2019 Bike Blog: Day 6 – Hill Visits

Bloggers: Ben Wideman, Janet Swim, and Cricket Hunter

Something is shifting in Washington DC.

Four years ago when we rode from State College to DC, our Hill visits were almost guaranteed to go one of two ways. If it was a Democrat they would thank us for our time but admit that anything having to do with climate change was challenging due to partisan divide. Republicans would admire our efforts to ride our bikes so far, but almost always deny that the climate was changing and, if it was, it was not a result of human activities.

Although there are certain Republican offices that are still resistant to stating that climate change is worthy of attention, several times during our Hill visits we heard staffers share that that there is increasing recognition of the need to address climate change. There were times when younger staff members would admit that they were personally concerned about climate change, even if it wasn’t something that was as urgent for their boss. It feels like we’re watching a generational shift happen in a short moment in time.  [Watch this blog for a sermon on this theme… it’s in our “to post” folder!]

A unique aspect of our lobbying is to note that there is a moral imperative to address climate change grounded in a range of faith perspectives.  Rider Chris Antal  (an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister serving as a VA chaplain) made the explicit point during meetings that this imperative was grounded in Unitarian Universalist principles of “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part” and “Justice, equity and compassion in human relations,” and of course we know that all faith traditions call us to care for the most vulnerable, and care for our Common Home.   It was heartening to learn that there are an increasing number of health organizations raising concerns about people most vulnerable to the serious health impacts of climate change.

We know from our conversations that our Representatives need to hear more about climate change from their constituents — and many have already noticed an increase in climate-related concerns. On our ride we heard more community members from Pennsylvania’s “red” districts talk about the way they are experiencing climate instability: difficulty farmers are having this spring to get the crops into the ground;  the increasing change in animals, plants, or tree pollen. We rode our bikes beside fields flooded with too much water, and heard that a local fly fishing shop was shifting the flies they sold because insects are emerging at different times than they used to. People who live in rural America are intimately tuned in to how the climate is shifting.

Concerns about policies to address climate change remain for many fiscal conservatives and legislators for whom small government is a core priority.  The message that we carried was to urge those legislators to really examine the options, and to find committed, creative, and bold alternatives – or join the work that others are already doing.   

Our voices are perhaps uniquely situated to ask our legislators to exercise moral imagination, to craft a moonshot vision, to share it and celebrate it, and then to go back to do the very real work of building the steps to get us there without leaving folks behind – not communities that have sacrificed a great deal to light our homes for generations, not those who have lived downwind of our power plants and our highways, downstream of the vast, toxic refuse of each stage of our fossil fuel addiction.  We are far less concerned about the title of any proposal than that, in total, it meets the principles laid out in the document we shared in each office, signed by over 100 national and regional faith organizations.  These are principles we can all stand behind. 

We were proud to be able to visit one office, that of Representative Fitzgerald, where meaningful bipartisan climate action is a centerpiece of his work.   Representative Thompson and Representative Cartwright have collaborated across the aisle as original cosponsors of the RECLAIM Act of 2019, which would release monies from an existing fund created for the purpose to clean up coal waste in impacted communities, which is clearly part of a just transition to the energy systems we know we need.  We spoke with legislators on both sides of the aisle who are proud of clean energy technologies in their own districts.  And we heard concerns, including keeping electricity affordable for Pennsylvanians, and avoiding layers of regulations.  In our visit with Congressman Doyle, we learned of a bill he introduced, H.R. 2096 to support energy storage development, and since our visit, we learned that a Republican colleague from another state has now signed on, making this a bipartisan effort.

Our post-visit debriefing made it clear that each visit group shared the sense that change is happening and there is hope for future action in Congress.  We also heard that — even with the mix of new Representatives and legislators further along in their service – riders could tell that our years of respectful and challenging conversations, years of tilling the ground, years of inviting legislators into bold, creative, and courageous response is making a difference.  Aides know who we are.  They appreciate that we listen.  They share what would be helpful.  They are moving around the table to join us, facing the challenge.

Riders expressed pride in their efforts, hope for the future, that we are doing the “right work,” and feels like we are part of a destiny that will eventually lead to solutions.

Words of the day from riders:

Ben—pride; Casey—power; Dean—incredible; Dorothy—pollinators; Janet—team; Jason—destiny; Marali—payoff; Noah—opportunity; Bill—supplicants; Eric K.—relationship; Eric P.— receptivity; Jess—skating; Mike—hopeful; Nathan— right work; Jim—joy; Alison—beauty; Cricket—tilling

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Bike 2019: Day 5.2 — reflections after Bealesville to Washington, DC

Blogger: Nathan Martin

For our final day of riding I offer four brief reflections:
Sustainability is complicated. Poolesville Green organized an evening conversation at the Am Kolel Retreat Center that included a member of the Poolesville commission, a local developer, a utility expert, and some local environmental activists who were exploring the challenges of expanding solar generation capacity in Poolesville, MD in general and in the 93,000 acre agricultural reserve in specific. There was no general agreement among the group but witnessing the many voices and perspectives around the table was important. Just because there are no simple solutions does not negate the obligation to step up.

