Commencement

 June 1st was not a fruitful day. This is the day I planned on leaving Prudhoe Bay. My thought and understanding was to get a ride to PB and that it would be somewhat easy. Not so! I said my goodbyes to Alexia, Fitzroy and Shelton and biked out of Fairbanks May 31st fully loaded, as far as Hilltop Truck Stop, about seventeen miles. There I found it disconcerting to find that most truckers are not allowed to carry passengers because of insurance unless it’s a life or death situation. Needless to say, after four hours of trying to procure a ride, Alexia picked me up and we went to the homestead where she would be working for a coupleweeks


We decided it would give me a jump if she dropped me off the next day at the Yukon River Bridge, about 140 miles north. Once there I immediately got a ride with a private contractor who would drop me off at the Gilbraith Lake camp entrance, it was 9:30 pm and as light as it was at noon. I was north of the Arctic Circle; no trees, more intense light, and views of grand beauty in all directions of the Brooks Range and the tundra.


After a very restless night I biked about 20 miles to the top of a hill with even more expansive views, and a place to get a ride. Alaska DOT was resurfacing sections of the highway in an unfamiliar process. They would grade the section in both directions leaving a lengthy pile in the center, a water truck would go in one direction then the other spraying a lot of water, then a truck loaded with calcium chloride would pour that onto the wet surface. This process continued on the same section possibly five times.


Five 1/2 hours went by with no rides. However, some trucks, contractors, and tourists did stop out of curiosity. One very nice contractor, Mark Nichols, and I had a good conversation. His son is stationed at Offutt AFB south of Omaha, my hometown. He gave me the lowdown on the rest of the road to PB, then asked if I would like water or anything. He said, ” better yet, let me give you this!” He handed me his lunch, a massive sandwich and a granola bar. “Better take what you can get.” He left and I walked back to my bike in disbelief, feeling so gracious for this kind gift, I choked up a bit inside.

I decided I had enough waiting around and would bike on. Big mistake! That muck created from resurfacing stuck everywhere including my feet. I was barefoot in Chaco’s and calcium chloride burns the skin. Half-hour later I was lucky enough to get a ride to PB from a couple of truckers. I sat in the driver’s seat of the disabled truck they were towing and viewed the tundra and my future route in the same direction I would be bicycling. They stopped now and then to check on the rig, and asked me if I needed anything. My response, “Preparation H, and a Chiropractor!” The air-ride seat was a test on my rear end, as well as the constant bouncing rearranging vertebrate.


Dropped off at the Prudhoe Bay Hotel, one of two choices. Both owned by the same entity. One room here has a bed, lounge chair, closets, and a TV. Bathrooms and shower rooms are shared by all on that floor. The pay off was the 24 hr cafeteria. Full service with free breakfast, lunch, and dinner and stocked to the hilt with produce, dairy/ non-dairy products, grab-and-go’s, and every non-alcoholic beverage one could think of. I gorged, fueled up, stock piled, and went back for seconds. I showered and had another restless night.

This is the day I start and I have cold sweats and nausea. Should I stay an extra day and heal or pack up and bike on? I started packing fifteen minute before checkout with barely enough rest. I took full advantage of the breakfast options – twice. Milled around contemplating the right time to take off and discussing this with two Aussies who were also heading to Ushuaia by bike. It was 22°, 18° with wind. Finally, at 1:30 we took off. I wanted to grab a couple stickers at the General store so, I told them I would catch up shortly. Leaving PB/ Deadhorse was long, lonely and frustrating. The road, aka haul road, aka Dalton Highway, was deep gravel, rutted, wash-boarded, and not friendly to cyclists. Add to that the trucks and the dust they kick up. The day went by and by 8:30 pm there was no sight of the Aussies. I had ridden past an exploration pit/ camp about a mile when a truck stopped. It was Elsie, the trucker I spoke with at Hilltop days before. She had not seen any other cyclists ahead, nor campers that made me believe they stopped at the camp. I turned around I cycled into the wind to the camp. Sure enough, they were there and were invited to stay in a room. The manager was somewhat reluctant to take in another, but with a grizzly prowling around he felt a bit obligated. So I stayed in a Comex with heat and a very small window. We were invited to eat what ever was available, mainly grab-n-go’s, until the cook gave us the last three pieces of berry cheesecake and a bag of double chocolate cookies. The cooks here were angels and made sure we didn’t go without. The Aussies got two different rides that day. That is why I never saw them, except in the distance, in my imagination.

 

Day one was a quick lesson in biking the haul road. Bike the center until you notice a truck or vehicle in either direction. In that case move to the shoulder and slow down or stop. Stay off the soft shoulders. Stop often and stretch, especially your back, shoulders, and arms because your death grip on the handle bars trying keep the rig on the road, as well as the washboard, is intense.

