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A person on a bicycle is the most efficient form of human powered transport. Better than walking, running, rolling, you name it, the bicycle wins. If a human being could be modified to drink and process a gallon of gas, they would get between 600 and 900 miles per gallon. Remember that the next time you get in your Prius that is, if you can still find any place to buy gas for it.
In a sick sort of way human beings do run on oil. For almost 50 years American farmers have been in the business of turning oil into food. After we were done clear cutting all of the forests, and plowing under all of the grass lands, we set about the task of turning an eco-system into a monoculture. We turned a vibrant food web into the “green revolution” consisting mostly of corn, wheat, and soy. None of this could have been possible without oil, and lots of it.
We use oil to run our tractors, to create our fertilizer, to create the toxic soup of pesticides and herbicides, then more oil to move the whole mess from the farms to the store, keep it cool, then even more oil to get it from the store to our homes. For every one calorie of food we eat, 10 calories of oil must be used.
Or at least that’s how it used to be. Rain and I had been riding through upstate New York for days. At these slightly higher altitudes things were slightly greener, but you could tell the smaller trees and road side grass would have liked more water. Their leaves wilted in gentle protest to the oppressive conditions.
We passed farm after farm that was shut down because there is no way to farm a thousand acres of land with only one or two farmers. Without tractors, and without fuel to run them, food production all across the country had ground to standstill.
A couple towns back we had heard from a traveler that the southwest was experiencing food riots and that drug cartels had starting fighting with the border patrol for control of the few water supplies in the area. So far the border patrol seemed to be wining, but the traveler made it seem like this might not always be the case.
Here in the north east people mostly had started reverting to small gardens, embracing local organic food by necessity rather than choice. They concentrated on growing what they could to feed themselves. That is, if they could get anything to grow in the “new weather” as people had started calling it.
“Come on Q. race you to the next hill!” Rain was in rare form today, her well toned thighs pumping like tattooed pistons.
Trying to catch Rain on a bicycle was like trying to hold mercury in your hand, almost impossible, and with potential long term health consequences. She was faster, stronger, and in better shape than I would ever be, but I did my best.
The wounds on my arm were healing well, both the intentional and unintentional. My star scar was starting to turn a dull shade of pinky red, while my stitches had long ago fallen out. Amazing what food and sleep could do if you got them on a regular basis.
We had long ago given up on begging for food and had started bartering, stealing, or foraging most everything we ate. Even with the world falling apart around us there was still an awful lot of canned goods left in abandoned homes.
“Hold up…” Rain’s hand came down in the signal for stop. “What in the fuck is that thing?”
Before us on the crest of the hill rose a giant improbable tower. Bits of metal, wood, plastic and wire defied gravity with the determination of mountain climber. The whole thing looked to be held together with a collation of screws, duct tape, and rope. Long slim poles made from metal sprouted from the top like the antlers of a moth.
“It’s an umm, well…” For all I knew a tornado had run over the local down dump and deposited this thing here.
“That!” a voice from behind us proclaimed “Is the best god damn radio tower you are going to see this side of the Mississippi!”
We spun in unison, to be greeted by the business end of a rather large and weathered break-stock shot gun.