We did it, everyone! We biked 300 miles from New York City to DC, and raised more than $6,600 for endangered elephants and bicycle advocacy. We couldn’t have done it without your support these long months. It was truly the adventure of a lifetime.
You can check out some pictures of our journey below.
It’s hard to believe we did it, actually… It seemed like such an impossible daydream. If we’ve learned one thing, it’s this: never forget that no matter how impossible a task seems, you can achieve it with willpower, passion — and the support of wonderful people in your life.
Thanks for making our dream a reality!
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Just cruisin’ along…
When’s the moment when you know you’re really hooked? When do you realize you’re a goner, a smitten kitten, a hopeless addict of shameless proportions? When’s the instant when you fall in love?
Nope, I’m not talking about my partner, as wonderful and amazing a fellow as he is. I’m talking about my other lover, my brilliant discovery, my dazzling summer fling I can’t get enough of: my bike.
It’s hard to fathom that in May, just a few months ago, I could barely ride 2 miles. I was timid and had little idea what I was doing. And yet since then, I’ve biked maybe around 1,500 miles in an attempt to get in shape for my upcoming 300-mile 5-day charity ride. (I leave tomorrow!)
Totally-drenched-in-the-rain selfie. Still smiling, ’cause I’m smitten!
It’s been a long, challenging, and exciting summer, to say the least. And no, it hasn’t been all roses and cupcakes and rainbow kittens. I’ve fallen down a few times (and I just may have this gnarly new scar on my elbow for life) – sometimes about as awkwardly as possible in front of other people. I got miserably drenched in rainstorms. Once, early on, I saw my friend get hit by car right in front of me. (She was ok, luckily!) I’ve broken down mid-ride, 30 miles from home and not sure I could make it back, and just cried. There was a week where I couldn’t even turn my neck, I had strained it so badly. I earned more bruises than I can count.
But still, somehow, somewhere in the middle there, it snuck up on me. I fell in love.
Of course, for people or for modes of transportation, love rarely hits light like a lightning bolt. It’s more a series of small transformations that all add up to that inevitable realization that, well, yep. There’s no going back now. And I wouldn’t want to if I could.
It’s not just one moment. It’s probably a thousand moments. If you’re a cyclist, you probably have a long list of your own. Here’s some of mine:
1. The moment when I finally conquered that hill.
Oh, hills. You scamps. You brutal, cruel teases. I am still terrible at climbing you, hills. But I’m better than I was. I remember I rode on one trail early on and felt like my chest was bursting and I couldn’t go on, so I got off my bike and walked it. A dozen cyclists passed me and I marveled at how they could possibly do it.
A month later, I was one of them. I found myself back on that same hill, and I rode up it non-stop feeling like a Tour de France champion. I learned that feeling of deep satisfaction that comes after the pain.
2. …And then the moment when I flew back down it.
Not sure who first created this one, but, yep!
There’s nothing like soaring downhill that makes you feel like you’re the luckiest 8-year old in the world again. When the wind soars through your hair and the scenery zooms by and the rush of 10% terror and 90% joy fills you to the brim. It’s especially awesome when it’s a big hill that you already suffered the climb up. You feel like you really earned that descent, and it’s glorious.
3. The moment when I got my first flat tire, and 15 cyclists stopped and asked if I needed help.
Before I rode regularly, cyclists were these mysterious, ethereal creatures to me. They were incomprehensibly athletic. They seemed uncannily comfortable in Lycra. And then of course I found out they’re just ordinary people, surprise surprise. Except, they’re ordinary people with an extraordinary sense of community.
From the unfailingly wonderful Women & Bicycles Facebook group that answers all my questions with enthusiasm and mutual support and joins me for rides, to the dozen+ cyclists who offered their help when I had a flat tire and was attempting to fix it myself, to the phenomenal folks at my local bike shop who also answer all my questions enthusiastically (yes, I have a lot of questions)… it’s been so warm and fuzzy and awesome.
Sure, sometimes I’ll run into a jerk out on a trail. But sometimes you run into a jerk any day, anywhere. On the whole, bike people are seriously good people.
