Category Archives: #carfreereps

We’re looking at ways of reducing our dependence on cars, while still doing our jobs. Check out our adventures, here.

The Bike Summit

As you know, we love cycling and bike-commuting. It’s the whole focus of our #carfreeme initiative. Now, there’s an event coming up that ties bicycle advocacy with cycle commuting. It’s The Bike Summit here in Madison, Wisconsin. We’ll be there, and we hope you will as well. Here’s Kevin Hardman, the executive director of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, to tell us what happens there.


Wisconsin’s most important bicycling event of the year is coming up on April 19th. It is not a race or a ride. It’s the Wisconsin Bike Summit—a day when people who love Wisconsin bicycling come together for inspiring workshops and important meetings with their legislators.

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For some time now, we’ve been exploring what it means for us – as a business and as individuals – to use our cars less and our bikes (and other forms of transportation) more.

We call this little side project #carfreereps. We chronicle our adventures via bike, bus, train, skateboard, and foot in real time on Twitter, and post pics to Flickr, too. While this has all been fun and novel, it’s had other more tangible results, also. By ditching our cars whenever possible, we’ve discovered that we save time and money, we make better connections with our customers, and also have more fun while we travel.

This is all important because – you know – we travel a lot.

Inspired by our friend Mattie who recently joined us in carfree living, we’ve decided to make it easier and/or more fun for others to join us too. So, in honor of National Bike Month and the anniversary of the date I ditched my car for good, we’ve cooked up a little incentive program.

Introducing #carfreeme. It’s so dead-simple you’ve just got to love it. Here’s how it works:

1) If you haven’t already done so, join Twitter. (It would also be a good idea to follow us…)

2) Ditch your car. Use a bike, bus, train, skateboard, boat, a set of skis – whatever inspires you – to get to and from work, home, and errands in your daily life.

3) Tell us about it on Twitter. Just reply to us, and put “#carfreeme” in the post with how many carfree miles you logged, and how. (Be sure to put the “+” sign in front of the number of miles…) It should look something like this:

4) Post pics of your efforts onto the #carfreeme Flickr group, if you’re so inclined.

It’s just that simple, on your end.

Here’s where we get involved: We’ve partnered with the good guys behind the Twitter-based pull-up training program TeamPUP. With the help of their awesome code, we’ll compile:

  1. How many carfree miles we aggregate as a group each day, week, and month.
  2. Who commuted the longest distance in a given week and month.
  3. Who’s commuted the most miles total.
  4. Who has commuted the most times.

Oh, and just to sweeten this a bit, we here at Pemba will also be giving out prizes from our quiver of brands, every so often.

How do you win a prize? That’s simple: Inspire us.

Get our attention by going the furthest, compiling the most, doing it most often, or just by posting an out-there pic in the Car Free Me Flickr group, and you may – just may – get the call. (Well, the DM, actually…)

So what are you waiting for? You got a car to ditch, right?

(Here’s to #carfreeme becoming #carfreeYOU…)

Car Lite Reps

“If you’re going to be a climber in the Midwest, you’re going to have to like driving.”

Really, you can substitute almost any outdoor activity in that piece of advice I once received.  True, there is a plethora of things to do in the Midwest, and most you can do from right out your back door.  But in winter, things like downhill skiing, ice climbing, kiteboarding…you need to be somewhere specific.

And for the time being, it means driving.  Sometimes, location-challenged folk will cruise 8, 10, 12 hours just for 36 hours of a weekend on a hill or a frozen waterfall.

Much of the same is part of the rep-world – we have to drive to get places.  Simple fact. As much as #carfreereps is a step in the right direction, a necessary shift in how we look at doing business, how we see ourselves as part of the bigger, greater picture – there are some pretty significant challenges in making it a reality in one of the largest territories to cover.  Certainly, every representative in every territory faces the challenge of getting himself or herself to an account, a remote account – where the dollars earned in commissions are equal to or less than the dollars spent in getting there.  We have a large, diverse nation – with a lot of rural space between major metropolitan areas.  Rural space that is only crossed by a couple lanes of asphalt or concrete.

