Our final day greeted us with rain. Forcing myself out of my comfortable bed, I ate the best breakfast of the whole ride, with excellent eggs and Greek yogurt. In his morning introductions, Blake, the ride director, reminded us of the importance of staying on schedule. Basically, if a rider wasn’t going to get to lunch on time, they would have no choice but to be driven there by the SAG wagon. I promised myself that after all that way, I was not going to be that person.
The rain started to fall harder just as we left. Thankfully, most of the ride was downhill, so at least we weren’t climbing in the rain. But the downhills provided some serious speed, and the rain hitting my face was pretty painful. Between the squinting and the flinching, I must have looked really attractive.
Most of us were a bit down as a result of the rain, but Jason from 350.org was still somewhat cheery. He spun by me and another rider, remarking, “This is a metaphor for climate legislation!” Too sopping to be interested in literary devices, I said, “I’m just wet.” My fellow rider was less charitable. “At least we didn’t end up in shit,” she said, commenting on the current fate of Congressional climate policy.
Despite the rain, the hills, and the other challenges, a current of joy continuously ran under my mood. Even as I counted down the miles, I was smiling at everything around me. I kept praying, thanking God for this opportunity, this landscape, these people. This gratefulness and sense of peace came from four sources. The first was the feeling of fulfillment – all of my training was finally paying off. The second was accomplishment – knowing that I was doing something concrete and real with every push down on the pedal. The third was the fact I was outside, seeing this rolling, green, glorious landscape. And the last was knowing I was surrounded by all of these people who cared about the same issues, cheering each other on. Sometimes, it’s exhausting being an activist. You feel as if you’re the only one who cares and the problems of the world are overwhelming. Seeing this group of people willing to sacrifice their time, their money and their very bodies to the cause was encouraging and affirming.
The first big thrill of my day occurred all alone. I passed by the sign for Montgomery County; I was home! It reminded me of driving home from New Jersey as a kid and seeing the Egg in Albany – a sense that I wasn’t all of the way there yet, but very close. Despite the fact that no one else was around, I pumped my fist and yelled in happiness.
Unfortunately, there are few backroads in Montgomery County. We had to spend a couple of miles on New Hampshire Ave. and Randolph Rd., which are large, multi-lane highways with 40 mph speed limits. Drivers aren’t used to bicyclists being on these roads, and aren’t keen on sharing them. They scared me shitless. I rode as far to the right as I could, gritted my teeth, and spun as fast as possible. I just wanted to get the hell off those roads.
I did spot a few interesting things along those busy roads though. I saw a beautiful mosque, an Orthodox church, and a “Bible following” church that advertised “Defending life / Defending racial unity / Defending traditional marriage.” As despicable as the “traditional marriage” bit was, it wasn’t surprising, but the phrase “racial unity” definitely turned my head. That couldn’t be anything good. Right after the church building, there was a small, purple building with plastic chairs and a sign that read “Prayer Stop.” Although I’m sure they would want to evangelize to me, I would have stopped if I had time. It would have been a fine opportunity to teach them something about God’s love that’s missing from their theology.
Turning off of Randolph Rd., I met up with a group of women that I stayed with until we reached the Silver Spring lunch stop. I always enjoy biking by myself, but there was something about the accomplishment of pulling into a stop with a group that was highly satisfying.
After grabbing a sandwich from Potbelly (best vegetarian sandwiches!), and watching the crowds go by, I headed off with a small group to navigate the Georgetown Branch Trail and the Capital Crescent Trail. The cue sheets taught me how to get from Silver Spring to the trail, which I didn’t know previously. From there, I was relieved to know that for once on the ride, I knew exactly where I was going. Although quite muddy in spots, it was fun to zip along, (mostly) free of the concerns of dealing with traffic. Recalling the many times I cycled into work, it was a culmination of all of I had trained for and accomplished. Shortly after passing the connection with the C&O Canal, the sun began breaking through the clouds, lighting up the trail through the canopy of trees.
Entering into Georgetown, I started biking to our stop, and then heard Climate Riders yelling from near the river. Confused and concerned, I turned around and headed towards them. It turned out the yelling was not problematic – it was celebratory! Aaron, who lives in Georgetown, had the foresight to ask his wife to stock the fridge with beer. He had just picked up a bunch and shared them with the Riders chilling along the river! I don’t drink beer, but it was fun hanging out.
I eventually got antsy and headed over to the real ending spot, where we played goofy games and killed time.
At 3:30 PM, everyone was finally there, gathered for our final ride to Capital Hill. We had a few visitors, including Phill from Ecolocity and the Xtracycle builder’s kids (unfortunately, I can’t remember his name).
The organizers, who had been in the support vehicles, had procured Capital Bikeshare cycles. Even esteemed author Bill McKibbon was riding on a bright red CaBi.
We lined up and waited for the light to change, the good little bicyclists we are. Even though we were supposed to have a police escort, we didn’t get one. So instead, we just took up one entire lane on Constitution Avenue! Considering there were more than 130 cyclists, we took up a whole lot less room than an equivalent number of cars. Pedaling up Capital Hill, in this unified mass, was very empowering.
After taking several victory laps around the Upper Senate Park fountain, we got off our bikes, hugged our loved ones, and sat down on the grass. Our first speaker, the President of Rails-to-Trails said that the philosophy outside the Beltway is increasingly “burn calories, not carbon,” and people are beginning to “understand that ‘Drive Baby Drive’ is no longer a good bumper sticker for our national transportation policy.” I couldn’t agree more. Senator Ben Cardin and Representative Donna Edwards both described how proud they were of us and how committed they are to passing clean energy legislation. We’ll see.
The head of Green America (which organizes the Green Festival), talked about the idea of clean energy bonds, much like war bonds in WWII. I hadn’t heard of the idea, but I like how it enables ordinary people to personally invest in clean energy and costs the federal government very little money. Who could disagree with that? Bill McKibbon, who wrote the first book ever on climate change in 1989 (The End of Nature, which I sadly still haven’t read), was our final speaker. Referring to the fact that many in Congress deny human-influenced climate change, he said, “[This is the] last place on earth where they believe political reality trumps reality reality.” In fact, most of his speech tended to be a bit doom-and-gloom, with a well-earned tone of cynicism. However, he also made a great, uplifting point about cycling. “The bicycle is one of the few things that both rich people and poor people use. That makes as much sense in the global north as the global south.” Although I had reflected on my solidarity with fellow Climate Riders, I hadn’t considered the idea of global solidarity. I ride for fun, but so many people both in America and abroad have no other choice – all the more reason to build more opportunities. My church pastor, Todd, often refers to our “Christian tribe,” the idea of all of Christianity, historically and across denominations. I have to remind myself more often of my bicyclist and activist tribes – the fact that I’m not alone in trying to make change, improve our communities and future.
After taking a picture with a giant check representing America’s oil industry subsidies, the Climate Riders scattered before reconvening to collect our luggage. Chris was with me – it was so good to see him! – but didn’t have a bicycle. Our pick-up location was about 2 miles away and would have involved switching Metro lines. What to do? Capital Bikeshare to the rescue! Despite the fact that Chris is far from enthusiastic about cycling, we got him on one of those city bikes, rode down the 4th St. NW bike lane, and arrived at our destination safely and quickly. It was just that simple.
We met up with some of the Climate Riders later at a Capital Hill bar, but the adrenaline wore off and I was crashing. After traveling back on the Metro, I walked in the door and fell into bed. I had given the Climate Ride my all, and now it was time to rest. It was good to be home.