Somehow, against probability, some sort of indigenous, recognizable culture has been growing on Western ranches and in Western towns and even in Western cities. It is the product not of the boomers but of the stickers, not of those who pillage and run but of those who settle and love the life they have made and the place they have made it in. I believe that eventually, perhaps within a generation or two, they will work out some sort of compromise between what must be done to earn a living and what must be done to restore health to the earth, air, and water. –Wallace Stegner
I was at the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic over Memorial Day weekend, and was reminded how the act of cycling restores to us a sense of our better selves. On Saturday the road from Durango to Silverton is open only for event traffic, which consists of thousands of people cycling. And on Sunday, in downtown Durango they build a BMX (bicycle motorcross) course on Main Street and run mountain bike, kids, and costume rides through town. The city is designed for enjoyment.
In this economy, what is circulating is people, and more specifically people filled with curiosity, joy and excitement. Combine the human created atmosphere with the Animas River flowing through the heart of town, quaking Aspen stands, and the La Plata and San Juan mountains flying high on the edges, and you have what feels like a healthy community. As my wife said, “the oxygen tastes good” in Durango.
Contempt for the natural world is contempt for life. The domination of nature leads to the domination of human nature. —Edward Abbey, quoted in “River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed behind the Gold King Mine Disaster” by Jonathan P. Thompson
To put Abbey’s idea into positive terms, perhaps embracing our human nature helps us to appreciate greater nature. When we get on a bicycle, our legs flow freely around in circles, the wind blows in our faces, and we breath in more of that sacred oxygen. We feel good. We move forward. When I become more alive inside, I see more of the life around me. Cycling fits here.
Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. —World Health Organization
Cycling culture is universal in the Netherlands. It is part of the national consciousness. They embrace all things bicycle. In a country with less than half the population of California, they have many of the worlds top cyclists including Chantal Blaak, winner of the Amstel Gold Race and World Road Race Championship, and Tom Doumalin, winner of the Giro d’Italia and World Time Trial Championship. Just as Norway’s love for winter sports was on display in the Winter Olympics, the spirit of the people of the Netherlands expresses through cycling, in sport and everyday life. Cycling is a principle value the Dutch have built their communities around. [I usually use my pictures for this blog, but the photos in this post are from the public domain, mostly of the Amstel Gold women’s race which takes place every April in the Netherlands]
The bicycle was the traditional vehicle for transportation in the Netherlands in the early part of the 20th century, accounting for about 80% of trips in Amsterdam. Car technology changed that in the 1960’s, just like it did here in the U.S. The Dutch decided in the 1970’s to comprehensively plan for providing service to people cycling, and that has made a big difference. Cities are built for people on bicycles. 75% of secondary school children bicycle to school. The Dutch educate their children to travel by bike with a traffic certificate program, which most kids complete by age 12. This is part of the planning process, to instill confidence. There is a public expectation that kids will be cycling. The urban planners work with the traffic department and local communities to ensure that the roads, paths, and trails are safe for bikes. This is very similar to the travel culture that I experienced in Japan–bikes and walking are thought through and planned as completely as other modes such as trains, buses, and cars.
The results are pretty incredible. By no means perfect, but they go a long way towards a happy, healthier and more sustainable society. We have all the seeds in America we need for this. Our Safe Routes to Schools programming started as a safe streets movement in a country nearby the Netherlands, Denmark. We have many assets we can leverage including wide streets, space and our hallmark of ingenuity guided by science and a high regard for all people. Our Constitution seeks to form “a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”. Bicycling aids with all of these things, the American way.
Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. –Ralph Waldo Emerson
When we celebrate cycling, I like to remember how it brings together the highest aspirations for our healthiest possible future. It is about justice, equity, inclusion, freedom, equality, and building strong and responsible communities. We can tell our young cyclists when they push those pedals the possibilities are unlimited. You very well could end up on top of the world.
BERG EN TERBLIJT, NETHERLANDS – APRIL 15: Arrival / Chantal Blaak of The Netherlands and Team Boels Dolmans Cyclingteam / Celebration / Lucinda Brand of The Netherlands and Team Sunweb Women / during the 5th Amstel Gold Race 2018 a 116,9km women’s race from Maastricht to Berg En Terblijt on April 15, 2018 in Berg En Terblijt, Netherlands. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
If I had sought counseling, I might have become a more mature, emotionally well-adjusted human being. But I preferred becoming a writer. —Viet Thanh Nguyen, “Don’t Call Me a Genius”, New York Times, April 14, 2018
I read a Robert Frost poem this morning, and it reminded me of my bicycle rides in Albuquerque. The North Diversion Channel multi-use trail is a main cycling connection across town. It runs along a big concrete ditch that’s been engineered to control the water shed from the Sandia Mountains. Sometimes I close my eyes and try to imagine what this landscape looked like before we built up this city. Water, which is often used by poets as a metaphor for memory and justice, is a primary shaping force in the landscape. Water has a voice.