I’m out in the field, which unfortunately means more driving than not.  I’m the black sheep of Pemba Serves.  In all that time on the road, all that time behind the wheel, I see millions of cars every season on the interstates and back roads.  One thing in common, everywhere I go: all those cars are largely occupied by one person.  One driver, that’s it.

I’ll be amazed if, in my own lifetime, we see rail and public transit similar to Japan, Germany – really ANY industrialized nation – on a grand scale.  The sad truth of the matter is that it will take more than petitions and lobbying to make it happen – it will mean a cultural shift.

We’re due that change.  There is a lot of political talk out there, some angry people, and on both sides some irrational thinking. But it boils down to one dichotomy: Self vs. Other; living with daily concern about the well-being of the general population versus being concerned only with what affects oneself.

For some reason, we’ve been allowed and more often than not, encouraged, to be selfish.  Its been embedded in our brains since day one.  If you want an interesting group exercise, have your whole team refrain from using the words I or Me for an entire day.

Most of the time, people are all going to the same places.  Chances are, if you’re cruising on I-35 southbound, south of Albert Lea, MN, you’re going to Des Moines; once you get west of Rochester MN on I-90, you’re going to Sioux Falls or Rapid City.  I know, I’m part of the problem too.

Millions of cars, all occupied by a single driver.  It is lunacy, if you think about it…the idea of the solo driver going to the same place as thousands of other solo drivers runs contrary to everything that we have ingrained over eons of human existence.  For the whole of human existence, aside from the last hundred years, we’ve relied on each other to get where we collectively need to go.  The introduction of rail travel didn’t wipe out that concept – people were just fine with stepping into a train car and sitting down with a group of citizens.  People talked to each other, shared news along the way, and interacted.

Now…we interact by sending text messages and Tweeting while we sit in little metal, pollutant spewing, resource sucking coffins.  By ourselves.

As sales representatives/consultants/evangelists/whatever-we’re-called-this-week, we HAVE to drive.  Some of the best areas for recreation (and our customers) are pretty far off the rail travel and Greyhound – what’s left of it – circuit.  We have no high-speed rail from Minneapolis to Chicago yet (please, write your congressperson and representative and tell them to use the existing Empire Builder corridor!) Time is money, and time spent en route is wasted time – when there is no plane or train or bus to get there.  The quickest and least expensive way to get somewhere is to drive there, alone.

How do we break this cycle?  How do we go from 40,000 miles a year to #carfreereps?  Cold turkey is one way to quit.  Sell the car, and use exclusively public transit, a bicycle, or fly.  Sadly, that will underserve a sizable amount of our customers, the people we’re in business for.

#Carlitereps is the Nicorette gum for the professional.  Minimizing the wheel time to when it is completely necessary, ride-sharing to regional events, using common sense in planning clinic trips and times.  In a perfect world, everyone’s schedules would line up, and everything could get done quickly, easily, without any down-time.  Using the car when you NEED it, not when its only more convenient.  Yes, it will take more time.  Yes, it will cost a few dollars more.  No, not all of your customers will care that you’re trying your best to do your part for the social and ecological environment – many good ideas were unpopular at one time or another.  Like the automobile.  People will get used to #carlitereps eventually, and maybe by then things will have changed for the better and we’ll be looking more at what’s best for everyone, not just for ourselves.

Until then, we’re going to need to drive.  It’s a sad fact of the business we’re in and the world we live in.  But we don’t have to drive everywhere.  Use the trains, use the busses, and maybe exploit a loop in your schedule to take a few days and ride a bike to an event or account.  If Pete can ride his bike from Chicago to Madison and back over a long weekend, you can suck it up and sit on a train for a few hours.

#Carfreereps is the ultimate goal.  But going #carlitereps is the way to get there.  You’re not doing it for some smug self-satisfaction, not for some greenwash marketing, and not for more money.  You’re going to do it because it’s the Right. Thing. To. Do.

The Bus: Your Other Set of Wheels

We use Gmail here at Pemba Serves.

