Friday, June 12, 2009

9,000 Miles Farther On

In 2005, as gas prices topped $3.00 a gallon in Southern California, I became a bicycle commuter. In January 2007 I bought the bike that at present is my main steed. This week I logged my 9,000th mile on this bike. Most of those miles have been commuting miles (to the store, or to work), although I have done a few pleasure rides. A lot has happened over those 9,000 miles. Looking back, a few highlights come to mind:

  • In 2005, I didn't “get” the real story behind gas prices – I was far from putting cause and effect together to get a clear picture of what was going on. But in 2007, I was one of the Southern Californians who read the Los Angeles Times piece “O Pioneers In Pasadena” about the Dervaes family and their urban homestead. In addition, in late 2006 I had read Divorce Your Car! by Kate Alvord. In February 2007, I discovered Global Public Media and all the podcasts explaining Peak Oil and climate change. Believe me, all of that set my hair on fire!

  • In January 2007, I knew next to nothing about food gardening or “food security.” I only knew how to grow Bermuda grass, how to kill weeds with Roundup and a little about how to trim rose bushes. Over these last two years, I've had a bit of a crash course in growing my own food.

  • From 2005 to 2007, I had been drifting steadily leftward politically. My discovery of Peak Oil and validation of climate change accelerated and amplified that “drift” into something much more definite.

  • In the spring of 2007, as I was learning about Peak Oil, I saw gas prices in So. Cal. drift upward to nearly $4 a gallon – just as I discovered the World Without Oil “alternate-reality game” website. At the time I thought we were actually about to “live” the game right then. The world situation didn't deteriorate with the speed depicted in that “game”, but that's not to say that things didn't deteriorate.

  • In January 2007, I was having to cope with a few dysfunctional elements in my neighborhood, yet I didn't think too much of it. By May 2007, I was asking myself, “If the new information I have about oil is really true, can this neighborhood really handle it? Can these people?”

  • In January 2007, I lived in Southern California. By September 2007 I was living in Portland, Oregon. In January 2007, I had a 401K. By September 2007, I didn't. In January 2007, I had a mortgage. By February 2008, I didn't. The crashing noise I heard from May to August was the sound of falling home prices and stock values. I got out in the bare nick of time. One of my motivations was a piece written by Sharon Astyk, titled, “Pick Up Your Hat.” The real estate lady who sold my house couldn't quite understand my sense of desperate urgency. Friends who heard what my selling price was kept saying, “You should ask for more. You're practically giving your house away!”

  • In January 2007, oil prices were in the $60-65/barrel range. By year's end, they were over $90 a barrel. In January 2007, media coverage of an economic slowdown focused mainly on falling house prices. By December 2007, there were reports of tent cities for the homeless.

  • In the spring of 2007, as I was learning about Peak Oil and its likely effects, I regurgitated what I was learning in the presence of any ears willing to listen, including those of my So. Cal. co-workers. I think many of them thought I was slightly nuts. I wonder what they think now.

  • In January 2007, those who were tuned in to the “collapse” meme were a relatively small, “cutting-edge” minority. Nowadays, almost everyone I talk to acknowledges that something is seriously wrong with our present society and economy. As Joe Walsh once wrote, “Well there's a change in the wind, you know the signs don't lie/Such a strange feelin' and I don't know why it's takin'/Such a long time. Backyard people and they work all day/Tired of the speeches and the way that the reasons keep changin'/To make the words rhyme.”

  • From the spring of 2007 onward, I read the predictions of many of the vanguards of the “collapse” meme. A surprising number of them came to pass, although not always with the speed or in the way that the prognosticators predicted. Our situation is now much more precarious than it was a few years ago. My view of things has grown darker than it was even in 2007.

  • In January 2007, the President of the United States was a somewhat clumsy liar and stooge of the rich and powerful, a member of a political party whose holders of elected office were fellow stooges. In June 2009, the names of office-holders have changed, but has anything else (other than our current President's charm)?

  • In January 2007, I got a Surly Long Haul Trucker with a carbon-fiber seatpost, indexed trigger-shifters and a Fizik Rondine saddle. From then to now, I have ditched the carbon fiber seatpost in favor of a good old-fashioned steel one, have switched the saddle to a Brooks B-17, have gone from Schwalbe Marathon 26” x 1.5” to Marathon 26” x 1.75” tires, and have switched the shifters to Shimano Dura-Ace friction shifters on Paul's Thumbies mounts. I also added a dynohub on the front so I won't have to constantly remember to charge batteries for my lights. The people at Citybikes joke that my bike is built to ride out the collapse of civilization.

  • In January 2007, my commute to work was a 12-mile journey, one-way. By September 2007, my commute had lengthened to a 17-mile journey, one-way. (Thanks be for the MAX and the buses around here!) I get rained on a lot more now than I did in 2007. And there are more hills, including some seriously gnarly ones.

I'm sure I could list many other changes. And now as I write this, I think of teens whose conversations I have overheard recently on the bus, talking about all the plans they've made and all the fun they're going to have this summer. I think of co-workers in my present office with whom I get into discussions regarding the present world situation, and how many of these co-workers assume that the future will resemble the recent past, and that we'll somehow muddle through our present difficulties without a drastic lifestyle adjustment. Then I start thinking about the predictions of the Hirsch Report and the Oil Report of the Energy Watch Group, along with the Barclays “Burning Violins” report and the CIBC report titled, “Oil Prices: Another Spike Ahead.” I think about the last several EIA Weekly Petroleum Status Reports, and how almost all of them have shown a drop in U.S. petroleum stocks of at least 4 million barrels per week. And I watch the movement of prices at local gas stations – sometimes inching upward, sometimes leaping upward.

The last 9,000 miles have certainly had interesting scenery. I have a feeling that the next few thousand miles will bring us all to views like nothing we've ever seen.

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