Climate Riding 300 Miles in 5 Days

From September 21-25, 2013 I took part in a Climate Ride with 200 other people between NYC and Washington, D.C. This was the second year that I did this bike ride. We rode a total of 300-plus miles. After each day’s ride I wrote about the day’s experience.

Day 1

I’m sitting at a picnic table on the Princeton campus after finishing the first 50 or so miles. All around this grassy area tents are up and others are going up. It’s a beautiful sunny warm late afternoon though showers or storms might be coming tonight.

Today’s ride was harder than I remembered it being last year. There were more hills that were steeper than I remembered over the first half of today’s ride.

There are about 200 of us, from a lot of different places. One guy is riding a big unicycle. The wheel is maybe four feet in diameter. I haven’t seen him arrive yet, but two people on a tandem bike just pulled in.

It’s amazing and wonderful how people who don’t know each other, but who have important beliefs and commitments in common, can bond so quickly. It really feels like a second family almost for these five days.

75 miles tomorrow, our longest day. I hope I sleep well.

Day 2

It hasn’t been easy, but I am now done with our 75 mile day, the longest of the entire ride. The “not being easy” began about 9 p.m. last night when what turned into about six hours of rain on and off but mostly on began in earnest. My old tent didn’t do well at all in that rain. I got wet, and I got at most three hours of actual sleep, and probably less.

However, I was able to do the whole ride pretty much okay, although the last 10 miles felt like at least twice that much.

The big positive news of today for me was that it looks like I have found two partners to ride with for the rest of the week, a woman in her early 50s and a high school senior from Burlington, Vermont. We discovered on the trail that we all ride at just about the same pace, and we ended up riding probably 40 miles together until the end. It looks likely we’ll keep doing that for the next three days, which is really good. I never found partners who rode at the same pace as me last year.

We’re staying tonight at a United Methodist Church camp near Downingtown, Pennsylvania. Some people are camping again but I’m staying inside in a room with 5 other people on 3 bunk beds.

Last night was the first evening program with speakers, and there were two of them. One was a woman from the World Bank. The other was a woman from Earth Justice. They were both good, if different. The Earthjustice woman spoke about the dangers of fracking, which I was pleased about.

Tomorrow we ride through Amish country. It should be the best day of the week, I’m looking forward to it. And it looks good as far as the weather, probably no rain the rest of the week, which is great.

I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep dry and inside tonight!

Day 3

Everybody doing this very challenging and strenuous ride believes that the climate crisis is real and action needs to be taken to solve it. Some believe it’s urgent that we get off fossil fuels very quickly and shift rapidly to a renewable energy based economy. Others would like to see that happen but are less committed to pressing hard to make that happen as soon as possible.

Some are young people, students just getting into this movement. Some are definitely older and active in the field of conservation. Others are full-time climate activists like me, and there are a number of other types of people.

All of us feel strongly about this. We wouldn’t be climbing these steep and long hills on bicycles and doing the hard work of reaching out to friends, family and people we know to raise money if we didn’t.

Today was a beautiful fall day as we rode through central Pennsylvania. The Amish country was as captivating as I remember it was last year. We saw lots of farms, corn and soybean fields and other crops we didn’t know what they were.

Like yesterday we also battled a pretty strong wind, and the temperature most of the day was pretty cool. It was in the mid forties when we started out and with the wind sometimes as high as maybe 20 miles per hour gusts, I was glad I was wearing a sweatshirt in addition to my climate rider shirt.

We climbed some very serious, long, steep hills today. And unfortunately most of them were toward the end of the ride. I noticed I was definitely slower when we went up hills then as compared to at the beginning of the day. This morning I passed a good number of people on some of the early morning hills. This afternoon I was being passed by a good number of people. I think that had something to do with my age of 64 and the fact that those passing me were under 30.

Tomorrow is the hardest day. Last year I felt the need to walk up parts of 8 hills on this fourth day coming up. My goal is not to do any of that tomorrow, but there’s a good chance I will feel the need to stop and catch my breath at least a few times before continuing the bike ride up.
We’re staying right now and tonight at a beautiful Mennonite religious camp close to the Susquehanna River. The young women making the food sing as they do so. And I expect the director, like last year, will say a very religious prayer on our behalf either at dinner or breakfast.

