Tinkering with the idea of embarking on your own pedal-powered adventure? We want you to know about a really goosebumpworthy opportunity to go on your first (or twenty-sixth) bike trip with a great organization, for (wait for it) a great cause.
We have a bike crush on Two Wheel View – a Canadian non-profit that runs bike trips for students in Canada, Argentina, and Norway and provides students with leadership, environmental, and cultural exchange opportunities along the way. In short, they’re nifty.
In order to keep down the costs of their trips for students, they also run charity support rides for adult adventurers with a few extra bucks to spare. Riders sign up for one of two 16 day tours this spring (argentina!) or summer (norway!), and commit to raising at least $1,500 to support Two Wheel View.
The founders – Rick and Tanya – are an incredible pair with many years of experience leading bike touring educational programs under their belt… and they got their start sort of like we did, on an epic bike trip that changed their lives – I can only imagine the trips they lead will be just as incredible.
If you’re interested, check ’em out here.
“3 guys, 44 days, 11 countries, 18 flights, 38 thousand miles, an exploding volcano, 2 cameras and almost a terabyte of footage – all to turn 3 ambitious linear concepts based on movement, learning and food into 3 beautiful and hopefully compelling short films…..”
When the moment came for us to squeeze Sitka and Moose (our bikes) into inhospitable cardboard bike boxes and lug them to the FedEx in downtown Berkeley, I tripped on the sidewalk near the muffin store and took Brandon out for a beer. It was a bittersweet night of accomplishment mixed with that belly churning you get when you want to cling to the last string of something good. The next day we got on a train at 9 in the morning carrying a giant jug of half-brewed kombucha, a tattered ukelele, and the remains of our bike adventure packed tightly into our backpacks. We set east from our temporary home of CA to make an eight day train voyage to the east coast in order to spend time with our families for those days that we celebrate in December. I felt – and still feel – an uncomfortable nostalgia for the west coast (which, by the way, I had only visited once before this trip, when I was 22). Having now spent a solid six months teasing its contours on two wheels, it has come to represent more than rugged hills and tall trees: it is the home of our epic adventure.
It was only fitting to leave the coast with a similarly epic (and slow) voyage eastward. The California Zephyr (run by Amtrak) is quite a trip. I’m pretty sure the majority of fellow travelers on board are either afraid of flying, hopeless romantics, or simply looking for someone (anyone) to talk to. A few also do it because the scenery is spectacular.
Some Zephyr highlights:
1. We spent five hours talking with two relatively wild ramblers about: if there could be such thing as a ‘benevolent dictator’, the concept of God (who one guy characterized as a “frantic, nervous Woody Allen type”), the blues (via harmonica), string theory, and the meaning of life
2. We had on-train park service narration between Sacramento and Reno (the unfortunate accent of one narrator made him sound like he was saying ‘ray rod’ instead of railroad… which was, to our delight, referenced roughly every four words for several hours)
3. The personal narration of a train-enchanted four year old who, for an hour or so, made sure to remind his grandmother: “hey look! I’m looking out the window!” and “we’re on a train!”
4. Oh yeah, the most incredible traverses of the Sierras, several giant red canyons, and the Rockies, and snaking along the Colorado river, shooting through vast deserts and snowstorms, and leaping the continental divide. I will admit that I was a bit relieved I didn’t have to pedal my way through some of those snowy mountain ranges to get the views!
We’ve made stops in Salt Lake City and Denver, where we’ve climbed two mountains, hung out with Space Jesus, learned swing dancing at 1:30 am, spotted a great horned owl in a friend’s backyard, and acted ridiculous an unquantifiable number of times in public. Today Brandon played songs from “Amelie” on a random piano placed conveniently in the middle of downtown Denver and I waltzed.
I leave you with a few images from the journey:
As herds of homo sapiens flock to big box stores to snatch the hottest products on super-duper sale, I find myself lounging on a giant couch feeling anything but stressed. This year, I am rethinking the value of stuff.
