When the well runs dry

February 28, 2014 § 27 Comments

As Rudyard Kipling so famously wrote in his epic poem Gunga Din

YOU may talk o’ gin an’ beer
When you’re quartered safe out ‘ere,
An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it;
But if it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water,
An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ‘im that’s got it.

It’s been the nicest winter imaginable for riding a bicycle, so warm and sunny and pleasant that the news from Chicago and the East Coast and other weather-challenged climes seems almost unfair. Then I remember that Karma Bitch and Karma Bastard always have the last laugh. That’s always as in “always.”

This afternoon I got my first taste of what it means to experience earth’s warmest January since humans began keeping temperature records, when I read a brief little article about California’s drought and how it has caused the Russian River to essentially dry up. You see, even though bicycle riders love sunny, warm winter days, and even though it makes them happier than a stoner at Hempcon to be out pedaling when their Midwestern counterparts are chained to the trainer in a cellar, there is one thing that California bicycle riders love every bit as much as riding bicycles, even more, perhaps.

Beer. Because unlike the soldiers in Gunga Din, bikers don’t do their work on water. They do it on beer. Over ‘ere.

And they don’t just love any old beer, they love California beer. And the California beer they love more than any other liquid refreshement in the whole pantheon of malt, barley, hops, and yeast is the beer with names like Lagunitas, Pliny the Elder, and Racer 5. Each of these treasures shares at least one thing in common: They exist due to the rolling blue bounty of the Russian River, which in turn depends in large part on Lake Mendocino, which in turn will go dry this summer if California doesn’t get more rain in the next two weeks than it’s gotten all year. That would be “last year.” The river itself is barely gurgling in the middle of a “rainy” season barely worthy of the name, a time when it should be raging, roaring, and plunging with clear blue water.

The deluge predicted for the next few days, if it happens, won’t be more than a tiny Band-Aid on a gashed, gaping, open wound. We’re in negative water territory and a few days of hard rain won’t save us.

How will California’s bicyclists get their beer?

“Nothing ever happens until it happens to you,” or so goes the old saw.

What’s about to happen to California cyclists is this — they’re going to finally have an endless summer, and it’s not going to be pretty. Most of the state is naturally a desert anyway, and if the megadrought that’s already in the works comes to full force, the manmade greenery here will wither and blow away like dust. Car washes will shut down, pools will empty, and a lawn or two in Palos Verdes may actually go brown (a little bit, maybe).

But we can still ride our bikes, right?

Wrong.

You can’t ride your bike if there’s no West Coast IPA at the end of the trail. It’s not so much that you can’t, it’s more of a “Why would you?” kind of thing. Tens of thousands of California drinkers have a cycling problem, and without the beer, well, the drinkers just kind of go away. And you can forget your precious California wine. The 2014 vintage isn’t even a hope anymore.

Until now you’ve probably not given a second thought to your 30-minute showers, your weekly carwash, and those endless lawn-watering sessions where you also make sure the asphalt gets good and doused as well. I hope after reading this you’ve gotten religion.

Your beer depends on it.

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