4. The moment when I soared past cars stuck in traffic in the bike lane on my commute.
Oh hello there, cars. Look at you, just sitting there. I used to be you, once. But now here I am in my work clothes, just pedaling along in the bike lane at a very moderate pace, and you’re still stuck fuming at that stop sign because you can’t go forward. I remember that fume. I wouldn’t trade places with you for the world, cars. Ok, gotta go. Smell ya later!
5. The moment(s) when I went further than I’d ever been – and then I went even further.
Mile marker 17.5, the furthest I’ve ever been on the W&OD trail – a 55-mile round trip for me. It goes all the way to mile marker 44. Someday, I will see it!
Sometimes, falling in love with my bike at age 30 makes me feel like an 8 year old – and then sometimes, it makes me feel like I’m 16 again, waiting in line at the DMV on my birthday for my long-awaited freedom, aka my driver’s license. I used to love to drive so much, you have no idea. Gas was cheap then, and either alone or with friends, I would cruise around for hours, taking random turns, exploring the countryside, and just enjoying, for the first time, that sweet taste of independence and adventure.
I pretty much hate driving these days, for lots of reasons, but biking is totally different. Biking brings all the adventure and exploration with none of the baggage. And then there’s the challenge of long distance riding – of pushing yourself past what seems like your limit and then going further… brilliant. Addicting. Wonderful.
6. The moment when I discovered that food is fuel.
In the cycling world, there’s a phenomenon they call bonking – when you just completely and utterly run out of energy, and all the fight in you dies, and you just want to crawl into a hole and never come out again, and yeah, it’s pretty much the worst. It happened to me once.
And then I started eating more, before and during my rides. And then I started paying attention to what kinds of food I was eating. And then I realized that food isn’t just delicious stuff I enjoy consuming regularly and take for granted more than I should; it’s literally fuel. I need it to keep moving. It gives me strength. It gets me where I want to go, and it gets me home.
7. The moment when I conquered my fear of city cycling and proudly took up the whole lane.
It seems forever ago, but the first time I tried to bike in the city, I was so intimidated by the city streets in my super-quiet, residential neighborhood that I rode on the sidewalk. (I’ve since learned that isn’t actually safer…). Then, I’d only ride in this quiet neighborhood on streets with bike lanes only, and only not during rush hour, and only during daylight.
But eventually, and in part thanks to an awesome ride I did with some experienced lady city cyclists once, I gained so much more confidence. Now, even if I’m by myself, I’ll take the whole lane if I need to. (It’s legal, and often safer than hugging the shoulder.) With my bike decked out with flashy lights, I’ll bike at night if I need to. And I get this thrill when I hop across town from one end of the city to the other on a bike – it’s like a whole new world has been opened up to me.
Suddenly I can easily access places in the city that I never could before (or not without multiple transit transfers, etc.). And I feel like I’ve gotten to know it so much better in even just a few months. What’s not to love?
8. The moment when a local newspaper columnist tried to kill me.
Ok, no, not really. But right around the time when I was becoming a dedicated daily cyclist, columnist Courtland Milloy wrote a ridiculous tirade against rude cyclists – or “bike terrorists” – who he claimed aggressively hog the roads and routinely ruin the days of decent, respectable drivers. His infamous quote: “It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine.”
It was hilarious and appalling at the same time. But the reason I’m mentioning it here is because the aftermath gave me a new glimpse at just how dedicated DC’s cycling advocates are. They wrote eloquent responses, they staged a last-minute protest in front of the Washington Post, they started sporting ironic “bike terrorist” t-shirts – one excellent group even got Milloy on a bike and took him on a tour to see life on “the other side.”
In other words, I learned a lot more about the work organizations like WABA and others are doing to get more and more people to fall in love with bikes and to make the city a friendlier and easier place for us to ride. So, instead of feeling threatened by that silly ol’ column, I ended up feeling safer – not to mention proud to support such great groups.