Next Friday marks six months since Brandon and I rolled away from our DC homes with just our backpacks and panniers. We each had a book and a journal. We each had 2 pairs of bike shorts, one pair of pants, 3 shirts, and an undisclosed number of underpants. We each had a mini watercolor set, a helmet, some camping gear, our cameras, and a couple bike tools. In August, we got a $39 ukelele that we named Elkie Moonshadow (who is now covered in bike maps we didn’t want to throw out). That was it.
Our culture tells us that the holidays are a time for giving people more, but for the last six months, I have been happier than ever because I’ve had less. Sure there were days that I would have loved to wear a cool-looking pair of jeans (but who says bike shorts aren’t formal night attire?!) or have a few more books to read, but I was more than willing to sacrifice these things for the incredible gift of traveling lighter. I wish I could give that gift to everyone I know.
The next few days tempt us all with messages to buy stuff fast and save some money, but I’m challenging myself (and you) to create something instead. Create a hand-made piece of art, a song, a collaborative project, an experience. Give someone a day-long scavenger hunt leading to an incredible new place or an afternoon bike trip together down to the river. Give someone a home-cooked feast, a good laugh, a poem, an opportunity to feel goosebumps. Give a skill-share: teach your loved ones something they’ve always wanted to learn (like how to bake bread, play Stairway to Heaven on the guitar, or solve a Rubik’s cube behind their back). Be creative. A light gift carries a lot of weight.
When you travel with a purpose, when you ask lots of people questions to spark roadside/fireside/marketside/toiletside/yougetthepointside conversations around a theme that you care about, it’s impossible not to start noticing patterns, spotting trends, breathing connections. Your brain starts to zip around in a zillion different directions connecting one experience to another, these words to those ideas, his message to her actions… I visualize sparks flying. I visualize a spiderweb forming around the places we’ve been, grabbing people, schools, unschools, straw-clay houses, bicycles, gardens, and maybe a few of those pesky raccoons. I visualize a gazillion messages from a gazillion very different people linking like quirky little puzzle pieces and morphing into a larger picture.
The puzzle Brandon and I sought on our tour was around education – what it is now, what it should be, and what “success” and “learning” mean to different people. The image that I now visualize is no grand epiphany, no stroke of rocket science, but crystal clear nonetheless. I want you to visualize it with me so let me toss you a few puzzle pieces.
Michael is one of the newest arrivals to Ionia, an intentional community we visited in Alaska. He is 3. He likes trampolines, squirrels (which he pronounces “koyal”), and hitting you with a wooden spoon. He dislikes pants, feeling small, and having his face wiped off. When Michael turns 5, he won’t go to kindergarden, he will continue to play, explore, wander, and grow at Ionia without formal schooling, unless he asks for it. The community (about 40 people) will help him learn what he wants to know as he demands it.
At the Purple Thistle Center in Vancouver, BC, tweens, teens, and early-20-somethings gather to reclaim plots of unused city land and plant food gardens there. The co-founder, Matt Hern, drives us to another part of town to salvage cardboard from strip-mall dumpsters to bring back to the crew. As the group digs and lays cardboard, they talk about their plans for the garden, how the food can be made accessible, city-politics, and what’s going on tonight…
I recently read this article is about a school called Unitierra. It says “Our ‘students’ do not belong to communities. They are their communities. Of course, they can enjoy themselves and have very long nights of pachanga and many fiestas. But they have a responsibility to their communities, that is, to themselves.”
City Repair in Portland, OR is bringing city residents together to reclaim public spaces where neighbors can interact. They are covering neighborhood intersections with giant murals and sometimes gardens to re-instill the age-old tradition of people talking when their paths converge. Mark Lakeman, the founder, believes that when communities reclaim public spaces, ages, races, professions, ideas, and stories collide… a pretty powerful learning experience for all.
This TED talk about the Barefoot College movement… pretty nifty.
