Category Archives: Socioecological Dimensions of Bicycling

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

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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!

Front-country ethics, or, blue-collar cycling

Cycling definitely fits the mold of a blue collar job.  You start fresh and clean heading out of the house, and you come home covered in dirt, salt and sweat.  You have the weather that can turn on you at any time.—Kirsti Lay, Rally Cycling, quoted from the video at the end of this post

You are more hyperaware of your surroundings when you ride.  –Kelly Catlin, Rally Cycling

As a student of the bike, cycling always instructs me.  One of the joys of cycling is simply getting outside.  I’m stationary inside much of the day, so cycling gives me a chance to roam.

Since almost all of the riding I do is from home and work, I spend most of my cycling time in and around the city. The city is important to human living!  We hear a lot about backcountry ethics and caring for remote environments, but surely our city habitat is equally important.  We spend most of our time in cities, and this is where we learn how to interact with nature.

Cycling has many benefits for healthier cities.  Cycling makes for friendlier, more humane cities.  And it keeps us in touch with what is going on where we live.  Cycling is a way to create happy experiences in everyday life, and stay healthy, positive, and strong.  It helps individuals and communities build resiliency, and develop a caring relationship for the places we live in.

Cycling is good news, and Albuquerque and all Southwestern cities (all cities, everywhere) can increase cycling rates by investing in it.  Cycling makes us active daily participants in a healthy city.  When we cycle, we become connectors and reflectors of all the healthy aspects of our home environment, the greenery, the great food, traditional heritage, atmospherics, and social community.  Cycling exercises our civility muscles, and creates lifestyles and places that bring happiness.  Cycling is a tool that gives us the ability to work for true wealth.  A way to help us locate our better, authentic selves.

For more on the cycling outlook, check out the video from Rally Cycling, “Working Outside”–

References:
Visit Rally Cycling’s website:  https://rallycycling.com

Burn calories, not carbon pledge

What is to give light must endure burning.  –Viktor Frankl

I just took the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s pledge to help create healthier communities and a healthier planet.  You can take it too.  They ask everyone to help by using active transportation modes (walking, biking, skateboarding, be creative?!) when we can to save carbon and get fit.  Here’s the pledge link:  www.railstotrails.org/pledge

I worked for RTC on a trail survey in Albuquerque.  They are a fine organization taking a forward-thinking approach by repurposing abandoned railways as multi-use pathways.  I also have great memories of an excursion on one of RTC’s projects near Reno, where I used to live.  It is called the Biz Johnson Trail.  It was a great adventure, but back before digital cameras!

Short ride, or long ride, work trip, or recreation trip, or a blended experience, remember, every little bit counts!  Here’s what I wrote on my RTC pledge statement.  They ask you to write a few words about how you will help burn calories and save carbon–

“I ride as much as possible, and share my rides on Strava.  Strava helps make my cycling more visible, and the data collected can be used by community planners.  Strava also helps me get inspired by seeing the activities of others.  My wife and I share one car, and when we are not cycling, we take transit.  Good transit systems are essential to supporting public transportation goals.  I also blog about my cycling activities at bikeyogi.com and work as a community organizer, educator, and transportation analyst at Southwest Bike Initiative, a 501(c)(3) in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  swbikeinitiative.wordpress.com/

I miss the TT bike

The Spirit of the Bicycle

Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?  –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

Bicycles remind me of the Canadian rock band Rush.  They’ve never had the marketing machine elevating them to pop star status, but their audience grows over the years through consistent competency, practicality, artistry, value and pure fun.  They simply perform well.

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And so it is with the bicycle.  I was talking with a bike shop manager during a ride.  His ideal customer is someone just getting started and wanting an entry level bicycle, $400 or so.  They ride it until it wears out.  Through their experience, they have a clearer idea for the next one.  I told him that was my story.  I started riding almost 20 years ago on a Specialized Rockhopper.  It cost about $400.  Now, 20+ bikes later, I’m on a Specialized Tarmac.  Technology is wonderful, but the most important thing is your bike fits you, and is mechanically sound.  How much money you spend is irrelevant.  The ride characteristics come from you, the rider, from your heart and soul.  A good bike lets you do what you want to do.  It is intuitive, honest, trustful.  You are the instrument making the sound.  You make the bicycle go where you want to be.

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The places we can go are fabulous!  When I was driving 18-wheeler across America for a living, I saw a lot of country.  But I missed most of what was out there.  The bicycle allows you to immerse yourself and get a 360 degree experience of the landscape surrounding you.   Cycling experiences make our senses and minds more impressionable.  It keeps us fresh, youthful.  If I would have had a bicycle with me on my 18-wheeler rig to ride during layovers, loading times, and rest days, I could still be truckin’.  We live in the best of both worlds.  We have macro-transportation capabilities to span the globe, and can find intimacy and serene pleasure too if we take the time to be quiet, humble, and explore under our own useful and fitting powers.  Keeping a balance is key.  We have to choose wisely, and accommodate ourselves to the world.

