The Cycling Dead
Ah, the automobile, such an essential part of American life that it seems impossible to imagine a world without it, even a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested one. The whole "drive along having a conversation while looking directly at the person in the passenger seat and not actually at the road ahead" is such a familiar scene in US television that even after society itself has collapsed it seems that the makers of The Walking Dead find it impossible to imagine a world with out it. Survivors can live without toilet paper, electricity and a regular source of fresh vegetables, but the thought of a life without regular drive-and-chat heart-to-hearts is too gruesome to contemplate.
Portobello Harbour, the start of the new cycle route. Note the almost complete lack of zombies.
Portobello Harbour, Dublin, Saturday April 14th
One of the inevitable consequences of watching a zombie show is trying to figure out what you yourself would do in the event of a zombie pandemic (you're doing this right now even as you read this), which is a bit pointless because a) zombies aren't real and b) if they were in all probability you would be eaten by your girlfriend/boyfriend while sitting on the couch watching Britain's Got Talent. Given that I do not watch Britain's Got Talent (surprising, I know), my nights are thankfully free to spend on more productive pastimes, like ruminating on the nature of life, the universe and how I would survive a zombie pandemic.
My house is remarkably self-sufficient, with rain-water harvesting, solar panels and ground-source heating, has a number of vegetable boxes, grapevines and tomato-plants and is easily defendable when my neighbours don't leave the gate wide-open for passing youths, burglars and zombies. However city living never seems to work out well in these sorts of situations, what with the million-strong undead horde standing between you and the supermarket. Also, given both the frequency with which the heroic lead in such tales awakens from some sort of coma in a hospital to find that the world that they knew has collapsed around them and my own recent history of prolonged hospital visits, the chances of me awakening during a pandemic strapped to a gurney with an out-of-control beard and a tangle of tubes inserted into various limbs seems quite high, thus I cannot be guaranteed to be able to ride out the initial waves of doom in the comfort of my own ecological fortress of solitude.
Thus the necessity of finding an alternative secure location seems quite obvious, and luckily for me I have two good friends who live on an isolated farm in Roscommon, with its own water supply, vegetable garden, poultry and secure fencing, and given that they have had my Wii for the last three years I figure they owe me. With a population of 64,000 in the last census, Roscommon is one of the most sparsely populated counties in Ireland, which means less raw material for zombie hordes and fewer opportunities for misunderstandings with other bands of desperate survivors driven by a sense of paranoia and guilt over the unthinkable things they have had to do just to survive, things that make them question their own humanity and wonder if they are any better than the mindless killing machines they live in constant fear of.
Without wishing to give away their location (given that in all likelihood you and I will be in direct competition for the few remaining resources in this scenario), I will say that it is located roughly a hundred miles away from my probable starting point. Herein lies the problem, for despite the assumptions of almost every Hollywood scriptwriter, hopping in a car and driving there isn't going to be as easy as it sounds, thanks to the Greens.
Back in 2010 as the ESB (now Electric Ireland) began its roll-out of charging stations for electric cars, the then Fianna Fail/Green government set an ambitious target of having 10% of all cars in Ireland being electric by 2020. This was heralded as great news for the environment, but sadly neither John Gormley nor Eamon Ryan ever stopped to consider what would happen in the event of a zombie apocalypse, for in most zombie films the first thing to go is the power as somewhere off-screen the electricity workers are presumably gobbled up by their zombified colleagues and the national grid comes collapsing down around them.
While a fully-charged Nissan Leaf has a range of about a hundred miles under standard conditions (and weaving through shambling zombies on the motorway can hardly be described as "ideal"), the chances of me finding a fully-charged car are slim and with no mains power there is no way to recharge the car. While the silent motion of the Leaf means that any journey undertaken would be unlikely to attract the attention of nearby zombies, I just couldn't take the chance that the battery would die and leave me stranded in Mullingar (a fate too horrible to contemplate even without the zombies).
There is some good news though, as current Minister for the Environment "Big" Phil Hogan, in between rolling out regressive property taxes, ill-conceived water-charge measures and denying the necessity of action on climate change, has taken a harder line than his predecessors and is unwilling to be caught unprepared by the zombies. While the ESB had quietly scaled back its original plan to roll-out 500 electric vehicle charge points, with only 143 installed by the end of last year (and only 19 of these being fast-chargers capable of recharging a car in only 25 minutes), Big Phil felt this wasn't enough to discourage people from buying electric and so, as a public safety measure, he decided to increase the motor tax on them in the last budget (from next year all electric vehicles must also come with a bumper sticker that reads "EV Owners Die Sooner In Zombie Attacks". Good man Phil, always looking out for the people).
I, however, am not willing to gamble on the effectiveness of Big Phil's zombie plan and faced with the prospect of a nation foolishly succumbing to the silent lure of the Nissan Leaf, I decided that in the event of an outbreak I must be able to make it to Roscommon under my own steam. Walking is not an option as recent studies seem to suggest that zombies can move quite quickly, thus a bicycle seems to be the only sensible option.
Thus in preparation for this inevitable journey, this week I have mostly been... cycling. A lot.
While that might not sound like such an achievement, consider that for me most journeys by bike consist of point-to-point trips on DublinBikes, and the furthest distance travelled would normally be two miles, which is not great for outrunning the zombie horde. Therefore I decided to try and increase my cycling fortitude and stamina by dusting off my own bike and trying something a little bit more adventurous, and I am happy to report that in a single week (with six days cycling and one day of rest) I have clocked up over a hundred and five miles, easily enough to make it to Roscommon.
A few weeks ago a new dedicated cycle route complete with its own bicycle traffic-lights opened up in Dublin, starting in Portobello and following the Grand Canal down to the Liffey, across the Sam Beckett Bridge and along to Sheriff Street. From there I have taken the East Road and East Wall Road along to the Alfie Byrne Road, at which the dedicated off-street cycle path begins again and runs almost continuously to Sutton Cross. Daily trips have ranged from 11 miles (Portobello to the Bull Island bridge and back) to 23 miles (to Howth village and back), and most days I have averaged over 18 miles. This may not seem a lot to real cyclists out there, but this time last year I was in hospital on a gurney with an out-of-control beard and a tangle of tubes inserted into various limbs.
Much to the dismay of the Very Understanding Girlfriend I have become one of those people who obsessively measure parts of their daily lives, using an Android App to chart my daily cycling progress. While not quite Zombies, Run! (sadly neither suitable for Androids nor bicycles), MapMyRide does indeed let me map my ride (using GPS), track individual journey speeds and time (average speed is around 11.2 miles/hour) and also tells me roughly how many calories I burn (3,982 this week, apparently).
Therefore at the end of a week I can confidently say that I could almost certainly make it to Roscommon in the event of a Zombie pandemic, would be reasonably confident that I could make it there in less than four days at my current level of fitness, and should be able to bypass Mullingar completely.
In these situations, planning is everything.