Category Archives: nature

Dutch cycling

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)

Photo Credits, and References:
http://www.cyclingnews.com/races/amstel-gold-race-women-2018/results/
http://www.tdwsport.com
https://www.theguardian.com/travel/gallery/2016/may/18/cris-toala-olivares-netherlands-tulip-fields
http://www.cyclingweekly.com/news/racing/world-champion-chantal-blaak-wins-2018-amstel-gold-race-376513
https://santanaadventures.com

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/may/05/amsterdam-bicycle-capital-world-transport-cycling-kindermoord
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cycling_in_the_Netherlands

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Cycling and walking to get our bearings

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”.

Blog posts on my Japan trip 2017:

https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/25/cycling-japan-lights-my-fire/
https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/12/travels-in-japan/

Doing what we love matters

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.

The bicycle is America’s vehicle

“…we need to weave physical activity back into our culture.”  –Daniel Bornstein, in USA Today, Physically fit recruits for Army are hard to find.  

The bicycle has been around for a while, but we are only beginning to express our spirit through its forms.  By adopting a national strategy promoting cycling, we can address challenges we are facing while fulfilling more of our nation’s promise.  The bicycle pulls so many issues together–public road safety, healthy kids, a fit nation, building sustainable cities, safeguarding beautiful landscapes–and by practicing cycling, we make progress on all issues.  Like Andrew York displays through this piece on classical guitar called “Moontan”, there is still much music to be made in America on classic forms we inherited, like the guitar and bicycle.

Cycling is a way for people to participate in building a healthy nation.  Cycling literally builds a stronger, healthier America.  The US Military has an endurance sports program to support amateur athletes, endurance sports education and activities for current, retired, and veteran members of the United States Uniformed Services, including a cycling program.  But anybody can contribute to the nation’s health and strength by cycling and exercising in your own way.

Exercise is medicine.  It is affordable, proactive care!  I’m not just saying that, the American Medical Association and American College of Sports Medicine created The Exercise is Medicine Initiative in 2007.  Research is revealing more and more about the powerful ways exercise prevents most major diseases in our society.  Cycling lots helps us provide more of our own healthcare, and plus we get the benefits of interacting with our communities in healthy ways.

When I see people cycling in Albuquerque, It occurs to me they are bringing positive change.  Just like we generate our own wind by cycling, we shed a new light on our community.  We see more of the process of restoration happening at home.  We become part of that process by applying our own energies and giving our attention.  Cycling attracts community involvement.

I think the imagery of cycling as unifying is powerful.  Partly because it creates wholeness in practice.  Here you have the freedom and beauty of human movement mated with a world-changing technology, the wheel, that allows us to apply our own energy to make beautiful things happen.  Even more beautiful because cycling is practical!  It expresses who we are.

References–

Check out Wikipedia’s definition of a bicycle — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle

Here’s the USA Today link to the article the leading quote is from.  The article frames physical fitness as a national security issue.  https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2018/01/10/physically-fit-recruits-army-hard-find-especially-these-states/1016030001/

Check out US Military’s Endurance Sports program for current, retired, and veteran members of the United States Uniformed Services.  Awesome!  http://usmes.org

Photos in this post are from my bike rides in Albuquerque, except for the flower arrangement.  Thank you Sansai Studios for that photo!  https://sansai.photoshelter.com/index

More on the Exercise is Medicine Initiative here.   http://exerciseismedicine.org

Cycling in rural Southeastern Arizona

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Area Rides and Cycling Culture:

Every October there is a big cycling event out of Douglas, AZ
http://www.perimeterbicycling.com/cochise-cycling-classic/

The Willcox Flyer takes cyclists towards the Dos Cabezas and back to Willcox
https://www.facebook.com/WillcoxFlyer

The Bisbee Bicycle Brothel is pretty amazing
http://bisbeebicyclebrothel.com

Year of the Bird

Nature is made to conspire with spirit to emancipate us. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Resources and Credits (and cycling info.):
Thank you Mai at Sansai Studio for these wonderful photographs!  You can check out more of Mai’s work at her Instagram site:  https://sansai.photoshelter.com/instagram

The Whitewater Draw live, streaming crane cam!  https://www.azgfd.com/wildlife/viewing/webcamlist/sandhillcrane/cranecam/

The Year of the Bird website:  https://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/year-of-the-bird/

We brought our bicycles with us.  What a way to experience the landscape! I plan on blogging about the riding there, but for now, here are maps, data, and pics from those rides, via Strava.
https://www.strava.com/activities/1353895700
https://www.strava.com/activities/1352328961

The beautiful necessity of cycling

…human inventions are magical in that they give life to what heretofore had no existence. Our good working ideas have the capacity to direct our lives in a manner indistinguishable from any other reality.  —Cormac McCarthy, “Cormac McCarthy Returns to the Kekulé Problem” in Nautilus

The invention of cycling is a remarkable achievement.  Along with walking, cycling epitomizes sustainable transportation.  Human beings are designed to move under our own power. Walking is the most basic transportation.  A bicycle is the most basic vehicle.  By designing our cities and streets around the concept of serving walking and cycling well, we improve all types of human mobility. It is the long-term solution to our current transportation challenges.

This song by Rush, Subdivisions, reminds me of the world I grew up in.  It sometimes felt alien, partitioned, and anonymous spending so much time in automobiles.  A new degree of culture is emerging that commands our respect for the inalienable freedoms of human movement.  The culture that embraces an array of transportation opportunities dramatically improves our travel safety, and revs up our lives and economy.  Multimodal transportation–serving all travel modes–is the new helm.  This framework brings health, sustainability, and builds community.  It’s a saner world, one where we are not incessantly rushing, but spending time doing things that truly bring us joy, and listening more to what our bodies have to tell us.

An article in The Guardian today mentions “vehicles are now America’s biggest CO2 source”.  It discusses reducing emissions and improving efficiency, but not increasing walking and cycling.  It’s not an either/or proposition, it is about viewing walking and cycling as priorities, absolute necessities, basic public goods.  Without serving those choices, we are left with a conundrum.  We’ve learned structuring cities and streets around cars reduces choices.  Walking and cycling make healthier, happier people, and better places.  They’re good choices.  Everyone yearns for health, happiness and freedom.  Elevating the idea that streets are for people makes many transportation problems disappear, and creates a system that matches our human potential.

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We need to get more people experiencing cycling to open minds.  It is a key technology for sustainable development.  Cycling aligns with the beautiful necessity of our human nature.  We are an animal designed to move with our legs.  The bicycle unites that reality with an ingenious tool.  Cycling is magical, like having wings or discovering new superpowers.  It changes the way we experience and perceive the world. Cycling joins the power of wheeled locomotion with the sensitivities and keen pleasures of being human.  By designing our streets to serve walking and cycling first, we’ll give rise to a new form of built-environment that connects us through our activities and makes our spirits soar higher.  Once we obey the concept of designing cities for wellness, our culture can expand in new directions, giving our dreams real leg power.

Akemashite omedetō gozaimasu

明けましておめでとうございます

Happy New Year!