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I was waiting for the "walk" light at the corner of State and Main when a woman on a bicycle rode by, followed by a trailer loaded with half a dozen plastic bins with bags of garbage strapped on top. As she rode up the hill past Smith College, she had to stand up and pedal with all her weight to keep the load moving. I was impressed by her strength, but mostly I wondered "Why?" What would possess a person to struggle to do what a car or truck could do with the push of a pedal?
There was a phone number on the back of the trailer, so I called, met with Ruthy Woodring and Alex Jarrett, and the following conversation ensued:
PI: What were you doing biking up Main St. with that trailer?
RW: I was taking trash and recycling to the transfer station for Pedal People, the hauling and delivery service my partner Alex and I do.
PI: Why don't you use a truck?
RW: I'm a believer in human power. I don't want to depend on Exxon or Shell to do things that are important to me. When I can do basic things for myself, like move myself around, I feel empowered.
AJ: One of the things I like about using our own energy for hauling is that we're keeping any money we make in the local economy. Unlike other trucking businesses, none of the money people pay us is spent on imported oil. Hmm, unless you count the olive oil in the beans we had for lunch. Also, by using bikes we save the city resources because we don't wear out residential streets like trucks.
PI: Do you ever use cars?
RW: Oh, sure, sometimes I carpool, hitch, take the bus or the train. But I try to keep my transportation simple and nonviolent. When I'm in a car, looking out at the houses and trees speeding by, I feel for those whose lives I'm unknowingly impacting -- the people who live next to the highway who never hear quiet, the people who have to breathe the air I'm polluting, the people who lost their land to highway construction, their farms to sprawl and strip malls, the animals who can't roam because they can't cross the highway... I don't think any of us uses resources in a way completely consistent with our beliefs. But for me, since I can bike and I like it, this is one way I can minimize my complicity in the violence done to our planet.
PI: But doesn't not using a car limit the peace work you can do?
RW: I think our lifestyles say the most about our commitment to peace.
PI: It seems like riding a bike everywhere, and hauling things by bike, is time consuming and a lot of work.
RW: Sure it's hard, but it's rewarding. I've been rewarded with a great heart, lungs, legs... Plus, I think any time you take a relatively simple machine, put your energy into it, and see what you can do -- it boosts your self-confidence.
PI: But how do you find time and energy to do everything you need to do?
RW: What I think I most need to do is treat all of life with loving kindness. Sure, there are a lot of worthwhile things I don't do because of the transportation they require. But that's OK. Being bike dependent keeps me more often in my neighborhood. Knowing I'm not going to have a car limits my living and working options. But I think my quality of life is better because I'm not spending an hour or more a day commuting in a car. And now, with Pedal People, being able to use my bike for my work -- this has always been my dream.
AJ: Back to the local thing -- I like getting to know our neighborhood on a bike: knowing the footpaths and shortcuts, noticing the trees, feeling the slightest change in the weather. I like how it's easy to stop and talk to someone we see on the street. When we do the Pedal People run, we're accessible in a way we wouldn't be in a truck.
PI: Biking sounds good for you, but what about people who physically can't ride, or who have to drive to fulfill family and work commitments?
RW: I don't think everybody can be as easily bike-dependent as we are, but I do believe most of us can move ourselves with our own power -- be it biking, walking, rolling a wheelchair -- more often than we think. That said, one of reasons I'm excited about Pedal People is because we provide an opportunity for people who rely on cars in their personal life to still decrease petroleum dependency in the neighborhood.
PI: So, do you really feel like you're making a difference?
RW: Plenty of areas of my life feel like repetitions of endless cycles. But here I find meaning, because riding bicycles we redefine "the American way of life."
(Ruthy also says to call her for commuting advice and/or accompaniment).