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Three Years Later, BP Oil Spill Still Inspires Woman To Ditch Car

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Virginia resident Margaret Wohler decided to give up her car and bike everywhere.
Jonathan Wilson
Virginia resident Margaret Wohler decided to give up her car and bike everywhere.

Margaret Wohler's aim wasn't to become that crazy bike lady

"I think the quickest way to get turned off to whatever you embrace is to just talk about it too much, or become 'that bike lady,'" says Wohler. "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: the BP oil spill in 2010.

"Just seeing the oil billowing out like smoke from that pipe-like thing on the bottom on the Gulf of Mexico — I just felt so anxious seeing that night after night, and just feeling like, 'Aaah! Would somebody please just shut that thing off,'" she says.

Wohler says the images of wildlife drenched in oil put 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," she says. "I just felt like it's one of these products that you just can't justify buying anymore. For me, I couldn't."

Fitness-wise, Wohler was further along than many of us would be; she's been a distance runner for most of her life. But pretty quickly she learned that biking was pretty different than running in terms of keeping in shape.

"I remember, particularly, the hills being tough. Great — walking the bike, it's raining out, 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 around a lot every day it sort of becomes an extension of your purse," she says. "You start hauling around stuff you don't need all 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's forced me to become pretty organized, and it's been a pretty great thing overall."

And while her initial decision sprung from a mix of environmental concern and a desire for a new physical challenge, she's says it's made her happier, on a daily basis, than she could have ever imagined.

"You know, I never anticipated the payoff in, like, mood regulation," Wohler says. "I'm so happy all the time. You know, the thinking like, 'It's 4 o'clock, I'm going to be stuck in traffic, I wanted to go to the gym...' I don't have any of that."


Jonathan's story was informed by WAMU's Public Insight Network. It's a way for people to share their stories with us and for us to reach out for input on upcoming stories.
 For more information, click this link.

[Music: "Runnin' Down a Dream" by Pickin' On Series from Pickin' On Tom Petty]

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