The situation, now and in the past, is that the minority and marginalized communities of this or any other country are often not voiceless. They’re simply not heard. –Viet Thanh Nguyen, NYTimes
On Saturday’s ride I made a point to stop by the Mill Pond Refuge at the Sawmill Community Land Trust. Keshet, a local dance company, performed a water dance there at 2pm. It was part of the 3rd biannual National Water Dance, where communities renew their connections to the life giving world of water. In the arid Southwest, during this drought, it was especially poignant. The Sawmill location represents our community’s changing relationship with water. Below is the poem from Robert Frost, and then a few photos from the Water Dance that I saw Saturday.
A Brook in the City, by Robert Frost
The farmhouse lingers, though averse to square
With the new city street it has to wear
A number in. But what about the brook
That held the house as in an elbow-crook?
I ask as one who knew the brook, its strength
And impulse, having dipped a finger length
And made it leap my knuckle, having tossed
A flower to try its currents where they crossed.
The meadow grass could be cemented down
From growing under pavements of a town;
The apple trees be sent to hearthstone flame.
Is water wood to serve a brook the same?
How else dispose of an immortal force
No longer needed? Staunch it at its source
With cinder loads dumped down? The brook was thrown
Deep in a sewer dungeon under stone
In fetid darkness still to live and run–
And all for nothing it had ever done,
Except forget to go in fear perhaps.
No one would know except for ancient maps
That such a brook ran water. But I wonder
If from its being kept forever under,
The thoughts may not have risen that so keep
This new-built city from both work and sleep.
http://keshetarts.org “Founded in 1996, Keshet is an Albuquerque-based nonprofit which exists to inspire and unite community by fostering unlimited possibilities through dance, mentorship and a creative space for the arts. Uniting the arts, the artist and the audience, Keshet invites you to engage, experience and be inspired through bold explorations of movement and celebrations of community.”
Keshet’s Water Dance: http://keshetarts.org/join-national-water-dance-2018_dancing-for-water-in-nm/
Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed. Connection is health. And what our society does its best to disguise from us is how ordinary, how commonly attainable, health is. We lose our health–and create profitable diseases and dependences–by failing to see the direct connections between living and eating, eating and working, working and loving. –Wendell Berry, “The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture”, 1977, Sierra Club Books
If I can bicycle there, then I can live there. This was the mantra I came up with after my visit to Japan last year. It was my sixth time in Japan, but the first time I bicycled. What a difference it makes! I felt at home on my bicycle. Cycling has been an essential way for me to get my bearings in places since I took it up in earnest over twenty years ago. But feeling at home in Japan was different since it had felt so foreign. Cycling is an activity that creates connections.
Wes Jackson of the Land Institute said Wendell Berry’s book on culture and agriculture “launched the modern movement for sustainable agriculture”. The cycling and walking movements today are doing the same thing for sustainable transportation. There is tremendous enthusiasm in the cycling and walking communities. We need to support that by setting up our cities and villages, and the roads connecting them together, to encourage walking and cycling. This is what I call structural encouragement.
Structural encouragement means that we design for those travel modes. It would naturally occur to people that we are not only welcome to bicycle and walk, but it is part of the shared experience of living in the places we make our homes. The infrastructure we design connects people to our own capacity and powers for creating movement. It makes a woven world.
Human movement is the most fundamental form of human action. That is why we call “movements”–such as civil rights, women’s marches, conservation efforts–movements. When we march together, it symbolized the power of collective community action. We let our legs do the talking. It is the language that preceded language. An invisible thread connecting us.
Cycling and walking are not only a ways of moving forward, they are ways of living in place. They allow us to tune in more to what is going on with our bodies, and the places we live in. It is a way of paying attention. Designing transportation systems that facilitate human powered transportation (clean, renewable, healthy, sustainable, fun human movement!) is a direct solution that creates benefits now, and future dividends. It’s a transformative economic idea, one worth investing in. Check out the nonprofit I founded to learn more how we can accomplish this change together and how you can help. https://bikeinitiative.org
Man is made of the same atoms the world is, he shares the same impressions, predispositions, and destiny. When his mind is illuminated, when his heart is kind, he throws himself joyfully into the sublime order, and does, with knowledge, what the stones do by structure. –Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Worship” from the “Conduct of Life”.
When you have a better sense of the way the environment flows through your own body, you’re liable to work harder at taking care of the environment. –Richard Nelson, “The Way of the Hunter”
Cycling is a creative act. Everyday when we practice what we love, we weave together a sense of our own health and the environment we draw our life from. In this way culture emerges.
