The first day – 44.6 miles down, about 255 left to go! Overall, a fantastic start.
After grabbing a chai latte and yogurt/honey/granola parfait from Starbucks, I awkwardly shleppted my giant backpack on the New York City subway to Canal Street (Chinatown). Seeing a packed train approaching, I was quite nervous that I wouldn’t fit – or more accurately, my luggage wouldn’t. Thankfully, a lot of people got off at my stop. Once there, I placed my gear in the giant van, where they loaded them up like Tetris pieces, and readied my bike – screwing in my mirror that had fallen off the day before, fussing with my bag, filling my water bottle.
We all started lining up on the street around 9:45, and then we were off! It was fun to see all of these cyclists weaving their way through New York City traffic. After several turns, we ended up on a very nice bikeway along the harbor that brought us through South Street Seaport, and then to our destination, the Ferry. After a big 1.4 miles, we were already taking a break!
We had to wait in the windy, chilly air outside first though. However, it did give me the chance to meet some of my fellow riders. I met a lawyer from New York City, a carbon manager from Kentucky who is living in Montreal, and more people from D.C.! There’s quite a contingent of us here. Waiting for the bathroom, I met three different people living in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood alone. Upon boarding the ferry, we were living in the lap of luxury. Nice, padded seats, great views, and of course, being on a vessel that traveled a whole lot faster than we will be during any other part of the rest of the ride. I ordered myself a hot chocolate from the little snack bar, forgetting that my wallet was on my bike. I mooched the $1.50 off of Lill, so I’ll have to buy her a coffee.
Getting off the ferry, we had lunch in the town of Atlantic Highlands. It was all vegetarian today, so I had a cheese, lettuce, and pesto mayo sandwich. Much to my surprise, I found out that the cheese was vegan! I love cheese and have had several awful vegan cheeses. But knowing this cheese exists, perhaps I’ve been giving vegan cheese a bad rap.
We finally set off on our bikes again, only to face a series of surprisingly difficult hills. None of them were that steep, but they were long and didn’t have any downhills as buildup. I suppose that’s where the Highlands in the name comes from. The town itself was rather charming, with little stores and parks, athough obviously extraordinarily pricy. Moving farther along, we biked past a mix of ridiculously large houses, some of which were rather pretty, some of which were just obscene in size and grandeur. It also appeared to be a politically conservative area. I saw a sign that said, “Buy local – lower our property taxes.” What? I’ve heard lots of reasons for buying local, but never anything to do with taxes. That’s a creative argument for a typically “liberal” cause if I’ve ever heard one!
I caught up with Lill and Tim, who had stopped by the photography van to take off some outer layers. I asked the photographer to look at my bike computer, which had mysteriously stopped working. He poked at it, shrugged, and said the route was well marked. C’est la vie.
Fortunately, he was right. Every single turn on the route is marked with neon pink signs with the Climate Ride logo. Considering how much time the Rockville Bicycle Advisory Committee folks were saying it took to set up signs for the Rockville Ride and Stride, a mere 30 mile ride, I can’t imagine the effort to sign 300 miles! Especially because there were several legs that were less than a mile each.
One notable part of the landscape was the farms. I saw several signs for an agricultural reserve, where land cannot be developed for residential, industrial, or commercial use. Acres and acres of land were freshly plowed, with little green bits showing through. Others had tall, wavy plants almost out to the horizon, although I have no idea what they are. Next to one of these farms, I saw this awesome sight:
Overall, between the giant houses and the farms, it felt just like I was biking at home, in Montgomery County. I swore one intersection was actually exactly the same, down to the brick wall to the development’s entrance.
Towards the end, I kept together with a group of five or so people. I generally enjoy riding by myself, as it’s impossible for me to have a conversation while I’m riding. I can’t hear anything because of the road noise, so it typically consists of me saying, “What? I couldn’t hear that?” But it was nice to have the unspoken camaraderie. Plus, their pace slowed me down a bit, which was for the best. No need to kill myself on the first day.
We ended the ride pedaling through Princeton University. It was much prettier than I remembered. The last and only time I was here was my freshman year of Cornell, when we were here for a football game for marching band. Everything was closed because it was fall break and we were so bored that we ended up at a 7-11. As it turns out, downtown Princeton is quite cute, with a number of coffeeshops, bars, and stores. How did we manage to miss all of this?
I set up camp right away. I was a bit concerned about the tent, because my attempt at setting it up on our deck was comically inept. As I struggled with the poles going every which way, I had my mom – the original owner – on the phone telling me, “Shannon, I don’t remember how to set it up. The last time I used it was six years ago!” Today, it practically set itself up. Lesson learned – tents clearly aren’t made to be set up on decks. For dinner, we had this great lasagna, filled with various summer squash. I sat with two different people who had worked with the Department of Energy in various capacities – one with the Buildings Tech Program in standards and the other in radiation. In fact, she told us about visiting an underground facility where they store contaminated objects like clothes in a very deep abandoned salt mine. It sounded surreal, like something out of an old Michael Crichton novel.
Afterwards, we headed over to the University to hear two very notable authors speak on climate change. Of course, this is a subject of intense interest for me, as climate change communications is My Thing.
The first was Michael Lemonick, who wrote the first cover story for Time Magazine on climate change all the way back in the late 1980s. He said at the time, he had to say that all of the ideas about global warming were just theory – they didn’t have evidence yet. The story described a report that came out with a litany of possible consequences. Of course, more than 20 years later, all of those predictions are starting to come true. And yet, people still don’t believe climate change is real. He also talked about the different approaches developed for covering climate change – from strictly intellectual to scare tactics. He put a list up of alternative topics related to climate change, like green jobs, national security, and energy security, and I almost laughed because it looked like my list of talking points for work. His response to this challenge was to move his work over to Climate Central, a clearinghouse for quality, science-based climate journalism that they send out to major publications. Almost like a wire service for climate. In particular, he said they’re focusing right now on covering individual’s experiences with climate change in their own voices – greenhouse owners, farmers, Alaskan natives. As he described this, my inner journalist was starting to drool. I thought, “Dear Lord, that is the job for me.” Not that I don’t enjoy my job – but science-based, narrative climate journalism that actually pays? Sign me up! Sadly, he left before the end of the talks, so I didn’t even get to give him a card.
The second speaker was Eugene Linden, who recently published The Ragged Edge of the World, a series of essays that he described as his experiences “showing up to the third act of a tragedy.” He spoke quite a bit about how human actions have deeply affected every part of the globe, from the Artic to the deepest rainforest, but his most eloquent words were regarding how and why people do or don’t act. He said, “What we have is individual brilliance and collective stupidity,” which I thought was a really succinct summary of the Tragedy of the Commons. Now like everything, to quote the Slacktiverse, “It’s more complicated than that,” but as so much of finding climate solutions is changing that collective stupidity into collaboration, it’s very appropriate.
And so now, it’s the end of the first real day on the Climate Ride. Day 2 is just about 60 miles and ends in Valley Forge. Hopefully, we’ll have a better time of it than Washington’s soldiers did.