Wheeled Migration takes on 500 miles of roadways, and that’s just the beginning
Last fall, when Ryan Laine took the reins to organize a summer cycling tour to an environmental conference along California’s Central Coast, he could divulge few details save for the departure and destination dates and locations.
He knew the trip would begin in Chico and 10 days later—after more than 500 miles— end in San Luis Obispo. He also knew there would be unforeseen complications along the way. But what he couldn’t possibly predict is how the ride would turn into a life-changing experience for many participants—including him.
“You can’t sign up and pay for some of the stuff that happened out there—to be on the edge, pushed to your limits and to do it among people, friends, some of whom you’ve never met before,” said Laine, an accomplished cyclist. “It’s a completely different world than what we live here and very liberating.”
So for about the 30 Wheeled Migration riders who rolled into Cal Poly for the CSU/UC/CCC sustainability conference, it was the journey, and the surprises along the way, that made the trip so special.
“The conference was nothing compared to the ride,” insisted Michelle Wurlitzer, a Butte College sophomore, who, despite her relative biking inexperience, was determined to complete the trip.
Wurlitzer contacted Laine (a CN&R contributor who periodically writes for GreenWays) after hearing about the trip during Chico State’s sustainability conference last fall. She joined the group, but not without reservation. After all, she didn’t know most of the other participants and she wasn’t a cyclist.
In fact, Wurlitzer began training only about a month before the group hit the road. Her longest ride up until that point was 40 miles, which she did on her mountain bike, not a touring bike.
The route down south was formidable. On the second and third days of the trip—during mostly uphill rides from Williams through Clearlake, then into the Napa Valley and down to Occidental—Wurlitzer says she often questioned what she was doing there. She wasn’t sure she would make it.
“I didn’t think it would be as physically or mentally challenging as it was,” she said.
Day five, a 72-mile ride starting in the North Bay, brought about the biggest challenges and change for the 19-year-old. Of course, one of the highlights was riding across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. But the real turning point came later in the day as she began to crest a steep, traffic-filled road in a region called Devil’s Slide and got a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean near Half Moon Bay.
“It was just so bright and beautiful and I felt so alive and full of life,” Wurlitzer said. “I think it was that moment … after that I wasn’t the slowest one anymore. The ride just became something different for me.”
That change manifested itself in many forms, including the peace sign and huge smile she flashed to oncoming traffic for 40 miles straight on day eight of the trip. Back in Chico, the journey has continued for Wurlitzer, who credits the experience and her new friends for giving her an adventurous spirit—and, she admits, a bit of a sense of invincibility.
Chicoan Brad Hauskens said the trip at times proved physically demanding for even experienced cyclists such as he, and the highlights for him were actually the stopping points along the way.
In addition to staying the night at various campsites and purchasing food from CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture partnerships), the group visited several intentional communities, such as the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, a nonprofit educational organization.
While they were there, Richard Heinberg—an author, educator and senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute—gave a presentation to the group about peak oil, a subject he’s written about extensively. Hauskens said the best part of the lecture was hearing Heinberg’s ideas on building communities and gardens—strategies that will prove crucial when the oil runs out.
“It brought everything home for me,” he said, “what we were doing on the road and what we could do back in Chico.”
Two months after the trip, many of the ideas have stuck for the 30-year-old carpenter. Hauskens hasn’t turned on his television and said he’s changed his eating habits, cutting down on meat and increasing his intake of organic fruit and vegetables. He’s also more involved with local efforts promoting bike culture, including the Bike Kitchen at the Saturday Farmers Market, a valet parking and bike-maintenance service.
“If I could quit my job and ride a bike for a living I’d love to do that,” he said.
Meanwhile, that’s exactly what Laine has done.
“You know how people say, ‘I wish that one day I could do this or that'? Well, this is it—this is something else,” he said. “This is the thing I’m going to do.”
He’s now working full time to turn Wheeled Migration into a nonprofit organization and on some smaller events and tours to keep it alive between larger ones. On Sunday (Sept. 28), the group, in concert with the Butte Bicycle Coalition, is putting on a community biking event called the Chico Cycling Chautauqua.
It will start at City Plaza and include music, food, along with all things bike: demos, repair and networking. Fittingly, the event will migrate to the Fire Ring at Bidwell Park after dark for a fireside chat with Wheeled Migration and end in a late-night ride (riders need lights).
The group has a Web site (www.wheeledmigration.org) where participants have blogged about the ride to San Luis Obispo, but the goal of the event is to share the trip—and biking in general—with the larger community. Laine noted that riders of all ages and degrees of experience came together for Wheeled Migration and they ended up building a community of their own.
By the end of the journey, he said, it was clear that everyone wanted more.
“It really felt like I was part of something very precious and people believed in it,” he said. “And I think that’s what community is all about.”