Choosing to focus our efforts

By Matt Schiff

I first heard about bike49 during the summer of ‘08, sometime between the start of the Tour de France and working some hellishly hot job near the Salton Sea. From what Tommy told me, Aaron had been putting ideas to paper and enlisting Sara┬áto make good on an old pact from the days of Humboldt. There weren’t too many other detail he could give me. There wasn’t a route plan, a departure date, or any idea of what it might cost. I think I said yeah to the idea at the time because I couldn’t imagine, given the opportunity, not going on a bicycle trip for a year. But in each of our minds we had our reasons for traveling endless miles by bike and now the project just needed a focus.

That winter Sara and I met in Colorado. We drew lots of sketches on half pieces of scrap paper, some more comical than constructive. Ideas were discussed and we were beginning to consider what would be the most effective way to get more people active, more people on bikes, and more people concerned about environmental health. Initial thoughts had us contacting cycling groups and meeting at bike shops to give talks on bike commuting or maybe lead a ride. We knew sometimes all it took was a fascinating slide show of your travel pictures to get people fired up about touring. We considered talking about sustainability and having lesson plans aimed towards gardening or creating less waste. Looking back, we were just throwing out ideas that coincided with our beliefs.

We knew we wanted to inspire others to be active and live lightly but we didn’t want to come across as preachy or alarmists. When we started to narrow down our focus and decide what we were going to hit the road with, amazingly, the emphasis of setting up presentations at bike shops and targeting bike riders seemed to vanish. We figured those are the folks already on board, already riding their bikes and staying healthy. What we needed was an average American audience, filled with people who may have never heard of bike touring before. Being far from average ourselves, we wanted to share our message with this average American and learn from them as well.

It may have been Sara’s experience babysitting with children or the fact that we saw ourselves more as teachers rather than crowd pleasers, but her focus on children and schools grew and the rest of us liked where this was heading. While we started the brainstorming process wanting to do so much, we wanted to do everything we did well. We wanted to prepare things right the first time and strike out we may, but not without our best effort.

So as grade schools become more the focus, our message changed as well. We realized there are many messages we can spread, but positive ones work best. Realizing the benefits of being more active, the topic of healthy lifestyles was becoming central to our plans. The reasoning goes like this. If people go outside more and participate in cycling or another activity they enjoy, they’ve done something for themselves. They’ve fought off potential disease, strengthened their bones and muscles, and gotten to experience the outdoors, a place not enough kids visit. As active people experience the outdoors, they understand how it makes them feel better, and some begin to begin to feel it’s vital to their existence. With more observation, they may even pick up on whether it’s a healthy environment or not. Soon that child, who saw these cool bike riders, saw their photos, and drew his dream bike, has his own bike and commutes on it to work because he loves it. Or at least that’s how we hope it works.

For now, we’re planning, biking, or schooling it until May, but always with 4 laptops at a time.

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