Bicyclists Take Climate Change Message on the Road

By Beacon Staff

At 11 years old, Caeli Quinn bicycled Going-to-the-Sun Road over Logan Pass on a family vacation. Then, she had little thought for the carbon-neutral, oil-free method of travel except that it was fun. Later, she rode long bike tours across China, Chile, Argentina, Slovakia, Italy, Burma and most of the U.S. “Bicycling slows down the pace of life,” says Quinn. “It’s the ultimate way to be an observer.”

Now the Whitefish cyclist is organizing the largest group ride of her life – a tour for 100 bicyclists. But the Brita Climate Ride 2008 is not a simple tour. The 320-mile five-day tour is a fundraiser, an educational convention and political ride. Its goal is to deliver one message to Congress: It’s time to go green. “There’s no time to dilly dally,” says Quinn. “It’s not like waiting is helpful with climate change.”

Quinn and Geraldine Carter from Missoula, both long-time Backroads bicycle tour leaders, founded Climate Ride. They parlayed their skills at scoping out potential multi-day bike tours into creating a climate conference on wheels. While it’s a tour with catered camping and support vehicles, it’s also a chance for riders to hobnob with climate change experts and talk to their congressional representatives. Sponsorship is beginning to rack up some heavy hitters – including Backroads, Clif Bar and Specialized – who want to be part of the message.

The ride, scheduled for September 20-24, starts in New York City and finishes in Washington, D.C., at the National Mall. En route, it tours through downtown Manhattan, Valley Forge, and Amish country. “I was pretty impressed with the beauty of Lancaster County,” says Quinn, noting that it’s the home of Tour de France cyclist Floyd Landis.

In the population-dense northeast, the ride intends to garner attention. Climate Ride wants to advocate less dependency on oil through human-powered machines and also make a statement with their behaviors. The catering aims to be low to zero waste, and contrary to most athletic events, you won’t see disposable plastic water bottles on this ride. The title sponsor Brita joined Climate Ride to promote using filters and re-useable water bottles to reduce the 38 billion water bottles that head to landfills each year.

For cyclists, the entry requires fundraising $2,250 each. Organizers are aiming for 20 percent covering expenses and 80 percent going to two national nonprofits pushing for green changes. Clean Air-Cool Planet, based in the northeast, gives solutions to corporations, businesses and college campuses to reduce their carbon footprint while maintaining economic viability. The Oregon-based Focus the Nation works with high school and college students and politicians to enact global warming solutions.

Unlike other bicycling fundraisers, Climate Ride has huge ambitions. “It’s not just a fundraiser, but an awareness campaign,” says David Kroodsma, public relations manager for Climate Ride. Kroodsma knows firsthand about raising global warming awareness. Over two years starting in 2005, he road 15,865 miles from California to the tip of Chile speaking to thousands of school kids about climate. The speakers on Climate Ride each night are experts in changing climate – adventurers, scientists, and those providing innovative sustainable technologies – all people with experience looking to solve global warming.

Kroodsma points out that bicycle campaigns are the perfect forum. “A lot of people are seeing the connection between bicycle riding and global warming,” he says. “You can use it as a megaphone to amplify the message.”

As soon as Climate Ride opened registration in mid-April, riders across the country began signing up. Ironically, one of the first was Susannah Casey from Somers. Her daughter Lauren from San Francisco suggested the pair of them do the ride to celebrate Susannah’s 60th birthday. “I’ve always wanted to do a supported ride like this,” says Susannah. “I thought I was signing up for a California thing, but found out that two women from the Flathead and Missoula were organizing it.”

Casey faces two hurdles – training and fundraising. Her longest ride has been two days around Flathead Lake, but that doesn’t daunt her. She has started bicycling the 12 miles to work daily. “I’ll just ride as much as I possibly can,” she says. Her fundraising started with her husband as her first sponsor, but she hopes to round up 22 friends for $100 each or 44 for $50 or 88 for $25, she says, noting that people can donate to her fundraising through the Climate Ride Web site. “We’re going to ride right up to the capitol building,” she adds.

Neither Quinn nor Carter intend for Climate Ride to be a one-time shot. By next year, they hope to go bi-coastal. “There’s so much doom and gloom in global warming news that we lose sight of what we as individuals can do,” says Quinn. “This is about possibilities.”

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