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The Way Out of a Disaster Is with Each Other—and Bikes

In search of the perfect emergency prep plan for her family, one writer charts a path toward something much bigger.

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It’s one thing to observe your own fight or flight response in the face of an emergency. But in Adrienne So’s captivating feature in WIRED, readers get to follow the author as she trains for and rehearses a bold and strenuous challenge in preparation for disaster: specifically competing in the Disaster Relief Trials, a 30-mile bike race meant to simulate the chaotic post-“Big One” conditions in Portland, Oregon.

It may sound like a stressful read—there’s clearing rubble, hauling shipping pallets through pouring rain, and hoisting 40-pound buckets of water onto Popsicle, the author’s bright yellow electric cargo bike. But don’t let that concern keep you from relishing So’s narration, bursting with humor and contagious enthusiasm—and only a gentle nudge to confront whatever impending doom you may be avoiding.

We were such fans we asked So to share some of the inspiration and research that went into the feature.

“Like most people on the West Coast, earthquake prep has been at the back of my mind for years. But the more gear I collected, the more I realized that the best emergency gear was each other,” she explains.

Read on for more on the stories that helped power her piece, inspiring a reading list on mutual aid, bike culture, and the upside of Facebook groups.

Photograph by Gritchelle Fallesgon

The Really Big One

Kathryn Schulz
The New Yorker

Adrienne So: “ Almost everyone I know in Portland has practically memorized this piece. So if you read one story about the massive earthquake that’s expected to hit the Pacific Northwest, it probably should be this one. Kathryn Schulz goes into vivid, terrifying detail about the history of studies on this quake, the science behind it, and what we can expect.”

Excerpt: ‘A Paradise Built in Hell’

Rebecca Solnit

AS: “Post-apocalyptic scenarios often posit a hellish dog-eat-dog world, but this is one of the most uplifting and optimistic books about disaster that I’ve ever read. Rebecca Solnit examines major disasters—the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, the 1917 Halifax explosion, the 1985 Mexico earthquake, 9/11, and New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina—and overwhelmingly concludes that the vast majority of people find deep and fulfilling joy in helping each other. The excerpt gives you a sense of this, but I highly recommend buying the book as well.”

The Restorative Joy of Cycling

Clive Thompson

AS: “In addition to being a reliable mode of transportation when roads are shut down and gas is impossible to find, biking reduces carbon emissions and urban congestion. But would we really do it if it weren’t … fun? Clive Thompson does an amazing job of encapsulating that here. It’s just a fast, fun, exciting way to move around and see the world. Even kids know that: My 7 year old refuses to get to school any other way besides biking.”

‎The Pedestrian [LISTEN]

Doug GordonSarah GoodyearAaron Naparstek
The War on Cars

AS: “Some of my favorite people on one of my favorite podcasts—what could be better? While walking isn’t quite the same as biking, pedestrians share the same roads and have similar goals. Sarah Goodyear interviews the writer Antonia Malchik, author of A Walking Life, about how walking restores your connection to nature—and to your neighbors, as well.”.

The Political Philosophy of Care

Sarah Leonard and Deva Woodly
Dissent Magazine

AS: “As you might be able to imagine from my piece, mutual aid is a big thing in Portland. So while researching, I often turned to the work of Deva Woodley, a New School professor and one of the foremost thinkers on mutual aid and care is. This is a pretty great interview that covers mass mobilization after a disaster (the Covid-19 pandemic, to be specific).”

The Rise and Fall of the Ultimate Doomsday Prepper

Sam Biddle
The Intercept

AS: “It’s astonishing to me that doomsday preppers can have the same outlook as I do, but come to such wildly different conclusions. Prepper Barrett Moore’s conclusion that ‘Neither FEMA, nor the military, nor the police could be relied on in a true national crisis’ is basically sound, but I don’t agree with his conclusion that the best way out of that is to give everyone who can hold a gun, a gun. I don’t think that makes anyone better or safer than sticking it out with your friends and neighbors.”

The Baby Formula Shortage and the Rise of Rational Disaster Preppers

Eleanor Cummins
The New Republic

AS: “As a parent, the ongoing baby formula shortage during the pandemic was horrifying. But in my own community, I saw people step up to help each other, notifying each other on Facebook groups when formula was in stock at certain stores and offering sample formula packages online if they were nursing. Leftists preppers like Luis Rodriguez conceive of preparedness as being practical, communal, and pro-social, with a special focus on vulnerable communities.”

Revolt of the Delivery Workers

Josh Dzieza

AS: “Electric bikes are perceived wildly differently depending on where you are and who you see using them. If you live in a place where you see mostly parents toting their kids to school, then they’re too expensive and elitist and lazy. But if you see mostly delivery workers, then they’re too fast and dangerous. This is a devastatingly well-written and photographed portrayal of e-bike delivery workers taking care of each other under ruthless working conditions.”

From our partners

I Shredded a 70-Mile Dirt Ride on a Folding Commuter Bike

Elena Lacey

AS: “I don’t really have anything else to say about this feature except that I edited it, I love it, and since then, I deeply desire a compact Brompton that I can take with me on a plane to Scotland. Check it out, I suspect you’ll feel the same way.”

Adrienne So

Adrienne So is an editor and writer in WIRED’s Gadget Lab. She writes mainly about fitness, parenting, and the smart home.