NOTE: This is a story about testing your limits, building self-confidence and passion, and being conscious of your surroundings and actions.
On October 24th, five environmental studies graduate students attending The Evergreen State College were about to begin a 150 mile bicycle ride from Olympia, Washington to Portland, Oregon to attend the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference (AASHE).
Why would we bike 150 miles just to attend a conference? We could have carpooled, taken the Amtrak train or taken a plane. All would have been substantially quicker and less physically and mentally demanding. By bicycle, it would take us two days to complete the trip, with several hours of pre-trip planning (finding a route that was safe). We decided that this would be the most “sustainable” transportation option, using man-power instead of fossil fuels to power our vehicles. We also thought it could be fun, or at the very least, a good story.
BEFORE THE RIDE:
I spent two months training for this 150 mile bicycle ride with my partner, exploring the city of Olympia, riding on rural roads to pristine beaches with spectacular views.We are new to the area (as of August 2014), so it was a great opportunity to explore greater Olympia. Bicycling allowed us to see areas we would have not ventured to otherwise. Also, summer and early fall is beautiful in Olympia—clear sunny days! Apparently it was one of the best summers this area had ever seen (thanks Climate Change?). I tried to ride about 50 miles a week before I began my graduate program this fall, but once school started, I was glued to ecology textbooks and writing papers on Charles Darwin.
I also had to gather supplies for the ride. To be sustainable, I tried to buy bicycle gear used or borrow it from friends. Tip: I went to an REI garage sale and found several used, high quality items for a fraction of their original cost. If I couldn’t buy my gear used, I would support local bicycle and outdoor shops in Olympia.
– DAY 1 –
We started at 8:00am, on a brisk, cloudy morning in Olympia. Our goal was to ride 69 miles in six hours. The first 20 miles were great—we were riding on a nice paved bicycle trail, away from busy roads. But then I got my first flat. Bicycle tires have tubes inside of the wheels, which you either patch or replace with a new one to fix a flat tire. Due to time constraints on the road, we wouldn’t have time to patch a tire, so we were required to carry spare, new tubes. Long story short, I bought the wrong sized tubes, and had to borrow a tube from a fellow rider. This was also my first time changing a flat. First lesson learned: Buy the right gear, and always practice a new skill before you have to apply it in the real world.
We made it to our lunch destination, The Olympic Club in Centralia, WA. Food never tasted so good!…We had 39 miles to go.
The ride the rest of the first day was beautiful. We rode on country roads, passing small family farms and quaint towns. We climbed steep hills, and zoomed through old growth forests! However, we all noticed the smell of petroleum when a large truck would pass us. It was nauseating. We also became more aware of road debris and trash, mainly because it was a road hazard to us! We developed a connection to the road which we were riding on, which is lost when you are driving in a car.
We made it to our resting point in Castle Rock, WA. Wet from the afternoon rain shower, we were grateful to be greeted by pizza that the support van picked up for us.
We slept well that night.
– DAY 2 –
It was a sunny morning, and we were all sore. However, we had to keep riding. Unfortunately, I had another flat that morning. I had to borrow another tube from a rider. By 11:00am, we had crossed the Oregon border, riding over the Lewis and Clark Bridge. This was by far the scariest part of the ride. With only a small shoulder to ride on, cars zooming past you, and a very far drop into the Columbia River, we were all thankful to get off the bridge safely.
Once we were in Oregon, we were greeted by a lot of hills and a lot of rain. For me, I was mentally exhausted. I wanted to give up, be picked up by the support van, and drink some warm tea and eat a lot of food (Bicycling long distances burns a lot of calories, so you have to be constantly eating good food to fuel your body). I wanted to be in Portland, inside a warm hotel room. To make the situation worse, I got another flat tire. Luckily I was riding with a master tire changer who had another spare tube I could borrow. After getting back on the road, the wind picked up. Exhausted, we made it to our lunch stop.
We made it to Columbia City, OR, where we had lunch at a group member’s family home. We were greeted by warm coffee, delicious home-cooked food, and a dry place to recuperate. The weather was picking up, with rain and fierce wind gusts. We hopped on our bikes for the final 30 miles to Portland. That’s when it got ugly.
We had a 10 mile stretch until we would reach St. Helens, OR. This was the hardest part of the ride, due to the weather. There was a lot of rain, and wind gusts up to 45 miles per hour making it difficult to stay on our bikes. We did our best to avoid debris from the storm. At one point, I was hit in the head by a rock from a passing car (Lesson 2: Where a helmet, always!) We ended up stopping at a Fred Meyers (a grocery store chain), where locals were asking us if we were crazy to be biking in this kind of weather. That is when we realized, it wasn’t safe to continue biking. The weather forecast was supposed to stay like this the rest of the day. We had to retire our bikes and be shuttled the rest of the way to Portland.
After the ride:
Even though we did not make it to Portland, we were still incredibly proud of ourselves for making it as far as we did! We all agreed that it was an amazing trip, and that we want to make this an annual tradition for the graduate program. I grew as a person because of this trip. I didn’t expect I would be able to keep up with the other riders, or make it up some of the steep hills or scary situations that we encountered, but I did! We sometimes underestimate our abilities and pass up opportunities because they seem too challenging, hard, or time-consuming. This trip confirmed that it was worth taking the difficult transportation Portland, to better myself, and the world. I believe this story was a transformation for me from a conventional to conscious state of mind. You have to be a strong, confident person to attempt to make the world a better place. So on this trip; I was able to find my strength, confidence, and passion to make the world a more sustainable place. I now would like to focus my graduate studies on bicycle infrastructure and bicycle accessibility so Americans can rely less on cars and planes as a means to travel.
This post was written by a guest blogger and TTG leader Anna Rhoads!
Anna Rhoads is an environmental studies graduate student at the Evergreen State College. When she isn’t reading scientific papers on forest ecology or writing papers on environmental justice for class, Anna enjoys checking out independently owned coffee shops in Olympia, WA, riding her bicycle, and cooking! Her goal is to hike up Mt. St. Helens before it erupts again and to bike across the country. After graduate school, Anna wants to work in higher education as a sustainability director for a university.