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The bicycle allows us to build an understanding of the world minus the scaffolding.  The structure of the cycling experience is almost unmediated.  What a brilliant, fun technology.  The bicycle is sustainable transportation.  It is practical and worthwhile.  My how we need it!

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If you want to be a champion to future generations and create important changes now, be a champion of the humble bicycle.  Let people make music with the bicycle.  Embrace this technology and abide by it.   Unlike the rock band Rush, bicycles do not grow old.   We are on the precipice of big change in the world.  Bicycles help us move our story in the right direction and produce more positive outcomes, win-wins.  Bicycles build optimism, health, and–

  • get us out of our bubble
  • activate our inherent mobility powers
  • shift our perceptions so we tune in
  • stimulate creative thinking
  • help us meet new people, feel connected to our communities, and be a part of the world
  • assist us in creating change
  • deliver benefits in health and wellness, sustainability, and creative development

Bicycles put humans in a positive light.  Days are gifts as we pedal forward.  The bicycle abides.

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resources:
Check out Specialized for bicycles.  The spirit of the bicycle is you!

The Many Faces of Cycling, Most Beautiful Ones

I came home from a Saturday morning ride with friends, ate lunch, started reading and came across this.  An article called Pimp My Bike: Detroit’s Custom Cycles in Pictures in The Guardian.  Here are a few pictures from the article.  Photos are credited to Nick Van Mead, from the article.

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Ashia, waving in the photo above, is quoted in the article saying she feels safer with groups, “It’s positive — and God Knows in Detroit, we need positive things like this.”

This blog is usually original posts, but obviously the Slow Roll movement in Detroit merits our attention.  They are innovating and reaching out to expand the conversation about our public roads, our cities and neighborhoods, economic renewal, social wellness, all propelled by bicycling.  This movement is bigger than any one group, in fact, it’s a global movement.

“It makes the city far more human…they have conversations, make eye contact…the people are friendlier” than they were before all these rides started, says Todd Scott of the Detroit Greenways Coalition (quoted from the article).  And my goodness, don’t we all need friends.

Resources/Credits–
Go read the article on The Guardian, it conveys the beautiful essence–  https://www.theguardian.com/cities/gallery/2016/nov/02/pimp-my-bike-detroit-custom-cycles-slow-ride-in-pictures
Photo Credits to Nick Van Mead
I’ve blogged about Slow Roll before.  Let’s be cities of friendly bicyclists.
Check out my post Green Infused Classic Cars for another innovator, a very famous one.
And more landmark journalism by Nick Van Mead and The Guardian–
America’s Road Trip: Will the US Ever Kick the Car Habit

Morning Ride Together

Play is the highest form of research.  –Albert Einstein

We all want to have healthier communities.  The question for us was how to integrate health in a meaningful way into our outdoor recreation planning process.  –Alex Stone, RTCA planner

The morning bicycle ride together is a cool solution for the hot topic of improving public health.  It creates an opportunity to breathe fresh air, get the body and mind flowing, and spend time with friends.  It stokes that virtuous circle of enjoying outdoor amenities while conserving them.

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Dry farmed quinoa, Sebastopol, CA.  theguardian.com  photo credit:  Michelle Davidoff

Saturday morning I biked the Sandia Crest.  Beautiful to see so many cyclists out.  This time of year cyclists are training for the Ironhorse Bicycle Classic in Durango and summer events to come.  The weather was breezy, but that makes you dig deeper and builds up your strength and character.  The challenge of adapting to the natural elements enriches the bike life, just like the fluctuations in weather helps crops like the quinoa pictured above become more vibrant.

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I met a group of cyclists on the observation platform at the top overlooking Albuquerque.  They were having their picture taken.  What a unifying accomplishment, getting to the summit of the mountain together.  We talked about the progress of bicycle friendliness in New Mexico.  It makes it easier to get outdoors, leave the car in the driveway, and get some healthy exercise.

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We exchanged names and now we’re connected on Strava.  Strava is great for connecting with people, getting ideas for rides, and keeping a log of your routes and rides.  It is also good for referencing your times on local climbs.  It is not really for competition though, except competing with yourself, trying to improve.  Racing your bicycle in a sanctioned event is true competition.

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After the ride I recovered with some nice music.  Cycling up the Crest is a healthy high, and a great way to make indelible memories with friends and build a sense of place.  Then it is time to rest and recover, let the miles sink in.  On Monday morning you’ll feel like you did something extraordinary on the weekend, and you’ll come back stronger, ready for the next ride together.

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Resources–
Opening quote from Breaking Down Barriers–Parks and Recreation Connecting with Public Health
Strava is free.  All you need is a device with GPS (cell phone).  Meet new friends & play.