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Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Hostel In The Forest

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

by Tao, Carrboro, NC

There are many reasons I don’t enjoy staying at hotels while traveling, so I’m happy to see Hostels are making a comeback in the U.S. (read my previous post). So, I’m thanking my friend, Jo Jo for introducing me to Hostel in the Forest – to my surprise, it’s been operating in Brunswick, GA for 32 years! Get a load of this:

Hostel in the Forest began with Tom Dennard and consists of geodesic domes and 9 tree houses on 130 acres of forest and wetlands. Everything has been built and maintained entirely by volunteers. Over the years, the center has evolved into a spiritual retreat and educational facility which promotes and teaches environmental sustainability, teaching a “hands-on approach to a sustainable lifestyle through activities such as alternative building and organic gardening while complementing the processes of nature.”

The “rooms” are really up in the trees! How cool is that? Down below, there are composting toilets and outdoor showers. They serve nightly vegetarian dinners and a kitchen is available for guests to prepare other meals. The lists of events and workshops include all yoga, Tai Chi, fermentation, cobb building, and one that especially intrigued me – a presentation on “Optimism and Fortitude”.

Learning, sharing, nature, peace and quiet. You can’t find that at The Holiday Inn. ahhh. Georgia on my mind……

Here’s a link to some great photos.

Uncle. Wear a Helmet

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I saw a peculiar and somewhat frightening sight while in Minneapolis. Motorcyclists without helmets. On the highway. Going 65mph. At night. Yes, it’s legal in MN, but that wasn’t the part that bothered me. It’s that it just seemed like a ridiculous risk.

Then it got me thinking about last week’s post…And I have to fess up. I give. There’s not much left to debate on the bicycle helmet issue. After a little more research, reading this on, and the comments that followed, I’m convinced. If you’re gonna travel on two wheels of any kind, wear a helmet. Even on those perfect days when you’d rather feel the “wind in your hair”. Even when it’s too hot. Or too cold. Or not required by law. It’s logical, it’s not difficult and it could save your life. If truth be told, it did save mine.

In my early twenties, I was just getting into off-road riding. Most of my riding was done on well-designed bicycle paths, which were plentiful in Minneapolis. With this rationalization firmly in place, I was an off/on helmet wearer, since I felt protected from cars. My trail riding was also pretty casual at this point – I rode at low speeds on wide, soft, pine-needle covered trails through the woods of MN, which were relatively flat (more rationalization).

I was setting up for a ride with a friend one day – it was hot and humid, and I didn’t want to wear that helmet. In fact, I rarely wore one in the woods – we had a little bike “gang” and wore bandana “helmets” then and well, you know, it looked cool and all that. My friend got off his bike and told me flat out, “I won’t ride with you unless you wear that helmet.” He seemed so serious that I didn’t argue, and put it on.

About 20 minutes into the ride, I hit something hidden under those needles. Not yet a skilled trail cyclist, I didn’t have a chance. I went over my handlebars and landed on my head. I also heard a loud crack. After rolling onto my back, I was a little afraid to move. I felt no pain, which made me even more nervous. Finally I sat up and realized my helmet had cracked. I had hit a large tree root with it.

My friend saved my head that day, if not my life.

Should helmets be law? I’m not sure about that one. I’d still rather see police handing out hugs rather than tickets. But, we can use our noggens when it comes to some common sense issues and even keep an eye out for others. Spread some helmet love and knock some sense into your friends, before it gets knocked out of them.

30 Tips and one more…

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I came across another list of tips for going green at home. I love lists since they help my brain keep things present. I know some people disagree, but the “list” actually helps free up space in my head, offering assurance that I won’t forget things. So, instead of thinking about my to-dos 100 times per day, I can think of them once or twice, when I look at my list.

Anyway, list person or not, you have to appreciate Green Lists – I always read them because they help me see what I may have missed – one more  thing I can do – or not do – to simplify my life, feel healthier and/or green my daily habits. I came across this list offered up by Millie Barnes at, who manages to have a really clean, green life at home as a working single mom.

Then I came to step # 7. “Used cloth diapers for all 5 kids.” Impressive, but hey, wait a minute. 5 kids? I think she missed a step on the socially responsible way to be green on our crowded planet. That’s still a lot of diapers, washed in a lot of water, using a lot of detergent and that’s just where the consuming begins when it comes to raising five children, who become five adults in five homes of their own, with five cars of their own, with kids of their own, and so on.

Let me be clear. I’m not anti-kids. I am anti-“have-as-many-as-you-want-despite-the-fact-that-we-are-outnumbering-our-capacity-and-that-there-are-many-children-who-need-foster-and-adoptive-parents”. Steven Kotler, author of West of Jesus: Surfing, Science and the Origins of Belief, says it a lot better than this on

Want a chip off the ol’ block experience? That’s inevitable and a beautiful plan of nature. So, do your biological thing – after all, those little green footprints are adorable – and then, if you want more, consider the alternatives.

