Why NOT ride across the country? Or anywhere…

A typical contrarian.

When Jeanie decided last August she was going to ride across the country and make it a bike advocacy grassroots movement, I was so excited for her. What an awesome plan! I knew she could generate the attention around the bicycling community she was hoping for, and that it would be a trip for a lifetime. My sisters have both been the top role models for me my whole life. In my eyes there is nothing they can’t do. And everything they do, they do well.

Anyways, back to the point. To repeat: when she told me, I was excited for her. And then I thought about it a little more. What was holding me back from joining her?! Why couldn’t I be just as excited for her as I was for joining her? Well, the list of restraints starts with senior year in college (senior spring specifically, yikes!), and goes through the typical list: best friends, dog, thesis, water polo season, comfort zone… but the list doesn’t get much farther (although it does remind me that I’m living a pretty self-centered life, tucked away in a very comfortable little bubble world called Middlebury College in Vermont). I found that I have no commitments in my life right now that couldn’t wait or wouldn’t still be around after 3 months and 5,500 miles. It wouldn’t be easy to change all the plans I had made, but it wouldn’t be that hard either. When would I feel this way again, if I didn’t join her? Like most people, probably never.

Once I jumped on the bandwagon (and convinced friends and professors it was a necessary experience in my life that couldn’t wait), I found the hardest part of my decision to ride across the country for bike advocacy was waiting for the ride to start. Luckily, the wait is soon to be over. The movement is building every day. We’ve made connections in most of the major cities we’ll be biking through for the month of February. People we’ve never met have offered their homes for us to stay as we bike through their area. Group rides and fundraising events are being organized. We’re getting emails from people we didn’t email first wanting to join us for anywhere from a couple days to a week.

This is what gets me going, even more than the thought of riding across the country and seeing the country by bike: the bike community. There are people everywhere who love to bike, and very few cyclists who don’t want to share their love with others. To me, this is a perfect reason to promote general legislation and specifically safer streets for bikes. If there is so much love in the biking community, and we expand that by inviting more people to ride, spreading the mission of the Bike League and Safe Routes to School, and fundraising for these organizations, there will automatically be more love in more communities across the country. Cheezy? Sure. Reality? I think so.

When you bike rather than drive, you experience the world differently. You have to leave more time to get places (unless you can beat traffic and parking, which is almost always the case in DC, my hometown). You observe (and hopefully appreciate) more details about your route, as you both move slower and are probably closer to them – unique architecture, a new store, a friend on the sidewalk, a lost pet poster, a restaurant you didn’t notice before. You are physically doing the work to get to your destination (which brings more oxygen into your brain and helps increase brain power, burn calories, strengthen muscles, etc). You have to be conscious of the weather, always grateful for good weather and victim to bad weather unless you dress properly.

For me, bicycling is both freedom and connection. Bikes are a transportation mode independent of cars and better for the environment. I want to be part of a movement that will make this country better for the next generation, and I believe more bikes on the road will do just that.

I hope that our ride inspires you to bike somewhere, as my sisters have inspired me through my whole life. Whether you get on your bike for five minutes and cruise the neighborhood, join a bikeshare program and access the city out of your car for a day, or come join us for our whole ride, it will be a step in the right direction.

Happy riding J

Chelsea Ward-Waller

1 comment:

  1. Clear thinking and eloquently said! You are wise to take such a rare and precious opportunity with your Mom and sister to see the country up close and personal this spring. And to inspire bike riders across the nation to ride more often and under safer conditions. Exactly the right priorities for your life and for a sustainable, livable America.