad” parts of town.  Get out of the bubble and give yourself a chance to not be afraid of others.  I’ve met some friendly, sad, unnerving, and genuinely hilarious people on Greyhounds.  And you know what?  I’ve met the same set of people in so many other places!  See my original statement above, be a wary traveler, but don’t be afraid of other humans who are just trying to get from point A to point B.  As Patty Griffith would say, “Grow kindness in our hearts for all the strangers among us, till there are no strangers anymore.”    
There you go, now take the plunge!  Your wallet, the environment, and your wandering soul will thank you!  (Editor’s Note: Benjamin and I are planning on taking a train from Boston to NYC then Megabusing back to State College! Yes, it’s more time-consuming and we’ll have to chill in the cold while waiting for the bus, but the money saved is going to be so worth it!)

Hiking after one of my bus trips to visit Meridith in New Mexico.

Guest Blog: Ecologist on the Appalachian Trail

This is my little sister, Sara!!!!

Note from Rachel:  I’m really excited today to have the very first guest post of this blog’s (short) history!  Allow me to introduce my kid sister, Sara.  When I describe her to people I usually give these stats:  she’s a scientist, she plays competitive roller derby, she’s way smarter than me, and she’s one of the coolest people you could ever meet.  She just graduated with a BS in Biology with a concentration in Ecology and Wildlife Management from my alma mater Western Kentucky University.  In college, she had some pretty amazing adventures and some really cool scientific experiences.  Check out this write-up of her long-term internship with the National Parks Service and this article about an African wildlife management course she participated in last summer (here is a video about the course…she’s basically the star).  After her graduation and the completion of her honor’s thesis this spring (she examined song bird use of restored old-fields), she decided to take a much deserved break from the world.  And what better way to get away from it all  than to go hiking, right?  

Never really known for moderation, my sister doesn’t just decided to go camping for a few weeks.  No, no.  She decides to hike about 600 miles of the Appalachian Trail.  And, because I think a big portion of this blog should always be dedicated to enjoying nature, I’ve asked her to write a few guest posts along the way.  So here you go.  Two girls, two hammocks, one dog, and about a million trees.  What could go wrong?  

Ecologist on the Appalachian Trail- 6/29/13


Hello!  To avoid starting my own blog to later abandon, I will be sharing my summer 2013 adventures on my sister’s already established blog- thanks Rachel!

We (Holly, our 4 legged friend Annie, our gracious chauffeur Nathan,  and myself) started our adventure on June 19th.  We left KY and headed up to New York City to see my friend, the incredible Austin Brown. While there, we visited The Museum of Modern Art, the American Museum of Natural History, Central Park, and the Stonewall Inn. On Sunday, June 23rd, we left New York and headed to Harper’s Ferry, WV to start our two month, 600 mile, trek through the woods of Appalachia.  Nathan dropped us off just before night fell, and the three of us were on our way!

After a rough first night (rain and a tree falling on Holly and Annie), we had a great first day on the trail. There is nothing like waking up in the woods. We walked about 10 miles our first day, even with a stop to hide from a pretty bad summer storm (Note from Rachel:  Sara’s current Facebook status is, “All it does is rain on the Appalachian Trail”). The first night we staying in David Lesser Memorial Shelter camping area, which had plenty of good hammock hanging trees (our means of “shelter”).

Holly, with the tree that feel on her on day one!

The next morning, we started “the roller coaster,” a 13.5 mile stretch of tightly packed accents and descents. I had heard that days 2 and 3 are the worst days of adjustment for long distance hikers.  So that, added to the roller coaster, made for a pretty intense first week. Luckily, for every accents there is a view, making for a beautiful first few days.  By day 4 we had our trail legs. We started the day with the end of the roller coaster, and soon doubled our mile time. By the end of the day we’d hiked over 15 miles and got to see Sky Meadows State Park, which put a huge smile on everyone’s face.

Sara looking out over Sky Meadows

We made it to Front Royal by day 5 and hitch-hiked into town (sorry Mom!). It was out first hitching experience but getting picked up in a trail town with packs on your back isn’t very hard. We got a ride to Nate’s Garage, owned by Holly’s friends, who opened their home to us for the weekend. From the garage, we went to Lucky Star, the local bar they frequent. It was a very cool place; we quickly put the killing on some nachos and beer and met a ton of new friends.

The next morning, everyone woke up with a headache, but we were still ready to go for a paddle on the Shenandoah River. After scoring some free grub by crashing a graduation party (just kidding, we were invited), we launched our boat to paddle 10+ miles. This was a great way to spend our first zero day (zero day= zero miles hiked in long distance trekker speak).  We got to rest our hiking muscles, while working out the only muscles we’ve been neglecting!

