Can you drive less than 20,000 miles a year?


This post is less about driving and more about retirement but the question is a real question.  It arises out of a lifetime spent behind the wheel. As life changes how much really do your habits change? In our case, we seem unable (or unwilling) to reduce our driving below the 20,000 miles per year marker. mile-marker

Once in a while you come upon a stone or concrete mileage marker alongside an old road.  They don’t exist near any of the “new” roads because modern roadbuilding wipes away entire hills, a tiny little mile marker isn’t going to stand in the way of an extra lane or two.  You won’t find many many of them here in the U.S.; I’ve seen them more commonly in Europe — but they do exist.

A mile marker is a substantial reminder of time and space.  The rotating dial in an mechanical odometer or the stationary digits on an electronic odometer give you information but they don’t convey distance in the same tangible way that a real marker does.

All my life I driving has been a rather big thing for me. I grew up with a father who said he “relaxed” when he drove and it was nothing to go for a “fun” drive on any day off.  I grew up with the concept that driving was something to enjoy, not something to be shunned and drive I have.  In my teen years we were known to drive Milwaukee to NYC for a weekend.  Driving vacations were the routine.  And, if I’m completely honest, I suspect I get the same kind of trance-state high from driving that some people get from music or drugs.  Driving puts me into an altered consciousness.

During our working years we were lucky enough to have 2 cars for much of that time. Peg drove her pretty-consistent 10,000 miles a year back and forth the same route everyday to the medical center where she worked faithfully for almost 34 years.  I had a variety of jobs and my odometer often turned over 40,000 times a year even when I wasn’t driving commercially and when I did the number was easily well over 100,000 miles a year.  It was a way of life.

As my dad and as Peg’s dad aged we dreaded the day when we might have to have that “CONVERSATION” with parents about giving up the car keys.  Fortunately for us that day never came.  Both men passed away before actual inability became an issue. They might have been getting close — but neither of us actually thought the time was right … yet.

Since retiring I continue monitoring our mileage, if for no other reason than annually reporting it to our insurance company.  It seems, however, that whether we are living in sticks and bricks, or gallivanting around the country in an RV, we have never been able to reduce our total mileage below the 20,000 mile level.  When RV’ing it seemed we were always at least 25 miles from the closest grocery, and there were new things to be seen and sounds to be heard and places to go.  Now that we are living in Milwaukee again we are crafting a new and different life — but it’s a life that takes in all the things we actively “missed” when we were in S. Texas and around the country.  Things like gardens, and art, and lush forests, and rolling agricultural fields.  We get out to take our walks in the fresh air and even though we live within 1/4 mile of a park/pond with a pathway around it the pathway is dirt/gravel and is often muddy  — so we more often choose to drive a little further to the shores of Lake Michigan where we can not only enjoy the calm offered by the lapping waves but also amuse ourselves watching the parade of different people using the lakefront for a variety of purposes.  We like to people-watch!

senior-couple-sitting-park-bench

Not us, but you get the idea

I think sometimes about whether we should not be driving so much — after all, we all have a part in this global warming thing.  Our new (2017) car tells us how many lbs/kg of CO2 we are generating when we drive; I admit that it bothers me — a lot — when I look at what our pleasurable pastime creates.  But then I think about people making a lot more money who hop on a private jet and create hundreds or thousands of times more CO2 than us and I don’t feel nearly as bad — or the companies what pollute with even more harmful chemicals and destroy wildlife in the bargain.  Then I don’t feel nearly so bad.

We aren’t big drinkers — normally it’s 1 glass of wine per day for us both.  And on the odd night we might have a little tot before going to bed.  We aren’t druggies — aside from my pharmacy full of prescriptions.  And we aren’t big on groups of any kind.  Net result is that we live a pretty quiet life.  Driving and the (typically) once or twice per week when we eat at a restaurant are our big amusements/entertainment.  So I don’t feel like I’m being a bad citizen.