* Our traditions can nourish us for the path ahead. Congregation Adat Shalom again treated this year’s group of riders to lunch and respite along today’s ride. And we had the pleasure of hearing Rabbi Fred offer impactful Torah (Jewish teaching) about sustainability. He reminded us that (1) we are temporary user’s of the earth but it is not ours but God’s (Ps. 24:1), (2) that we are called upon not to waste resources (3) that concern for economically vulnerable needs to be at the center of any policy (Dtr16:20), (4) that God’s first covenant with Noah was with all humans and all species, (5) and that we need to implement the precautionary  principle in our environmental work, just like the Deuteronomist legislates that rooftops need to have a parapet to prevent unnecessary falls (Dtr 22:8). Finally, Rabbi Fred reminded us as he unrolled the Torah scroll that not only are the letters on the scroll a reflection of the divine but that we humans and the earth itself is a divine “text” that deserves reverence.

Our world is beautiful and inspiring. Perhaps it was the warmth of the sun on today’s ride, but we were able to appreciate the gentle beauty of farmland, forest canopy covered bike trails, and the Potomac river. It was a powerful reminder of why we are coming to Washington, DC, to fight for beauty around us.

* Relationships are central. It was a pleasure have the Philadelphia and State College groups come together to build connections during the course of our final day riding. While some of this connection was formal – we started the day with singing together – but mostly it was through casual conversation on the bikes and rest stops. It is good to appreciate both our diversity and our common purpose.

We close this final day’s blog with a prayer from our Pave the Way with Prayer that echoes Rabbi Fred’s teaching from the Philadelphia Sisterhood of Salaam-Shalom which met us along the bike path early in our trip:

Treat the earth well
It was not given to you by your parent
It was loaned to you by your children.
We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors.
We borrow it from our children.

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Bike 2019: Day 5.1 Bealesville to Washington, DC

Blogger: Noah Droege

In customary day 5 bike trip fashion, it was very nice weather. The sun was out, the birds were chirping (and the bike chains as well, thanks to yesterday’s rain). Time is an interesting thing on a bike; I think the spinning of the wheels changes the fabric of spacetime or something because hours can turn to minutes once they get moving. Sometimes it’s nice to let yourself slip into the wormhole of the road, but lately I’ve been restraining myself from speeding off, and instead taking Ben’s advice and breathing consciously a few times. He suggested this as a way to live in the moment, and I’ve really found myself enjoying each one of the moments I found myself in.

So, we left Am Kolel after breakfast, and in what seemed like an instant we made it to our lunchtime retreat at Adat Shalom synagogue. What a blessed place. Rabbi Fred treated us to generous amounts of food and accommodations, as well as a wonderful conversation on the ways that faith supports (and sometimes demands) meaningful action to protect the Creator’s creation. He also talked about the architecture of the synagogue, including motifs of the Tree of Life present in the walls and on the doors of the cabinet holding their sacred texts. Of particular note was the Torah that he brought out. It was an interesting manuscript in its own right, but what made it special was the story behind it.

This Torah was one of many taken from synagogues across Europe in the second world war. As the nazi’s swept through towns, they would take both Jews and their sacred texts. The Jews were sent to the concentration camps, but the texts were preserved in what was to become a museum of the dead race. This “museum” was eventually found during the years after the war, and the texts were given to a Jewish organization in England, where they were distributed to various places around the world, including right in front of me.

It struck me that, much like this Torah, each one of the riders carries much more than what can be seen at face value. We carry stories of hope, determination, and much much more with us as we enter those congressional offices. We also talked about Machloket, or “sacred argument”. Machloket teaches us to debate not to destroy the opponent, but to learn with them and come to an understanding together. We will also bring this with us to those congressional offices.

As the group left Adat Shalom, we blended together onto the bike path, creating this peloton of riders from all walks of life, at different stages in their own separate journeys, all riding together toward a brighter future. We reached the Steinbruck center with just enough time to take a breath, relax, and shower before dinner and a briefing by Alison and Cricket on the specifics of our [Capitol] Hill visits tomorrow. They did a wonderful job (as always) of collating the information into neat folders that we can look over and use on the Hill. I am now the last one still in the dining hall, and as I get ready to make my way to bed, I feel the same thing I saw in everyone else as they left: a bit of apprehension, a bit of uncertainty, but overwhelming readiness. We have adapted to rain, to cold, and to all the trials of this journey. We will do so again tomorrow.

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2019 Bike Blog Day 4: Hagerstown to Bealesville

Blogger: Dorothy Blair

When eight riders rolled out of our UCC homeless shelter cots at 7:30am, cell-phone weather geeks were already informing other sleep-blurry biker pals that our frigid, rainy Sunday bike-ride was going to have a second life in Maryland.  But isn’t Hagerstown, Maryland supposed to be warmer that Pennsylvania?  Not this time.