Paddling the Shenandoah River
Annie contemplating her float.

Nate and Liz have been so great to us, not to mention they live in one of the prettiest places I’ve been in the eastern US.  I’d love to make it back here someday.  We are having a lazy Sunday, resting up and resupplying. We plan to get back on the trail later on today (Sunday June 29) and head on towards Waynesboro, VA.

Blog Spot:  Annie’s Trail

Trail Dog!

Our little puppy friend, Annie, is having a blast! She loves the woods and it has brought out a new side to her personality. The shy, skittish puppy who left KY has a different sort of confidence about her.  She has decided she’s our protector and lets everyone we meet know it- growling until we reprimand her. She was so protective from the very first day we decided AT stood for “Annie’s Trial.”  She has gotten the most trail magic so far, mostly in the form if food scraps, and she’s made lots of puppy friends.  She has enjoyed her zero days but did not enjoy the river, she’s a trail dog I guess.  Everything she does amuses us! She’s been a great addition to the company.

LIT to KY Pt. 2: Adventures in the Sunny South

What?  You’re writing a low impact travel post that begins with a plane ride?  Yes I am.  Please see Pt. 1 for a little more information on my thoughts and rationale regarding this issue.


Day One: In Transit
As is my general practice in life, I took the spring quarter down to the wire.  I had a paper due at 5:00 pm on Tuesday which I turned in, literally at 5:00 pm.  I have trouble letting things go.  I just like to mess with them till the last possible second… Then I had a lab meeting on Wednesday, and class on Thursday, and BBQ on Thursday, and a date night on Friday.  Things got busy and all of a sudden it was Saturday, and I needed to leave the house at 4 pm and I hadn’t packed, scooped the kitty litter, or anything!  Lucky for me, at this point I’m very good at packing and my boyfriend is very good at keeping up with the laundry. 
Is this real life?  An empty
middle seat?  Praise be.
I was able to quickly zip up my suitcase and my backpack (with minimal work stuff actually, which was nice), made sure to grab my reusable mug, my water bottle, and some airport snacks, and we were out the door.  We had just enough time to stop by the Co-op on our way out of town so I could grab some coffee and a few more snacks.  I’m sort of obsessed with our local foods co-op.  They have an amazing section of bulk foods and, as luck would have it, one of their awesome bulk trail mixes was on sale.  Score.  I’ve written before about the importance of bringing snacks with you when you travel.  When you are trying to have a small impact, being able to source the products you consume is very important.  It’s a lot easier to do this when you make your purchases from sources you know and trust than when you are rushed and hangry (hungry plus angry) at the airport.  Bonus points, when you plan ahead, you can make sure the snacks you choose come with minimal unnecessary packaging.  I put my trail mix in a little paper bag and my coffee in my to-go mug and we were on our way.
As I’ve said previously, I live between Sacramento and San Francisco, so I have the choice to fly out of either airport (plus Oakland!).  It’s true that Sacramento is a lot closer, but SFO is generally cheapest because it is the largest hub.  To minimize the driving time, both for convenience and so we aren’t burning a whole bunch of gas in a nearly empty car, D Lo and I generally drive one another to the nearest BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station and take public transit the rest of the way into the city.  Saves major gas when you miss most of that city stop-and-go traffic!  The BART ride was actually pretty eventful.  About 15 minutes before arriving at the station I checked my BART app. and saw that there were some pretty major delays on my line due to track maintenance.  The train I wanted to catch was leaving very soon and the next train would get me to the airport on time, but I wouldn’t have time to check my bag (which had a few hefty liquids in it), and that was before the delays…Great.  Now I REALLY needed to make this train.  Cue me running through the BART station.  But I made it and this train, plus delays, got me to the station at the same time the later train (the one I had been hoping to avoid taking) would have originally.  Phew.
  
My sister-in-law made me this most excellent flower crown
upon arrival.  Sorry for iPhone photos.
However, this meant I could no longer check my bag, at the last transfer point I filled two small travel containers, which I just happened to have with me, with coconut oil (for face wash) and contact solution.  I ditched the bottle of contact solution (sad face), but just couldn’t seem to bring myself to throw away that nice, glass, organic jar of coconut oil.  I boarded the SFO bound train with several other very nervous looking passengers.  Seems everyone had been delayed and was now pushing it.  I asked the young couple in front of me if they would have time to check their bags and if they wanted a half a jar of coconut oil.  “It’s organic.”  The girl looked like she was considering it, but the guy gave me a “are you nutty” face and said no thank you.  My little sister later informed me that this was extremely shady pre-airport behavior.  Good point.  Thus, I had to just toss the bottle of coconut oil and my toothpaste, rely on the kindness of strangers to get me to the front of the security line, and rush to my plane.  Cue me running through the airport.  Again, I just barely made it.  I guess a strange low impact tip would be make sure you have plenty of time so you don’t have to ditch a bunch of your stuff.  It’s lame on many levels.  So is having to run to catch any form of transportation. 
On a positive note, this was the first time I was ever able to check into a flight on my smart phone and avoid printing off a ticket.  Etickets for life.  This is the first plane ride EVER where I have totally avoided buying snacks.  I didn’t even get lured in by that post-nap sip of soda in a plastic cup that they offer you.  No sir.  I had my own healthy snacks and my water bottle (which I refilled at the layover).  It felt really good to not spend an obnoxious amount of money on stuff I didn’t even really want.  So good that I slept very soundly all the way through my red-eye flight to Nashville.