The most important things for human beings are clean air and clean water. —Akira Kurosawa, “Dreams”
My cycling journey took off 21 years ago in Reno, Nevada when I sold my car and bought a bicycle. I rode out of necessity to work and to live–errands, chores, and exercise. Reno offered clean air (for the most part), fresh mountain water, and enough places to ride to help me get started. The sense of renewal, authenticity and simplicity cycling brings to my life is special.
The best predictor of whether we are happy or not is our social relationships. –Meik Wiking, “The Little Book of Hygge”
I was (and still am) amazed at the intimacy cycling creates, both with people and place. Somehow cycling expands our in-group, we just feel more humane. I think it has something to do with being in touch with our vulnerability, which is at the core of our human state. Accepting this helps us build intimacy with all of our neighbors and changes our expectations regarding the terms we put on nature. We recognize and respect limits, experiencing ecstasy from ordinary things, like being outside for sunrise and sunset, easily swayed by each season’s grace.
And so it goes, and cyclists know! No matter how you get started cycling, the physical habit immediately delivers positive spiritual experiences–freedom, adventure, the power of will and action. Bicycling is emancipation in action. Feel unbounded freedom every day, real freedom within life’s constraints. Everyone who has experienced it can’t help but wish all could experience the freedom of cycling personally. Our wisest policies would encourage as much cycling as possible to help people flourish. Cycling increases confidence and self knowledge, improves daily social relations and decreases disparities, nurtures health, and fosters the invention of culture that both expresses and educates us, affirming care, love and co-creation.
If you look at it on a geologic timescale, it’s almost like we are this flimsy presence, and we really have to stick together as a human family to make sure we are a permanent presence on this planet and not just this blink of an eye. –Samantha Cristoforetti, Astronaut, In Nat Geo
In March’s issue of National Geographic magazine, Canadian spacefarer Chris Hadfield says that while orbiting Earth, he felt more connected to the people on the planet than ever before. I probably will not get to orbit earth, but I do feel that way when I pedal my bicycle. One of life’s paradoxes, cycling is a kind of letting go and getting better connected, all at the same time.
I see beautiful scenes around Albuquerque from the seat of my bicycle. After over three years pedaling here–over forty thousand miles of cycling–I am still seeing new things, like these murals in the images above that I spotted for the first time yesterday on Edith Road. I would advise anyone who loves to bicycle that this is an amazing landscape and community to ride in.
We have nature, we have culture, joined in one place. You can experience it with a bicycle. It is hard to beat cycling for bringing out the beauty of a place and the people that inhabit it.
One of my favorite things about living on the farm is that I can ride my bike to my cousin’s house and play. –Greta, daughter of Tedd Haas, a farmer from Bonita, Arizona. From the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) story: “Arizona Farmer puts conservation in action”
On our recent birding trip to McNeal, Arizona, I fell in love with the landscape. I think my wife is used to this by now. After every trip we take I want to move there. This is probably what makes me a geographer, that I throw my heart and imagination into the uniqueness of every place. Even though we left after four days as planned and returned to our lives and love at our home in Albuquerque, my imagination and dreams take me back to this location all the time.
After the six hour drive down the Rio Grande valley and then over the continental divide on Interstate 10, we spent the first night recovering in Willcox, Arizona at the Days Inn, where we picked up the local literature including the Wings Over Willcox guide. The next morning I set out on bicycle to meet Mai at our destination, the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, where we would camp for two nights. You miss most of the landscape traveling at 65-75 miles per hour in an automobile, but cycling is slower, gentler, and immersive. A recent storm left white snows on the high peaks of the Sky Islands–the high mountain ranges prominent above the spacious desert basins. The air was crips and clear under Arizona’s astringent light. Though I had arrived the day before, being on my bike made me feel like I was present, definitely here. As I pedaled and tuned in, I heard cranes and then saw their graceful silhouettes gliding in the sky.
The Sulpher Springs Valley reminds me of the San Luis Valley up in Colorado. With center-pivot irrigation technology, farmers bring ground water to the surface and distribute it to crops in the fields. It’s startling to see such a diversity of agriculture, from grapes and pecans to corn, beans, and tomatoes. Because water and soil is precious, farmers practice conservation. The native grasslands and wetlands are also increasingly being recognized as vital and protected in public lands and through partnerships using conservation easements, like the one at Cienega Ranch.
The cycling here is gorgeous. I pedaled down Hwy 191 from Willcox towards the Chiricahua Mountains, and then south on Kansas Settlement Road, where I passed the Bonita Bean Company. The valley feels huge, but the roads, energy and water infrastructure, and buildings serve as a mesh of civilization between the wild reaches of the Sky Island ranges dominating the horizons. Pedaling circles and streaming down the road, I watched the landscape slowly unfold.