9. The moment when I realized I was healthier and stronger than I’d been in years.
Since I’ve started biking, my blood pressure’s down 10 points. I get out of breath much less easily. Where once there was only marshmallow, now there’s mighty muscles in my thighs – and my arms and back are much stronger now than they were before too. When I first started my training, one of my biggest worries was my lower back, because it’s been prone to injury before and always had a sort of low-grade pain whenever I exercised. Between the biking and the stretching after biking, my back hasn’t hurt in months!
I still have a long way to go until I’m in better shape, but I’ve seen so much improvement, it’s nothing but encouraging. And since I’m all in love and whatnot now, I’m not going to stop. It’s just way too cool to feel like superwoman now.
10. The moment when I crossed the finish line on my ride next week.
Ok, ok, I haven’t actually crossed it yet. There’s still 300+ miles between me and it. But I’m using positive visualization to imagine what it’ll be like in my head. And I’m just so excited. I can’t wait.
Thank you to all my fundraising donors who are making it possible for me to conquer this challenge! Thanks to all my friends for encouraging me, and my family for their constant love and support, even when things were tough.
To follow me and my teammate on our upcoming adventures, you can find us on the Biking for Elephants Facebook page and on Twitter @Bike4Elephants.
And yep! We’re still accepting donations for our cause. Just click the big ol’ orange button below.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for making this happen. Thanks for everything!
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With only 10 days left to go before our 300-mile bike ride, Claudia and I are busy busy busy with our final preparations. We’ve got travel arrangements to finalize and last minute gear to stock up on. (Arm warmers, anyone?).
And through it all, we’re still fundraising our hearts out to help the world’s last elephants. That’s why we got into this whole thing to begin with, and that’s where our passions lie.
Today, I’m happy to report that we hit a huge milestone! In total, Team Elephant has now raised more than $5,000! It’s extremely exciting that we’ll be having such a big impact towards our cause.
We couldn’t have gotten this far without the truly outstanding, awe-inspiring support of our family, friends, and other supporters. There aren’t enough words in the world to say thank you!
But don’t forget: we’re ambitious. If we’re going to be sitting our butts down on a bike and pedaling for 5 days straight, 8 hours a day, we want every mile to count. And we want it to count a lot.
The bigger our donations, the bigger impact we’ll have on a big crisis. Because of illegal poaching, elephants are now being killed faster than they’re being born. The tipping point is here, and the clock is running out. Let’s do everything to stop it and save these majestic creatures while we still can.
Our next fundraising goal is $6,000 total. That’s $200 for every mile we’re riding for the elephants.
Can you help us? We only have 10 days left to go before our epic journey begins!
Please donate what you can, and share our challenge with everyone you know.
Thanks again to all for being on our team!
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Elephants actually love that stuck-in-the-mud feeling. Me..? Not so much. (Photo by Clive Reid.)
What does it mean to reach your breaking point? And what does it mean to then… push past it? To defy it? To turn things back around again, when they seem at their worst, and when progress seems impossible?
These are questions I’ve never really asked myself before, but I’m thinking about them a lot lately — both for my training for this challenge, and for the elephant crisis I care about so much, too. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Long-Distance Training Means Flirting With That Point of No Return
Since I’m a new cyclist, and have never trained for a long-distance athletic event before (or taken on a fundraising goal this big before), I was never expecting this process to be easy. But I’ve found it’s been difficult (and rewarding) in ways I didn’t quite expect.
Physically, yeah. It’s been tough! Let’s keep in mind that my previous sport of choice before I signed up for this challenge was Netflix marathoning, heh. But I’m getting stronger every day. And I was prepared for that one.
The surprise for me has really been the mental aspect, as they call it. Every time I’ve pushed myself harder than I have before in training, I’ve found myself getting to this point (usually somewhere between 50-75% of completing my goal) where I’ve come so, so, SO CLOSE to just… giving up.
Take this past Saturday for example. I am super proud to announce that I rode my first Metric Century! Also known as 100 km, or 62+ miles in a day. Yeah!!
My first metric century (100 km+) bike ride! It was a fun tour of several major trails around DC.
(Actually let me take another moment to say, Yeah!!!!!)
The best part of that ride was that I felt totally fine the next day.
The worst part was, that moment, about 50-75% in there, when I almost completely convinced myself that I couldn’t do it.
