Behind the wheel: Cars shape the Middlebury experience
While students with cars enjoy day trips around Addison County and grocery shopping at Hannaford, students without cars on Middlebury’s rural campus have historically faced a set of travel-related hurdles. And this year, these challenges have expanded to include traveling to vaccine appointments, some of which are hours away from campus. Having a car on campus shapes fundamental aspects of the Middlebury experience — and sometimes widens existing gaps in access.
Liam Ferry ’24 feels that having a car on campus has significantly expanded his area of immediate access, opening up more options for outdoor recreation in Addison County. Ferry, who drives a Subaru Forester, appreciated being able to go up to the Snow Bowl this past winter with his friends.
“It allowed me and my friends, some of whom hadn’t skied or snowboarded before, to go to the Snow Bowl and start,” Ferry said.
Liza Toll ’24, who drives a silver Toyota Prius she affectionately nicknamed “Elliot,” also enjoys exploring the local mountains and lakes that are only reachable by driving.
“It’s also been nice to get out and go for hikes,” Toll said. “I visited the lovely Abbey Pond trail this weekend, which was wonderful.”
Maggie Allen ’24 has her mom’s car on campus this semester and mainly uses her vehicle to go out to eat. She and her friends often stop by Middlebury Bagel and the Natural Foods Co-op.
“It’s definitely been really nice. Especially with Covid, it’s harder to ask someone to use their car,” Allen said. “It’s nice to have the option to go grocery shopping and little things like that.”
Having a car also allows students to have more spontaneous adventures around Addison County, since students with cars do not have to rely on others to make longer-distance trips.
“I wouldn’t have been able to just randomly drive up to Snake Mountain without a little more preparation,” Ferry said. “Although Middlebury is in such a good spot outdoor-recreation-wise, none of it is accessible without a car unless you’re willing to walk 10 miles.”
For those without a vehicle on campus, these types of planned or spontaneous outings are anything but feasible. Hugo Bocker ’22 noted feeling limited from certain activities without having his own car. “I probably would have gone skiing a lot more if I had a car. It’s just so annoying having to take the bus with all your stuff and not having the flexibility to come and go when you want,” he said.
Disparities in travel opportunities may be lessened by Covid-19 restrictions, which make it so that students cannot leave Addison County this semester. Currently, students are allowed to travel within the county for outdoor recreation activities like hiking and biking, but unguided overnight outings or off-campus outdoor gatherings are not permitted at this time. Still, students with cars on campus are able to be more mobile within the county.
Additionally, Vermont’s unpredictable weather — including some April snow this year — has had a role in keeping students close to campus. Allen said she hopes the weather improves in the next couple of weeks to take advantage of nearby swimming spots.
Still, having a car has also helped students more easily travel to get vaccinated. Instead of trying to find a ride to a nearby town, students were able to drive themselves to vaccine appointments even if they were far away.
Until the college began offering appointments on campus, some students without a car worried about getting to their vaccine appointments in addition to struggling to find transportation for other errands. “As an international student, for example, I need to sort out my social security number and other administrative things, which has been difficult without a car. Getting a vaccine was also a problem before they began offering them on campus,” Bocker said.
Meagan Tan ’21 noted some of the inconveniences that result from not having a personal vehicle on campus, including the difficulty of making short trips to the grocery store and the inability to make excursions around Addison County. She mentioned that there is also a dimension of guilt to having to ask friends with cars for rides.
“I feel bad asking more than once for rides,” Tan said. “I don’t want to impose on the schedules of others. There’s this dynamic here where people are friends with people with cars just because they have cars, so it becomes a friendship of convenience, and I don’t want my friends to feel like that.”
Tan also expressed that bicycling is not always a viable alternative to transportation via car, since the roads in Middlebury are not specifically designed with the safety of cyclists in mind.
“There are always huge trucks speeding by all the time when I ride my bike, so it doesn’t feel very safe,” Tan said.
While some without cars on campus expressed frustration with the resulting inconveniences, other students indicated that they felt having a car on campus has not significantly changed their experience.
“I don’t think honestly it’s had a huge effect on my quality of life,” Ferry said. “If you don’t have a car, you’ll find other people on campus who do, or you’ll hang out on campus.”
Ferry added that by virtue of having a car on campus, he sometimes feels more pressure to explore the surrounding area instead of just hanging out on campus.
“Now that I do have a car, it’s like every time I have free time it’s like ‘Wow, I’m here, but I have the capacity to go be hiking or exploring Vermont, should I be doing that and taking advantage of this nice day?’” Ferry said.