Days Two, Three, and Four:  Chilling on the Farm

My mom in her mid-twenties.  Backpacking around Lake Superior. 
My little sister and her boyfriend picked me up at 5:30 am at the Nashville airport, and we drove back to my parent’s farm.  There aren’t really any public transit options available to shorten this drive, unfortunately.  These were very chill days.  My sister, her boyfriend, and my sister-in-law all came down to the house and we just sort of hung out, drank coffee, and napped a little bit.  My little sister had to leave the house at 6 am on Monday morning to go and do some field work for her internship, which was a bit of a bummer, but she planned to be back in town by Thursday evening and back at the house by Friday morning.  My sister-in-law pulled out of the house on Monday mid-morning, leaving just the parental units and myself to hang out for the rest of that day and the next.  So relaxing!  It’s also so inspiring to be around my parents because they are both so thrifty and eco-friendly.  My mom and I schemed about potential science experiments to run in her 6th grade science classroom and eco-friendly summer projects.  It was great.  We also looked through some old slide from when they were young (a little bit younger than I am now).  It was so fun.  My favorites were the ones of them on a backpacking trip in Canada.  Can we talk about how my mom is apparently my twin?  I had no idea.

Day Five:  Boat Floating and Car Driving 
  
The Nolin River, KY

 Wednesday was a very good day for myself and the men in my family.  I grew up playing in the creek that marked the back side of my parent’s property.  I had a set of aquariums living on the front porch of our house for most of my childhood.  In these aquariums I kept tadpoles, crayfish, and many other creek captives.  I observed them, I studied them, and I feel in love with biology.  This fed into my love of rivers, streams, and all aquatic and marine habitats.  During this same period of my childhood, my cousins moved to a house right on the Nolin River in Kentucky.  I think I was about 12 years old when my cousin, D, started taking us on floats down the Nolin River to remove tires and trash.  My mom still has a picture on her fridge from the first “tire pull” when our two families, including the 5 kids, removed over 100 tires from the short stretch of river between the local church and the banks that transitioned into D’s backyard.  We jokingly call this “the cleanest stretch of river in the state,” and it might well be.  This last year when my father and D headed out on the annual low water float they broke the john boat trying to remove and old refrigerator.

On Wednesday morning, my dad and I jumped into the car and headed over to D’s house.  He had left us his truck keys with a canoe, paddles, and life jackets already loaded in the bed.  We drove just a little way down the road, and dropped our canoe into that familiar body of water.  The cleanest stretch of river in the state.  The float doesn’t take long, maybe 3 hours with light paddling, which really shows how dense the tiers and other trash once were.  My dad is a quiet guy, and it was such a gift to spend some time alone with him watching birds, scanning fallen logs for turtles, and shooting a few “rapids.”  It was a really relaxing and wonderful morning.  When I have experiences like that, it always strengthens my resolve tonot only protect nature but deeply and truly enjoy it.
Some snails inside a spent
freshwater mussel shell.
We finished our float and scampered on home because I needed to get on the move again.  My brother is currently in Morehead, KY with no way to get down and visit me.  Unfortunately, with no public transit, that meant that I needed to drive the 3 hours to see him.  Luckily, my sister-in-law is living at the halfway point.  She and I met up and had an amazing lunch at the Lexington Good Foods Co-op.  Their hot bar is full of amazing food!  Seriously, I wish I had taken a picture.  So good.  From there, we were able to carpool the rest of the way to Morehead.  The car trip was totally worth it to see my brother.  I miss him dearly, and it was great to be together.  Cue me getting home at 12:40 and falling straight into bed.
Day 6:  Talking Nerdy
On this day, I mostly chilled out at home.  My dad made a pot of his homemade marinara sauce (so tasty, and an easily plastic-free recipe!) and my mom modified her eggplant parmesan recipe to make it vegan for me.  They were really accommodating of my diet, which was very sweet.  After dinner, my cousin who is the closest to my age (we grew up living next door to one another, it ruled) came over to hang out and chat.  He is a recently graduated and seriously talented engineer and had received the awesome news that day that he had received a job!  I was so excited for him, even if he did have to slowly explain (twice) what it was he would be doing.  To my understanding, he is taking 2D drawing and turning them into virtual 3D models that can then be used for production.  Pretty cool no?
There is a turtle in this one, I swear!
At this point, my mom came into the kitchen to chat.  The content for her subject and grade had recently been revised and there was more emphasis on engineering concepts.  Lucky for her, she knows one.  The conversation naturally turned to science and science education.  My cousin expressed that he would like to return to school someday…maybe.  However, he felt that the more he learned about the world’s problems the harder it seemed to deal with them.  After all, you can never “un-know” something.  I took that moment to explain the basics of the science behind global warming (sensitive I know) and we talked about that for a bit.  I’m so happy that I have so many science minded family members.  It’s really cool.  It also gives me a really good forum to practice my scientific communication skills.  Sure, my cousin is a scientist, but he’s an engineer and I’m an ecologist.  We do really different things.  It’s good practice to explain things to people who have some training before trying to break it down for a complete layperson.  
  
