Taking Practical Action Toward Resilience: On the Road Again – A Yang Experience

By Andrew Watkins, Belfast Area Transition Initiative (BATI), Maine

We're excited to feature Andrew's post on his cross-country bike trip as the first in a series called “Taking Practical Action Toward Resilience” highlighting inspiring actions that people and communities across the country are taking as part of this year's Transition Challenge.

Beginning May 9th, I will be biking across the country, from Maine to Washington, as part of theCelebrate Oxygen Transition Challenge and my own journey to “Occupy Carbon.” I've been cycling since 1997, more at some times and less at others. Moving to Mid-coast Maine brought new opportunities and new terrain for longer rides. Coincidentally, the Trek Across Maine, benefiting the American Lung Association, rode past my front door every Fathers Day and encouraged me to strive for longer distances. In 2011, I made the decision to participate in the Trek and started riding longer and longer distances, with fifty miles becoming a favorite day ride. Last year I took part in the Trek and found it agreeable to see new places from a bike. In that period, I also rode more than I drove, approximately one thousand miles biking versus two hundred behind the wheel.

I adopted the philosophy “Celebrate Oxygen” as a way to deal with too much carbon, and from that it was a short stretch to “Occupy Carbon.” I became involved with permaculture through Newforest Institute and then with the Belfast Area Transition Initiative—mainly through its Transition CAFE and a growing number of Permablitzes—and was inspired by the growing grassroots movement for climate action. At the same time, I began to feel that Yin had too much play in my life, and I was ready to balance it with a large Yang experience, a cross-country adventure. But adventure at the cost of an airplane's carbon footprint was out of the question, as was driving a car across the country.

I had begun to see my 98 Subaru as a hemorrhage of my hard-earned cash flow and finally realized—though it had served me well—it was starting to cost more than it was worth. Economics: the modern day calculus of life's meaning (and biking can be so much fun!). I sold the Subaru and took that money to buy something with two wheels that would fulfill my wish to see more places from the saddle of the bike. It was time to test the limits.

For months now, I've been planning my 3600 mile bike trip. I will start in Lubec, the easternmost point in the US, and travel West, with my goal being Seattle, WA. I will be taking a northerly route, pedaling through the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, then a short hop through Ontario, and on to Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and finally Washington State.

As I've made ready to do this one thing—a DOT if you will—I've had a chance to think about the pace of life on a bike. The carbon cycle has been co-opted by our short-sightedness, stressing the earth past sustainable levels of consumption. We need to return that cycle to its original pattern. One way to do that is with a slower pace of life and a longer view of consequences. Covering fifty miles in a day instead of four hundred is a big difference in expectations and completely changes the calculus of transportation and consuming carbon. I plan on taking one hundred days to cross the country, which means one hundred different places to sleep at night. Camping, friends, friends of friends, houses of kind strangers, and a motel now and again will test my resiliency and my dedication to this one goal. I'd lived for a year in Africa and could call myself a veteran of living with less to some extent, but I am now diving into an unknown place far beyond my comfort zone—a challenging but rewarding journey, reflective of the bold societal and economic shifts we'll need to take if we are truly going to Occupy Carbon and address climate change.

I welcome supporters, companions, and partners along the way. As I travel through the northern tier, I would like to visit Transition Initiatives near my bike route and join up with other Transition Challenge actions taking place when possible. Other cyclists are welcome to join me, for part of the trek or the whole 3600 miles. Guides through larger cities will be particularly welcome. Please feel free to email me in advance of my departure at celebrate.oxygen@gmail.com, and to follow my journey via Twitter by following @waxwing12.

-Andrew Watkins

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