It is actually pretty great for small businesses, and seems to be gaining traction. (Word to the wise, you really need to get your own domain name; probably isn’t the best way to go.)

Anyway, because it is free/inexpensive, we do have those ticker-tape ads shoot across the top panel. Honestly, most of the time I don’t even notice they are there, and when I do it’s usually for some mountaineering guide service or links to vendors and retailers in the outdoor industry.

One advertisement did catch my eye today, for: – the Southeast Wisconsin Transit System. I suppose we have been talking too much about #carfreereps, and Google’s search algorithms are catching on! I spent some time on their site and it is a great relief that more and more people are starting to seriously consider transportation alternatives. Bus-commuter John shares his reasons for riding the Ozaukee County Express in a short video:

Saves me gas money, parking money. And then it saves me time. I enjoy reading the newspaper and that’s the time I have to do that… there are people working on computers, on their iPods. I have an opportunity to do things that otherwise I’d be sitting behind the steering wheel driving. Actually I view the people who ride the bus everyday as personal heros of mine.

Nice, John. You’re my personal hero too.

The Same Old Dusty Trail – #CarFreeReps (Part 3)

The two old cowboys leaned against the hitching post. The sun was low in the sky, but it was already hot. It was going to be a dusty day out on the trail.

“You going to Horseshoe?” asked Ole.

“Nope, going up over the Divide,” said Bob.

“Now,” said Ole,”You don’t need to go there. Just take ’em to the Horseshoe Camp and ride day trips from there. They’ll like that just fine.” We were expecting a family in from California for a ten-day horse pack trip. They had never been to Wyoming before, so – likely – Ole was right.

“Nope. We’re going to the Divide.” Bob looked at me and started walking towards the corral. “Let’s go catch some horses,” he said.

Under his breath to me as we walked, he said: “If I have to spend one more goddamned day on those trails out of Horseshoe…I hate those goddamned trails.”

The Skinner Brothers had a field camp in at Horseshoe Lake, which was about a four-hour ride into the Wind River Range. There were three teepees there, a corral, and a big wall-tent that functioned as a kitchen and dining room. You could take some nice day-rides to beautiful spots, right from there. I had ridden those trails hundreds of times, and knew that Bob had ridden them thousands of times. Bob’s jaw was set. We were going on a very long ride, away from comfort and what we knew well, because the alternative bored Bob to the point of hatred. When Bob was bored he was surly, and when he was inspired he was delightful. That family from California would’ve loved the area around Horseshoe, but because Bob hated it he knew that they would have better trip if we took them somewhere else. Three days later, high above treeline by the Golden Lakes, when Bob was flipping pancakes over the griddle he was laughing and telling stories about when he had been there last.

When you cover the same ground again and again – as if by rote – no matter how beautiful that ground is it will ultimately take on the color of dust. When you have your own name for every rock, every puddle of mud, and that spot where Blackie died, you may know a trail too well. When you can trace the entire route you’ll be traveling in your mind and arrive at your destination, and then blink and wake up sitting where you are and still be four hours away, just wait a minute: Blink, and you’ll only have 3:59 to go.

You’ve heard about our #carfreereps initiatives from Pete (Part I and Part II). For over a year we’ve been looking at alternatives to traveling our territory. Our main goal has been to reduce our environmental impact while being more effective on the road. We have also discovered that we have saved time and money by finding alternatives to driving. Freeing ourselves of driving has also opened up avenues towards greater attention and focus, which is invaluable to us. In our travels, we’ve taken trains, buses, public transportation, bicycles, folding bicycles, rental-cars; we’ve used car-share programs, and even ridden skateboards. (Haven’t – yet – worked out how to use horses, though; give us time.)