Alexia’s Climate Story

My mother passed away from breast cancer when I was seven. She was in her mid-thirties and there were some speculations made about chemicals from the cornfield behind our house. My mother and father were very close with nature and took my sister and me canoeing and hiking throughout Indiana and beyond when we were babies. My dad taught me about the excitement and curiosity in the natural world through wildflowers, animals in nature, weather, clouds, and the sun. My mother made all of my baby food from the garden. She put fruits and vegetables in the blender and then froze them in ice-cube trays for later, quick use. They started the local Farmers Market in town and I started selling lemonade and bags of lettuce around the age of five, enjoying my younger years next to local farmers and local foods.  My mother worked in the garden, near the cornfield that sprayed various toxic chemicals. As an 8th grader, I wrote a story on this and it was posted in the local paper.FarmerCharlie

The death of my mother was my first encounter with health impacts related to our food system and the systems of our society. Since then, I have continued to be interested in the environment, nature, food, and wellness. Recently, this interest has crossed over into the realms of sustainability, while striving to use my gift as an outdoor educator. Large scale agriculture based on principles from the industrial revolution is affecting the health and wellness of the environment AND the health and wellness of humans. This affects our ability to engage with and within the natural world. The consumerist systems we have put in place to help society, are in fact poisoning it.

I most value being with nature and in the out of doors. I love foraging for wild plants and medicinals, learning about the forgotten food and medicine around us. I love teaching and being in the wilderness. I love watching the joy on someone’s face when they finish portaging their first canoe, when they taste their first wild blueberry, when they see that first glimpse of a caribou around the riverbend. Those are the moments I value that will not happen if the air, land, and waters around us are contaminated.

I find my family in nature. I find myself in nature. In nature, I find answers to my souls deepest questions. I learn about myself, my insecurities, my strength. Taking a holistic approach, connecting with people, speaking with passion from the heart, I will make a change. I will be the change.

A short story

IMG_3817Preface: During our last evening of Institute for Non-formal Climate Change education in Sandstone, Mn we were led on a short-story writing session. Our facilitator gave us a prompt then 5-10 minutes to write, share within our circle, then another prompt. It reminded me of a conscious writing exercise in my college Creative Writing class. However, this writing session had a specific focus, My Climate Story. This is the result of my mine.

Where does my motivation come from?

As a child looking through National Geographic and feeling a sense of wonder; wonder where that is, how they live, if the photographer was injured taking the photos, if I will be able to see that place in it’s natural beauty and integrity…fast forward thirteen years. Bicycling from from Everett, Washington to Key West, Florida through thirteen states, over 5800 miles was my opportunity to open myself to challenge, adventure and an ultimate haptic experience. On my saddle over steep mountain passes, through the heat of high plains, the constant rotation of my legs, feet, pedals, cranks, the sounds of the proximate and distal environment.

How has or will climate change affect me most?

My view from the saddle spans 160° for miles. I see in the distance trees and clear-cuts, mountains and open mines. As I focus on the road between droplets of sweat from my brow, the road oasis and shining objects, which, with a few more turns of my cranks, shards of glass and cans appear. VROOOOM, HONK, a gust of wind pushes my back as an auto avoids me, and changing lanes. The invisible stink of their exhaust chokes me as I barely catch my breath. I feel confused and angered as I’m on my bike with a minimal footprint enjoying my time, the environment…what’s their hurry?…in their mobile coffin?

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Plan, dream, plan

As a person who loves outdoor recreation, I have quite a few personal trips under my belt, on top of all the courses I’ve led as an instructor for Outward Bound. Those trips have a good deal of planning, but do not have the magnitude of logistics as the Western Hemisphere Project has. Luckily, fortunately, and graciously logistical planning and coordination is Alexia’s specialty. Still, she hasn’t ever coordinated a trip that lasts over a year long… neither have I!

GEAR! The first thing that came to my mind. Again, as an avid outdoor enthusiast, gear gets me excited. Alexia and I love trying out new brands and gadgets in the field. My mindset was in a haze with all the great ideas and collaborations I envisioned. The clarity of the true nature of this adventure, validating our purpose, sourcing funds, creating a webpage took a while to set in. Creating a budget and coming to terms with the reality of what is essentially needed for the ride. We frequently talk about curriculum topics and tools, who to partner with, should I use old gear or ask for new, etc.

Finally, after two years of dreaming, talking about, and chasing shallow pursuits.. it was one rainy evening, in the van at the mechanics, we decided to just start doing. We started by creating a budget. A few days later, visiting the Patagonia headquarters, touring around the building, meeting staff, and meeting Yvon Chouinard elevated my passion for this project and propelled us forward to make the dream reality.

At first, we floundered with the weight and enormity of things. It came down to actual needs and prioritizing those needs (and Alexia getting an official title and the reigns to take off into planning world). First objectives: create a visually appealing website, create honest and meaningful content to demonstrate our capabilities as adventure educators, showcase our credentials and build upon our validity. Reach out to sponsors and start asking for equipment donations. Reach out to farms, people, and organizations to meet with along the route. Reach out to educators and people that are interested in being part of this journey.

