It was courage and ambition, perhaps fueled by desperation. Near the top of an incline, on one of the steep Route 52 hills between Bluewell and Bluefield, a man pushed his bicycle toward the top of the slope.

Cars and trucks whizzed past as he precariously navigated the bicycle on the narrow shoulder — mere inches from the steady stream of traffic.

A few years ago it would have been a strange sight, as unusual as the scene of the horse corralled beside the roadway a few months ago by city police officers. (The horse had escaped from a nearby farm and officers were preventing it from going onto the road as they waited for animal control.)

But last week the sight of the bicyclist — on the extremely biker unfriendly road — was simply a sign of the times.

Another individual, it seemed, had found an alternative to the ever-increasing gasoline prices.

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Every day as I commute back and forth along Route 52, through Bluewell and down the two-lane Route 71 (Lorton Lick), I marvel at the increasing number of people I see walking.

Just a few years ago the majority of those on foot were kids and teens — en route, one assumed, to their home from a sports practice or on the way to a friend’s house.

Not anymore.

The demographic of walkers in the county has dramatically increased in step with fuel prices.

A few days ago I saw what appeared to be a mother strolling with two older daughters (late teens, early 20s) toward a local hair salon. I wondered if they drove to their appointment last summer — a time when we all thought gasoline was outrageously high priced.

Now we know better. The steady increase in prices has been a story written like the proverbial tale of the frog in water.

Place a frog in boiling water and he’ll quickly jump out. But place him in cold water and slowly heat it up and the frog will boil to death.

Disturbing, yes, but an appropriate analogy to what Americans have faced and endured at the fuel pumps in the past few years.

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While we as a society have always complained about gas prices — I can remember my parents and grandparents bemoaning the cost decades ago — the rise toward the $4-a-gallon mark has resulted in indelible tell-tale signs of a culture stressed-out by the economy.

Look around. People are attempting to save dollars, dimes and pennies any way possible.

The loose change in the car console cup is now viewed as expendable income. Why bust a $5 when a couple of $1 bills and a handful of well-used coins can pay for that lunchtime chicken wrap and gourmet coffee?

And speaking of coffee, how many caffeine connoisseurs are starting to feel guilt over their daily indulgence in a high-priced cup o’ joe?

I have found myself doing a daily, running cost analysis of my somewhat high-priced hair styling products (less use of product equals a savings that can go toward gourmet coffee).

It’s insane. Partly because I hate math, so any crunching of numbers is a scary indicator in and of itself, but primarily because women should not have to choose between a good cup of coffee and a happy hair day.

While caffeine and styling spritz are my daily luxuries, I wonder how many families are also facing the harsh reality of choosing less preferred products because finances demand it?

How many households are considering or already taken the desperate act of scaling down from the higher priced, high-quality, thick toilet paper to the cheaper, rough-textured rolls? It’s unconscionable! Americans have earned the right to soft and absorbent bathroom tissue.

The rising prices have also resulted in dramatic changes in our everyday routine. People are attempting to save money in any way possible, and not just by bargain shopping at grocery and retail stores.

Pay attention at the drive-through lanes at fast food restaurants. How many motorists are now turning off the ignition instead of idling their vehicles as they wait for the driver ahead to order?

It’s a practice that’s becoming more common every day. And fast-food etiquette is now a must.

Each second a driver spends perusing the menu at the drive-through, while slowly making up his or her mind, ticks up pennies, nickels and dimes on the gas gauges of all the cars behind them. At no other time has it been more important to speak promptly and efficiently at the speaker — giving no more than two separate orders — and have the exact change ready to pay at the window.

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While we can all hope this crisis will ultimately pass, the swift and frightening change in our daily budgets makes it hard to be optimistic about the future.

Chances are we’ll see many more bicyclists on Route 52, much more penny counting for gourmet coffee and a steady increase in those walking to errands — as opposed to “running” — before we finally pass through this era of economic turbulence.

The water is beginning to feel very hot. When will we finally jump out of the pot?

Samantha Perry is managing editor of the Daily Telegraph.

Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com.

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