RIDE REPORT: Climate Ride 2011

It started off with a bang. Literally. I crashed hard during a training ride less than a week before Climate Ride 2011. My helmet and glasses were smashed, and I was pretty banged up—a kink in my upper back, a massive bruise on my hip, a black eye, and some road rash on my knee—but miraculously my bike was unharmed. The crash really knocked the wind out of my sails and I considered postponing the ride until the following year, but after a few days rest my machismo and my desire not to disappoint my donors got the best of me and I decided to forge ahead with it.

Day 1: It was good to be reunited with some old faces from the original Climate Ride in 2008, and to make new friends at the starting line. We ferried out to New Jersey under gray but nonthreatening skies and started our 300-mile journey. I arrived at the Princeton camp early enough to set up my tent and get in line for a massage while one of my riding buddies powered our phone chargers with a dynamo that had been hooked up to a cycle trainer. The massage turned out to be a mixed blessing. One of my upper vertebrae clicked back into alignment under the slightest pressure, but I awoke the next morning with my shoulder in more pain than ever from the tissue work.

Day 2: Despite the aches and pains, Day 2 turned out to be a good day of riding. It's the day when the suburbs really start to fade away and America turns into one big farm. Our twists and turns eventually led us into Valley Forge, where I got a flat tire about 1 mile from the campsite. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The mechanic who bailed me out suggested we go explore Washington's Headquarters, which was just down a side road. We saw the fireplace that warmed George during the Revolutionary War: It was mundane yet amazing. If Washington were alive today he would totally buy green energy. You could feel it in the austere walls. After mugging for some touristy photos we checked in at camp and chowed down. Everyone still had adrenaline from the ride, so an epic 20-person game of ping pong ensued in the rec room at our dorm. There's something about bikes... they keep you young.

Day 3: On the third day we awoke to a light mist and rain. Water's not so bad for riding as long as you're not cold. What water does, though, is stir up the shards of glass on the road and stick 'em on your tire. Revolution after revolution they get pounded in until your precious inner tube is punctured. Roughly 2 dozen riders got a puncture in the first hour of riding, some people more than once. I managed to skirt all the carnage and get a little ways down the road, but chivalry called me and my friend David Dubovsky to the rescue of Shawna Seldon, one of my fellow board members, as she struggled with a stubborn tire. We were rewarded several miles down the road with a piping hot pain au chocolat, one of the best I've ever tasted. The rain was letting up at that point, which made for great riding as we headed into Amish country, chasing buggies of stoic men and inquisitive children up the hills. The knee I had fallen on the week before had started giving me trouble on Day 2, so I raised my saddle thinking it would relieve some of the strain. It did, but little did I know that doing so would cause other problems down the line. Our camp that night was a Mennonite retreat nestled in a hollow off the road, where we were treated to a supernatural sunset reflected off of textbook-puffy clouds.

Day 4: Finally we got some clear warm weather on the fourth day, so I decided to don my Amanda Bandana, a gorgeous neck piece made by one of my donors, Amanda Browder, a native Montanan who works as a sculptor in Brooklyn. I had promised her I would wear it in return for a donation. Despite my flamboyant attire, I found myself in a withdrawn mood. Climate Ride is a lot about socializing and networking with great people from the bicycle and sustainability worlds, but for some reason on both rides I've felt the need to just Zen out on the open road on Day 4. Maybe it's because we head into my home state of Maryland and it causes me to reflect on my personal voyage. Maybe it's just the sheer build-up of exhaustion that comes from pushing my body past where it usually goes, the spiritual displacement of constant motion. In any case, I needed some serious Zen because I was starting to get persistent pain in my Achilles tendon opposite the knee that had been bothering me before. (A saddle too high can also cause strain, which is why proper bike fit is super important.) After a lunch stop at a traditional horse farm in rural Maryland, I pushed on, bolstered by the quiet companionship of another tired yet strong rider, Allison Smith, a friend from the 2008 ride. Coming around a bend we almost ran over a turtle crossing the road, which warranted a stop for some ridiculous photos. The lessons of the tortoise and the hare certainly came to mind. We pushed on. The pain intensified and narrowed my focus. Chatter tailed off. I just wanted the day to be over. And then we hit it. The biggest hill of the ride. Now, I usually try to gut out the steep ones, but I really wanted to get off and walk. I almost did. But about three-quarters of the way up the hill these miraculous chalk messages started to appear, Tour de France style, with words of inspiration. And names. And then my name! And with it I let out a yawp of purest joy that pierced the quiet forest, and with a heart reignited and my energy turned primal I charged up the rest of the hill. I waited for Allison at the top and we wound our way the last couple miles to camp. That night, Geraldine, one of the Climate Ride founders, floated the idea to me of joining the inaugural board. Everyone chowed down on delivery pizza to make up for the nutritional deficits of a delicious yet insufficiently vegan kosher meal. It was a special night, with a bonfire after dinner that put everyone under its pensive spell. We could feel the end of the ride somewhere out there in the dark, rushing up to meet us.