In Arcata, CA we were hosted by the Campus Center for Appropriate Technology. We participated in their weekly volunteer day, where heaps of students come together to lend their hands and minds to improving the CCAT (educational) space for all: building structures, planting things, making artsy signs, cleaning up the space, and sharing food and stories.
We met Werner and Lotti, a retired, bike-touring Swiss couple, for the first time on the Washington Coast. They invited us to their campfire one cold night and we spent hours asking them questions about their lives. On “success”, Werner, a retired Swiss banker, said, “When I was working, success was to climb up the ladder and get in a good position. But later I found it more successful when we made enough money to stop working and we changed our life completely. […] we do a different way of life now. We travel. We don’t spend as much money as we did before. We are much more happy now.” We ended up running into Werner and Lotti in many different places along the coast. We think they’re pretty badass for doing a six month bike tour at their age. We call them our bike parents.
I could go on and on with the snippets, but I think you get the point…
More and more people are recognizing that education is embedded in – and even synonymous with – community. And it makes a whole lotta sense. When we are surrounded by a diverse community of people (not just the ones we are grouped with in school because of our age) we have the potential to learn a lot from each other. The transfer of knowledge is vast and ever-unfolding. We share stories, skills, and experiences. We challenge and give depth to each other’s ideas. We get more creative. We are all teachers and we are all students. Our actions have real world relevance and are held accountable by people that will be with us long after school lets out for summer.
Most schools still run on the principle that kids learn best when they are removed from their home communities, grouped with kids their own age, and seated indoors for 6 hours a day to do what the teacher tells them to do. But PEOPLE (you, me, those kids, many of their teachers, and oodles of folks that we met along the bike tour) know that “real life” is more diverse, more complex, more evolving. Many alternative schools are recognizing (or starting to recognize) the importance of community in different ways. Sudbury schools, for example, create democratic communities by removing grade levels and allowing full “age-mixing” between students of all ages and stages. And I’ve been swooning over the philosophy of the Puget Sound Community School in Seattle (thump thump).
Bicycle touring has been a new exercise in community for me. I always used to think of community as something that was attached to a place – a home, a school, a church. But when you tour, there are lots of people that you see over and over on the road and at (large, shared, cheap) hiker/biker campsites… and when you meet, everyone is fascinated by one another. “Where did you start your tour? Where are you going? What did you think of that hill into ____ville? Did you see that RV practically riding the shoulder? Ridiculous! Did you catch that view point with the sea lions on the cliffs? You look young… what’s your story?” Most nights that we camped at sites with other cyclists, we offered or were invited to share a campfire, so stories were shared, wisdom imparted, and relationships deepened (Verner and Lotti, for example, became great friends and teachers).
When we stop thinking of “education” and “life” as separate entities, divided by concrete walls and diplomas, we begin to see and grow from the wealth of opportunities imparted by the “teachers” of our own diverse communities.
And now… the first podcast from the Wise Routes Project. Finally, you can give your twiddling thumbs a cold ice bath and sit back with your favorite high quality speakers.
Kristin Hayden is really cool. She started One World Now!, an organization with an exclamation point in its title. Why? Because Kristin is exclamation-pointy about creating a world where young people realize their potential to be change makers with a global consicousness. OWN! works with high school aged youth to provide language, leadership, and study abroad experiences that will pop their bubbles, throw them out of their comfort zones, and open their eyes to new places and cultures they never knew existed.
What’s especially cool about OWN! (besides the !) is that, unlike almost ALL of the other prominent gap year or high school study abroad programs, they focus on providing cross-cultural opportunities to mostly low-income students and students of color. In our ongoing exploration of alternative education approaches, this has been one of our biggest questions. How do you make new opportunities in learning available to everyone, not just the privileged few?
So sit back, relax, unplug your phone, sign out of Facebook, Twitter, G-chat, and that New York Times article you were reading, put your iPhone, dog, and kids on silent, and enjoy 13 minutes with Kristin Hayden.