moon shot

“REFLECTIONS AFTER 2,497 MILES ON THE ROAD” (Monday, December 6, 2010)

Spent today holed up in a hotel room finalizing the press release, updating the website and making media calls for tomorrow’s ride conclusion at the Jefferson Memorial. The DC media market is a notoriously tough nut to crack, but will do my best. Felt strange knowing the ride is almost over, and like a good time to share some final reflections.

Looked back at the past 10 weeks and determined that about six were actually spent pedaling, with about four weeks forced down time. Not a bad cross-country pace for a middle-aged guy who’s never biked more than 100 miles at a stretch in his life. So there’s some satisfaction in accomplishing such a physical feat, but that’s not the half of it.

I can only describe the past two and a half months on the road as an amazing journey. I’m so glad I listened to my heart and did this, and would not trade the experience for anything. There’s nothing like putting it all on the line to stand up for what you believe, and sharing that dream with the rest of the world. Before I left Boulder, I thought I would find some level of support for the “100% by 2020” renewables goal I was promoting, but nothing like the near-unanimous support I found on Main Street America. To me, this is the great, untold story of the ride, and something to which President Obama and members of Congress are totally oblivious.

Some of these Americans I met are motivated by the state of the economy; others by the desire for green jobs; others by global economic competitiveness; others by the desire for energy dependence; and still others by the severity of the global climate crisis. But all are united in their belief that America has lost her way and that the path back involves us leading a worldwide green industrial revolution. Something else the President and Congress do not seem to grasp is how hungry the American people are for a generational mission, and how badly they want to see America once again accomplish something great. It was incredibly heartening, and reaffirming, to hear this from so many people, of every political stripe.

Most of the people I met on the ride also shared my thinking that the two major political parties are more interested in fighting each other than for the American people they were elected to represent. Many view the partisan bickering as a sick game, cynically orchestrated by corporations, to divide the American people against each other, so we don’t pull together. Well, I have news for the Democratic and Republican parties: this is not about you. It is about America, the planet, and our childrens’ futures. A tidal wave of sentiment is building across this land for Congress and the White House to set party label aside and put the American people first.

There’s a reason why I chose the Jefferson Memorial as the location to end my ride: I believe we need to get back to the ideals this great nation was founded upon. Thomas Jefferson penned the timeless words that declared our independence from the tyranny of King George III. Today, we need to free ourselves from the tyranny of corrupt special interests that have hijacked our democracy and are running America into the ground. The list of culprits is long.

At the top of the list are powerful, greedy corporate CEOs and their minions who don’t seem to care about anything other than themselves, and are determined to maintain a status quo that enriches them at the expense of the rest of us. Here I’m talking about the fossil fuel, nuclear and defense industries. Also high on the list are Madison Avenue front groups for these same polluting industries – and their proxies in Congress – that spend millions sowing the seeds of doubt in the minds of the American people about the reality of a global climate that is undeniably spiraling out of control. I’m willing to bet one of them, U.S. Senator James Inhofe (who infamously characterized global warming as a “hoax”), would have flacked for the Flat Earth Society back in the day if his salary depended on it.

These special interest lobbies could be overcome by a president with the personal and political courage to stand up to them and issue the call to renew America with renewable energy. But it will not happen with half-steps, and timid goals like 20% renewables by 2020. It requires bold leadership and a vision that will inspire and bring out the best in the American people: a modern day, green energy “moon shot.”

When President Kennedy challenged the nation to land a man on the moon in ten years, he didn’t say we would fly 1/5 of the way to the moon and back. He said, “We choose to go to the moon!” The American people would rally around such a great president, forcing Congress to get in line. But no president will take this step until we unify our voices to demand it. Democracy, as the saying goes, is not a spectator sport.

I was reminded daily on my ride that we are a great nation, of great people with great, big hearts. There is nothing America cannot do if we set our minds to it. But we must choose to turn this crisis into opportunity, before it is too late. This requires each of us taking our own personal stands for the future of life on earth. Our real job is to do what we were uniquely put on this earth to do.