I’ve been a rep in the Midwest for almost twenty years. I’ve taken every route out of Madison to every regional destination imaginable, thousands of times. I know every road in the midwest and all of the airports as well as I know my own kitchen. The adventures I’ve had while working out the kinks of #carfreereps have been exciting for me, and fun. I’ve learned new things about cities that I thought I knew well, met a few wacky people, and made some friends, too:

  • Jake, Ernie, and Mike are construction workers from Cleveland who traveled across country by train to go to a Phish show in California. By the time I met them, they were just waking up from their first bender and were starting a second one. They were loud, and mean to each other as only good friends can be, but funny and engaging to everybody else. When I last saw them, they were laughing in the lounge car with a nice professional couple from St. Louis, and a group of Amish from Iowa. I didn’t know that Amish women could put down shots like that.
  • Raymond is a cab-driver in St. Paul. He took me from my hotel, to Best Buy to get some new headphones, then to the Greyhound station. He told me more about his first wife’s [colorful euphemism here] than you would ever care to want to know, but he was funny, and kind. He has three adult sons that he put through college or the military. When he turns 55 next month, he’s retiring and going to live with one of his sons. He also turned me on to some new hip-hop.
  • Roger is a retired college professor and former park ranger from Mt. Rainier. We were seated in the dining car enjoying a dinner of broiled fish and rice along with a glass of Pinot Noir. Our other seat-mate was a young man who had decided on a whim to move from Maine to Washington State, to be a park ranger. We all had a lot in common. We were laughing and talking, and suddenly Roger said – quite pleasantly and as clear as day – “Would you all excuse me? I have to go vomit. I have acid-reflux.”
  • Ahmed is Somalian, and drives a cab in Minneapolis. He told me all about how the Cedar Avenue neighborhood has changed in the past few years. He is concerned about the Somalian boys who hang out there, and how they are forming gangs. He’s taken one boy under his wing, named Biggy. Biggy fashions himself to be the leader around there, and Ahmed is determined that Biggy will know what it is to be Somalian. I think that Biggy will be okay; Ahmed’s going to make sure that this is so.

Driving your own car gives you the illusion of complete control. (Never mind traffic, construction, filling your tank, emptying your bladder, and – oh yeah – the fact that all you can do while driving is drive…) Giving up this illusion is an exercise in being more accepting to what comes your way. Basically, you leave yourself open to adventure when you choose to give up control and to accept the unknown. And adventures are fun. It was fun to ride a folding bike through the streets of Chicago during rush hour, and to explore Coronado Island by longboard, and to figure out the BART system in San Francisco and the ferries in Seattle. Doing these things has made me a better traveler, and it’s been a lot more fun. Harder? Yeah. It takes a lot more thought, planning, and effort. The plus side is that I look forward to travel now, as each trip is something completely different. This gives me more energy, which in turn helps me to have fun at work. When I’m having fun, I do my job better. And – maybe – I’m more fun to be around.

At least, I feel like I’m more fun, now that I’m not so often on the same dusty trails.

Come with us on our next journey! We live-blog most of our #carfreereps adventures on our Twitter feed (and others are using the tag, too!) We also post pictures in the moment on Flickr. It’s almost as good as being there.

Examining the data: #CarFreeReps (Part II)

In #CarFreeReps (Part I), we explored our motivation for working towards a car-free (or at least a car-lite) future. In a nutshell, it’s good for the environment, it’s important to our customers, and it might possibly help us pick up cute girls/boys.

But we’re a business. If we’re going to make a serious commitment to a car-free future it certainly cannot prove to be bad for business or we’ll be out on the street. If we’re going to convince anyone else to join us, we will have to demonstrate that this can be good for business! Here’s a case study:

In early October 2009, Brad (our principle representative) was heading to Chicago to attend a national planning meeting for one of our vendors. Our main office in Madison, Wisconsin isn’t too far away and there are a number of travel options: automobile is generally the default, but it isn’t unusual for business travelers to fly, intercity bus service is very direct, I have made the trip by bicycle (not the most practical mode, granted!), and we’re working on high-speed rail (maybe next time).

Brad decided to give the intercity bus a go. A typical Chicago trip would include visiting accounts across the region, but in this case he was traveling to sit in a conference room for a couple days – there wasn’t going to be much need for a car once he arrived. Traveling by plane over such a short distance seemed a bit extravagant. Not to be outdone by my Chicago-Madison cycling adventure, Brad brought his folding bike along for the ride and used it to solve transit’s “last mile conundrum,” referring to the challenge of mobility between the start/finish of trips and mass-transit hubs. (Think the folding bike is dorky? It could be worse!)

