Reflections on a Year of “Car Free Challenge”

First off — if you missed it at the beginning of 2018, The Car Free Challenge is a campaign and accompanying web app I created to encourage outdoor recreationalists to think about the impact of their pursuits and to focus on local adventures over those they have to drive to. It allows users to set goals amount (by vertical gain or distance) of outdoor adventure done without a car. It has a rudimentary interface for logging activities and also includes an integration with Strava.

My Personal Pledge

I pledged to gain 150,000 vertical feet without driving in 2018. I made it (barely), and, more importantly, the commitment changed my behavior significantly over the year. Yes, I still traveled — locally and internationally — but when I was home, I almost never drove to a trailhead. I also went out of my way to do a variety of typically car-intensive activities without driving. I biked to the river to go packrafting. I hike-a-biked up a logging road to snowline and skied (for my first day of the ’18-19 ski season no less!). I nordic skied out the front door when it snowed in town. I biked to the start of a trail-running race. And I learned the trails in my neighborhood really well.

The Challenge Overall

About 45 people signed up for the challenge setting combined goals of 1.75 million vertical feet and 40,000 miles to be traveled car free. We didn’t make either of these goals, although I think some users are still planning to log activities they didn’t track over the course of the year. As a group, we gained close to a million vertical feet without driving which I feel pretty good about.


My hope at the beginning was to try to grow this idea using social media and brand and athlete partners. I tried pretty hard in the first couple months of the year, reaching out to outdoor brands and high-profile figures in the industry and asking them to — at the very least — plug the challenge, if not sponsor it in some way. From brands, I got a lot of responses like, “Wow, that’s really cool! But unfortunately we’re not able to sponsor or promote something like that at this time.” From potential non-profit partners, I got similar responses. And from individuals and influencers, I got perhaps the most frustrating responses: “This is an awesome project, but it just doesn’t fit my lifestyle and I work to make a difference in other ways.”

That response is emblematic of the issue I’m trying to bring light to. I understand that outdoor industry influencers and athletes make their money through travel to pursue outdoor adventures, but those that don’t live in a van (and even many who do) still tend to spend time in one place. When they’re there, between trips, they’re more than capable of trying to minimize vehicle use while training and adventuring, and more than capable of trying to spread that message in an effort to influence the broader community.

I’m not trying to blame others for not growing the Car Free Challenge — social media is not my strong suit and I struggled with trying to promote it. Many of my real-life friends didn’t even realize that this was a platform and campaign I built, they thought I’d just signed up for some obscure thing and didn’t give it the time of day — clear evidence of a communication failure on my part. But I was disappointed that so many outdoor athletes who use climate advocacy as a big part of their brand weren’t willing to think about how they could incorporate something like this into their lifestyle, or how doing so could have a significant impact through the broader community.

Going Forward

On a personal level, I may set another goal for 2019, but I may not. With or without the goal, I’m confident the past year has changed my behavior and it won’t change back. I honestly just don’t like driving to do things at this point and get more excited about big loops and adventures I can do from home than just about anything else.

From a project perspective, I’m torn. I think there’s something here, that the Car Free Challenge can be re-vamped and leveraged into a fund-raising platform for climate advocacy and conservation non-profits. There are some technical aspects of the app that need to be changed and updated and some “fun” features to add, but that’s easy enough. The challenge is the same as it was last year: achieving broader adoption, and at this point I don’t know if I have the time, energy, or skillset to accomplish that.

Thoughts, suggestions, and offers to help are all welcome.

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