Washington DC has the reputation of being a serious, buttoned-up place, but 200 cyclists riding several miles down Constitution Ave on September 25, ringing their bells momentarily turned downtown into a joyous party. Getting that police escort, riding among people I'd just biked 300 miles from New York with, was one of the best experiences I've ever had. After pedaling up and down some lonely, beautiful hills in rural New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland, after skirting the occasional unfriendly suburban sprawl and disgruntled driver, it was as if my city was welcoming me back with open arms. We were joined by some locals on Capital Bikeshare bikes, a welcome wagon from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and families of riders on their own bikes.
I've been to a lot of climate rallies, but this one had the best energy. Why? We weren't telling leaders that the world would be a better place with clean energy and bike/pedestrian-friendly cities, we were demonstrating that truth by practicing it.
Here are some other things I learned on the ride:
New York City Loves Bicycles: We started our journey in New York City. The first bike I saw from the window of the Bolt Bus that had taken me up there was a Citi Bike, New York's brand new bikeshare system. It's only taken two months for 6,000 of these bright blue bikes to take over the city. I saw people riding them everywhere. This despite the software glitches the system had faced during its launch. But it wasn't just bikeshare. Emerging from the Bedford Ave. subway station in Brooklyn, I was greeted by piles of multicolored bikes locked everywhere. The local I rented a room from in the East Village told me neighborhoods around the city are clamoring for more bikeshare stations. I felt perfectly safe riding the few first miles of the ride from Brooklyn to the ferry in Manhattan.
America is Beautiful and Ugly: Riding through suburban Philadelphia's strip malls and under a handful of highway exit/entry ramps makes a cyclist feel vulnerable. Several folks on our ride, myself included, were shouted at or blown exhaust by drivers who felt we didn't belong there. We passed some pretty atrocious looking Desperate Housewives-style mansions in New Jersey.
But for the most part, I was overcome by the beauty and friendlienss of this region. The charming towns of Princeton, NJ and Doyleston, PA, the sweeping beauty of Amish Country, the peaceful winding roads through forested state and national parks, the majesty of the Susquehanna River. It was exhilarating topping hills and flying down them, past Norman Rockwell barns, soybean fields and Amish laundry whipping on lines in the wind. This is one of the busiest corridors in the country, but at times it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.
The Body Adjusts: I'd never done a multi-day bike ride before. I'd never climbed hills as steep and long as some of the monsters I encountered in PA and MD. I anticipated feeling more worn down as the days progressed, but I actually felt myself adjusting to the challenge. Most of the other riders seemed to share this feeling. We hit our tents/cabins each night completely wiped out, but somehow found ourselves reenergized each morning. The smorgasbord of food and snacks constantly provided by the Climate Ride staff kept us fueled up.
Riding With Others Helps: Even with 200 riders I occasionally found myself riding alone. As an introvert, I feel comfortable in solitude. But it was also nice when a group would come up behind me and we could ride in a pack, especially in busier sections. One of my favorite moments was in Pennsylvania, when after surmounting a somewhat challenging hill, I came across a group of Bostonians ("the ACE crew") taking a snack break who spontaneously began cheering and joking with other people coming up the hill. The support staff (medic, bike mechanic, etc.) who constantly passed us was also reassuring.
Congress Needs to Hear From Us: The day after the ride I joined my Citizens Climate Lobby teammates and other Climate Riders to visit about 100 members of Congress to press for climate legislation. This issue is urgent: The brand new IPCC report says that the world's scientists are as certain that humans are causing global warming as cigarettes cause cancer. That means we're in for more severe storms like Sandy, more droughts, inundated coastlines and a host of other impacts affecting every corner of our lives. Despite this, Congress isn't moving on lowering our emissions. Citizens Climate Lobby is aiming to change this situation, and you can help by reaching out to your member of Congress to tell them you want them to do something about climate change.
|Me and my Citizens Climate Lobby teammates in Brooklyn: Ashley, Sieren, me, Danny and Joe|
|... and in DC|