We had made good use of the shelter washer and dryers the night before, so we did have dry clothes and a cozy  breakfast with Bill, our UU chef, and Bob, patient manager of  the shelter.  Unfortunately all that coziness ended when we stepped outside to great the 48 degree rain.  Beyond rain, construction on the C&O Canal towpath had forced us to move our route eastward. In Maryland this means more hills, more very big hills.  We debated the 400ft rise in one mile hill, but had to swallow the alternative route that Janet labored over.  But one destination remained sacred: lunch at the Potomac Inn in Brunswick, just off the tow-path.

Chains oiled and paniers attached, the State College bikers were on the road by 9am. Rain stung our faces and our foreheads;  jackets and socks were soon soggy.  But relentless hills  and a lush landscape diverted our attention from toes growing colder by the hour .  Beautiful country east of Antietam rolled past – The Antietam Ceek rushed by near flood-stage. Deep rivulets formed roadside as farm fields drained.  As a reward for our biggest hill, we biked down through tiny Burkittesville, a charming colonial hamlet with cobbled streets and exquisitely maintained buildings.  The weather did take its toll, as one of our bikers lost feeling in their feet and  had to ride in the sag-wagon for an hour.

When you are cold, you bike quickly.  So despite 30 miles of sharp hills,  we rode into Brunswick at 12:30pm for authentic Syrian babba ganouj, falafel and swarma platters. Bliss! We made rain puddles on the floor, but our hosts were handy with mops.  Bloated,  I had trouble with the extremely sharp hill we had to navigate to get out of town.

At this point we split  into two groups of four to accommodate the mudrunners who couldn’t bear not to ride on the towpath, and the rest of us who would rather abandon ourselves to the roller-coaster hills than set our tires in the squishy towpath mud.  Everyone was happy, particularly Marali, who identified cat berries, and Jason, whose wish that the sun would shine on the towpath was prophetic.  Noah’s tire went flat 1 mile from our destination, and we were happy to have Tom Casey ridding sag bring the toolkit within seconds.  

By 4pm we arrived  at Am Kolel, the Jewish Retreat Centre in Poolesville that is our very comfortable  resting place tonight.  We met the six Philadelphia area riders, including 4 clergy – a rabbi, a Mennonite minister, a youth pastor  and a UU minister.  Dinner was delicious and provided by the Watershed Café, a local farm to table restaurant – chef and owner Ben Ritter.   Janet loved the vegan chili and I loved the rich coffee ice cream.  After dinner Joyce Breiner and other green committee/community solar/agriculture conservation district people described their great  triumphs and  interesting dilemmas.  

As Dean expressed at dinner, how incredible it has been that despite such stressful conditions, how good humored and happy we have been today. Not a grump among us. We take  great delight in something that we would ordinarily take for granted (like warm, dry feet).

words of the day: Noah—big          Marali — catberries     Casey — cold     Dean —incredible    Dorothy — abandon Ben —water      Janet—mud-runner     Jason—prophecy

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2019 Bike Blog Day 4: Baltimore to Bealesville

(from a warmer, drier riding day)

Blogger: Mike Ford

It was another day riding in the rain and cold (48 degrees), and we completed 62 miles to a retreat center in MD, where a highlight of the day was meeting there the State College group of bike riders.  We’ve had wonderful fellowship and food together, met with a local group of folks doing lots of good things to promote sustainable energy and lifestyles in this area, and soon head to bed for a good sleep.

Over dinner, our combined groups shared in an exercise – we each had to say one word that summarized our experience of the day…then we could elaborate on what that word meant to us.  I’ll let you use your imagination to fill in the details, but here are words our combined groups shared: mud runner/ divine/ wet/ determined/ cold/ incredible/ arrghh/ water.

Locals welcomed the team for a warm-up

I love the interfaith component of this effort.  Not just the common bonds we share between faiths to care for creation now and for our children, but what we share and learn from each other, riding side by side, asking and answering questions, sharing common frustrations and joys from our faith traditions, introducing ourselves to others we run into as a group of many faiths, united for a common, faith-based initiative.  It strengthens me in and helps me appreciate more my own faith tradition, Christianity, yet it broadens my perspectives and appreciations of other faith traditions.  I encourage any reader to find ways to have good conversations with those from faith traditions other than your own.

Tomorrow is our final day of riding – about 40 miles into D.C., where we’ll finish the ride at the Lincoln Memorial.  The group will then head to a retreat center for a night of preparation for our final day visiting House and Senate members to talk about our concerns that they work on policy and legislation that show far sighted care for our environment, so that our children and their children will have a healthy, beautiful planet in which to live.  Pray for us as you think of us, and thanks for reading about our adventures.

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