Meet Dippy! Yes, I named my bike, because I'm a really cool person and whatnot.

Meet Dippy! Yes, I named my bike, because I’m a really cool person and whatnot, etc. etc.

Today, I would like to introduce you to Serendipity (“Dippy” for short) — my brand-new adorable entry-level perfect-for-me road bike.

Serendipity, you know, is the fortunate development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. The phenomenon of finding valuable things not sought for. Or, you know, just plain ol’ good luck.

For example: Realizing that you really need to get your own bike, and then — magically! — winning one as a prize.

Yep, it’s true. I won a bike! And I got really inspired, too, about cycling in general. Just in time for my Climate Ride training.

Here’s the whole, glorious story.

How I Realized I Needed My Own Bike

Capital Bikeshare <3

Capital Bikeshare <3

When I first started training for this crazy Climate Ride thing at the beginning of May, I didn’t even have a bike yet. Instead, I worked myself up to doing 20-mile rides on Capital Bikeshare bikes (which are awesome, by the way, but are designed for short distances around town and built to withstand a lot of daily abuse…i.e., they’re heavy, man).

Realizing that just wasn’t going to cut it anymore, I borrowed a nice old hybrid from a family member, got it tuned up, and started taking that on longer rides. The difference (in speed, weight, and having more than 3 gears) was mind blowing. That borrowed bike has treated me really well, and has been great for commuting to work and back since I put a back rack on it. (In fact, I just did a 50-mile ride on it this weekend! Yessss!)

But still… I couldn’t help it. I started eyeballing the feather-light, svelte road bikes that everyone who was passing me on the trails was riding. I had literally JUST started contemplating investing in a my own bike myself, but wasn’t really sure where to start, or what kind to get. And then…

Enter serendipity. I won a bike! In a raffle! At an awesome fundraising event.

How I Ended Up at the Event

waba_women_logo_commuterSince I’m a brand new cyclist who knows, well, pretty much nothing about cycling (although I’m learning!), I was so happy when I stumbled across a wonderful Facebook group for women bicyclists in the DC area (it’s run through our local bike advocacy heroes, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, or WABA.) One of the first things I saw on there was an announcement about a fundraising event for a local women’s racing team, Team Sticky Fingers.

(Side note: How awesome is it that DC has its own women’s cycling racing team?)

I was all, “Hey, that sounds fun. They’ll be showing a documentary, maybe I might be able to learn something, and there will be beer, and a raffle for a great cause.” I convinced my Biking for Elephants team member Claudia to come with me too. (Thanks for the good luck, Claudia!)

“Maybe I’ll even score a free water bottle,” I thought, hopefully.

Little did I know… the night was a lot more interesting than I expected.

How Women’s Pro Cycling Is Super Badass

The fundraiser event centered on a screening of a documentary about women’s pro cycling called Half the Road. Going in, I knew literally nothing about women’s pro cycling except that it was really cool to watch in the last Olympics. So I was a pretty good tabula rasa for the film.


Here’s what I learned:

  • There’s a shockingly big inequity between women and men pro cyclists. First there’s an incomprehensibly huge pay gap. (A male pro cyclist earns a minimum salary of say around $40k a year — often much more — and can devote all his time and energy to training. Meanwhile, women pro cyclists have no minimum salary guarantee — they’re lucky if they earn $10k — and earn so little that they all have to have a second full-time job on top of their rigorous training regimes). And then there’s the opportunity gap (e.g., forced caps on how long women’s races can be, age restrictions that men didn’t have to follow, fewer racing opportunities in general, etc).
  • Despite these pitfalls, scores of powerful determined women get up on their bikes every day and train hard and compete even harder anyway. It was all kinds of inspiring to see these athletes talk about how passionate they are about their sport; how they put up with and push past all the crap and embrace the love of cycling and the thrill of competition. If athleticism is about breaking through your limits and achieving things no one would ever think you’re capable of… these women are the definition.
  • Advocacy can make a difference. In addition to their full-time training and their full-time jobs, women’s pro cyclists are also working hard to improve the visibility of and equality for their sport. Since the documentary was made, the UCI (international cycling organization) dropped the age limits for women cyclists, AND this year, for the first time in almost 20 years, there’s a women’s cycling event during the Tour de France. (As a matter of fact, it’s this Sunday!)