So that’s what we’re doing now. Building, creating, connecting, and generating momentum for the future. In the next couple of months, lesson plans and educational resources will be created with future topics outlined. I feel inspired and motivated to continue to seek out this transformative experience.

Daily Mantras
The struggle is real;
There will be naysayers;
Keep on keepin’ on

Dream Board

 

Initial inspiration(s)

The day after graduating with my Masters degree, two good friends, James, Vince, and I bicycled around Omaha. We stopped often at parks, pubs, and eatery’s enjoying the beautiful day but more importantly the camaraderie and freedom of cycling. It was this day we shared our stories of our independent cycle adventure tours and what inspired us to do them. After sharing, we talked about what and where our dream ride would be. This is when I came up with the Western Hemisphere Loop; Prudhoe Bay, AK south along the western spine of North America, Mexico, Central America, and South America to Ushuaia, Argentina, a ride that has been done many times. The “Loop” however, would then continue north up the eastern side of South America, the West Indies, Dominican Republic & Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, Florida, up the Eastern Seaboard to Maine then stair-step northwesterly from New Brunswick through Canada, eventually reconnecting at Prudhoe Bay. What a great idea!?!…kinda like my first ride 24 years earlier. Not a whole lot of planning went into that; decide on a starting point, an ending point, where to go in-between, save money, and why not? Why not led to why? Well, it would be a great adventure to see America and places I’ve never been. To be in tune with my senses and the environment. Meet people and hear their stories, and share mine, because people on bikes are cool.

What changed the trajectory of the planning and meaning for that first adventure was a comment my Dad said, “Do it for your sister! Robin, my mothers first child passed away from Reyes Syndrome in 1972, when she was seventeen, I was three. RS is a very rare disease that generally affects children under the age of ten whose immune systems are not fully developed, and who are more susceptible to flu-like symptoms. Her death was a complication of taking aspirin and a compromised immune system. She was 17 and the fourth person that year who lost their life to RS. So I contacted the Reyes Syndrome Foundation in Bryan, Ohio and gave them my story. They in-turn endorsed me, sent four hundred press releases nation wide, and began setting up radio, newspaper, and TV interviews with those interested along my 5,800 mile route. This “why” was turning out to become a meaningful and intense journey. Even today when I speak of, or write about my sister I can’t help but choke up a little. I found purpose in doing something for someone other than searching for fully selfish endeavors. Not to say there wasn’t selfishness doing this, it was for me as well. I was 21 and had a zest for experience and knowledge, especially outdoor adventures. This trip changed many things in the way I saw myself in society, and my purpose in this world.  What I also learned was the importance of reaching out to people in need, educating people about personal health and environmental issues, and inspiring people to live out their dreams.

For two years I had in-depth conversations, made some connections, had dreams, and more but it never really took off. I never lost the passion to do this epic bike ride though and in talking with others, I gained a better sense for the mission of the ride. From reflecting on Outward Bound courses I instructed, being a TA in grad school, and acting as a long-term substitute teacher at Rivers Edge Academy in St. Paul, MN, experiential teaching became a common theme. What I realized was that students were challenged, became inspired, and empowered to positively change their lives, and use their voice and take action. These are effective tools to make change in the world. To broaden young peoples understanding of issues that other people face in distant locations, not just their own community, by introducing the voice, customs, and traditions of other people throughout the Western Hemisphere. Right to their classroom or home via the Internet. This became the Project that inspired me. Effecting change through experiential education; using a monumental bike ride to link cultures with the understanding that action taken by one or more groups of people in one location can impact, positively or negatively, a group of people in another. The images, stories, and state of the world portrayed in the documentary, 180South resonated with me. Many of the issues represented, became ongoing topics that impact cultures around the world. I imagined having lesson plans so students can collaborate and create solutions to make positive change. Now, I just needed to stop talking the talk, and start walking the walk and do this!

Yet, it wasn’t clear how much work was ahead of me in planning this project…

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Experience

A sampling of photos from Team Members, Alvin and Alexia. These photos were taken within the last two years and represent farming, sustainability, bicycle touring, and community. The Western Hemisphere Project was built on excitement and passion from experiences like these. Alvin and Alexia will continue to build upon this knowledge and hope to grow your interest in these issues as well.

Alvin Hoy Goeser

Fun facts about the rider

  1. Alvin has been wearing Patagonia clothing since 1989 and has saved boxes of catalogs. His wardrobe is almost exclusively Patagonia and he still rocks some of his older fashions.
  2. Alvin has now met both of his heroes: Yvon Chouinard and Jerry Garcia.
  3. Some of Alvin’s favorite outdoor sports include telemark skiing,  rock climbing, canoeing, surfing, backpacking, and of course bicycling!
  4. One of Alvin’s life goals is to become the oldest Olympic swimmer and/or speed skater.
  5. In 1990 Alvin road over 5,800 miles from Washington to Florida raising money for Reyes Syndrome Foundation.
  6. He swam with wild dolphins at the age of 17