I was heading north on the Capital Crescent Trail, after having already ridden around say 40 miles at this point. My riding partners (who were awesome, by the way!) had gone on ahead and would be waiting for me at our next meeting spot. It was hot. I was tired. Some big hills on an earlier portion of my ride had made my legs a little wobbly.
And the trail was blissfully shaded, and lined with these gorgeous trees, and these little stretches of lush, green grass… My eyes were drooping… and literally all I could think about was pulling over and lying in the grass and taking a 3-hour nap.
It was so seductive. It was calling to me. I started planning ahead the things I would text my riding partners so they wouldn’t wait for me anymore. I started planning how I’d rationalize it to myself afterwards so I wouldn’t feel guilty. “Maybe you were a little too ambitious. It’s ok. You’ve still made a lot of progress. You can stop now.”
But… then, at the same time, there also was the part of me who said, “Wait a minute, Audre. You’ve been here before.”
“Remember that time you were doing that 50 mile ride by yourself, and around mile 35, you had pretty much 99% decided you were going to call Uber to drive you home the rest of the way? You literally had the Uber app open on your phone and you had already calculated what the fare would be.”
“Or, remember that time you did your first 40 miles (seems so long ago!), and you burst into tears halfway through because your head hurt and your back hurt and you were so tired and you thought there was no way you could ever finish this ride, let alone the entire challenge?”
“And then… remember how you were wrong?”
Because, yeah. Each time I’ve felt myself reach that breaking point in previous training sessions, I’ve forced myself to keep going.
And the amazing part was, it got better. Almost right away, in fact. If 50-75% of the way through the ride has been my worst, then that last 25% to the finish has been the best. It’s like a smooth sailing dream. Yeah, I’m tired, but mentally, I feel great.
And then the way I feel at the end? When I’ve accomplished something that just a couple hours before, I never thought was possible?
Yeah, you guessed it. It feels AWESOME! It feels like a thousand exclamation points exploding inside my head all at once.
It’s actually kind of addicting, that feeling… Hmm. I might be in trouble…
We just rode more than 60 miles! We are happy! And exhausted!
Ok, So What Does This Have to Do With Elephants, Again?
Well, this has been a tough week in the elephant world, so to speak. A major, reputable study was released this week that confirmed everyone’s worst fears:
More than 100,000 elephants were killed by poachers in the last 3 years alone.
In Central Africa in particular, 64% of its elephant population has been lost in the last 10 years. (At this rate, will there be any left there at all in 10 years?)
Are elephants at their breaking point? (Photo from AWF.org)
In other words, it was just another series of news stories that brought up those horrible numbers that are so huge, and depressing, and frustrating, that they make anyone who cares about elephants get overwhelmed.
It all seems too daunting. You feel powerless. You feel scared. You feel angry, but you feel like things might be too big to change. Like the worst is inevitable, and unstoppable. “Hope,” that magical sweet little bubble floating above you, seems too far away to grasp.
Elephants, as a species, are very close to reaching their breaking point. And it’s a very real risk. We could lose them, like we’ve lost other species before. We humans could very well look back from the not-too-distant future and say, “Elephants are extinct, and we made that happen.”
But the Ending Hasn’t Been Written Yet
Here’s the thing. If my own little cycling training can be a small if imperfect metaphor (and I hope it can), then what I’ve learned is that breaking points aren’t absolute.
What seems inevitable is not necessarily inevitable.
But only if you keep going. Only if you push past those moments of fear, and overwhelming doubt, and exhaustion. Only if you find yourself reaching your limits, and somehow manage to convince yourself that “Nope. Those aren’t my limits. Nice try, limits, but I’ll see ya on the other side. (Suckers).”
Now… How do we do it? I don’t know. It takes passion. It takes a fierce determination. It takes an annoying stubbornness. And it takes a lot of pride.
I see that passion and determination in a lot of the organizations that are rallying to protect our world’s last elephants. (Or really, rallying towards any cause that moves them). One of those is the African Wildlife Foundation, the major beneficiary for our Climate Ride.
