Climate Ride

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Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #18, published in August 2012. Words by Carolyn Szczepanski. Photos by Kip Pierson.


I don’t like group rides. There, I said it. Pedaling in a crowded pack with people who have a high propensity to be a.) wearing a costume, b.) blaring Chumbawamba from a stereo trailer or c.) laser-focused on where their next serving of fill-in-the-blank specialty food is coming from just isn’t my style.

But Climate Ride is different.

I certainly enjoy the fact that biking keeps dollars in my pocket and probably adds years to my life, but it was my guilt and concern about climate change that got me back on a bike for transportation and inspired me to kick my car dependence entirely. Still, while the aim of Climate Ride certainly hit home for me—raising awareness about climate change and raising money for organizations that are doing something about it—it wasn’t something I sought out.

In fact, I was in the middle of a three week trip in Europe last September when my boss invited me to participate in the 2011 event. When I read the email on my partner’s iPod—as we waited for our order at an Indian café in Salzburg, Austria, the five-day, 350-mile ride down the coast of California started less than three weeks from that very moment. I’d have a mere 10 jet-lagged days back in the U.S. to train for a marathon pedal through tough topography that bears no resemblance to my pansy urban commutes in Washington, D.C.

But, what the heck, I figured. I’m fit. I ride every day. And what I lack in endurance, I make up for in passion for the cause.

I certainly wasn’t alone in that regard. The more than 200 Climate Riders who participated were a diverse group—from restaurant owners to environmental attorneys, people who work in greening the music business to a singer who had only ridden a bike 25 times before she got off the plane. But we had one thing in common: We were all fired up to pedal a stretch of the most scenic landscape in the U.S. and, along the way, talk shop about how we can build a more sustainable energy future.

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Even having lived and traveled in California as a kid, I was constantly speechless at the astonishing beauty of the route. The first day we rode through the redwoods, stopping for lunch among the thousand-year-old trees and writing postcards to President Obama under the canopy of the giants. On day two, we braved a driving rain, conquered the legendary Leggett Hill—a five-mile ascent—and were rewarded with views of the foggy, frothy waves of the Pacific. On the third day, the route snaked through eucalyptus trees as it hugged the coastline and more than two dozen Climate Riders completed the optional century ride—some tackling the mileage for the first time.

By day four, a mere 50 miles seemed like child’s play, so many lingered amongst the vineyards, sipping the sweet stuff (at 10 a.m.!) at a sustainable winery and sampling oysters beach-side near the entrance to Point Reyes National Seashore. And on day five, the rain cleared just in time for us to glide over the Golden Gate Bridge with stunning views of the bay and roll into San Francisco in our matching jerseys, chanting “Climate Ride!” all the way to city hall.

But the route was really just the sugar on top. All along the way, I got to know about the personal and professional efforts of countless climate and bicycle advocates. I pedaled down the Avenue of Giants with a gentleman who rode across the country on an electric-assist recumbent. I listened to an IT consultant talk about Richmond Spokes, a new community bike shop and education space, as we dodged cow patties on a steep ascent through a stretch of farmland. I took every opportunity I could to glean insight from the communications director for 350.org and the media team from Mighty Bytes in Chicago.

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And those were just the informal chats. Each evening, riders and supporters had the opportunity to share their work in a more formal setting. We got an insider look at the growth of 1% for the Planet; we got an author’s reading from “Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat,” a book penned by one of the wonderful riders from Team Clif Bar; we even got an intimate concert from singer and ukulele player Victoria Vox, who played on even as a blustery storm blew away her tent (literally!) in the campground.

Yes, it rained. A lot. But that just made the enthusiasm and professionalism of the support crew all the more apparent. From Blake and Geraldine—the ride directors—to the van drivers, bike mechanics and other volunteers, we were showered (sorry, bad pun) with humor, joy and energy even when we awoke to soaked tents and gloomy forecasts. And they didn’t just keep us well-fed and wrenched up: After I tweaked my knee on day two, just about everyone on the crew kept checking in to make sure I was feeling strong and taking my Vitamin I (ibuprofen).

Yes, I was utterly unprepared. My legs burned. My tent leaked. But the most unexpected thing: I had a blast. And, best of all, the ride raised more than $300,000 for a variety of nonprofits, from 350.org to the Alliance for Biking & Walking.

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[Ed note: Since this article was published, Climate Ride has grown. In addition to the California Central Coast ride, the organization offers rides located in Death Valley National Park, the Pacific Northwest and Glacier National Park—as well as point-to-point rides from: Bar Harbor to Boston, New York City to Washington, D.C., and Saigon to Angkor Wat. Learn more and sign up for Climate Ride at www.climateride.com.]

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