Day 5: On the last day, we got dumped on less than a mile out of camp. I don't think we even made it to the end of the driveway before the skies opened up. The rain came hard for at least an hour as we started to leave the farms and forests behind and enter my old Maryland stomping grounds: The Sprawl. It's my least favorite part of the route. The traffic starts to get a little edgy again, and with the cooler temps my Achilles was not happy: It had a persistent burn right from the start. Fortunately Day 5 is downhill (on average, of course) as we make our way to the Potomac River. I got another flat, about a mile from lunch this time, in Silver Spring, where I was born. Luckily it was just a slow leak, so I was able to limp into the shopping center, where one of the young volunteer mechanics took care of my steed while I inhaled an overdue Chipotle burrito. There was more rain after lunch but our spirits were high as we jammed down the Capital Crescent rail trail to DC. I was drafting people as much as possible to conserve my tendon. This meant I was covered in grit from the spray of the other bikes by the time we got to the rallying point just outside Washington. I got cleaned up and everybody mustered together in their blue jerseys for our mass ride down Constitution Avenue. With impeccable timing the sun came out to dry us, turning the day into a typically muggy Washington afternoon. The mood was ecstatic climbing Capitol Hill. Seeing the happy feeling of achievement on the faces of first-time riders was one of my best moments. Rep. Earl Bluemenauer of the Congressional Bike Caucus spoke to us, as did Rep. Donna Edwards. During her speech she was gesticulating so much about how awesome green energy is that she didn't notice when one of her golden earrings fell into the lush grass. Sitting in the front row, I was able to laser in on the spot. She kept talking. And talking. She was shifting her weight from foot to foot, and with each step it seemed like she would press the treasure down into the sodden ground. Finally... applause, and she left the microphone. I pounced into action, to the spot my eyes hadn't left for minutes. The earring wasn't there, so my fingers combed the terrain in a miniature search and rescue. It took an eternity of ten seconds, but there it was, covered in mud. I took the earring over to the tent where she was chatting with Geraldine. The rep was surprised and impressed by my minor heroics and whipped the earring back in place, mud and all, saying, "You have a good eye." I told her it must be all the biking.

Epilogue: Lobbying and Beyond. The next day we returned to the House and Senate office buildings to meet with Members of Congress, though more often it was Members of Their Staff who were made available to us. I used to think that U.S. or even international action was the most important thing for solving climate change. It turns out there's not (yet) enough leverage there. But cities and states are small enough to still have the necessary collective wisdom, and they are passing meaningful laws. Eventually they will add up to a tipping point, even in recalcitrant countries like our great United States. That said, lobbying is still an important part of what Climate Ride does, and our 12-strong New York delegation spoke with heartfelt eloquence about why preserving a healthy Earth is so important to us all. After doing two rides and now preparing for a third, it's quite obvious to me that the most crucial benefits of the organization are three: Making people happy; Forging new friendships and alliances across the environmental and bicycle communities; and Funding the organizations that do the hard work in our local districts to put the world on a sustainable path. It takes constant effort to fight the good fight with minimal resources, and these groups deserve our sustained support.


In 2011, my Climate Ride beneficiary was New York's best bicycling group: Transportation Alternatives. I have been a volunteer with them for years, so it really made me happy when they signed on to work with Climate Ride. Together with the other riders on Team TA, we raised about $22,000 to support their work. And since Climate Ride disburses funds to the beneficiaries in December, TA was able to pair their Climate Ride money with a year-end matching grant, thus doubling the impact to nearly $45,000. And it's all paying off for cycling in New York City. The bike network keeps growing, and we are on the cusp of getting a bicycle rental system that will revolutionize the way people get around town. Transportation Alternatives has been one of the major forces pushing this kind of project forward to build a culture of safe cycling, and reclaim our streets.


Ashley Hunt-Martorano said...

Awesome recap, Evan! Makes me so excited for Saturday!

Bridget E said...

Well done, and good luck next week!