Friday, November 16, 2007

bike tires and backyard pineapples

A curious occurrence developed earlier this week. It started out on my bike ride home from work Monday afternoon and shortly there after cut a tire. More precisely the outer layer peel back in a certain spot and started to flap against the frame each time the tire went round. FLAP, FLAP, FLAP. Not wanting to strand myself on my ride to work the following morning, I took the back up bike. Now the bicycle I regularly use to commute to work is pretty fast. It’s not a road bike but a hybrid that puts me in an upright position but has a road bike-like frame and more importantly, road bike-like high pressure tires. This is part of the reason it’s so fast. And while I don’t race to and from work, it’s a 10 mile ride each way. I don’t mind riding 40 minutes each morning and again each afternoon, but that’s enough time on the bike. I like getting home with some time left in the day to see my family, eat before dark (most of the year) and maybe get something done before bed. I like my fast bike. So it was with a little dread that I pulled out the back up bike, a heavy mountain bike with wider, slower tires. I had not ridden it much since the purchasing my new one.

I should stop here and tell you that there are a few hazards on my bike commute. Of course there are the cars, but I manage them as best I can. There are also a few spots where the pavement is bad. Also there are a few intersections where gravel and debris collect in certain spots. On my fast bike, these spots are dangerous because my fast, thin tires don’t do well with sand, dirt, or broken pavement. The few times I’ve been forced off the road or through the debris I have very nearly fallen. Which wouldn’t be the end of the world, but who wants a banged up bike and a few weeks spent with scabs on his elbows? Here’s the thing though, when I rode my mountain bike to work I felt much safer. The broken pavement was no big deal and I quickly found I could float through the debris at intersections without any trouble. My mountain bike ride to work was not as fast as usual but I could see the looming choice ahead. Would I go back to my fast tires or settle for slower, more stable fat ones?

Friday is the day I run errands so a trip to the bike shop would have to wait. For the rest of the week I rode my mountain bike to work. I grew increasingly unhappy about the upcoming choice about having to choose between speed or safety. I kept going over my choice, weighing the pros and the cons of each. Would I get back on the fast bike or would I stay on the safe bike? But then, in a moment of clarity, I realized a very important fact about this choice. It was fictional. It was completely of my own making. There was not a choice between fast and safe. I had made it up.

When I got to the bike shop I talked it over with shop’s sage like owner of 30 years. (This man knows a ton about bikes and maybe more about bread and the steel of Japanese swords) I showed him the tire and he deemed it defective. But then I explained my realization to him in this way. I guessed that are many types of tires to choose from; that my mountain bike had come with wide, knobby tires and my hybrid bike with thin, smooth tires but that there were probably many options in between. He replied that my guess was only a partial insight into the world of bicycle tire choices. Then he got out the book. There are in fact, myriad tire choices for my bicycle. A decision to go with a fast tire or a safe tire was a grand over simplification of what was available. We settled on a tire that is 10 mm wider than my original fast tire. It does have a smooth surface for speed over pavement but the sidewalls have knobs so that as the tire moves through debris the knobs stabilize the bike. It has a reflective component built into the side walls as well as a titanium interior that resists punctures to a greater degree than normal tires. The description in the book said they were sturdy tires made for long distance riding on a variety of surfaces- just what I needed.

The owner of my bike shop is peak oil aware; has been for quite a while. When asked about the short term implications he says, with a sarcastic smile, that it’ll be good for his business. In the long run he says we’ll probably end up riding steel bikes with hard tires at speeds much slower than I aspire to. This is my way of saying that I understand my new tires aren’t the answer to post peak oil bike riding. Titanium is not an especially common metal and my new tires are undoubtedly manufactured in an energy intensive manner in a factory probably outside of the USA. Bicycle tires choices will probably peak soon after oil. But in the meantime I will ride on these news tires and I use them here as an example of the flawed way in which we often think about change.

Very often we think in terms of having something or having to give it up. Or we thinking of have one thing or having another. In reality though these are self prescribed parameters. And the truth is they limit us but automatically excluding a whole range of other possibilities.

Take pineapples for instance. It’s a safe bet that no pineapple I have ever eaten was grown in the continental US. Most of them came from Hawaii. Flying fruit half way around the world requires a lot of fossil fuel energy and burning that stuff causes the emission of greenhouse gasses. It stands to reasons that eating pineapples isn’t something I will be doing much of in the post peak era. And it also stands to reasons that it is something that I shouldn’t be doing in a world that is warming at an alarming rate. So it seems reasonable to decide that pineapples are off my menu forever. Period. End of story. Sad but true. No more pineapples. But this is another false choice.