Somehow it ws the landscape and not the beautiful campus or the textbooks or even the library that made me feel smarter… –Heather Sellers, “Pedal, Pedal, Pedal”, from The Sun Magazine
We came for the cranes, but the raptors are abundant and also incredible. They like the high perches of trees and telephone poles by the road. It’s beautiful to watch them fly.
The second day I cycled through Gleeson, taking the long way from our campsite to meet Mai at the Douglas swimming pool. The Gleeson road to Tombstone is a delight. From Tombstone to Douglas I went through Bisbee, which has to be one of the best cycling places anywhere, tucked into the Mule Mountains. Cycling by day, watching the starry skies at night, and observing the cranes fly in and out from their roost at dusk and dawn was great living. Returning to city life, I feel ambitious. We can boldly envision a night sky above our cities that is dark and allows people to connect with the stars–this is a good point of departure for equating progress with pollution, even light pollution. We are already paying closer attention to restoring wildlife habitat, clean air and water, and making transportation safer and a way for people to connect better with our communities. Cycling has a role to play in every place around the world. It certainly fits well in Southeastern Arizona, making us envoys of beauty like the birds and stars.
Nature is made to conspire with spirit to emancipate us. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”
I awoke before dawn in our tent listening to the music of the birds. Owls were hooting in the dark, and coyotes yipped and howled. The cranes roosting in the playa waters were noisy most of night. I bundled up and opened the tent flap. It was freezing outside. Stars were shining across the sky and a faint band of white light was glowing on the eastern horizon. I lit the stove and heated water. I looked around. The backbone of the milky way arched overhead, the dark shapes of the mountains skylighted by dawn. I poured the water over the coffee, cradled the cup, and sipped. It was a great day for birding at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area in Arizona.
Whitewater Draw is a playa and wetlands in the Sulphur Springs Valley. It was purchased by Arizona in 1997 to provide habitat for the cranes and other wildlife. The cranes like to rest in the shallow waters at night, protected from bobcats and coyotes. They fly out every morning to feed in the fields on bits of grain and corn that were left over from harvest season.
Whitewater Draw has camping, which makes it easy to be out at the edges of the day when the birds are flying in and out. Every morning and evening we walked on the pathways and decks with views of the playa. At nighttime the stars reflected in the calm waters. We met some great people. One retired couple joked they had run away from their home in Alabama, and were taking their sweet time exploring the Southwest U.S. Their plan was to not have a plan, just explore. Another couple was younger and were taking a year off to travel. Conversation flowed cheerily as we watched the birds glide, overlooking the watery playa and expansive valley and mountains beyond. The small crowd of people Whitewater attracts is friendly and easy going. Everyone was attuned to the language of the landscape, the beauty of the surroundings.
I came home with questions to research. I was excited to learn that 2018 is being celebrated as “the year of the bird” by the National Audubon Society, National Geographic, BirdLife International, and Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It’s the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which has played a critical role in conservation of biodiversity. The Sulphur Springs Valley is a good example of balancing human activities such as agriculture and conservation, and ecological stewardship, partnerships made to last. It was good to see these birds considered, admired, and cared for. I certainly learned a lot from them while I was there.
If you take care of birds, you take care of most of the environmental problems in the world. –Thomas Lovejoy, Biologist and Godfather of Biodiversity
Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a Love like that! It lights the whole sky. –Hafez (1315-1390), Sufi Poet
Mai and I spent Christmas Eve in a wildlife refuge about an hour south of Albuquerque. Mai brought her tripod and used her Nikon camera to take video. It turned out pretty good. Here is a clip below. In case you like it, I’ve included links to more of her videos from yesterday. Each one is different with the changing light and happy music from the sonorous birds. Enjoy!
Everyday when I get on my bike I learn something new about the transformative powers of cycling. Creative thoughts flow. If I’m angry or hurting, somehow cycling helps me work through those feelings, and turn that energy to the positive. Cycling is constructive. Cycling and sport in general helps us focus our energies, overcome fear and use our life for the good.
When I watched a story on New Mexico’s opioid crisis, it made me think of how cycling can change our course. Then my friend sent a link to a video of Juanjo Mendez’s story. Juanjo was injured in a motorbike crash, and felt depressed afterwards. But cycling brought him back.
Dr. Leslie Hayes in Rio Arriba County suggests the real solution to drugs is to get meaningful things in peoples’ lives. We are not going to arrest or medically treat our way out of the opioid crisis. We need love. Stories like Juanjo Mendez’s are proof cycling adds meaning and hope.
Cycling helps us cope with pain and trauma. If addiction is an effort to avoid pain, as Dr. Gina Perez-Baron suggests, cycling and sport in general may be a constructive outlet to deal with our hurts in a healthier way, even focusing our energy to propel us towards our goals in sport and life. To get super proactive building healthier lives, we can promote cycling and healthy sport.
Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers. —Nelson Mandela