Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America.
200 riders peddled from New York to Washington on the annual Climate Ride.
Yesterday I had the honor of joining a 200-strong peloton on the last leg of Climate Ride's five-day cycling journey from New York City to Washington, raising money and awareness for the cause all along the way. The organization I work for, NRDC, is one of more than 30 terrific transportation and environmental groups sponsoring the event, and quite a few colleagues and friends rode all 300 miles. Each had raised at least $2400 in order to do so. That’s not an easy thing to do, and they all earned every bit of enjoyment they could find on the ride - which, from observation, seemed to be quite a bit.
The journey had hills and beautiful scenery - and some rain. After a mostly spectacular spring, we’ve been having a rainy and “unsettled” week. But no one’s spirits were dampened as the ride, which began with a ferry ride from Manhattan to New Jersey, finished on the National Mall near the US Capitol.
According to a story by Ron Cassie for Urbanite Baltimore, Climate Ride was founded in 2008 by experienced bicycle tour guides Caeli Quinn, whom I enjoyed meeting yesterday, and Geraldine Carter. Its mission “is to inspire and empower citizens to work toward a new energy future,” using “sport as a means to change lives and build an effective, citizen-based sustainability movement.” Quinn told Cassie that at least 60 percent of the contributions go to benefit environmental, bicycle advocacy, and sustainability groups, with the other 40 percent used to offset the cost of producing the event.
While there are now many rides, runs, and walks to benefit charities, Climate Ride is unusual in that it raises funds for not just one but an assortment of groups working on bicycling, transportation and environmental issues. Last year the organization, which conducted Climate Rides on both coasts, granted slightly more than $300,000 to twenty-five nonprofit beneficiaries. The goal for this year is $500,000.
NRDC became a sponsor beginning with last year’s California ride at the behest of my colleague and fellow cyclist Amanda Eaken. At this year’s New York to Washington event, our team of twenty or so riders, which by all accounts rocked, was led by Sarah Brailey, who unfortunately crashed out of the event on a wet bridge on day three, and Marissa Ramirez. Other sponsoring organizations included Alliance for Climate Education, 350.org, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Green America, Environmental Defense Fund, 1% for the Planet, Washington Area Bicyclist Association, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Transportation Alternatives. Visit Climate Ride’s website for the full list.
As a longtime enthusiastic cyclist, I briefly considered riding the full five days but had to face the reality that there’s a reason that just about all the Team NRDC riders are at least ten, and mostly 25 or more, years younger than me. But a nice way to participate was to join them on the road with about 40 or so miles to go to the finish. I had a blast, and doing it in the company of like-minded souls was fantastic. Knowing that we were also doing some good for the planet was just icing on the cake.
There were a few celebratory and inspirational speeches at the end. Me, I might have gone for some food, cold drinks and a band, but I have to say that my longtime friend and DC planning director Harriet Tregoning was especially great. I also enjoyed seeing and hearing another friend, Keith Laughlin of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
We were lucky to avoid the rain all day until the finish. Unfortunately for me, at that point I had to ride another eight or nine uphill miles to my home, through what can best be described as dark, steady rain punctuated by intermittent thunder, lightning and downpours. But it was worth it for all the enjoyment beforehand. Special thanks to all the organizers, staff and helpers, and to Team NRDC's captains Sarah (who gamely rode the last three miles, broken hand and all, on the back of a tandem) and Marissa. All the riders did us proud.
This post originally appeared on the NRDC's Switchboard blog.