Of ocean and forest

The road west out of Port Angeles was little indication of what our experience riding through the Olympic peninsula would be. Most of the road for the first ten to fifteen miles was somewhat smooth with a wide enough shoulder and without much up and down serpentine motion. However, past Joyce on Highway 112 the landscape changed and was to stay this way. What we did not know were the extra challenges in riding this section, as well as the pleasant surprises. 

This had been day six of pulling Fitzroy and it was really becoming a strain; hills are longer and steeper, he is restless and figits a lot with the slight shoulder, bumps, heat, and fast traffic. We are taking more frequent stops for us to adjust to the hills but also let Fitz out to stretch and run. I’m finding though he gets out sniffs, pees then finds a shady spot to rest. One of these rest spots was a long the Juan de Fuca Straight with the enjoyable scent of sea air and sounds of waves rolling in on the shore. Here I met Mark Ramiro, an Elwha elder who was crabbing off the west Twin River. He described, in his words and feelings, the removal of the Elwha dams in that they were making money and supplying energy to Port Angeles. He said the Kings would come up the river and get worms in their gills and kill them because the water was too warm, but the humpies, pinks, and Steelhead would return in the winter months but not in any great number. The Federal gov’t was pressured to remove the upper dam, they then met with the tribal gov’t and pressured them to remove the lower dam. This all happened and now the river flows freely and salmon have returned. 


At the fishing town of Seiku we were told by a couple local hippies of a secret beach if we took a trail for a mile and half. They said we would have a mile in each direction without many people, if any walking the stretch. And so this is what we found. 

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A hell of a hill greeted us soon after Clallam Bay – six miles of up! Miles and days with no shoulder and logging trucks. Seeing and hearing logging trucks, and chain saws continued to remind me what Melvinjohn of the HOH Nation said in our meeting. His grandmother, and her ancestors, who subsisted on the Olympic peninsula, said ” there is no old growth here anymore, it has all been forested and what we have is, in many places, second and third growth forest.” I cannot be naïve in that we need timber and wood products in our lives. However, we need to drive, or at least encourage the Forest Service, logging companies, and people in general to practice sustainable practices so the long term doesn’t possess such negative results. The mountains around us were completely clearcut without replanting in maany areas. Forestry Policy states that within two years after harvest the area needs to be replanted. We came across clearcut areas that have been devoid of vegetation for at least seven years.



The escape of 160,000 farmed salmon from their pen within Puget Sound was the headline in the paper. Apparently, it “was caused by the Solar Eclipse which caused the tides to shift.” I found that interseting in that no other pens, which there are thousands of, did not experience an escape or collapse due to the eclipse. The facts behind farmed salmon, or “fresh Atlantic Salmon” as it’s sold in stores across the county are; they are fed pellets made from by-catch fish that have a higher nutritional value for humans (anchovies, sardines, mackerel), fed antibiotics because they are confined in a pen with the excrement of all the other fish, that excrement pollutes the environment exceeding the radius of the pens as well as migrates upstream, the meat is grey – dyed, color chosen from a color wheel, to look like a wild salmon, and they are omega 3 and 6 deficient, something natural in the wild variety. You choose. But be mindful and purchase in the lightest form of moderation, as either choice has an impact, one of course less than the other.


As we continued south we did the touch and go with the shoreline. At times there were stretches with great views of the ocean, other times we would contend with the fast and heavy traffic either heading to the coast for the holiday or pounding the rush hour grind. All the while, the thoughts of the impact I, We, have on the resources we think are renewable. Clearcutting forests impacts the watershed, riparian habitat, and the spawning streams of salmon. Farmed and even commercail fishing impact our waterways as well as the cultural heritage of the People who have relied on salmon for their food. As with all things, once its gone, its gone for good. Never to come back, and really nothing to replace it. 

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.