But it takes help, too. For me on a personal level, the support (not just donations — although donations are awesome! — but just encouragement and cheerleading and well wishes) from the people in my life helps me when I start getting overwhelmed.
(On my long ride on Saturday, for example, the support of the awesome Women & Bicycles women who joined my training ride really helped keep me going. Thanks again, ladies!)
For organizations like AWF, help means helping them spread their message. Letting people know that you care about what they care about too. Signing the petitions. Sharing the links. Giving them that strength in numbers that helps them change policies and make a difference.
And, Yeah… Donating!
This is one of those cliches that you hear all the time, but hey, it turns out it’s true. Every dollar does make a difference.
Whether you have a lot or a little to give, please chip in to our goals if you can. Fundraising-wise, I’m almost at $2,000 myself and Claudia is at $1,000!
That means we have come a long way towards meeting our goals and being able to participate in the Climate Ride, but we’re not there yet.
Please donate to her or to me, and spread the word. We will be so completely grateful!
P.S. And if you’re in the Washington DC area next Thursday Aug. 28, come to our Elephant Happy Hour fundraiser! All and any are welcome. See our Facebook event page for details.
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Elephant fans around the globe (ele-fans?) are celebrating World Elephant Day today, wearing grey and raising critical awareness about how we’re at risk of losing these wonderful animals forever… if we don’t end the poaching epidemic now.
In honor of the day, here are 3 out of the 3,000 reasons why elephants are worth saving!
1. Elephant Poop Is a Really Big Deal
No, really. Elephants are what scientists refer to as a “keystone species” — an animal that has an especially huge impact on the environment it lives in. In the case of elephants, these giant pachyderms help keep grasslands intact by eating the trees that could overgrow the grass — a very good thing for all the countless animals and plant life that depend on that grass.
Also, the seeds of several trees and plants can only take root after first being digested and then dispersed by an elephant… In other words, elephants keep plants growing through the power of their poop.
If you take out the elephants, the entire ecosystem will be in grave danger, and the impact of their loss is hard to imagine.
2. Elephants Teach Us About Our Own Emotions
Elephants have been proven to experience a wide range of powerful emotions — everything from joy to fear to love and even grief. Last month, the story of abused Asian elephant Raju, who wept when he was freed from his chains, went viral and moved thousands of people. And the heartbreakingly sad mourning rituals that African elephants go through when a family member dies continue to fascinate scientists and stir our empathy.
We still have a lot to learn about how elephants experience emotions. And it’s an important area of study, because it also helps us learn more about how and why we human animals experience emotions, too. What does it mean, really, to mourn? By watching elephants, we can learn about ourselves.
3. Elephants Have Complex (and Really Cool) Social Structures
Riveting dramas and elaborate narratives could probably be written about the complex social worlds of elephants. Elephant herds are matriarchal — in other words, the head of each herd is a clear leader who is the oldest, wisest and smartest female in the family and larger bond group. The other full-grown female elephants in her family will form their own hierarchy below her, and they’ll all pitch in with daily duties like babysitting the calfs, hunting for the sweetest bushes to nosh on and guarding against danger.
Male elephants, meanwhile, leave their female mothers and aunts and cousins when they reach adolescence, and form small roaming bachelor herds for several years. Once they’re fully in their prime, the males roam solo, ranging far and wide in search of females from other herds to mate with.
There aren’t many matriarchal animal species out there, especially species as wildly intelligent and emotionally complex as elephants. Elephants are without a doubt one of the most fascinating and compelling animals we know… All the more reason to protect them while we still can.
Donate to an Ele-Friendly Organization to Honor Elephants Today!
This World Elephant Day, take a moment to marvel at the awesomeness of elephants. And then, if you can, please support the organizations that are working hard to protect them!
There’s a lot of really great groups you can support.
Here at Biking for Elephants, we’re fundraising for the African Wildlife Foundation by signing up for a 300-mile bike ride from New York to Washington, DC.
Please help us meet our fundraising goals with a tax-deductible donation today. You’ll help secure our spots in the ride and support great work on the ground to protect the world’s last elephants at the same time. Thank you!
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