There’s still a long way to go in this arena, for sure. But seriously… I was inspired on multiple fronts. It would have been a great night no matter what.

But then…

How I Won the Bike

After the film was over, the Team Sticky Fingers team members started reading out the raffle numbers…

Number after number, prize after prize… And then they got to the grand prize: a brand new Giant Avail women’s road bike.

They read a number.

I looked down at my raffle ticket. It looked like the same number.

Wait… what? No way is that the same number.

I looked at the number again.

Holy $#!$& — it’s the same number!!

I’ve never won a big prize before… I was in shock for hours. I’m still in shock today, actually!

They brought me on stage when I won... Here I am grinning in shock/disbelief.

They brought me on stage when I won… Here I am grinning in shock/disbelief.

But just so, so happy. I know it’s completely irrational, but I still feel like I was given a little gift from the universe with this bike as a reward. Like the universe is saying to me, “Good job, Audre, with this whole biking and fundraising-for-a-good-cause thing. Keep it up. Here’s a bike!”

Thank you, universe! Thank you, random statistics that happened to fall in my favor that day!

And especially thank you Team Sticky Fingers and WABA and all the sponsors for making this happen, and for making a difference towards promoting safe cycling and recognizing the achievements of women cyclists.

How I’m Liking the Bike

I just picked it up this weekend (the bike shop that donated it made sure to order one in my size for me) so I haven’t taken it for a long-distance ride yet. But riding it around town so far, I’m loving how smooth and light it is.

Yep, of course I wore my elephant shirt when I picked it up. DUH.

Yep, of course I wore my elephant shirt when I picked it up. DUH.

It’s going to take a while to get used to balancing myself on this lighter frame and finding out how to stay comfortable in the new position of road-bike riding.

But I can’t wait to figure it out and hit the road. For the elephants!

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The proper study of mankind is man, but when one regards the elephant, one wonders.

–attributed to Alexander Pope

Do you know how smart an elephant is?

No one really does, quite yet — but we’re getting a fairly good idea. They’re pretty much animal geniuses. They may even be smarter than you!

Well, ok, probably not. But they do have some seriously big brains. And I’m not just talking physically big . (Although, fun fact: an elephant’s brain weighs around 11 pounds — the biggest of all land animals).

An orphaned elephant playing football at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. (Photo by Mosi Lager.)

An orphaned elephant playing football at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. (Photo by Mosi Lager.)

Elephants are one of the earth’s most intelligent animals, and scientists and researchers are still only just starting to understand how smart they are. Here are 5 amazing facts about the genius of elephants.

1. Elephant Brains Are More Like Raisins (Hint: They’re Wrinkly)

When we were kids, my brother and I used to squabble constantly about who had a bigger brain. Yeah… we were darlings. (Sorry, Mom.) Then, someone told us that it’s not actually the size of your brain that makes you intelligent — it’s the number of wrinkles. We promptly turned that into our next ammunition. “My brain is like a raisin and yours is like a bowling ball!” “No way. Mine has a million wrinkles and yours only has three!”

The jury’s still out on which one of us is wrinklier, brain-wise (I grudgingly admit — it might be my brother). But little did we know… my favorite animal, the elephant, has outwrinkled us all:

Elephants have more complex folds in their brains than all animals other than whales, helping make them one of the earth’s most intelligent animals. They also have the most developed hippocampus — the part of the brain that controls emotions and spacial awareness — of any other animal.

2. Elephants Can Distinguish Between Human Languages (and Even Learn to Speak Them)

If you could talk to an elephant, would would you say? And more importantly… what would she say back? It’s maybe not as far-fetched a question as you think.