Ready for adventures in Downtown Chicago, outside of Union Station.

The trip was a success, and aside from some gentle ribbing for arriving on this unusual looking contraption, the bike-bus-bike solution went off without a hitch. But how did it compare to the other options: car and plane? Let’s examine the data:

Direct Expenses

The direct costs of travel is an obvious first measure, and the roundtrip expenses represented here make a compelling case for intercity bus travel:


Car expenses calculated using GSA personal vehicle reimbursement schedule, 2009:

Furthermore, there are a number of indirect costs not reflected in this chart. Parking at Chicago’s Hampton Inn is $25 a day ($75 for the trip). Neither the bus nor the plane consider travel to and from the destination. A taxi from O’Hare Airport to Chicago’s Loop is $40, one-way. The bus station was just 1.5 miles from the hotel, so the folding bike proved an economical and enjoyable solution!


Productivity is an important metric to consider. Between wifi hotspots and 3G-enabled devices, the geography of “the office” is changing; with some discipline we are able to work effectively from almost anywhere now. A couple years ago, we’d have to look at this chart and conclude that driving is the best way to get to Chicago; flying and intercity bus just consume too much precious time. However, we can now break out the productive time from each transportation option, and the bus is looking even more attractive:


Travel time assumes neither traffic congestion nor airport delays - generous assumptions in Chicagoland

I’ve defined productive time as time on-line (3G on the bus) or with the laptop open (on the plane). Seasoned road-warriors may contest the lack of productive time in a car; granted mobile phones can help get some business done on the road, but in my experience these are low-value conversations, immediate follow-up is impossible, and it is increasingly illegal. Further, some time-management experts suggest uninterrupted blocks of time (focused work, such as on an intercity bus) can be far more productive than multitasking in the office.

(Note we could rework our expenses chart to include the lost opportunities from this ‘wasted time.’ The boss’s time is valued at $100/hr – that’s his opportunity cost, not salary. This would add about $200 to the cost of traveling by bus and $400 to the cost of plane and automobile travel. The intercity bus is looking even better.)

CO2 Emissions

Barack Obama has pledged to create a carbon market to incorporate some of the costs of climate change into the costs of doing business. Until then, putting a dollar value on this externality is almost impossible, but as a company we have decided that certain goals are worth pursuing. Our business and our passions are in the outdoors, and climate change is an existential threat to the health of ecosystems and of our business. Minimizing our CO2 footprint is a top priority. Air travel, especially short trips, are particularly deleterious. Studies have found intercity bus to be among the least-worst options, and our analysis of this case study supports this:


Uses vehicle emission data from Native Energy (, a carbon offset organization promoted within the Outdoor Industry by Outdoor Retailer and Canoecopia.

(For the record, we are leery of carbon-credit/carbon-trading schemes; purchasing carbon credits in the first-class lounge is akin to buying indulgences from the Catholic Church in 1500. It’s better than nothing, but no substitute for meaningful lifestyle changes.)

So in conclusion, for this trip, intercity bus was the right decision – for the environment, for our values, and for our bottom line. Sometime that’s not going to be the case, but we need to keep an open mind about taking the bus or train, and keep following the metrics to see when it makes economic sense to hop on the bike or bus. We’re also going to keep the conversation going. As we speak, our colleague Bryan is riding from La Crosse, WI to Minneapolis, MN to attend Midwest Mountaineering’s Winter Expo; visit him at the Expo or follow his journey on Twitter.

Click through here for a one-page summary of this case study, including the charts. Post it in the break room and start thinking outside the car.

Interested in going car-free? All-aboard!


Three Chicagoland shops, all on the train line. 11/16/09 #carfreereps

Starting the discussion: #CarFreeReps (Part I)

As manufacturer representatives in the outdoor industry, one important part of our job is to spend time in our retailers shops: supporting their business, training their staff on the proper use of our equipment, and how to sell it to their customers. As individuals and as a business concerned about the environmental, health, and national security problems caused by our automobile-centric culture, we have taken many steps to reduce our car use in our personal lives.

