Climate Ride NYC-DC 2012: Pedaling for Sustainable Solutions

Climate Ride is a non-profit organization that organizes fully supported, charitable bike rides to support sustainable energy solutions, bike advocacy, and environmental causes. This is a special guest post from the Climate Ride NYC-DC 2012 participant Jenny Cooper of Environmental Defense Fund

Five days, four states, 300 miles of bicycle riding, and 200 hundred incredible people who are all working their tails off to address the greatest challenge of our time: climate change. With a perfect combination of mental and physical challenge, I couldn’t imagine a better adventure than Climate Ride, an epic bicycle ride from NYC to DC to raise awareness and funds for climate change solutions and sustainable transportation.

It’s the final day of my third Climate Ride. The ride yesterday took us through the hilly forests of southern Pennsylvania to the undulating landscape of rural northern Maryland dotted with horse farms. Today we’re pedaling 65 miles to the nation’s capital. Washington, DC here we come!

With nearly 200 riders this spring, Climate Ride is bigger than ever, drawing people from all over the country. We come from different geographic, professional, and cycling backgrounds, but two common threads tie us together: our dedication to finding effective solutions to climate change, and our love for bicycles (in some cases a newfound love!)

Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland and having family in New York, I’ve made the trek from DC to NYC upwards a hundred times in my life, whizzing up and down the I-95 corridor by train or by car. The architecture is largely homogenous and the sprawl rampant; I’m rarely inspired to stop along the way.

Riding my bike between the two cities with Climate Ride is the antithesis of that speedy and faceless experience. Back roads wind us through culturally rich and historically significant towns and across stunning river crossings once forded by Washington’s revolutionary army. We cycle past Amish farms, through state parks lush with trees and steeped in Civil War history, and end our five day adventure in our nation’s capital via a bike path along the Potomac river.

We’ve been biking 60+ miles each day, and each night we spend time as a group listening to speakers (nearly all of them riders) discuss their climate and sustainable transportation related work and explore creative ways to inspire and effect positive social change that will help avert catastrophic climate change.

From large scale sustainability initiatives at major universities, NOAA climate science updates, and climate change adaptation projects in developing countries, to bicycle infrastructure improvements across the globe, sustainable architecture, and climate literacy, the evening speaker series on Climate Ride offers an unparalleled opportunity to engage with people working on climate change issues from myriad angles. We push our physical abilities by day, and expand our brains by night.

Riding my bike connects me to the physical landscape, people, and culture in ways that cars simply can’t. As I pedal south from New York City, I feel the physical and cultural landscapes changing under my bike tires. The towering skyscrapers, potholes, and bustling streets of lower Manhattan shift to the rolling hills of New Jersey, which give way to the farmland and forests of Pennsylvania and the horse and buggies of Amish country.

As I ride through the urban jungle of New York City dotted with green spaces and chock full of high density housing, past the suburban McMansions of northern New Jersey, into Lancaster county where “car back!” becomes “buggy back!” and each house has its laundry hanging out to dry on a clothes line, I can’t help but think about how we design our public and private spaces and allocate resources to infrastructure improvements and construction.

Why do some people feel compelled to live in 10,000 square foot houses, while others are inclined to have 1,000 square foot abodes? Why are the small towns with mixed commercial and residential main streets so much more people-friendly than the strip malls of suburbia? Why are we converting farmland to housing developments scores of miles from supermarkets, schools, and other amenities? And why aren’t the vast majority of our roads built for people, rather than simply cars? Where are the sidewalks and bike lanes? How do these choices effect climate change, and how will our lives and the systems that sustain us be impacted by climate change?

We’ve built our houses, roads, factories, and bridges, based on predictable natural patterns—seasons, rain fall, wind, snow, heat, and cold. Climate change alters those natural patterns in unpredictable ways, threatening our natural and built environment, the very structures that sustain our lives. Climate Ride presents a rare opportunity, enabled by our bicycles, to confront these challenges and questions head on and brainstorm creative solutions. Hope to see you out on the road with us, pedaling our way to a sustainable future!

Learn more about Climate Ride and how you can participate and support the organization here