I have a few different types of compost piles. One of them is an old upright metal basket for kitchen items that are very thick or woody and will take a long time to break down. They do break down, but the basket keeps them out of the piles that do break down quickly so I don’t add big stuff back into the soil the following year. One item that goes into this basket is pineapple tops. You know, the leaves and the inedible cap of the pineapple. A few weeks ago I noticed a curious site. Unlike the rest of the brown withered stuff in the basket, a pineapple top that had been in the basket for months was surprisingly green. Upon, further investigation I discover it was growing roots into the decomposed contents of the basket. A few days later I mentioned what was going to a friend and he said, “Oh yes, my grandmother used to grow pineapples.” My friend Chad went on to tell me the story of how his grandmother grew them in North Carolina when she was younger. North Carolina, as you are probably aware, has a climate that is not like Hawaii at all. It freezes in NC and growing pineapples sounds impossible. The process and his story goes something like this.

After enjoying a delicious pineapple shipped more than 6000 miles from Hawaii Chad’s grandmother would remove the crown of leaves from the rest of pineapple and place it in a glass of water. She would replace the water if it got discolored but would otherwise wait until the crown put out roots. Then she would place it in a pot and water it frequently. In the spring, summer and fall she would place it on her porch. In the winter she would bring it inside and set it on a sunny windowsill. After about a year the pineapple would need to be replanted. After another year or maybe just a bit sooner, it would fruit and produce a pineapple for her. Here’s a question for you, which one do you think tasted better? No I’m not talking about the pesticides sprayed on commercially grown pineapples or the fact that they are picked and shipped before they’re rip so they can make such a long journey across the U.S. I’m talking about the return on investment, the satisfaction his Grandmother most have gotten out of growing her own pineapple. I doubt she did it because she knew how much pollution is produced flying pineapples from Hawaii to North Carolina. I doubt she did it because of peak oil. Even during some of our recessionary financial cycles the occasional holiday pineapple wasn’t too expensive for almost any American family. I imagine she did it simply because she could and because she enjoyed the process of taking what was leftover and making it into something new again. It’s possible that with a greenhouse and a bit of planning that someone in NC could grow more than a few pineapples locally. I’ve read about Citrus growers in Nebraska. Perhaps the energy needs to keep such operations running in terms of fossil fuels isn’t the most responsible way of using them. In North Carolina though it doesn’t take much to keep a greenhouse from freezing. Strawbale walls that slowly decompose during the course of the winter or keeping poultry inside will do the trick.

Hopefully the planet will never warm to the point where we can live off of pineapples alone in North Carolina but that doesn’t mean the end of eating them because of a return to eating locally. It just means that they will be more work, more special, more celebrated as a way of expanding our table not through the continued use of fossil fuels but by returning to the idea of what is probable, what is possible and what the a human being can accomplish if she really puts her mind to it.

The point of retelling Chad’s story is not to undermine the idea of the Bullseye Diet; the idea of eating closer to home. But we humans thrive on challenge. I do not want the return to local, seasonal eating to be viewed as a negative. It will have its challenges as several generations of Americans who grew up without a connection to that which they eat have to begin again to connect with the systems that nourish us. In doing so we should strive to see this revision as a series of possibilities complete with the notion of pushing the boundaries of what is agriculturally possible in our areas. We do not, we must not see these choices in terms of simply doing with or doing without; of choosing one way or another. There is a range of post peak agricultural possibilities just as there is a range of bicycle tire options. Exploring our options will be one of the great thrills of living in an era of change.


baloghblog said...

that is a sweet picture of your back-up bike. I don't see it doing so well on the rough patches though.

I think as long as the trains keep running (or sailing ships) we'll continue to have orange and other citrus fruits being shipped out of the south. Just as timber, and apples will be heading in the other direction. I think that it will be far past our lifetimes that trade, especially between states in the US will be halted (if ever). As the tourist trade dwindles, I can see the sugar cane fields and orange groves becoming the largest income into the state. Alas, the hawaiian pineapples might be limited to the west coast (along with that tasty kona coffee!) But I am guessing that citrus fruit will still be around.

That is cool that a pineapple started regenerating in your compost. I agree that these "exotic" fruits will become much more special and much more of a treat.

Anonymous said...

I home brew beer, from scratch, I grow my own hops and barly. The water comes from my well, the yeast is the only thing I buy. 15 years ago my friends would turn up there nose to these real beer offerings. Now with the popularity of micro brews, my friends are coming around. My point is that some how we (amercan's) have been sold on the idea that store bought is some how better. Well it is not.
I some times feel like a gornet, I dine on home grown tomatos, potatos, green chillies, pop corn, blue corn, home made and grown pesto, chickin, and pork. It's some work but what else do I do during the evening, watch TV, NO.

DJ said...

Growing your own pineapple is one of the most innovative ideas I've heard in a while! We keep a windowbox of greens, so we can enjoy (some of our) salad in the winter without having it trucked from California.