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“PRESIDENT KENNEDY’S LEGACY LIVES” (Monday, November 22, 2010)

Called the Pittsburgh media outlets this morning and got a call back from The Daily News in McKeesport about 15 miles down the road, where I stopped in for an interview.

After getting breakfast in McKeesport, made my way to the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail, which runs 132 gorgeous miles through rural Pennsylvania. Very excited to be back on a bike trail with a front porch river view. No more cars for now.

Early in the day, saw lots of evidence of the lingering effect of generations of mining in the region. One stark example was the Red Waterfall, a beautiful little waterfall on the side of the trail that runs over rock stained red from acid mine drainage.

Here is a creek that runs rust red.

A little past the town of Van Meter, I was told to watch for a large chunk of coal on the side of the trail (looked more like black granite), commemorating one of the worst mine disasters in history. In 1907, an open flame lamp set off a massive underground explosion in the Pittsburgh Coal Company’s Darr Mine, killing 239 miners. I was told by locals that the victims included a number of children working the mine. A lightly trodden path through the woods behind the stone takes you to the mine opening, so I walked through the falling rain to honor the dead.

A United Press Dispatch reported on December 20, 1907: “Superintendent Black, who was in charge of the mine, recently resigned, as did David Wingrove, former fire boss, on account of the gaseous nature of the mine. It is said they notified the officials the mine was unsafe for the men to work in.”

In addition to learning about tragedies like the Darr mine disaster, I learned other things about the history of mining in Pennsylvania while pedaling the trail. Like how Pennsylvania coal was instrumental in producing the coke (in brick ovens still in evidence along the trail) that was needed to produce steel in Pittsburgh’s famed steel mills. This same steel helped fuel America’s industrial revolution, making Pittsburgh, and coal miners, instrumental in advancing modern civilization. So Appalachia has a proud heritage that demands respect. Few have worked harder, or under more difficult conditions, than our nation’s coal miners (coal company CEOs are another story) to keep the lights on for the rest of us. But times change. We now know that coal burning poses the single greatest threat to our continued existence on this planet. So the mining and burning of coal must end, but not at the expense of hard-working coal miners, who have earned guaranteed retraining and reemployment in the green jobs sector, if not guaranteed pensions for life.

Rode down the trail 33 miles, before coming across a campsite in Cedar Creek Park with a half-cabin overlooking the scenic Youghiogheny River that was just too perfect to pass up.

Was as good a place as any to so a little show and tell on the rocket trike.

The campsite also had a fireplace, and I haven’t had a campfire this whole trip, so tonight’s the night.

On a reflective note, today marks the 47th anniversary of one of the darkest moments in U.S. history: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. By happenstance, I had the opportunity to visit Dealey Plaza in Dallas earlier this year. I walked up the grassy knoll, stood behind the picket fence and saw the “X” on the street marking where the president was shot. But you cannot kill a dream. President Kennedy’s bold call to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade was successfully achieved.

Another great legacy of President Kennedy is how many people he inspired, and how many continue to be inspired by his leadership today. I chose the 48th anniversary of his historic “moon shot” speech at Rice University to launch my ride because we need a modern day, green energy moon shot today to revive our economy, put unemployed Americans back to work and protect the planet for future generations.

If only we had a president today with the kind of vision embodied in President Kennedy, who famously said on September 12, 1962 at Rice University: “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

We can choose to green our energy grid, but that would require extraordinary political leadership to rally the American people. It would also demand the rarest of traits, exhibited only by our greatest presidents: the political courage and personal strength to stand up to the powerful and wealthy special interests, in this case, the fossil fuel and nuclear lobbies. The easy choice is to keep doing things as we always have, while unemployment lingers; the economy stagnates; China claims the mantle of world economic superpower; and the climate continues to deteriorate. The hard choice, and the one that will “organize and measure the best of our energies and skills,” is for President Obama to boldly challenge the nation to renew America with renewable energy by the end of the decade.

Will end my post with this poignant June 28, 1963 quote by President Kennedy: “The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask “why not?

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