EV-charging-stationStill, they haven’t made electric cars that would suit our lifestyle.  And when it comes down to it, there are still a lot of coal fired electric power plants in this country being used to fill all those electric cars with go juice — so even the electric car isn’t a non-polluter…. until we have truly renewable energy we are just shifting the source of the pollution from the tailpipe to the smokestack.

I wonder whether we’ll ever get our annual mileage below 20,000 miles. I’m sort of past the time when I would drive 225 miles for breakfast — because I wanted something that I could only get at one restaurant — and I did that a few times.  Nowadays I try to keep my driving for the whole day below 250 miles.  I don’t always make it.  I still push myself  — (but if the truth be told it’s not the stress of driving that limits me it’s lack of stamina caused by the combination of my heart condition and the drugs I take to control it) — just in different ways — the driving is  still relaxing.

I stopped off for gas the other day and a guy on the other side of the gas island was complaining loudly — I’m not sure he was talking to anyone in particular — about the cost of gas.  I guess I’ve looked at petroleum costs differently than others.  I sort of lump it together with  “entertainment”.  We don’t do rock concerts and we don’t buy tour t-shirts — an afternoon or morning in the car going to see the fall colors is better entertainment for us than listening to some band playing overly loud music while we attempt to make out the musicians on some jumbotron a quarter mile away! Oh, I liked it better when gas was $1.23, but those days are gone, never to return again — one might as well accept reality.

Still, accepting reality implies that we all out to change our behavior if we want this earth to do well, and maybe if we want to see animals and crops doing well in the future.  It’s hard to be both conscientious about the earth and also to realize that my ability to impact global pollution is a lot smaller than some others.  I can try to reduce my consumption of water, for example.  But whether I use 100 or 200 gallons of fresh water a day is a little thing compared to the new factory that is being built not far from us. Foxconn has been licensed to take 7 million gallons of water per day out of Lake Michigan.  While I may find that amount personally obscene — the Great Lakes are a one time gift of nature not to be squandered because once destroyed it can never be replaced — still I’m not the one who made the decision to allow it, nor did I vote for the polliticians who did.  I can grit my teeth all I want about what has happened, but it IS a reality to be dealt by us all.  In other words, I’m pretty much helpless to stop it.  So, do I do my bit to save water or do I say the heck with the earth and do my best anyway.

I guess it’s a choice we all have to make, whether it’s water, or recycling, or how much we drive.  Is it possible to drive less than 20,000 miles per year — and do I want to change my life enough to make it happen?  I don’t know.  I’m still figuring it out.

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8 thoughts on “Can you drive less than 20,000 miles a year?

  1. I stopped driving a few years ago. It wasn’t intentional. After I sold my last RV and moved back to Minneapolis, Dave returned to driving us everywhere we went together like he always had. Then he started driving me places to which I used to drive myself. He likes to drive and I don’t so it was easy to make that transition. One day I was surprised to learn I had effectively given up my keys. And I’m OK with that.

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    1. I hear ya. Peggy drives from time to time. But not enough to really keep her on top of her form, and I’m concerned about that. I SHOULD make a point of forcing her to drive more often (not that it takes forcing, she’s always willing; I just usually fall into the habit of doing it). One never knows what the future has in store and we are young enough to potentially have a lot of years left when we could become dis-abled, or less-abled.

      She doesn’t really care to drive, and she hates traffic.

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  2. The day may come when city driving doesn’t make sense, but give up the car? Never! Road trips define my family, our children evolved into curious, open minded adults because of our meandering adventures on the road.Drive across Canada on secondary roads, no problem. Wake up one morning and say lets drive to Chicago tomorrow, pack your bags.Sunday morning dawns with a craving for beef jerky from a shop 400 Km away, lets get going.

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    1. I hear ya!

      We don’t do it as often, but we haven’t stopped.