Scientists are only just discovering the astounding ways elephants interact with human languages. For example, a recent study found that elephants can tell the difference between different human languages and associate certain languages with danger. Even more amazing, a lonely elephant in Korea — on his own, without being purposefully taught — learned how to use his trunk to mimic the sounds of eight words spoken by his zookeepers.

And then, elephants have their own languages, too — a complex inter-elephant communication system that we’re only still learning about. Elephants talk to each other when they rumble, chirp, trumpet, nudge, kick, tilt their heads, flap their ears, and curl or uncurl their trunks. They can even communicate long-distance by stomping vibrations into the ground that can be heard by another elephant miles away. Whoah.

Trumpeting is just one way ellies communicate with each other. (Photo by  Aussie Active Photologue.)

Trumpeting is just one way ellies communicate with each other. (Photo by Aussie Active Photologue.)

3. Elephants Are Self-Aware, but Not Self-Absorbed

Elephants have been proven to recognize themselves in a mirror, joining the brilliant ranks of self-aware animals like some apes, human children, dolphins, and parakeets.

But self-aware doesn’t mean self-obsessed. Elephants are also one of the most empathetic animals that we know of, even going out of their way to take care of other species. There are a lot of moving stories of elephants showing altruism toward other species, such as rescuing trapped dogs or guarding over an injured human, at considerable cost to themselves.

Elephants are also a species that’s all about community, working for the greater good of the family, and team work. As elephant researcher Joyce Poole has written,

“Being part of an elephant family is all about unity and working together for the greater good. When they are getting ready to do a group charge, for example, they all look to one another: ‘Are we all together? Are we ready to do this?’ When they succeed, they have an enormous celebration, trumpeting, rumbling, lifting their heads high, clanking tusks together, intertwining their trunks.”

4. Elephants Use Tools Like a Pro

Got an itch you just can’t scratch? How about a pesky electric fence that’s blocking your path?

There’s a tool for that!

Elephants are famed for their problem-solving abilities — one of the major characteristics of intelligent animals. And when they’ve got a problem to solve, sometimes they use tools, wielding them like a pro with their trunks. Holding a stick with a trunk is a great way to swipe away those pesky flies.

Photo by Chase Dekker

Elephants have been known to use sticks as tools. Also, they are tasty. (Photo by Chase Dekker.)

Sometimes they even create their own tools. For example, elephants have been observed digging holes to drink water and then ripping bark from a tree, chewing it into the shape of a ball, filling in the hole and covering over it with sand to keep it from evaporating, then later going back to the spot for a drink.

Elephants have also been known to drop very large rocks onto an electric fence either to ruin the fence or to cut off the electricity. Another elephant created his own stepping stool to get to a piece of tasty fruit he couldn’t reach.

5. Elephants really do have memorable memories.

We all know the saying: an elephant never forgets. And it’s true, in a way: An acute memory with long-term recall is one of the fundamental elephant characteristics that helps wild elephants survive the tough conditions of Africa.

Elephant herds are led by matriarch elephants who store knowledge that helps them find food and water when they need it most, or avoid potential areas that have been dangerous in the past — and they retain this knowledge for decades.

Elephants also recognize and remember the locations of as many as 30 other elephants at a time. (Meanwhile, I can lose track of my 3 friends in a crowd in 3 minutes… and where did I put my keys again this morning?)

Elephant matriarchs use their remarkable recall to lead their herds to food and water. (Photo by Paolo.)

Elephant matriarchs use their remarkable recall to lead their herds to food and water. (Photo by Paolo.)

Unfortunately, the elephants with the best and most valuable memories for their herd are also the most at risk — older elephants are the ones most targeted for poaching, because of their larger tusks. When a matriarch is killed, her knowledge of how to secure her herd’s survival dies with her.

Are You Smarter Than an Elephant?