Most of us bicycle, walk, or carpool to the office – and those of us who work out of our homes have a head start! This is an important step; I am convinced that meaningful changes have to start with small-but-committed changes in routine, and the daily commute is a great place to explore alternative transportation.

However, it is hard not to notice that for us, with our jobs, the daily commute is just the little toe of our carbon footprint; our seasonal roadtrips through the upper Midwest and biannual flights to national tradeshows and national sales meetings are our biggest source of emissions. But these are job requirements, and as a small business trying to maximize efficiency while conserving time and money, perhaps we’ve done enough?

This short video produced by the Outdoor Alliance (a coalition of groups working for public access to and environmental protection of America’s rivers, trails, mountains, and crags) reminds us why we care:

1) We are these climbers, hikers, skiers, and paddlers – I’d like to keep enjoying my snowmelt Western rivers.

2) Our customers are also these people – we sell harnesses, jackets, tents, and boots – it would be great if there is somewhere for our customers to use them.

3) It’s an issue of culture. Improving the way we conduct business is part of Pemba Serves’ culture. Environmental conservation, including alternative transportation, is increasingly part of our retailers’ cultures – it’s our job is to support this. Finally, the Outdoor Industry is uniquely positioned to start changing the mainstream culture – if we can’t make it here, we’re in trouble!

So what does it mean for a rep to go car-free? We have lots of ideas about what it could mean in 5 or 10 years, but here’s what it means for us, right now:

1) Our cars are still parked in the driveway. We’re not totally car-free, that’s just the ideal. Small steps, remember? Many of us are single car households, with partners sharing our car-lite values. When we do need an extra car, car-sharing programs like Madison’s Community Car and Chicago’s I-GO are always available.

Brad rocks out Milwaukee clinics, car-lite.

Brad rocks out Milwaukee clinics, car-lite.

2) We all live or work within 3 miles of a customer. I just moved to Chicago; I have six accounts within three miles from home. And it is substantially faster to bike to all of them. These are easy. There are an additional 10 accounts within 25 miles. This trip is longer by bike, and not all are on bike-friendly routes, but most are on ‘L’ or Metra train lines.

One of many Chicago shops within biking distance for Pete.

One of many Chicago shops within biking distance for Pete.

3) We’ve been able to make a couple of bigger trips this year on intercity bus and Amtrak. When we’re traveling longer distances to attend a meeting or support a specific event, we don’t need a car once we’re there. Intercity bus and train turn out to have many advantages; we’ll explore some of the data in Part II.

Brads intercity, car-free. Bus+Bike

Brad's intercity, car-free. Bus+Bike

4) Getting out of the car isn’t just about saving the environment… I’m sure every sales rep, retail employee, and manufacturer sales manager in the outdoor industry has has this conversation with a cute boy/girl at a party:

CUTE GIRL: “So tell me, what do you do for a living?”

ME: “Oh, I’m a sales rep/salesperson/etc in the outdoor recreation industry. We sell mountaineering, skiing, kayaking, and camping equipment.”

CUTE GIRL: “Wow, that is so cool! You must get to go on some amazing trips! You know, for ‘product testing’ and stuff? Tell me about your last adventure!”

ME: “Well, umm… there was this trip to Utah a couple months ago, but it’s not what you think…”

For me, creating space in my work life to get outside and use our gear – even if just to ride across town in Gore-Tex waterproof goodness – makes me better at my job and feel better about my life. And most of all, I have a better response for the cute girl at the party:

ME: “Remember that record snow storm last winter? Well, I had this really important meeting on the other side of town, and all of the bridges were closed, and ….”

Pete skis to work, 3/08.

Pete skis to work, post-snowstorm 3/08.

Join the conversation on Twitter, just tag your posts with the hashtag: #carfreereps. And check in next week for Part II where we’ll examine some of the other benefits of going car-free or car-lite. We are a business after all; we’ll be talking time and money.

Until then, ride on.