Cyclists begin 4,000-mile journey to bring people together on climate change
By Davia Rivka
When I heard about Mindy Ahler and Ryan Hall’s crazy project, I wanted to stand in the circle of their courage and steep myself in their boldness. When people do wild and crazy things, when they reach out and take on something so beyond my imagination, it fans the flame of my own audacity.
Mindy and Ryan are riding their bicycles across the country. 4,000 miles. 60-70 miles a day. It will take them two and half, nearly three months to go from Portland, Oregon, to Washington, DC. I tried riding my bike around the block once. That was more than enough. This is not only day in and day out, but it is a commitment to live on an edge with uncertainty as your closest companion.
I understood immediately why they wanted to do it. Something happens when you give yourself over to that uncertainty. Something magical. Your heart opens.
Mindy said it best. “When you’re traveling by bike, you’re vulnerable and people respond to that. They’re not afraid to step forward because you’ve already put yourself out.” You’re approachable. Just two thin wheels carrying you across the country, a helmet, some gear, a little food, a solar panel to charge your phone. That’s it. Pedaling for something bigger, so much bigger than yourselves. You are a rolling invitation for a conversation.
Mindy and Ryan want to talk climate. They want to listen to folks they would not otherwise ever meet. They want to hear their stories. About their crops and the storms, and the heat and the snow. They want to hear about their health and their jobs. From this place of vulnerability there is a chance to talk and listen all things tethered to climate change. The notion of stranger or other dissolves.
Mindy is forty-seven and Ryan is twenty-three. They met three weeks ago — Mindy was hoping to find someone to ride with but was willing to go it alone. Ryan just finished three years with AmeriCorps doing home energy audits in Decora, Iowa. Mindy lives in Edina, Minnesota, where she and her partner run a non-profit called CoolPlanet. Ryan’s a vegetarian, and Mindy doesn’t eat wheat or corn. They learned that about each other today when they went to buy their first supplies for the trip. She’s an introvert — needs time alone to recharge and he’s an extrovert — needs people to keep himself revved up.
The newness of their friendship is a perfect mirror for their trip. Curiosity without judgment. Finding common ground. With everyone. Everywhere. In small towns. In rural villages. Going beyond appearances.
Mindy said she’s most excited about restoring her faith in humanity.
“What does that look like?” I asked.
“Ryan and I took the Empire Builder train from Minnesota to Portland. Deborah, the attendant on the train, started telling everyone else in the car about our adventure. And she made a special point of introducing us to another cyclist. By the time we got off the train in Portland the whole car had become a little community, everyone rooting for everyone else. Deborah did that.”
“That’s what we want to do on this trip. Bring people together. Have them see how much we all need each other. How much we can do for one another.” Mindy says.
Ryan tells me, “We met a guy on the train. He works for a natural gas company. His job is to capture the gas that flares off and gets wasted. ‘I’m an environmentalist,’ the guy said to Ryan. ‘I help to reduce the waste. Our job is to work ourselves out of a job.’ If we hadn’t sat down to have a conversation with this guy, we never would have known his story.”
The official ride starts today from Portland. You can follow along on their Facebook page. In Montana, CCL volunteers have organized climate conversations in Missoula, Bozeman, Billings, Great Falls and Helena. All the way across the country Mindy and Ryan will engage folks in a conversation about climate change. In mid-November they will arrive in Washington, DC, and spend the day with a few hundred other CCL volunteers meeting with members of congress.
That’s what it’s going to take. People reaching beyond, creating community, listening for common ground. Thank you Mindy and Ryan. May the wind be at your back, may you lead with open hearts and a soft underbelly, and may we all draft off of your audacity.