I don’t know about you, but I eagerly await that future day when we discover that elephants can learn how to beat us at checkers, do our philosophy homework, and/or discover the key to cold fusion.

Til then, it’s clear that we still have a lot to learn about elephants — and that there are even things we can learn from elephants.

But what if we never get that chance?

Let’s do everything we can to make sure elephants still have a safe home in the wild, a home where they can roam free and thrive and solve complex algebraic equations whenever they want. It’s the right thing to do.

For more ele-fantastic fun facts, check out this epic Buzzfeed list , or this longer read about elephant intelligence from the Scientific American.

[Credits: Cover photo by Joaquim Huber.]

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43 Miles to Mount Vernon and Back!

43 Miles to Mount Vernon and Back!

Posted By on Jul 6, 2014

I walk on untrodden ground.

–George Washington

I conquered my first big training milestone this weekend! It’s further than I’ve ever been before… but only a fraction of the distance I’ll go in September during the Climate Ride.

I’m gonna be totally honest and say… AHHHHH THAT WAS SO HARD.

I went really slowly. I took a thousand breaks. And I admit there was a stretch in the second half where I was so out of energy that I wondered if I would even be able to make it home. But… I did it!

This. Was. Hard. But... I did it!

This. Was. Hard. But… I did it!

What did I learn?

Well, first of all, I learned that I (surprise surprise) have a LOT more training to do. Right now I can easily envision getting to 60 miles in a day (the average daily mileage of the Climate Ride from New York to DC). But the part where I do 60 miles, go to bed, and then… wake up the next morning and do it again? 4 more times?

That’s not as easy to envision right now…

But you know what? Let’s look at how far I’ve come so far. Considering I could barely bike 2 miles when I started training at the beginning of May, reaching this first milestone is huge. If I’m dedicated and consistent in my work, I’ll reach new milestones I can barely even dream of right now.

I also learned a bit about this stubborn determination of mine. No one said this challenge I’m putting myself through was going to be easy, especially not me. But I was stubborn enough to finish the ride I started this weekend, and I’ll be stubborn enough to keep training until the big ride in September.

Fierce determination in the face of a seemingly impossible challenge can change the world. And here I am… I’m just riding a bike! Piece of cake.

I biked to Mount Vernon, and here's the giant George Washington lollipop to prove it.

I biked to Mount Vernon, and here’s the giant George Washington lollipop to prove it.

What’s next?

The next big goal is a 50 mile ride. But I’m also going to focus on stepping up my strength training, and learning how to eat for long-distance rides so I don’t totally run out of energy mid-way. Even if it means eating those weird energy gel things…

I can do it!

[Credits: Cover photo by Rob Shenk]

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Although a lot of news about elephants is desperately grim these days, I don’t despair. Yeah, I’ve learned a ton recently about the vicious wildlife trafficking industry that killed 35,000 elephants last year — things I wish I didn’t have to learn.

But in the process, I’ve also learned that there are countless dedicated people out there working to stop it. One of the fantastic organizations helping to fight elephant poaching is our Biking for Elephants and Climate Ride fundraising beneficiary, the African Wildlife Foundation, or AWF.

Here are 3 reasons why AWF is awesome (and why you should support them by supporting our biking fundraiser with a donation!).


1. AWF Works to Get Local Communities on Board With Wildlife Conservation

Stopping elephants from being poached isn’t a simple task in regions where poverty is rampant, and where an elephant’s tusk can fetch $1,000 per pound on the black market. Sadly, there are a lot of complex socioeconomic and political forces at play that elephants barely stand a chance against.

AWF knows that empowering local communities through education and job opportunities protects wildlife, because it gives people more options to live their lives in peaceful coexistence with elephants and other species. AWF has helped build schools, they’re a big promoter of sustainable tourism (which creates jobs and the incentive to protect the wildlife tourists come to see), and they offer scholarships and training for Africans to pursue careers in conservation. It’s all good stuff.

