By Sierra Ross Richer

‘What is the Goal of the Climate Ride?’

Channanon, IL, July 12

Five weeks down, three to go.  If this trip was a mile race, this would be the third lap, the part where things get real.  The initial adrenaline has worn off, the lactic acid set in, but the finish line—and the excitement that comes with it—is not yet in sight. The third lap is where the big question arises: why am I doing this? 

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself recently as I pedal the country roads of Iowa and Illinois, through corn and soy bean fields, past rivers and woods.  What is the goal of the Climate Ride? And why am I doing it? 

The reason for the climate ride is obvious: climate change.  But how exactly does one ride for the climate? What are the specific goals and how does one go about reaching them?

We’ve done a lot over the last 2000 miles, but are we doing what we set out to do?

 We’ve started conversations about climate change with people we meet at campgrounds, gas stations, churches and events.  Of course, the question arises: could we do better at engaging more people, starting more conversations? Absolutely. And sometimes the size of our impact is disheartening. 

We’ve also tried to promote sustainable living through bike travel. Biking is a carbon-friendly means of travel and we are quickly becoming bike enthusiasts, but the questions is there again: are we doing all we can to be climate-friendly on our ride? No.  Our group is accompanied by a diesel-fueled support truck that uses petroleum to transport our stuff every day. We consume insane numbers of individually-wrapped granola bars and leave a bulging trash bag behind at every campsite we visit.  If our goal is to be an example of sustainable living, I don’t know if we’re hitting the mark. 

We’ve made connections with organizations and churches along our route, and we’ve enjoyed many delightful potlucks and warm breakfasts from our hosts.  We’ve also built strong relationships within our group, ones that will hopefully last far into the future.  All of these things are goals for the trip, but for me, none of them quite answer the “why” question.  

After some thought, I’ve found an answer that feels right for me. I see this ride as a sort of baptism into a relationship with the earth. It’s a way to publicly announce my commitment to a path of connecting with and caring for this injured planet. 

Like a baptism, this trip is a deeply physical ordeal, an immersion into the physical world of the land and my own body. This trip is changing me, shaping me, and I will not come out of it the same. 

Baptism requires confession—a recognition of one’s shortcomings—and this trip is also reminding me of all the ways I’m not perfect. I don’t live as sustainably as I could; I don’t always interact with the land the way I wish I did.  I admit that.  And I’m sorry.

But baptism is also a chance to publicly announce one’s commitment to a cause, a path, and that’s what this trip is giving me. I can’t bike across the country in a yellow jersey that says “Climate Ride” and pretend I don’t care about the climate.  My commitment is displayed on my shirt and in everything I do this summer. This trip is not only a chance for me to profess my commitment across the country, it also creates a network to hold me accountable for my choices now and in the future. 

This summer isn’t the first time I’ve thought about climate change or done things to try to heal the earth in the same way that the day I was baptized into the Mennonite Church when I was a junior in high school wasn’t the first day I thought about Christianity. But I believe that symbols are powerful, and I want to make this ride a symbol of my commitment to the planet. 

Before the trip began, Clara Weybright spoke to our group in a zoom meeting about the visits we will have with our representatives in Congress at the end of the trip.  She said: “You saying, ‘I biked across the country because I care so much about climate change’ is honestly really, really convincing.” 

I think Clara knew the answer to my question before I did. I am biking across the country because I care so much about climate change that I want to show it to the world.