I'd love to see a world where things like the current mess in the Gulf of Mexico didn't happen. Where the oceans and mountains and forests and their inhabitants could just coexist with us crazy bike-riding, car-driving apes and all living beings could at least count on breathable air and drinkable water.
I don't ride my bike because I feel this way. I think I feel this way because I ride my bike.
My sweetie and I just spent a few days riding through the mists of the California Coast. Lots of great scenery and wildlife and some wonderful food, hikes, and all the other good things you'd expect on a bike tour.
But we also spent a lot of time picking up trash. There are so many people, it seems, who "enjoy nature" by driving to a beautiful spot, feasting and drinking, and then getting back into their cars to go home. Nothing wrong with the first two, but the last is inexcusable. Especially where there's a trash can just a few yards away.
In the end, Johana and I had to set limits on how much trash we could clean up. We set up a sort of triage, focusing on plastic and other dangerous litter, and leaving the worst messes that were beyond hope.
It seems like the worst perpetrators drink Budweiser Lite.
Maybe if you rode your bike to the party, really earned your way there with sweat and possibly blood, you'd appreciate the remoteness and not always trash the place.
The cost of oil has been jumping up and down, but it hasn't gotten nearly as low as 2 years ago, and probably never will. Sooner or later that's going to hurt your wallet when you fill up your car with gasoline. You know where this is going.
Now will you ride your bike to work?
If you don't care that much about pollution or infrastructure problems, if finding a parking space isn't a problem for you, even if you're not interested in improving your health, couldn't you still use an extra wad of cash every week?
Just think, if you saved 20 bucks a week, in ten years you could buy your own island and you wouldn't have to go to work anymore. Well, maybe you wouldn't save that much, but with this economy saving a tank of gas a week--or even just half a tank--could work wonders to alleviate a lot of financial stress. Is there any way you could ride your bike to work? Even just part of the way?
I'm not writing this for extreme commuters. If you're physically challenged, buried under snow, or you need to transport heavy merchandise or delicate equipment you're excused.
But most of us could make this work. At least part of the way, some of the time. My dad is in his 70s and he still rides a bike across half of Chicago, even though he doesn't have to.
Don't think of this as judgement. I'm only saying that this is your chance to do something radical, something that can change your life and eventually transform the world.
Imagine a society where our security isn't hostage to a greasy fluid, where almost everyone is strong and athletic, where our pets can roam the neighborhood without the danger of being squashed, where "drunk driving" means risking a scraped elbow, where you can sleep late without the roar of traffic waking you up in the morning, and you can breathe deeply without choking.
Did I mention that in my utopian bicycle dreamworld you can eat anything you want without getting fat, and you'll have an extra couple hundred bucks to play with every month? (Maybe more, since the fluctuations of the economy now depend on the price of oil...)
I was biking downtown, and when I stopped at a red light someone rolled down their window and said, "I'll bet you're saving a lot of money riding that thing."
Indeed. Probably tens of thousands of dollars over the last 15 years. Before the motorist took of at the green light, he said he was planning to ride his bike to work soon, because of gas prices and the recession.
But this isn't at all about saving money. That's just icing on the cake. Which got me thinking...
There's a lot of talk in the media about an economic slowdown, recession, depression, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it. And there may be some truth in what you've been hearing, although the jury's still out on how bad it's going to get.
But spending less money doesn't have to mean lowering your quality of life. I put that in italics so you'll remember it, and burn it into your brain. Most bike commuters probably ride their bikes to work by choice, not necessity. And even if your credit card debt, your salary cut, rising costs or some other economic factor compelled you to ride your bike to work, you'd still get all the benefits that lead to this choice by people who have other options.
You'll pump oxygen into every cell in your body, burn fat and build lean, powerful muscle. You'll get to work relaxed and happy, looking and feeling a lot better than the stressed out commuters who had to hunt for parking. You'll see your town from a new perspective, and make discoveries that motorists miss. Every day is an adventure, because you're using your mind and body and wits to overcome new obstacles that wait for you just around the corner. It's fun!
Not to mention the self-righteous ego-boost you can indulge in, knowing that you're saving energy, reducing pollution, giving your fellow citizens more parking and road space, and generally making the world a little bit better.
And you'll save money. Maybe start getting ahead, paying off your debts and building up your net worth while people all around you are worried about defaults and bailouts and who knows what else. But that's not the point.
Riding a bike is just one example of how downsizing your life, spending less, can actually improve your standard of living. The new economy (and that's what's happening here--not a reduction of total wealth but simply a transfer of wealth) may look scary on the surface if you're stuck in old ways of thinking. But really it's an adventure of new opportunity. Embrace the adventure.
OK, this has bummed me out as much as it has a lot of you. After looking at the euro vs. dollar exchange rates, seeing how much touring Italy by bicycle is going to cost right now, and considering some interesting and exciting business prospects I have right now despite the general economic doom and gloom, I've decided to postpone this trip for at least a year.
If you still want to go, drop me a line and I can give you a lot of advice from personal experience touring southern Italy and Rome, especially. And there's more.
If you're not from the United States, this is a great time to visit our country. Everything will be unusually cheap, and the people will be really nice to you. I'll be blatant. We need your tourist euros and other currency.
I shouldn't have to say this, but if you're in the USA and facing financial hardships, your bike can be a fun and healthy way to stay out of the mess. It's much cheaper to buy, power, and maintain a bike than a car, and it's a great way to cut corners, especially if it doubles as your workout.
Speaking of workouts, I'm going to be posting a lot more in the future about the benefits of bike exercise, and also a total body workout to keep your arms, shoulders, and core up to par with your legs and cardio, which are probably already rock solid if you're biking even moderately.
I also have a surprise this coming summer that should be a huge benefit to travelers anywhere in the world, whether or not you travel by bicycle. So keep in touch.
As I post this, oil is $100 a barrel. Gasoline is still half what it costs in Italy, probably because of some irrational taxation/subsidy patterns on both sides of the globe. We're living in interesting times, and that can seem like a curse but often be a blessing.
I'm just months away from my 40th birthday, and I had planned to bicycle around the Mediterranean sea as a present to myself. Now it looks like I'll have to put it off for a few years but it's not over yet. If I keep in shape I could probably still do it when I'm 50, and I don't give up.
Don't you give up either. Your bicycle can be cure for so many problems that plague the world today--global warming, pollution, peak oil, economic excess, poverty, even a lot of health problems and crisis.
I long for easier, happier days, such as, for example, the way things were ten years ago. But we cannot choose the times we live in. As Gandalf said, "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."
Enjoy these big hills that can only lead to easier times in the future. Ride swift and free, and remember it's all about the journey. In fact, you don't even know the final destination.