Riding to re-energize
Local hits road to battle climate change

SideStory: Re-energizing America

Lucy Richards goes for a spin near her home, in the Crestview neighborhood, earlier this week. Richards, 19, who recently graduated high school, is riding her bike to Washington, D.C., this summer to raise awareness for climate change as well as a national ride next summer, “Trek to Re-Energize America.”/Photo by David Halterman

by Missy Votel

If there’s one thing three years abroad has taught Durango native Lucy Richards, it’s to roll with the changes. Thus, when plans to attend Vermont’s Middlebury College in the fall, a trip she planned to make by bike to draw attention to climate change, were postponed for financial reasons, she quickly adapted her plan.

“Instead, I’m going to ride to Washington, D.C., to help raise awareness and hopefully find an internship in the environmental field,” said the 19-year-old recent high school graduate. An alumna of the United World College of the Adriatic, Richards spent the last two years studying on a full-ride scholarship in northeastern Italy with students from throughout the world. It was there, in the tiny village of Duino, a little more than a mile from the border with the former Yugoslavia, that she gained a unique perspective on the world that changed her outlook forever.

“It’s kind of a crazy idea,” Richards admits of her 2,000-mile trek, “but the school I went to in Italy was very inspirational. We were taught that we could make a difference in the world.”

For Richards, a former Rotarian scholar who also spent a year in Thailand, climate change was one area where she saw an opportunity. “Climate change has always inspired a plethora of emotions: fear, awe, sadness, lock-jawed motivation,” she writes in her blog, which she will post to during her late-summer trek.

Thus, last fall, when Richards learned of her acceptance to Middlebury, she seized the opportunity to make her mark. While in Italy, Lucy’s mother, Betsy, e-mailed her, joking that all those winter mornings Lucy had whined her way into a car ride to school had amassed into an embarrassingly large carbon footprint. She went on to suggest that Lucy ride her bike to Vermont to offset all those emissions. “In other words, she was saying, ‘I don’t want to pay for your plane ticket,’” Richards recalls.

However, in the throes of self-described “youthful idealism,” Richards took the suggestion to heart. She saw the ride as the perfect way not only to neutralize all those emissions but to raise awareness about climate change while getting her feet wet in what she hopes to be a long life of activism.

“At first, I thought the idea would fade away, but it didn’t, and here I am, riding my bike across America,” said Richards.

While still in Italy and conducting pre-ride research, Richards came into contact with a young activist from Seattle, JP Kemmick. A frequent Sierra Club contributor who is also involved in the Northwest’s Cascade Climate Network, Kemmick is organizing “Trek to Re-energize America,” a massive bike ride to Washington, D.C., in the summer of 2009, also to raise awareness about global warming. Richards saw her effort as the perfect precursor to the 2009 Trek. “Suddenly, my bike ride became part of something larger,” she said. “I’m hoping to raise enough attention to get people to make the trek to Washington, D.C., next summer.”

However, with her mind resolute, there were still some small, and not-so small, bumps in the road. Although her parents are supportive of the idea, being avid cyclists, Richards is the first to admit that her years abroad were not all that conducive to training, let alone exercise. “The opportunities for training in Italy were very slim,” said Richards, who calls herself “undoubtedly” a beginner when it comes to cycling. “I think I maybe rode my bike to Trimble a few times, but that was about it. I didn’t even have my own bike – I always borrowed my parents.’”

Richards has been sporting this bike around town in an effort to raise support and funds for the 2,000-mile trek./Photo by David Halterman

But upon returning to Durango five months ago, she began training for her planned Aug. 3 departure in earnest, slowly working her way up to her 50-miles-a-day goal. On a touring bike bought on eBay, Richards has been riding or taking spin classes nearly every day, an experience that’s both exhilarating and humbling. “For the past month, I have been lugging myself up what the more experienced call ‘hills’ and panting by the side of the road as my parents, in one final effort to embarrass their teen-age daughter, slide by effortlessly,” she recounts in her blog.

When not embarrassing her, Richards said her father, Joel, has been invaluable for his crash course in bike maintenance, including “fixing a flat 101” and “drive train upkeep.”

“I’m learning step by step, but my parents know a lot,” she said. “I’m their apprentice for the summer.”

However, the last several weeks of getting up at 5:30 a.m., hitting the pavement for 30 miles and remembering to wipe her chain after every ride, has begun to pay off. “I did 50 miles yesterday, and I’m still walking, so that’s a good sign,” she said earlier this week.

In addition to her physical campaign, Richards also has been undertaking a capital one, trying to raise funds for the expedition. In a novel approach to sponsorship, she is selling advertising space on her bike, an offer that so far has been taken up by Durango Coffee Co. and her current employer, Cocina Linda. She also has been drumming up business by riding around town and frequenting large gatherings, such as the Farmers Market and Bike to Work Day, on a separate bike decorated with “Trek to Re-energize” paraphernalia. “I’m really surprised at how supportive people are,” she said. “People see my bike and are instantly interested. There are a lot of bikes in this town, it’s a good place to recruit.”

And looking toward her impending ride, Richards is hoping to establish contacts with host families along the way through Rotary. She also is leaning heavily on a friend to join her on the jaunt. “She’s just as crazy as I am – it would be great if she ended up coming along,” Richards said.

But if she ends of going alone, Richards said that’s fine, too.

“I’m young, it’s time to live life,” she said.

When asked if she’s at all anxious about the ride, Richards only shrugs. She’s got the essentials: an old cell phone that dials 911, camping and rain gear; and a can of mace. “I haven’t really been that nervous,” she admits. “In fact, when I get on my bike and start riding, I think, ‘This will be really cool.’”

The way she sees it, the twists and turns along the way, including the recent unanticipated route change from Vermont to D.C., are all just part of journey. “It could be the best thing that ever happened to me.” •

Richards, a self-professed cycling neophyte, poses in downtown Durango./Photo by David Halterman



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