One of AWF's conservation lodges, in the elephant-full countryside of Zambia. Wistful sigh...

One of AWF’s conservation lodges, in the elephant-full countryside of Zambia. Wistful sigh…

2. AWF Has Helped Create Some Killer Outreach Campaigns to Reduce Demand for Wildlife Products

Fighting wildlife trafficking is multi-pronged effort. It’s going to continue to be really difficult to stop elephant poachers when the demand for ivory products is still high, particularly in Asian countries including China and Thailand.

But raising public awareness has been proven to make a difference in reducing that demand. AWF’s co-sponsored Say No public awareness campaign in China has signed on some major celebrities and is reaching some major audiences — a really important step in turning the tide for the elephants and other endangered species.

From the Say No campaign. Don't buy ivory or rhino horn! It's not worth the price.

From the Say No campaign. Don’t buy ivory or rhino horn! It’s not worth the price.

3. AWF Is Helping Anti-Poaching Efforts With a Key Resource: Technology

One of the fiercest forces working against elephants right now is the fact that modern poachers are wielding scary modern weapons and technologies… which give them the power to decimate whole herds en masse. Backed in part by wealthy criminal syndicates and terrorist groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army and al-Shabaab (which use illegal ivory to fund their own criminal activities), today’s poachers have night-vision goggles, low-flying helicopters, AK-47 rifles, and powerful poisons in their arsenal. How do you save elephants when they’re facing all that?

It’s a tough question. It’s a scary question. And we lose more elephants each day while we try to find the answer. But it’s a question that AWF is asking and working towards — and that’s a really good thing. For example, AWF provides technical assistance, equipment, monitoring systems, and other resources to help rangers who risk their lives to stop poachers in Cameroon. Other technological efforts are in the works too.

Let's protect this guy, ok? Whatever it takes.  (Photo by Billy Dodson for AWF.)

Let’s protect this guy, ok? Whatever it takes. (Photo by Billy Dodson for AWF.)

But Know What the Real Secret Weapon Is? (hint hint)

This is just a sampling of the work AWF does, and a lot of other excellent organizations are doing their part as well. It’s really inspiring. But you know how they get it all done, right?

Yep… with donations from all of us.

I believe in this cause and in the work AWF does so much that I’m biking from New York to DC to prove it, and to try to get all of you to believe in it too.

Your support would mean the world to me. Please donate to my fundraising goals today!

Donate Today!

[Credits: Cover photo by Billy Dodson for AWF]

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Welcome to Biking for Elephants!

Welcome to Biking for Elephants!

Posted By on Jun 26, 2014

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

And so it begins! Welcome to the Biking for Elephants website. Here, my teammates and I will be chronicling our progress all summer long as we pedal our butts off to help save one of the world’s most iconic — and imperiled — species.

It’s an extremely ambitious and extremely exciting challenge. Through an event called the Climate Ride, we’ll be biking 300 miles in late September from New York City to Washington, DC. 300 miles! In 5 days! Oh boy.

And as if training for a big long-distance bike ride weren’t enough… each participant is also working to fundraise $3,000 each for the African Wildlife Foundation in the process.

I snapped a picture of this sweet ellie in Botswana last year.

I snapped a picture of this sweet ellie in Botswana last year.

In this blog, I’ll be posting regularly about my training, about elephants and the poaching crisis, and about other cycling-related stuff. Other Biking for Elephants team members will be guest posting on here too.

So if you like elephants, cycling, or me (awwww), please stay tuned! You can even subscribe by email to get notified whenever there’s a new post here on the blog. (See the form on the right column of this blog.)

Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter too!

And wouldn’t you just love to help kick off our fundraising by giving us one of our first donations? Click here to go to our donation page, or on any of the big ol’ orange buttons you see around this site.

Thanks in advance for your support for the Biking for Elephants team and the African Wildlife Foundation! Let’s keep elephants around this planet for a long, long time.

[Credits: Cover photo by Billy Dodson for AWF]

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