by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & got some cool new shoes the other day -- 100 percent guilt-free, in fact. The canvas and shoelaces are some kind of recycled something or other, and the soles are made out of old tires. I think there's even some hemp in there, too.

But then I saw it: Made in China. Doesn't that kind of kill the whole treading-lightly vibe? I mean, they have to get shipped across the ocean -- I wonder if maybe we even send them old tires from America to use for the soles.

These days, making a difference can seem like one step forward, two steps back.

I guess that's what Al Gore was talking about last week when he announced plans to push America toward a goal of reducing our carbon-based energy consumption to zero within the next 10 years.

"Like a lot of people," Gore said, "it seems to me that all these problems are bigger than any of the solutions that have thus far been proposed for them, and that's been worrying me."

Yeah, it's worrying all of us.

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & E & lt;/span & ven though I told myself I wouldn't write about it, here goes: I've been riding my bike to work lately -- once a week, with a couple of exceptions. I told myself I wouldn't pontificate on the simple pleasures of slowing down -- I know this stuff is dripping with clich & eacute;s. (When I verge into clich & eacute;-land, I'll ding! it to let you know.)

People seem genuinely flabbergasted that I ride my fat-tired old seven-speed five miles each way -- like I've become one of those humans on Wall*E who shouldn't be expected to get out of my Barcalounger. I started during "Ride Your Bike to Work Week" earlier this spring, and I guess it was to at least do "something" to address those problems Gore keeps reminding us about. And it does reduce my commuting carbon footprint (and more important, my gas bill footprint) by 20 percent a week. But it's been so much more valuable than that. (Here come those clich & eacute;s.)

Exercise makes me feel great (ding!), something I've known for a long time but haven't been able to embrace as much since entering the great American rat race. I sit at a desk most days, gazing into a computer monitor. I'm not sure we were meant to live this way; I've often wondered, while on my bike, if my ride could be actually extending my life. Even if it's just by half a day, that's another reason to ride.

Biking is solitary, and we all need a little more peace and quiet (ding!), more time to reflect and consider how we really fit into this crazy scheme. I've always valued church for this very reason -- it's the one time every week to shut up and listen to yourself.

And my rides offer the added bonus of running right through the neighborhood I grew up in. It's literally a trip down memory lane (ding!) every time I ride. There's the alley we used to have dirt clod wars in... there's Manito Park, where we used to chase turtles, have our last-day-of-school water balloon battles and explore among the rocks for hours... there are the houses where my friends lived... that's where I first heard Pink Floyd... and, of course, there's the house I grew up in, smacking me with a different memory every time I pass.

It's precious stuff -- all these pieces of myself -- and I've been driving past them all, fast as I can, for years now. Slowing down truly does allow you to stop and (ding!) smell the roses.

But none of that's going to save the planet -- or is it? As Gore put it last week, "Many Americans have begun to wonder whether or not we've simply lost our appetite for bold policy solutions." Still, comparing the moment to the push to put a man on the moon (ding!), Gore says bold strokes, not baby steps, are what we need. He's right, and here locally it's time to push light rail again. That's one bold project that, unlike the long-fabled north-south freeway, could make a massive difference.

But in light of my own two-wheel travels, I think baby steps are important, too. As I see all the people out riding their bikes, waving at each other and smiling, I can't think of a more powerful force than millions of people, each in their own little way, pulling on the same rope (ding!) and changing the world.

I can't fix it all by myself, but I can make better decisions about how I consume (right down to my shoes) and leave my car at home more often, not only to cut gas consumption but also to appreciate the world that is at stake in all of this.

Every journey -- and Gore specifically calls this epic effort a journey -- starts with a single step (ding!), and I would argue that can be a baby step.

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & F & lt;/span & inally, a note on clich & eacute;s: You've noticed all my little ding!s; I put them there for a reason. In journalism, as in postmodern American life, we're taught to laugh at clich & eacute;s and the people who spout them -- just a bunch of fairy tales of absolutely no use to the informed, cynical masses.

Perhaps another bold change we need is to recognize that clich & eacute;s are so often repeated because, even if unoriginal or predictable, they are true. And the most clich & eacute;d are so true, in fact, that they transcend the form until they become pure wisdom. Confucius, Jesus, Will Rogers... all articulated the kinds of basic truths we might call clich & eacute;s today.

And we will need all the wisdom we can muster -- and a lot less cynicism -- to meet the challenges we must face up to together. (Ding!)

Suds & Science: The Martian @ Golden Handle Brewing Co.

Sat., Feb. 4, 7-9 p.m.
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