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Getting by on 1 tank of gas: Aragon family

Getting by on 1 tank of gas: Aragon family

• The challenge: To see if two Billings families could go for a month on a single tank of gas each. The challenge started in October, a month that began with gas prices above $3.50 a gallon. Both families have three children. One has a teenage driver.

• The rules: To keep it simple, one tank of gas equaled 15 gallons. The challenge focused on short, in-town trips that could reasonably be done by other means. Out-of-town miles were not counted.

Aragon family

• The family: Kathy Aragon, a physical therapist, actually runs errands.

"You'll see Kathy running sometimes with two jugs of milk," said her husband, Chuck, an anesthesiologist at St. Vincent Healthcare.

Both were competitive track and cross-country runners in college and work regular exercise into their family's lifestyle. Kathy, an at-home mom, is on the Billings school board and the board of Billings Action for Healthy Kids.

Their three daughters, Alexa, 16; Danielle, 14; and Christina, 11; grew up being ferried on errands in the baby jogger. Alexa and Danielle are both on the cross-country team at Billings Senior High.

• The mindset: Kathy Aragon jokingly calls herself "the nagging environmentalist mother."

Her daughters know that asking for a ride can mean hopping on the back of a tandem bicycle. Once, when Alexa asked for a ride after a Senior High homecoming dance, her parents and her date's parents swung by on their bicycles to pick them up.

Kathy ferries kids on the tandem as if it were a pedi-cab.

"That way I never worry about where they are in traffic because I know they're right behind me," she said.

Extra passengers straddle the tandem's center handlebars or perch on the back rack.

The Aragons drive SUVs - a Suburban and a Jeep - in part because they often take five bikes and a raft on road trips.

"If we can do it without the car, we do it," Chuck said.

Even Alexa, who has her driver's license, logs fewer miles than a typical teen.

Since car emissions are worse when the car engine's cold, the worst miles are the ones used for short trips, Kathy said, noting, "The beauty in that is the short trips are the easiest to make by foot or bicycle."

• The daily grind: Chuck prefers cycling to work when the weather's tolerable, provided he's not pulling a late-night shift.

He drove the car to work three days in October - once when he was on-call, once during bad weather and once for a meeting.

For 19 days in October, Kathy used the tandem to transport Danielle and her best friend, Terra McDowell, to high school, then walked to Highlands Elementary with Christina. Snow forced her to drive the girls two days, and they got two rides from neighbors. Friends gave Alexa rides to school.

• Cutting back: The challenge - and a side bet with her friend Diane Morledge-Hampton - ratcheted up Kathy's competitive nature.

"For a while, before the snowstorm, saying I'm going to use the car was like a four-letter word at our house," Chuck said.

But, like going on a diet, the more they thought about cutting back, the more necessary trips popped up. Last-minute errands, such as picking up spikes for running shoes before the family left for the state cross-country meet in Missoula, stymied some efforts at fuel economy.

On Oct. 6, the family logged 28.5 two-wheeled miles. Kathy biked 20 miles back and forth to a series of four meetings. They biked another seven miles to gymnastics practices, a half-mile to school, and Chuck pedaled a mile back and forth to work.

In total, the family routinely logged 10 to 14 miles a day either on foot or bike. For years, Kathy has tailored her jogging route to handle her errands. In mid-October, she jogged to the downtown post office carrying her husband's fly-fishing rod under her arm so she could mail the rod off for repairs.

• Crunch time: Before the snowstorm hit Oct. 9, the Aragons had driven just 60 miles, but the storm tested their car-avoidance limits.

"We kind of lost hope there for a little while," Kathy said.

As wet weather descended Oct. 10, she drove the car to a celebration at Ponderosa Elementary and then racked up 20 car miles, consolidating a batch of errands. The following day, she picked up a load of kids from a birthday sleepover on Highway 3, adding nearly another 20 miles, although they were carpool miles.

By the time pleasant weather returned, the Aragons had doubled their previous mileage total, logging 120 miles in 10 days.

Going down to the wire, they came close to compensating for their mid-month lapse, driving just 27 miles from Oct. 23 to the end of the month.

• Staying in the game: To skimp on fuel, a neighbor lent them a moped-style scooter. The ploy enabled them to go an extra 30 miles on a negligible amount of gas.

• Reality check: Out-of-town miles were logged, but not counted in the challenge's total miles. During October, the Aragons drove to Helena and to the state cross-country competition in Missoula, car-pooling to fill their vehicle. Chuck made four trips to fish near Columbus, and Kathy flew to visit her parents.

• Great lengths: When Kathy landed at the Billings airport, she set off to walk home. By the time the third motorist, an elderly gentleman, gallantly stopped to offer her a ride, she accepted the lift.

• Total hometown miles: 237 miles at 16 miles per gallon, plus 1/4-gallon for the moped.

• Total gallons used: 15.06 gallons.


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