Still, I read the rest of the list and learned something new about composting. It’s a good list by a motivational and inspirational person. Take a look.


Tuesday, March 31st, 2009


The SmartCommute Challenge is an annual six-week regional campaign (April 15 – May 30) coordinated by GoTriangle and SmartCommute@rtp. The goal of the campaign is to encourage Triangle commuters to try an alternative commute (not driving alone) to work or campus such as riding the bus, carpooling, vanpooling, teleworking, biking or walking.

The Challenge is about more than asking people to try a more environmentally friendly, cheaper, and less stressful commute for a day. During the 2008 SmartCommute Challenge over 77% of participants were willing to continue their smart commute at least once a week! Regional transit ridership records were broken during the campaign, 5 new vanpools were started, and over 1,000 Triangle commuters registered to find a carpool partner.

From April 15 through May 30, any employee or college student who commutes to work or campus in Durham, Orange or Wake counties can participate. To enter the Challenge, make your online pledge that you will carpool, vanpool, bike or walk, ride the bus, or telework (work from home) at least once before May 30.

Remember last year’s Smart Commute Challenge? I participated by putting a copy of the bus schedule in my pocket so I could stop using the car to travel downtown when it was raining and I was too wimpy to cover the 2.5 miles on my bike. I learned to like the bus ride and was part of the 2008 savings of 865 metric tons of CO2.

This year, I had a new idea – and this one is good. You know that one 32-mile drive/week that I make into Raleigh for work? Well, I can’t avoid that car travel since there is no public transport there during my hours, but I realized, happily, that once I’m there, I can at least avoid the driving back and forth across town to the 3 different locations where I teach.

And, in fact, a supportive friend is going to allow me to store a bicycle (my used spare collapsible bike which I knew would come in handy one day!) in his garage so that I can park there and ride through the city instead of driving. I’ll have to allow a little more time and bring a change of clothes when it starts getting really hot, but I think it will actually make my day more enjoyable and will certainly be an additional fitness fix. There is a lot to love about this idea and I’m surprised I didn’t think of it sooner.

Sometimes it takes a Challenge to make a challenging decision.

How SMART are you about your daily commute? Tao

Conveniently Off-Grid – a Summer Adventure

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

It’s beginning to look like I just might make it happen – an off-grid Summer. Since last year, I’ve been planning and hoping and dreaming about a low-carbon adventure in Vermont for the Summer. I’ve found a spot near Brattleboro – it has a small 100-year-old building on it which used to be a blacksmith shop. No frills, that’s certain, but a hopefully non-leaky roof over my head. The rest? Minimize and create is my mantra. Here are some of my ideas so far:

I’m ready to use a composting toilet, and solar shower, filled in a nearby pond. Bonfire and a candle lantern at night will be enough to get me through the limited hours of darkness during these warm months. I’m used to eating mostly raw food during this time of year so I won’t worry much about cooking, though some kind of makeshift root cellar would be nice for vegetables – I’m still working on that one, so if you have ideas, pass them on. Although I’ll be next to 100 acres of preservation and near a State Park, I will also be within a 6mile bicycle ride to town, so I can feed myself healthily without refrigeration by making the trip every few days.

Everything but the kitchen sink, right? Well, actually, I found a couple versions of that, too! If you’ve been to music or other festivals, you’ve probably seen the “Use Yer Foot” washing station, made here in NC. One soapy jug and one fresh water container is perfect for washing up on demand. I can also collect the grey water in the tub below to wash dishes. For the more portable “sink”, you can also try the collapsable nylon and cable versions holding between 5 – 20 liters by Sea to Summit. Fill at your nearest water source, then carry back to camp.

This one I’ve been waiting for – grid or no-grid. The collapsible Solo Pack, by Fozzils – a bowl, plate, cup and spoon, made from bisphenol-A-free plastic that fold perfectly flat and weighs only a few ounces. The cup is what I’ve really been after – something more convenient than a water bottle that I can have with me everywhere.

What will I be doing up there in the North East, you ask? Getting back to the basics, doing some outdoor yoga on used plywood, hiking with the dogs, and writing and dreaming about a simply sustainable life for everyone. After that, I’ll let you know!

And the Winner is…Biodiesel by a Bug

Friday, January 16th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Sadly, I’ve been driving more over the past 6 weeks – you know, the leg thing – I’ll be back on my bike soon, but in the meantime, each time I walk out to the parking lot, I look at the Prius and the Bio-Beetle and wonder which one I should take. (I also remember to be grateful for the fact that I’m lucky enough to have the choice.)

As a member of Piedmont Biofuels, I’m a supporter of local fuel production, mostly from used oils, so I’ve got that issue out of the way. But it’s been cold enough here to mean our B100 had to be mixed to a B80, so am I still in the carbon emmissions “black” with the Bug? Umbra’s recent column on Grist was really helpful since she, coincindentally, chose to compare the carbon footprint of a Prius and a used Diesel VW Beetle here. It looks like the Biodiesel still comes out on top, but….

