Back in the Saddle?

Gas Prices Altering Rural Life in More Ways Than One

The front page of The Messenger, June 4th, 2008

Brad Aaron is on assignment in the Southeast this week.

My hometown of Madison, North Carolina, lies in the Piedmont-Triad region near the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, just south of the Virginia line and about midway across state if you look east to west. It’s approximately 25 miles north of Greensboro, most famous for the Woolworth sit-ins of the civil rights era. When I was a kid it was more like 30 miles, but both towns have sprawled so much since then that Greensboro’s newest strip malls are a mere 25-minute drive, if that, from Madison’s ever-expanding subdivisions and mobile home parks.

Madison abuts its sister city, Mayodan (its namesake being the Mayo and Dan Rivers — the impetus and, for a long while, the lifeblood of its existence — it’s the only Mayodan on Earth). The combined population of the towns is around 5,000. Both have distinct, historic, walkable downtown shopping districts, though both are largely deserted due to the proliferation of "uptown" strips. Many of those, especially the ones built in the 70s and 80s, are abandoned these days as well, as the Kmart that helped put downtown business in dire straits was recently one-upped by a new Wal-Mart on the edge of town. And so it goes.

To my eyes, though the people of Madison and Mayodan rely almost exclusively on their cars to go anywhere (there is no public transit here), there are fewer full-sized trucks and SUVs on the road these days. I thought this might be a case of perception accommodating a conclusion, until I picked up a copy of today’s local paper, The Messenger ("Published twice weekly for loyal readers in Western Rockingham and Eastern Stokes counties").

Above the cover fold, but below the top story — a fatal car crash on the highway between Madison and Greensboro, not far from my parents’ home — is what at first appeared to be a feature on the winner of a recent M-M Saddle Club competition. Then I noticed the subheading.

Rising fuel prices affect horses, too

With gas prices soaring to record levels, many people are beginning to seek alternatives to gas-guzzling cars and trucks. But a weekend event in Mayodan proves the gas crunch even affects those who favor horses for transportation.

"The way gas prices keep climbing has forced us to try something new to make it easier for riders to make our horse shows," said Donald Joyce of Madison. "We decided to double up on events to cut down on the number of travel times."

The story goes on to report that participants are paying upwards of $100 in fuel costs to get their horses and equipment to and from local shows. The saddle club has started holding multiple events in one day out of fear that the normal 15-day schedule would result in lowered attendance.

Reading that first paragraph, I at first thought my hometown was looking to the horse as an alternative to driving. Who knows, maybe a few downtown hitching posts would do the trick.