MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Our next story of inspiration actually has its roots in tragedy.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
The 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico provoked reactions of rage and sadness across the globe. But for one local resident it also inspired determination, determination to go car-free. Her name is Margaret Wohler. Environment reporter Jonathan Wilson brings us her story.
MR. JONATHAN WILSON
Margaret Wohler's aim wasn't to become that crazy bike lady.
MS. MARGARET WOHLER
I think the quickest way to get people turned off to whatever it is you embrace is to just talk about it too much. It's like, oh, god no, I don't want to have that happen.
In fact, she says she's always regarded her decision to dump driving for pedaling as a personal challenge and not a political statement, even if it was a choice inspired by the highest profile environmental disaster in recent memory.
You know, like everybody else, I just sort of did what was convenient and I just drove without thinking. But then when that blew u”, just seeing the oil billowing out like smoke from that, you know, pipe-like thing on the bottom on the Gulf of Mexico, you know, I just felt so anxious seeing that night after night, and just feeling like, you know, would somebody please just shut that thing off.
Wohler says the images of wildlife drenched in oil sent her over the edge, leading her to a realization about her consumption of that king of all petroleum products, gasoline.
Push had come to shove, really. I just felt like it's one of these products that you just can't hardly justify buying anymore.
Fitness-wise, Wohler was further along than many of us would have been. She's been a distance runner for most of her life, but quickly she learned that being in biking shape was pretty different than being in running shape.
I remember, particularly, the hills being tough. You know, great, walking the bike, it's raining out, you know, you get a flat tire. It's just like, ugh.
Wohler, who works as a teaching naturalist at Huntley Meadows Park in Fairfax County, also had to get used to carrying everything she needed for the day in a small backpack.
I think for a lot of us, if you drive the car a lot during the day it becomes sort of an extension of your purse. You start hauling around stuff that you don't need half the time, but it's convenient. You've got all these things. Well, I can't do that because I would accumulate too much stuff and it would be too heavy. So, it has forced me to be really organized, which has been a pretty great thing overall.
It's around lunchtime on a Monday, Wohler's day off. She's biking to the grocery store. A short ride from her home in Del Ray. It's raining out, but braving the elements on the bike is just something Wohler has learned to accept. Even snow doesn't keep her off the pedals most of the time. Right now she's wearing a paper-thin rain jacket, shorts and a bike helmet, of course. On her feet, flip flops.
This is about a mile or so to the grocery store. It's like no big deal.
All she has inside her backpack is a bike lock, but that will be different on the way home. As she reaches Old Town Alexandria, she's vigilant about using hand signals to communicate with drivers.
The main thing I'm still a little worried about is, like, the random drunk guy or texting, like, drivers that text.
Inside the store she heads to the refrigerated meat section and grabs a couple of packs of tofu.
We've got two vegetarian kids, so they hit the Tofurkey pretty hard.
The shopping trip doesn't last long, but Wohler's backpack is filled to the brim as she heads back out to the bike rack outside the store.
We got cheese, a pineapple, a bottle of wine, some tofu, some cartons of egg whites, let's see, spinach, tortillas, a couple of canned goods, five pounds of apples. We did all right. We did okay today.
Despite the full backpack, the short ride home is even easier than the trip out, in part because the rain has stopped. Wohler says making grocery runs with the bike instead of a car forces her to make daily trips so she can fit everything on her back. But while she may be buying her food in smaller chunks, she's certainly not eating less.
Because I do ride between 150 and 200 miles a week on the bike, so all of that effort is going into extra plates of food. So a lot of people are kind of jealous, like, oh, wow, I wish I could eat like that.
Wohler is quick to tell you how switching from driving to biking has changed her life for the better. But she'll readily admit that living in bike-friendly Del Ray made her decision relatively easy. And she says having older children, one's 20 and the other's 17 now, helped as well.
I think it would be much more difficult with younger kids. That you really are tied into a lifestyle that requires a lot more time on the road and a lot more carpooling, but now that my kids are older, more independent, it's just more social embarrassment on their part.
But Wohler says, ultimately, her children just want her to be happy. And while her initial decision sprung from a mix of environmental concern and a desire for a new physical challenge, she says it's made her happier on a daily basis than she could have ever imagined.
I never anticipated the payoff in, like, mood regulation. I mean, I'm so happy all the time. I just feel like I’m in a great mood. I’m never, like, keyed up or, you know, the thinking like, oh, great, you know, it's 4:00 o'clock, I'm going to be stuck in traffic, I had wanted to go to the gym and now I can't do that. It's like, I'm done. I don't have any of that.
She's saving money. She can eat whatever she wants, doesn't have to go to the gym to stay in shape, and she's happy all the time. Sounds pretty good, right? So what's stopping the rest of us from putting the bike pedal to the metal? Oh, yeah, we're all just worried about saving our children from social embarrassment. Right. That's it. I'm Jonathan Wilson.
This story was informed by sources in the Public Insight Network or PIN. It's a way for people to share experiences with us and a way for us to reach out for input on topics we're covering. You can learn more about the Public Insight Network at metroconnection.org/pin.
Time for our break, but when we get back, inspiring a childhood love for America's pastime.
MR. JOHN MCCARTHY
I would hope that if a Jackie Robinson or Sergeant Shriver came to my camp they would say, hey, I like that program. And they would ask me some critical questions about it. How can we make it better?
And maintaining inspiration in school against all odds.
MS. SHARON KINNEY
Not many people in my family went to college or even finished high school. So I wanted to, you know, go and make them proud.
Those stories and more in just a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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