2019 Rider Profile: Jess Ballenger

Meet Jess Ballenger, lucky thirteenth in the 2019 series of rider profiles. Get to know the riders for the PA to DC rides as the series unfolds, then follow the trips!  Learn more.  Donate.

I have a full-time-plus job, a family, and many other worthy interests and pursuits. A life. When I look at my calendar, a five-day bike trip to DC right now seems crazy.

We face rising sea levels, devastating droughts, increasingly chaotic and destructive weather, fires, famines, unprecedented threats to every aspect of life and human flourishing.

And we have little more than a decade to make the massive, unprecedented changes to virtually every aspect of the global economy necessary to avoid the worst of this. When I look at the scope and timeline of climate change, it seems like a five-day bike trip is the very least I can do.

Life in the age of climate crisis, when we acknowledge that we have entered it, seems increasingly to include a feeling of pressure, of compressed time and a sense of foreboding and paralysis about what we can do in the face of the enormity of the threat. I am making time to take part in the 2019 PA-IPL Pennsylvania-to-DC Bike Ride to reconnect with sources of hope, to restore a sense of perspective about what is important, and to expand my sense of what, together, we can do.  

This will be my second time making the ride. In 2013, I made the second-ever trip from State College on a tandem bicycle with my daughter Hannah, who was 12-year-old. It was a fantastic experience that neither of us will forget. I’d hoped to make the ride again, but the next year I took a new job teaching bioethics and the history of health care at Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions. The demands of the new job and the challenges of riding in Philly’s urban environment shrunk the amount of time I could spend on a bicycle, and the trip always comes at a particularly busy time in our quarter-based academic calendar, so it did not seem feasible that I’d be able to make the ride again in the foreseeable future.

But when a class cancellation made my time unexpectedly a little more flexible this spring, I felt called to make the ride again. I’m delighted to see how it has grown since 2013, when there were only six of us leaving from State College. I’m proud that we will again be carrying prayers from congregations around PA to deliver to our representatives in Washington, a practice inaugurated by my daughter on that earlier bike trip.

I feel blessed to have the enthusiastic support of my faith community, the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Philadelphia where I co-chair the Climate Action Team. I’m looking forward to getting to know my fellow riders better, to sharing perspectives with those we will meet along the way, to helping PA IPL meet its fundraising goal and to being part its long-game strategy of cultivating relationships with our representatives in Washington around the moral imperative of dealing with the climate crisis.

But to be honest, perhaps I’m most happy the trip is giving me an excuse to spend more time on the bike again. For me at least, life always looks better from the saddle. I hope our ride will inspire others with a similar sense of hope. In the words apocryphally attributed to H.G. Wells, “Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.”

You can catch glimpses of the 2013 riders, including both Jess and Hannah in this Get a glimpse of the riders from the 2013 trip on this nationally-televised PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly segment from April 19, 2013. Most of the folks climbing the stairs and walking through the halls at the beginning are PA IPL cyclists.  Some of them are introduced later in the segment — on their bikes.  [NOTE: the video works best on the Chrome browser]

Follow the trips on Instagram and Facebook and with the hashtag #paiplonbikes for lots of photos and videos