“Support: to bear or hold up, to serve as a foundation for, to undergo or endure, to provide for, a person that give assistance.” –Dictionary.com
When the opportunity presented itself for me to ride 300 miles from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo with Climate Ride, I jumped at it. I also convinced my husband Travis to ride with me. After months of fundraising and training, we were ready to set out on the road. We arrived at the Presidio in San Francisco on a grey and drizzly Friday morning — not uncommon for San Francisco. Within an hour it had cleared up and I was glad I had applied a thick coat of sunscreen that morning. Traversing the hills of the Presidio was tough at times, but we had the support of our very detailed turn-by-turn directions. By lunchtime, I had gotten used to the complexity of the directions. I ate more than I thought possible in order to help my body recover from the four hours of constant biking — more than I had ever done during training. And that was just the beginning.
A quick look through the many definitions of “support” presents a simple explanation of what Climate Ride is: a showcase of support. In order to do this ride, I first needed the generous support of my donors. Their contributions not only made it possible for me to participate in the ride but also helped Climate Generation continue our targeted work with teachers and students. We can’t thank our friends and family enough. I needed the loving support of my training teammate, travel companion, and biking buddy — my husband. He was my motivator when I was struggling at the gym and my support system during the entire ride. I also needed the support of 155 strangers — the other riders and Climate Ride staff who we got to know over the course of the five-day ride. As I struggled to get up Bee Rock Hill and to finish the Century ride, those strangers (who became great friends) provided support by way of “You got this Jenna,” smiles and jokes, and the greatest support of all — hauling our gear from campsite to campsite each day. The support from Climate Ride staff gave me the ability to converse with fellow riders, enjoy the breathtaking California coast, and think deeply about my work in climate change education.
The ride took us along the mighty ocean, through dense forests, and over foothills that felt more like mountains. One of my favorite parts of the entire ride was the smells along the coast. Close to the water, I would take several deep breaths of the salty air that was mixed with the sweet scent of eucalyptus trees. During those five days, Travis and I got into a rhythm of setting up our tent, packing and unpacking our gear, encouraging each other on the ride, and helping each other soothe sore muscles each night. On more than one occasion, I misplaced something and Travis was there to help me find it. And I helped him up some pretty gnarly hills by singing a modified song from Finding Nemo: “Just keep spinning, just keep spinning…”
During the evening of the second day, after finishing a heaping plate of pasta and salad – not to mention two pieces of warm apple crisp – I gave a talk about Climate Generation to a room full of bicyclists. Beneficiary Night was a way for riders to hear from the organizations that benefitted from riders’ fundraising efforts. Those three minutes helped me connect with so many people over the remaining three days. For the next 200 miles, people asked me questions about the Climate Generation curriculum, how we ran our Summer Institute each year, and how they could potentially partner with us. It was so empowering.
That same evening, the staff convinced Travis and I – as well as several other riders – to go for a Century ride the next day. I didn’t think we had it in us! But with the support and encouragement from the staff, the support and love from each other, and too many snacks, water bottle refills, and sunscreen applications to count, we biked 112 miles in 11 hours! It was a long, sweaty day, but the accomplishment we felt when we rode into camp that night was unprecedented.
Midway through the Century ride, our course veered away from the ocean, towards the California Central Valley. This was not the original route for the California “Central Coast” Climate Ride we had signed up for. Big Sur was supposed to be the highlight of this ride. However, because of record rainfall in the area earlier in the year, a bridge was condemned and several landslides covered our route, Highway 1. Two stretches of road, totaling over 30 miles between Monterey and Morro Bay, were closed and will remain that way until December 2017. The irony of this situation was not lost on me. This natural disaster, a long drought followed by extreme rainfall conditions, is climate change. And while I was incredibly disappointed to miss the chance to bike through the beauty of Big Sur, I was able to use the opportunity to educate my donors and friends about the many, varied impacts of climate change.
The ride wasn’t just about biking. There was time to play too, although by the end of an eight-hour day in the saddle, Travis and I were just waiting for our heads to hit our pillows. Evening activities included speakers, making blended drinks on the Blender Bike, buying and drinking wine from local wineries, and chatting with people from around the country about their climate change and bicycling endeavors.
On Youth Night, we heard six young people share what they are doing in their personal and professional lives related to climate change and biking. Their stories of finding themselves on outdoor backpacking trips, working with children around the world, and creating entrepreneurial opportunities for themselves were beyond inspirational. As the National Events Director, Blake Holiday put it, “It’s this kind of inspiration. Everyday. This is what it’s going to take.” Inspiration and support from youth, from educators, from ourselves.
Riding into Laguna Lake Park in San Luis Obispo after five days of biking across some of the most beautiful land in the country was one of my most accomplished moments. This ride was something I knew I could do physically, but I was not expecting how challenging it would be mentally. The amount of support I needed to finish each day was immense, and I couldn’t have finished the ride without it. But now that I have, I am inspired to continue to support others in their work related to climate change, whether it’s biking, advocating, innovating, or educating.
Climate Ride By the Numbers:
21,931 feet elevation gain
310 miles biked over 5 days
145 other riders
27 energy bars and gels eaten
4 semi-uncomfortable nights in a tent
1 memorable, inspirational, and exhausting experience
This ride helped me fully understand the need for support when doing climate change work. We all need support — teachers, curriculum writers, scientists, naturalists, parents, children. Someone to help you plan a lesson, design a sign for a march, discuss climate change data and trends, or just talk about the issues at hand. If you can offer support, please do. If you need support, reach out. You don’t need to do this work alone.