Except for one 30 mile drive to Raleigh each week, I am usually driving only about 3 miles each way for my other work and activities (which is why I can easily ride my bike). Since most of the emissions are released in the first minutes of a car warming up, am I still best to skip the Prius?

Ok, am I nitpicking? I could be sounding like one of those extremists. Really, I’m not. If I was, I would be jumping on the bus instead of driving more during my recovery. But, man, the bus still requires a mile walk to and from the stop with lots of bags to carry and well, this limp is making me nuts right now. See, I’m darn human and not so happy about it.

That was a bit of a tangent. The real news is that bio-diesel is becoming more available, more popular and more local. Consider your driving options AFTER you consider driving less. And if you’re into the numbers of both cost and emissions, it can be pretty interesting. Here’s another post on the matter here.

Happy Friday. Happy Winter. Stay warm, Stay green as you can. Tao

Downsize – and Hit The Road?

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Maybe it’s the election-connection, or perhaps the position of the planets, but I’m feeling hopefully restless. And, despite my loud heralding of the merits of traveling less and vacationing where you live as the foolproof way to help the environment (tone-down and tune-in) …I admit it… I have travel-itis. My musings reach far and wide – from a familiar yearning for the Northeast, Northwest to across the continents all the way to Europe and Morocco. My heart is open and my eyes feel wide. An offset flight up North won’t do it this time. I’m feeling the pull of the open road and the of mystery that leads. With some trepidation, I’ve started making plans…

So, it seems, have many independent-minded, free spirits who have made the trade – from homes to RV’s – a downsize and an upgrade to a smaller life in a bigger world. (I lived for a time in an RV, which I mostly left parked in a campsite because it quickly became obvious that at 8 – 12 mpg, there was no room for eco-comfort in moving around too much. But, a few environmentally-committed RVers are changing all that by retooling motor homes in “green” to live the adventure and to promote eco-awareness as they travel.

Solar panels, water catchment, veggie-oil fuel and recycled materials make up much of what could be considered an almost carbon-neutral way of travel, if not life. The website of one family on a “Living Lightly Tour”, not only documents their innovative systems of living off the grid, but a lifestyle that reaches farther into communities and ideas we are all beginning to acknowledge and share:

Ideas for Living Lightly:

  • Smile
  • Buy Used
  • Live Smaller
  • Eat Less Meat
  • Share Your Stuff
  • Use Natural Cleaners
  • Line Dry Your Clothes
  • Avoid Disposable Items
  • Eat Locally Grown Food
  • Use Cloth Shopping Bags
  • Reduce Your Consumption
  • Use a Reusable Water Bottle
  • Conserve Water and Electricity
  • Walk / Ride Your Bike / Carpool

Go back to the top of the list – maybe it’s that planet thing again, but I felt something click. It’s about sharing, moving, seeing and growing. And sometimes, Going.

Winter Cycling. It’s not the cold, it’s the Gear

Friday, October 17th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carroboro, NC

The first of our cool, windy, sometimes damp Winter weather has descended upon us. My commitment to ‘ride or stay home’ is normally in danger. Not this year! I’ve pulled out the right gear from storage and made a small investment in some additions.

Arm warmers are my latest discovery – they are great for changing temperatures in the Fall, when you ride into town in 50 degrees, but return when it’s a balmy 73. Easy to pack and you can keep the chill out of your arms and shoulders without overheating your core. They are also inexplicably stylish, in a weird, gothic way.

Under helmet hat – something snug to hug the ears but fit comfortably under a helmet and doesn’t itch – ahhh!

Scarf – okay, this isn’t a traditional cycling accessory, but I love lightweight, colorful scarves wrapped around my neck in cool temps, on or off my bike. Again – easily chilled areas stay cozy, but you don’t have too much sweat in your middle.

Did I mention gloves? Well, it’s a must have investment that can make or break your daily cold-weather ride. Even high-end sport gloves won’t keep my fingers completely comfortable so I opted for mitten-style. Yes, they do make them for cycling and I found they leave me warmer but nimble enough to shift and brake safely.

I wear big ‘ol hiking boots most of the year, so my feet are happy, even while pedaling. But if you prefer cycling shoes or sneakers, consider shoe covers – warm toes will keep you in the saddle like nothing else.

Wind is the biggest issue for me, so I have a good jacket that can be worn on average days or over warmer gear. Long johns help when temps drop more – you can peel them off when you arrive to your destination.

I don’t like looking through dark lenses during dim Winter days, so I finally splurged on those lightweight sensor specs that block the wind (and bugs) nicely, but get dark only when the sun comes out.

There’s a lot of gear out there – my collection is a mish-mash from years of riding, all from different local bike shops, depending on where I’ve lived. There’s not much available yet that meets sustainable standards, so I make local buying my priority and make sure I go for quality stuff that will last all of my riding days.

Ride with me this Winter! Tao

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