Local Authority: Kurt Hoelting Keeps It Local

In a quest to reduce his impact on the environment, Kurt Hoelting traded travel for a radically loca

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Name: Kurt Hoelting
Occupation: Wilderness guide, meditation teacher, commercial fisherman
Mission: For one year, stay within a 60-mile radius of home, no cars or planes
Biggest challenge: Getting to the ferry
On the irony of rural living: “One tends to be more bound to their car than they would be in the city.”

Circular Logic
In a quest to reduce his impact on the environment,
Kurt Hoelting traded travel for a radically local life

Kurt Hoelting may be a born and bred Seattleite, but he loves to travel. A commercial fisherman and founder of Inside Passages, a sea kayak outfitting and guide business, he spends his summers in southeast Alaska. The rest of the year, he leads meditation retreats in the Northwest and around the country, drawing on his experience as a Zen student and minister. When he realized that his carbon footprint was more than twice the national average (mostly due to air travel), he made a drastic choice—to live for a year traveling only by foot, bicycle, kayak, ferry and bus, limiting himself to a 60-mile radius of his Whidbey Island home. In his new book, The Circumference of Home (Da Capo Press; $25), he shares how this tight circle proved mind expanding. Amelia Apfel

SM: Why did you choose a 60-mile radius?
KH: Originally, I was thinking 50 miles, because I had heard somewhere that people used to spend their lives within 50 miles of home. When I was playing with a map I discovered that if I extended the distance from my home to 100 kilometers (62 miles), the circumference of the circle lines up with the Puget Sound basin. The circle crosses amazing geographic points, like Glacier Peak, Snoqualmie Pass, Mt. Baker.…That’s when I really got fired up about living in this circle for a year.
SM: What is one thing that drove you crazy during your year?
KH: Sometimes I felt like I was out of step with my peers, because everyone else was moving so fast, bouncing around the planet. But even though there were times when it was frustrating, I didn’t come across many times when I thought, “Gee, I wish I wasn’t doing this.” I never doubted the validity of my motivation. I really felt that this was something I kind of had to do to begin to close the gap between my convictions and the way I was living my life. By the end of the year, I was reluctant to get back into my car.
SM: What habits did you keep after your year was over?
KH: I ride my bike and use public transportation a lot more than I used to. I’ve also kept to my no-fly policy, which is more of a challenge. If I have to make a long trip [to Alaska for work], I take the train or the ferry. I am focusing more on local livelihood opportunities, because I don’t have the luxury of blasting around the country as I did before. So far, so good.
SM: What’s something people striving to live more locally should keep in mind?
KH: That every time we make a choice to get on a jet, we are missing the chance to do some equally adventurous and cool things that just happen to be closer to home.