It’s a wonderful group of people who are going through a lot for these five days because of important beliefs. I am very fortunate to be with this community again.

Day 4

Today was the day with all of the big, steep rides up hills. Last year I walked for portions of 8 of those hills. Today I didn’t walk a single one and I didn’t even have to stop to catch my breath. I am so pleased with what I was able to do today!

The day didn’t start well at all. After having a slow leak tire fixed last evening by the mechanic here, I discovered that the tire he fixed was flat this morning when I went to go get my bike. I spent about 45 minutes with the mechanic team as they worked on my problem, eventually fixing it, but by that point just about 80 to 90 percent of the bikers had left.

I didn’t exactly try to push myself beyond my normal pace that I practice at, but I definitely was looking to move up once I was able to get going. Much more importantly I was looking to ride, not walk, up the many hills that we encountered.

After making it up two or three of the first really steep and long ones, I started to think that maybe today was going to be special for me. For 16 months I have been doing long distance bike rides every week, without exception. I have been working on strengthening my ability to go up hills. I have been reading about techniques and the psychology of hills riding, and I have gotten stronger as far as my bike riding up hills. And it all came together today.

Whereas last year I walked up portions of eight hills, today I didn’t do that for a single one. I didn’t even have to stop to catch my breath on a hill before continuing the ride. There was one particular hill at mile 60, the last big hill before we finished for the day, that I was so proud of myself for making it up.

So I’m feeling very good about this experience these last 4 days. There have been many, many challenges, including all day today with these hills, but at the age of almost 64 I found it within me, after many, many months of sticking to the training and to the rides every week, to ride them all.

Tonight I feel very fortunate.

Tomorrow is the last day. It’s a long ride, almost 75 miles I think, and we’ll end up at the US Capitol for a rally there. Compared to today it’s a much easier ride, much more downhill.

I am so glad that I am on climate ride 2013.

Day 5

I’m in Washington, DC at the house where I stay when I’m down here working. I bicycled up to this house from the US Capitol area where we had a closing rally for the climate ride yesterday. A highlight of the rally was the speech of US Senator Whitehouse from Rhode Island. He was very strong and clear about the eventual victory that we will win on this critical climate issue.

Today was relatively easy compared to yesterday but it wasn’t all easy. There were a number of serious hills, though not as many as Tuesday for sure. And there was a great, final 10-15 mile ride pretty much all downhill or level that ended in Georgetown by the Potomac River. It felt great to be moving along at 25 or more miles an hour in a line with other bikers for that extended period of time to conclude this long ride.

There along the Potomac we high-fived and hugged one another as we celebrated the end of our 300 mile journey. A definite peak experience!

Then we got on our bikes for what was called our “victory lap,” riding a couple of miles down Constitution Avenue to the Capitol for the closing rally. Another highlight there was when the guy who has ridden his unicycle the entire way rolled in as we were being gathered together for a group shot. He arrived to loud cheers and applause for his amazing accomplishment.

There are so many emotions as I wrap us this final blog about the Climate Ride.

I feel hope, first of all, that we really do have a chance of ultimately overcoming the power of the oil and gas and coal industries, their up-to-now stranglehold over the federal government. That is what is holding us back from the dramatic and urgently-needed shift to wind, solar, geothermal and other clean and jobs-creating energy sources. But with the power of the people, organized and united, a power that I saw in action for the last five days, we really can move (and ride over) mountains.

I feel such gratitude, such thankfulness, that at the age of 64 I was able to not just do the Ride again but to do it better and stronger.

I feel some sadness that, for at least a year and maybe forever, I probably won’t be seeing many of the people who I met, interacted with or just rode behind or next to. We have been such a loving and respectful family these last five days, and that’s not an easy thing to leave behind.

But life goes on, so today I return home to my permanent family and my usual work and life. That will include long distance biking on a regular basis. I look forward to getting on my bike early in the morning and, as I ride through Essex County, letting my mind return to these challenging, magnificent, unforgettable five days.