Bike-powered revolution

Local woman rides for 15 weeks to support pedal- powered music

Lara Martin (right) during the revolution.

Lara Martin (right) during the revolution.

Courtesy Of Lara Martin

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The gas-guzzling generator crouched on the periphery of the lawn, like an obnoxious dog banished from a picnic, roaring at the end of its long leash, while the sound system it powered was checked before the evening’s events.

I could barely hear the whine of feedback through the amps over the howl of that generator. But with a full night of movies, slide shows, performers and soft-spoken speakers scheduled to appear at the annual Quit Torture Teach-in and Vigil in Camp Bolio, Monterey, last fall, organizers needed the power. The generator was an annoying necessity.

How ironic, I thought, that an event protesting the irresponsible behavior of our government and a foreign policy intrinsically dependent on fossil fuels would rely on such a voracious beast to supply its power.

And then the generator ran out of gas. The sudden silence startled the crowd.

Fear not. The Pleasant Revolution came to the rescue.

This Revolution was a rock ’n’ roll bicycle tour that traveled from Nevada City to the pyramids of Palenque, Mexico, without a support car. The tour featured the musical group the Ginger Ninjas, who had come prepared to perform live and electric anytime, anyplace.

Within minutes, our engineer had spliced two power-generating bicycles to the soundboard. The system was up and running again with no more than the whispering whoosh of spinning tires to compete with the speakers. Audience members vied for time on the bikes to power an event that, moments before, had been dependent on oil.

Back when Kipchoge Spencer, singer-songwriter for the Ginger Ninjas and fearless leader of the Pleasant Revolution, officially OK’d my request to join the tour as a sound-byte coordinator, I knew I was screwed. I hadn’t ridden a bike for more than 10 miles in the last 10 years combined, and I had the extra 50 pounds on my middle-aged ass to prove it. But with the quixotic urge for an adventure heating my limbs, I smooth-talked my way on board, quit my job, sold my car and hopped onto a bicycle in the early morning hours of November 2, 2007.

Four miles into the journey, my mind went blank, refusing to face the apparent reality that I was physically incapable of completing the task I had undertaken. Fortunately, my mind stayed blank for the next few months, because by the time we hit the awe-inspiring mountains of mainland Mexico, I had thighs of steel. Long, steep inclines became mere foreplay to the orgasmic rush of a 20-mile downhill glide and an evening of human-powered rock ’n’ roll.

Portions of the journey were documented by award-winning filmmaker Sergio Morkin, who happened upon us in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur. The media coverage in Mexico inspired the mayor of Guadalajara to meet and ride with local bicycle enthusiasts. In every town, citizens told us how our music and message were an inspiration. News of los gringos en bicicletos spread and we were welcomed everywhere.

My leg of the tour ended 15 weeks into the trip in Guadalajara in February, but the core band members and a couple of hardened road warriors finished up the first Pleasant Revolution tour in Palenque, Mexico. They returned to the states this July and sequestered themselves in Oregon to practice with two new amazing band members, drummer Brock and bassist Jared, who joined the group en route.

The Ginger Ninja’s journey is far from over. The group kicked off the next revolution at the Democratic and Republican national conventions, and will soon head to the East Coast.

The experience of that evening in Monterey and the ensuing multitude of crowds that rocked the earth in Mexico stayed with me, and the power of that awakening has not lost momentum. It was then I made the decision to become a bicycle-powered American in an autocentric culture, relying on the energy generated by my own two legs. I discovered a new freedom, a freedom that saves money, spares the environment and makes my ass look really, really great.