Meet Peter Buckland, second in our get-to-know-the-riders series. The 2015 PA-to-DC ride will take place May 1-5, though Peter will leave later and meet the cyclists prior to their evening in Poolesville, MD.
I woke up early to do a long mountain bike ride. Putting on my jersey, I noticed something was lodged below my right armpit. It was a tiny deer tick nymph, its limp legs dangling out of my flesh, its mouth parts bolted into my flesh. The previous day I’d been walking around a vernal pond watching ring-necked ducks and tundra swans on a gorgeous 60-degree day.
It was February. In Pennsylvania.
The white and pink blossoms of my black cherry tree were blossoming. Down the street narcissus and daffodils were budding.
It was early March.
Up on the ridge, hemlocks were losing their needles. Year after year, the line of devastation crept ever higher. The hemlock wooly adelgid were feasting their ways to the tree’s deaths.
These could seem like isolated incidents, just weird weather, if it weren’t for their being a part of longer trends. Fewer cold snaps, more warm days, changed understory conditions, and other optimal conditions are altering the forests of my home in central Pennsylvania, affecting the lives of the hemlock, the cherries, and the oaks that make the acorns that feed the mice who feed the ticks who live through the winter with fewer cold snaps (this year excepted).
If you take the time and consult people who have been paying attention—naturalists and foresters, farmers like my uncle, or climate scientists and ecologists—you’ll see the change. When we compare or match these changes to those in other parts of the world, a pattern emerges. Glaciers the size of Manhattan on Greenland have calved, record-breaking droughts have desiccated California while Noachian floods have deluged Pakistan, some first nations people of Nunavut can’t travel across the mires of their ancestral lands and no snow fell for part of the 2015 Iditarod, and cataclysmic cyclones and typhoons have swept the Philippines and Vanuatu in the last two years. We know, without a doubt, that the growing fossil fuel economy has reshaped the ground under our feet, the oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers that surround us, and the foundations of the living systems that have made civilization possible. As a person of conscience, I feel called to act.
After years of being an ardently unaffiliated atheist, I have become a Unitarian Universalist. As a community of conscience and gratitude, we believe in the dignity of people, a just world, and that we must respect the integrated web of all existence. We are called to invest in justice, dignity, and integrity. We owe it to ourselves, to our ancestors and our progeny, and the creatures that we share this world with—human and other than human—a convivial way of being, a way of living that respects the intrinsic good of individual people, the communities in which they live, and the web of relationships that support all of us. That takes action.
I’m not a casual person. I don’t tend to get halfway into something and then decide, “Meh. That’s just not my thing.” If something grabs me, I grab it back, and we go for a ride.
Riding bikes tends to be pretty consuming. In May 2000, at 24, I started riding a bike again after 10 years of cigarette smoking. I did my first mountain bike race that fall. The next year I got a road bike and did my first 100-mile ride solo. Two years later, I entered a 100-mile mountain bike race. I’ve done it seven times. I’ve ridden with friends over 200 miles in one day several times. The bicycle may be the greatest piece of transport technology humans have created. Riding is part of me. It speaks with me. We can speak conscience.
On March 9th, 2011, I rode about 120 miles from my home in the village of Pine Grove Mills, Pennsylvania to the state capitol building in Harrisburg to meet our former Governor Tom Corbett. He had rescinded the moratorium on new horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing—“fracking”—leases in the state forests. When I read it, I shook. My whole body, mind, and soul burned. Sadly, he wasn’t there. But the group who joined me met with one of his undersecretaries. I believe we were the only citizen group to get a meeting with a Corbett cabinet member on fracking. Thankfully, our newest governor Tom Wolf has reinstated that moratorium. The journey goes on.
My deepest sense of good for the world—the world to which my every breath for life and health and whose every draught of water brings reprieve—called from my depths like the psalmist crying out to God, “De profundis clamavi ad te Domine.” “Out of the depths I call to you Lord.” Nature called me, through me. I had to respond. That response, though, required an intimate relationship with bicycles.
The bicycle connects us to our path in a way both mechanical and human. It is still largely under human power. But with gravity and no brakes, I can descend at 50 miles per hour, giving me the sense of diving like a falcon. On my mountain bike, I ride trails at speeds my feet cannot, and yet I feel the trail in my whole body. On our sandstone-lined ridge tops in central Pennsylvania, the slabs of rock bring challenges for my body and brain, liberating both from their limitations because the technological marvel of the bicycle brings me to Nature in novel ways. Being in those moments sets me free. I am with the simple human-powered machine, the broken stone, the mountain laurel, rhodedendron, blueberries, hemlock, shagbark hickories, swamp white oaks, and maple, the cooper’s hawk with a rodent in her talons streaking through the canopy, and the black bear staring me down as she guards her cubs by Laurel Run.
Were it not for six-hour rides steeped in mind-body, machine, and nature, I’d have no sense of the seismic shifts under our feet, in the soils and understory. I’d have no idea that we are changing the Earth’s fabric. I would have no connection between those drowned on Vanuatu, the parched grounds in California, the snowless winter landscapes in Alaska, or the mired first nations people in Nunavut, and the dying hemlocks. But it’s not just the plights I’ve seen. In the Moshannon and Rothrock State forests, there are raised trails covered in moss and ringed by laurel and swamp white oak. When you ride them, their unevenness pitches you around. On my first ride around Rock Run, I wondered what had happened. It struck me that I was on an a rail car causeway used to feed and empty the old iron furnaces. Feeding those furnaces turned Pennsylvania’s forests into the Pennsylvania Desert, literally millions upon millions of acres of clear cuts. Where I was riding had once been a gouged scape, a great wound. That day I saw a black bear and heard the drilling of eager pileated woodpeckers. And I rode there with a friend. Nature is strong. We are strong. There is hope in the action of that long recovery.
“Hope lives in action.” That’s become my mantra over the last few years. So I’m riding for hope, knowing that this little ride will draw attention not just to the plight of a changing climate, but also the resilience of nature and we as people in it, and our ability to come together for the integrity of the breathing creation.
Read Peter’s post-trip reflection.
Donate online to PA IPL in support the PA-to-DC riders (or send a check, memo: bike 2015 to PA IPL 2100-C East College Ave., State College, PA 16801)
MANY THANKS to our 2015 silver sponsors Sun Directed and Beth Richards, KBB Realtor,
and bronze sponsors Freeze Thaw Cycles and the Rock Ethics Institute for their support!
Learn about sponsoring PA IPL. Become a sponsor.