7.09.2008

A happy consequence of the current energy situation: I'm more fit

"In 1973, the year of the infamous oil embargo, the United States imported about 24% of our oil. In 1990, at the start of the first Gulf War, this had climbed to 42%. Today, we import almost 70% of our oil. ...This is a staggering number, particularly for a country that consumes oil the way we do. The U.S. uses nearly a quarter of the world's oil, with just 4% of the population and 3% of the world's reserves. This year, we will spend almost $700 billion on imported oil, which is more than four times the annual cost of our current war in Iraq." Oilman T. Boone Pickens, in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal.
In the future, $3.99/gal will be thought of as 'cheap gas'.

I think that the current energy situation is the new reality of things and that perhaps the summer of 2008 will be seen in the future as the tipping point, the moment in time when relatively cheap energy became a relic from the increasingly distant past. I think many wrenching changes will come about because of this: A restaurant closed in Barre recently, a victim of competition and the slowdown in the economy, but the owner had calculated that the cost of heating the place during the coming winter, would be in the area of $32,000 -- up from $14,000 (already an inflated figure) in the 2007-2008 heating season.

Personally I am somewhat gladdened that the current prices finally amount to something of a tax on large inefficient vehicles -- though the money flows to corporations and countries that I have little regard for -- and also may encourage higher density housing patterns: McMansions in the exurbs, with the inhabitants totally dependent on (large) automobiles & SUVs for every aspect of daily life, will not be sustainable now. Of course, American society has been in denial about this for a long time, and now the present situation has arrived suddenly, without preparation, and people just complain (see "American Energy Policy, Asleep at the Spigot," etc.) and wish for a return to the way things used to be.

As I have previously noted, I have been able to commute to work by bike for every paying job I have ever had with only one unhappy exception. Mostly this has been a lifestyle choice but now that filling the tank in my little Ford Focus costs a nifty $45 or more there is a strong incentive to park the car as much as possible. My commute isn't that bad but isn't particularly easy either; 8.5 uphill miles on a bad road in the morning.

I find that I need to consciously think like "driving is not an option" and to almost pretend that I don't have access to a car to get in the right mindset for commuting by bike. There is definitely a 'time cost' associated with riding to work -- especially when preparation and clothing changes are also factored in -- but the benefits more than compensate for this.

I have been using my old cyclocross bike as a commuting rig. It gets the job done and the cross gearing and fat tires work well for this purpose.

When I first acquired my 1 x 9 mountain bike, I thought that the bike was woefully undergeared for riding around Waterbury -- mountain bikes have really low gears for a reason: There are steep climbs on the trails in the woods. This past weekend, however, I discovered that my more consistent bike commuting has made me noticeably stronger this season. The profile below is from riding from the entrance to the Perry Hill trail network along the Winooski River to the high point of the trails -- and then gingerly descending again -- I may be stronger, but technically I am still very inadequate on the tricky sections, really just someone with a road cycling background who got lost in the woods. I was happy to discover that going uphill was noticeably easier for me than in the past: Previously, the problem wasn't so much the setup of the bike, it was my lack of fitness.

As a final note, the Waterbury Mountain Bike festival is this weekend and it will be possible to register at the venue. Proceeds (if any -- I wonder how attendance will be, the economy is biting hard) will go to help finance work on expanding local trail networks, the scope of some of the planned projects exceeds what can be accomplished with volunteer-only construction crews.

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