Day 7:  Party! 
I went and got my sister at Mammoth Cave National Park, where her internship is based out of, after her field work was over.  We got back to the house and helped my mom clean up and prepare for the cook-out we were having that evening in honor of my little sister’s birthday!  Mostly we cleaned while my mom whipped up a mess of homemade food.  I think I get my love of home cooking from my mother, and I know I get all my tips for how to make my cooking as environmentally conscious as possible from her.  My sister and I also took this time to get a bunch of her stuff together for her upcoming hike along 600 miles of the Appalachian Trail!  I know.  I’m jealous too.  I’ve been told there might be a possible guest post or two in the works.  “Tales from the AT” perhaps?  
A mess of my cousins, my aunt and uncle, and my sister-in-law all came over.  It was a lot of fun and all the “kids” played board games well into the night.  I was so happy that everyone came to celebrate with us!  I was, honestly, not ready to leave the next day.
Day 8 and 9:  Lost in Transportation
View from the Amtrak.  Sorry for
iPhone photos.
I planned to get back to SFO on Saturday evening, just one week after I left.  Problem, D Lo ended up going down to SoCal for a wedding that day.  The BART ran to the Amtrak station that evening, but I would miss the last train.  No big deal, I’ll get someone to fetch me at the BART station…but all of my friends in Davis are ecologists and 99% of them are out of town for their field seasons and the ones who were around were otherwise engaged.  No big deal…I have friends in the City but they were all out of town.  No big deal…I’ve slept in airports before (sigh).  So, I spent Saturday morning chilling out with my family before leaving with my Mom and Dad for the Nashville airport.  Again, I wish there were a public transit solution, but there just isn’t.
 
View from the Amtrak.  Sorry for
iPhone photos.
I checked in to my flights on my phone and, once again, used etickets to get to my gate.  I didn’t make it all the way through the trip without buying food this time because I needed dinner.  Thanks bartender at the Dallas airport for knowing what a vegan was and hooking me up with a sweet margarita.  I rolled into SFO around 10 pm PST and settled into one of the more comfortable nights I’ve ever spent in an airport.  There was free WiFi and some legitimately comfortable seating.  I considered this an overall win.  I also watched two period romance films on Netflix.  I mean, what else was I supposed to do? 

I woke up the next morning and treated myself to a green juice and a soy latte from The Plant cafe in the SFO airport.  Legitimately delish, and just what I needed.  The juice did come in a plastic cup, but it was that biodegradable plant plastic, which is at least marginally better.  The latte went in my travel mug.  I took these treats and headed to the BART station that is attached to the airport.  I took that train to the Amtrak station in Richmond.  Unfortunately, the Amtrak app. (there is literally an app for everything) is a little bit of a liar and told me that a train was coming that never came.  The next one, however, did come and I hopped aboard, showed the conductor my eticket, and enjoyed the ride by looking at the marshes as we left the Bay and headed inland toward home.  I hopped off the train and took the 20 minute walk back to my apartment.  Nothing feels better after a night sleeping in an airport than your own bed.  For serious, it was amazing.         
Stopping to smell the flowers on my
walk home.
Last Word:  I know I wrote in part one about how conflicted I was about airplane travel, but I really won’t trade being able to see my family for anything in the world.  I’m just glad that I can make a conscious effort to make all these little choices that, I hope, will add up to big impacts one day.  This is installment number one of my summer travels.  Who knows were the next one will take us…
What do you think?  Do you think small changes to our behavior when we travel make a difference?  Do you like these sorts of travel/adventure posts?