The wind kicking off the Strait of Juan de Fuca is all wrong for a full day of loaded bicycle touring, but I don’t care. When laboring across Canada with a massive bike train–18 feet of tandem, trail-a-bike and trailer, 450 pounds of gear and three lively sons under ten–what’s a little wind?
Besides, I’ll endure nearly anything if it means winning my wife over to distance touring. As a travel adventure writer, the stakes are high for me. I cycle; she hikes, camps, swims, sails, rafts, devours one-pot dinners with bread for a spoon, but without the bicycle…
The battle goes well, so well that my second rate racer’s body forgets it’s at the head of a mule train hauling half of America behind it, forgets that it’s not on some lighter-than-air, blessed-by-the-pope, high-performance rig that will leap into action the moment it stands and hammers hard enough.
It takes spitting in the face of quality structural engineering, two hills and a change in the wind’s direction for me to catch her.
Beth’s helmet comes off in slow-mo, long hair spilling over tanned shoulders. She‘s like a sponsored cyclist but resembling an Amazonian warrior: lycra instead of leather, logo-ed water bottle replacing broadsword, and Brooks saddle in lieu of a regal horse, bare backing it into war and eternal glory.
Beth’s an entirely new creature from the one who came weaving and wobbling out of the Northwest a week ago. That person concerned herself with whether lycra was a conspiracy specifically against women, or did it make everyone look this bad?! A woman who wondered if she could just leave it in one gear and call it good. The roadie rebel without a clue asking, “Take the lane? TAKE THE LANE? Which f-ing lane?!?”
When SHE tells ME she wouldn’t mind if I stopped sucking air and just got back on my bicycle, I feel like a newlywed all over again.
By the time we reach Nova Scotia, I’m drunk on the success of Beth’s conversion. Thrilled and thinking big. Blame my optimism on the bicycle, brisk Canadian air, and ten summers as a camp director, but I want to coax everyone into the saddle.
Deep, swollen thoughts about how to accomplish this chase me home. Being more spinal cord than frontal lobe, thinking on how to get more people riding bikes regularly takes time, calories and it hurts my head. But just as I started to see my way clear…
Tracey Sparling was studying art, riding her bike to class on a cloudless autumn afternoon in Portland, Oregon when a truck ended everything with one right turn. Brett Jarolimek stood on a cyclo-cross series podium three days before going under the wheels of a truck, less than a mile from my front door. A driver who needed to get home a few seconds faster took Tim O’Donnell out of the game near Beaverton.
I watched in horror as the media framed these tragedies as bikes vs cars. Law enforcement didn’t cite clear infractions, and vocal minorities called for bikes to vanish from our streets.
In another life, I’d headed up social and environmental efforts to remove dirty industry from impoverished neighborhoods, saved habitat, and helped elect politicians interested in restructuring communities to be more cyclist and pedestrian friendly.
Something inside me shifted. For too long, I’d justified my writing and performing career as a tool for bringing people to the joys of the natural world, the benefits of cycling and, in theory, helping them leave a lighter carbon footprint. But Brett, Tom and Tracey deserved more than that. Anyone who finds value by moving through the world on two wheels deserves better from me.
After helping organize and emcee a rally in downtown Portland—an effort that impacted how the police investigate traffic accidents, while reframing the media and public perception regarding how to get safely from one place to another—I thought that perhaps I could use my C-list notoriety, my contacts and reach, to get more people in the saddle AND improve the basic infrastructure, enforcement and education for our communities and their most vulnerable users.
OneMillionBicycles.org is a direct response to Senator Earl B’s Bike Gallery event calling for the public to foster a national bicycle movement. The project is the brainchild of Joe Metal Cowboy Kurmaskie, best-selling author, nationally syndicated columnist, journalist for Bicycling Magazine, Men’s Journal, Outside, Parenting, headlining performer, cycling safety advocate and activist. The roots of this idea came out of The November 2007 rally held in Portland Oregon after a rash of cycling deaths. That rally helped change the way the police investigate car/cycling accidents and helped shape the tone and conversations in the cycling vs. driving debates.