      Right now — meaning the past few months — and looking forward the next few too — the entire world of “trying to get a good night’s sleep” has been a preoccupation and attempting to normalize life after CPAP is a real pain that has kept us off the road. It’s no fun if you can’t get a decent night’s sleep. Nor if you are perpetually tired as my own condition has been causing. If we can achieve some continuing easement we’ll be back out there snooping around — for now it’s all day trips. sigh.

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      1. Day trips are great too! Tom and I call them “adventure day”. 🙂 As for a good night’s sleep – we realized how important it was after Tom’s aortic crisis sent him to cardiac intensive care for 2 weeks. My job doesn’t lend itself to normal working hours, not only do I worry about disturbing Tom’s sleep, I’m starting to realize I need to slow down and get my life/work balance in order. Sigh.

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      2. LOL — the older I get the more I use that expression “sigh”…..

        All my life I have never given health much of a thought. I have been lucky about most things. A broken wrist. A minor surgery to remove a ganglion cyst. A gall bladder surgery. That’s it. Although I learned a great lesson about choosing a surgeon when I woke up after my gall bladder surgery done by a surgeon who had hands like a truck driver with a scar from my solar plexus to my belly button. I look like I had an upside down open heart surgery! The result however has been that for the first time in m life (these last three years) I am actually having to think about HOW I do things, and WHETHER I should be doing them and I’m not coping all that well with any of it. Oh, I resolve to do better… but resolutions… you know how they go.

        Driving was a job where day / night were irrelevant and days of the week have never had much meaning to me. In fact neither have months. When I was self employed I worked literally from 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. often til 6, 7, or 8 at night and stopped only for a few coffee breaks and for dinner — I rarely bothered much about breakfast or lunch, but really chowed down on dinner. Not good for me, but it’s what I did! So, I get the no normal working hours.

        Now an afternoon nap is pretty much de rigeur. If I don’t do it, I have a hard time staying awake. 6 out of the 8 meds I take all have “may cause drowsiness” as side effects. You’re telling me! 🙂 But to be honest, until 2 years ago naps were a once in a blue moon event. Now I hardly go a day without, and it’s hard to drive more than a couple hundred miles if you need a nap in the middle of the day. Sigh….

        Still. I’m in relatively good health — meaning that I’m pain free, and I can do most of the things I love doing, just in moderation. Except walking– sciatica has determined that I no longer walk very far at one time. Still… I have nothing to complain about. A lot of people I knew aren’t here anymore. And I’m still on the right side of the grass each morning. I am not afraid to talk about these things, maybe someone else can benefit from knowing there are others like themselves. But I have nothing to complain about.

        What I DO HAVE TO DO is remember where I am on the stream of life and live accordingly. And I’m trying to learn that day by bay.

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  3. Hoping all is still ok in your neck of the woods – at least you have a new governor! Totally get what you are saying about driving – it is a challenge to be mindful of our carbon footprint. Fortunately, I still feel I am a good driver, but do not drive at night if I can avoid it. Because we are big volleyball fans, we have been taking the light rail when possible to matches in the Twin Cities. Very interesting people watching!

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    1. Yup, Liz, we’re doing fine. Just needed some mental therapy time. We are really happy about the new governor. It’s so delightfully ironic that someone with an education background should be the one to displace Walker! So funny considering what he did to public education here.

      I wish we had some decent light rail. This past weekend they opened The Hop here in Milwaukee — our brand new streetcar. It’s funny that when I was young the electric utility which formerly ran the street car system took out all the overhead wires because they were too hard to maintain in the winter, and now we are returning to that. We have already been sued twice by bikers whose wheels have gotten stuck in the track groove. I’m curious to see how it all plays out in the future. But that notwithstanding we use public transport in other cities when we are visiting even when we aren’t sure about getting around. Not a lot of opportunity given our lifestyle to use it at home — however when we moved we made sure that there was a bus stop on our corner so that in the future if/when we have to give up the car we have some transport at a doable distance.

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