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Wheeling: Why I Choose Not to Drive

By Jim Thurber

It seems we have created a land – almost literally- littered, with automobiles.  They’re everywhere.  Parking lots are filled, often overflowing. Junkyards of discarded automobiles and assorted parts abound.

In a short time, our world has become defined by, and almost addicted to, the automobile. An “addiction” many of us, including me, are reconsidering because a look at cars from another vantage point can yield different realizations. In my case that awareness had me altering my “wheeling” life; literally moving from auto wheels to bike wheels.

A few years ago I read Wendell Berry’s poem, “Horses”about days when our lives ebbed and flowed, our work limited by the amount of time we could use an animal before we had to let it rest [Note: Quotes from the poem are in italics]

That limit was displaced by tractors (trucks or cars) which ran as long as fuel was in the tank and . . . ”The songs of the world died in our ears as we went within the uproar of the long syllable of the motors. …..But that work, empowered by burning the world’s body (oil) showed us finally the world’s limits and our own.

Berry’s phrase, burning the world’s body, perhaps influenced me more than anything.

Oil is the world’s body – created over millions and millions of years. We hunted for it, frantically searched for it, even on the bottom of the sea, and burned it.

But we were sloppy. And the resulting problems were huge: blowouts, fires, death, destruction, spoiled oceans, destroyed environments, smog, asthma, tuberculosis, cancers…

We had created a machine that enabled us to move quickly from one place to another, yet its use wrecked havoc on people, habitats and our environment.

So I purchased a bicycle and vowed to use the automobile only when absolutely necessary.

Racks and panniers enable me to carry necessities. A good rain jacket and gloves ensure I arrive at my destination warm and mostly dry.

Initially riding even a few miles exhausted me but I kept up.  Now I can ride many miles and my health has improved measurably.  Parking is never a problem and the amount of money I spend on gasoline: practically nothing.

I still own a car but this past summer, loaned it to a fellow teacher and now it’s gone to a new home in Oregon (my nephew).  I doubt I will ever purchase another automobile.

I fully intend to continue to pedal into my 70s and 80s, enjoying the strength and health it has given me, and relishing the smell of the flowers and song of the birds as I ride silently past.

We live in a beautiful world.  Let’s keep it that way. There are alternatives to cars that use oil, and I’ve found mine.

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