On August 12th I’m going to get on my bike and ride 300 miles to the other side of Colorado. I will do this over four days, and once I get there I will run the Pikes Peak marathon. Then I’ll ride home. Along the way, you – yes, YOU! – can buy raffle tickets for all manner of cool prizes. The money will go to Protect Our Winters (POW), and when I’m done I’ll draw names out of a hat and mail off prizes left and right! The point of this project is twofold: I want to raise money for POW to support their efforts to turn passionate outdoor people into climate advocates.
I’m still trying to convince myself that this is a good idea and that I won’t regret it during the race. Because the race is the whole point of going in the first place, and I’ve been training for it all summer.
After three or four off-and-on years when I’ve been plagued with stupid little running “injuries,” I’ve finally been able to train for more than three months straight. And it’s working! I haven’t been this fit in years. Furthermore, the Pikes Peak marathon is one of the hardest races in trail running. As a marathon, it’s short enough that you have to maintain very high intensity throughout the entire race (as opposed to an ultramarathon, which is lower intensity overall and features other, often mental, challenges.) But you still have to climb 7,800 feet uphill to the top of 14,110-foot Pikes Peak, and then turn around and charge all the way back down. There’s almost no time to slow down to hike in the entire race if you want to go fast, and by God, I want to go fast! I can do this, just so long as I don’t screw everything up in the week before by, say, riding my bike 250 miles and sleeping in the dirt every night.
But that’s exactly what I’ve chosen to do, which has incurred strange looks from acquaintances and a kind of resigned, stony silence from my coach. This bike tour could very well put me at a disadvantage during the race, but there are good reasons to do it anyway. In June of this year, my town’s economy was severely depressed by a major forest fire that was the direct result of a reduced winter snowpack and abnormally hot and dry conditions in late spring and early summer – a direct result of human-caused climate change. In the west, our rivers and our air are warmer, on average, than ever before – a direct result of there being more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere than at any time in the last 650,000 years. This is having cascading effects on everything from outdoor recreation to animal migrations. Fishermen are being limited from their sport to allow the fish to recover; hunters – particularly bird hunters – often watch their permits expire before the birds even arrive. As for skiing, according to Protect Our Winters’ 2018 Economic Report, In low snow years, reduced participation in outdoor recreation decreased value added by over $1 billion and cost 17,400 jobs compared to an average season.
Whether your perspective is ecological, aesthetic, or economic, climate change is the biggest threat to our way of life. Personally, my sense of self is deeply rooted in being in wild places and trying to learn from them. I do this by running 100-mile races and by spending afternoons looking under rocks in the creek. I do this by reading other peoples’ books. I do this by lying down half-asleep under the trees and letting the wind move through the leaves above me. Professionally, as a sponsored athlete I am part of an economic engine that needs people to go outside in order to remain profitable. As a result, I’m highly aware of the negative impacts that even the most well-meaning outdoors people can incur. We drive cars that emit greenhouse gases. We walk through fragile tundra. We poop too close to water sources. There is no benefit in casting blame, but there is also no way to improve without first recognizing the source of problems. My goal is to respectfully acknowledge my own and others’ impacts and then to promote solutions.
One solution is to set a big ol’ example of door-to-door adventure. My race at Pikes Peak is important to me, but it’s as nothing when compared to the lifetime of long mountain runs I envision ahead of me. My one race is insignificant compared with the outdoor industry as a whole, which has the ability to provide challenge and fulfillment to an existentially weary, over-mechanized population. I would drive to Pikes Peak if I knew that my grandchildren could also drive to Pikes Peak in 70 years and enjoy the same experience as me, but I can’t be sure of that. Every molecule of carbon matters, even in a world overwhelmed by hundreds of millions of tons of carbon emissions yearly. It has to matter, or else we have no purpose. I refuse to let the economics of scale deter me from believing in my own individual power. I recognize that my clothes, food, bike, and many other things were made and transported with the use of greenhouse gases. I recognize the imperfections and hypocrisies in my plan. But I also recognize that I’m trying to be better, and it’s a genuine, heartfelt effort. I am not perfect, but I care enough to try even a little bit. It’s progress over perfection.
My hope is that if I’m willing to make this tiny sacrifice for the planet, maybe you will too. Maybe this will spur a few other people to reconsider their lifestyles and think of ways they could be just a little bit better. I want to overcome an idea that seems to permeate climate discussions: people seem to think if you aren’t perfect, you can’t talk about it. But as POW’s Executive Director Mario Molina says, “we are all locked in a carbon-intensive energy economy. The solutions have to be systemic.” So I can ride my bike to one race, and if this will raise money for POW’s efforts to make our nation’s energy economy renewable, then all the better. And if you get involved, you’ll not only be part of the most important social and scientific movement in the world (combating climate change), you’ll also be eligible to win some of these great prizes!
- Four (4) Salomon running packs!
- One (1) Suunto GPS watch!
- A mountain (∞) of Clif Bar goodies!
- THE Black Diamond itself!