Charity Spotlight: Pedal to the Medal

by Editorial

Co-founder Caeli Quinn, 36, combined her passion for cycling with her concern on environmental issues to create a unique annual charitable fundraiser.
By Danielle Rita

Photo by Kip Pierson

You don’t need to be a hard-core cyclist to pedal for a cause; it’s not a race it’s a ride. Here’s how it works… Climate Ride is a 5 day event; consisting of 300 miles with a daily ride time of 4-8 hours, you do the math. Riders must pay $75 to register, and raise a minimum of $2400 to participate. Participants may register as individuals or teams, but each team must reach the goal of # of teammates x $2400. Climate Ride grants cyclists access to a donation software, where they are able customize a personal fundraising website (donations are tax-deductable).

The ride begins on May 19,2012 with a pedal through the heart of Manhattan to a ferry that will carry cylists off the island and across New York Harbor. From there riders will travel along country roads passing through Princeton, crossing the Susquehanna River, and into Pennsylvania Amish Country. After a day of pedaling past farms and silos, they reach Maryland horse country. On the fifth day, riders cycle past the iconic Washington Monument to arrive at the U.S. Capitol, where riders will meet with their senator.

Riders are highly encouraged to start training prior to the event, click here for their advice. All participants must come prepared with a: bicycle, helmet, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and small duffle bag containing necessities. After registration riders get a 50% discount at NEMO Equipments, the organizations favorite gear sponsorer.

The adventure is all inclusive: breakfast, picnics and packaged lunches, dinners, and a four night accommodation at camping or retreat centers. Cyclists make multiple stops daily for snacks and water. To lift some weight off cyclist’s shoulders, literally, the organization provides gear carriers.

This isn’t just a fundraiser, it is a “green conference on wheels.” After a long day of pedaling, cyclists wind down with an Expert Speakers Series. Expert speakers educate and inspire riders by talking about sustainability, climate-change, the green economy, and energy issues. If this sounds interesting,  click here to register for a future ride. To pump up your adrenaline in the meantime, we sat down with Climate Ride Co-Founder Caeli Quinn to find out the story behind the journey.

Q&A with Caeli Quinn

Washington Life: How long have you been riding?
Caeli Quinn: Oh-my-gosh, since I was a little girl. I am 36 now, and my first big experience that turned me into an everyday cyclist was when I was ten years old. My parents took me on a trip to Glacial National Park in Montana and we pedaled through a gorgeous road that meanders to this huge mountain peak. It’s a big climb, maybe 25 miles. It was just so exhilarating making it to the top with my dad, and then of course pedaling down- hill for about 15 miles. Once you do something like that, once you climb a big hill, you pretty much feel like you can do anything on a bike.

WL: What is your bike collection like?
CQ: I have a bunch of bikes, I love them, and I love keeping them going as long as possible. I have two kids, a two-and-a-half year old and a six-month-old, so I have a little chariot double bike stroller. I also have a mountain bike, road bike, cruiser bike, and my second mountain bike; more appropriate for bike performing. I have bikes that are better for when it is raining and muddy. A lot of my bikes are nothing special, you know, you can go to all these great yard sales and get all of these great bikes. I kind of have so many bikes actually (laugh), we are always loaning them out to friends.

WL: What was your inspiration for creating this project?
CQ: For about ten years, I pedaled the world as a professional bike tour leader, and I also did a lot of bike touring on my own. On a bicycle it is a much slower piece of travel, so you really have a chance to see things and think about them as you’re riding through. I was pedaling in China and all over South East Asia and witnessed just this explosion of growth that you read about all the time in the news; the use of coal and power plants. They really don’t have a strong environmental policy, and I witnessed the effect it was having on these villages. The pollution and the discarded waste from the computer chip industry, and the river just had all these batteries in them. You just see all these animals sick and all the people in the villages sick from coal and air pollution. I myself encountered the effects; pedaling behind these tractors powered by coal, and after breathing it all day my lungs hurt. It is this wonderful-beautiful place, but it was just really shocking. When I came back to the United States I happened to move to Montana just as we were starting to have these serious forest fires. Scientists were saying we have this really horrible problem here, and predicted national parks wouldn’t have glaciers in the next 20 years. It really hit me that we in the United States have an important role to play in terms of setting up a standard for helping the entire world mitigate this global problem.

WL: Did you have a background in environmental science?
CQ: I took science courses in college, and I always go in depth about learning about all the areas I travel to, so I would say I am self educated in these subjects. Part of climate ride is an Expert Speakers Series where we bring together all these people who are interested in pedaling and learning about these issues, so we invite all these very knowledgeable people and leaders on sustainability, climate, renewable energy, and also bike advocacy to come our ride and talk to everyone about the issues on hands. We explore a wide variety of issues in trying to provide better knowledge about them. Networking is a big aspect of the ride; we bring together leaders and every day people. We have people who are participating in the ride pedaling almost 70 miles a day just to sit down and listen to the Expert Speakers Series at night. Each rider reaches out to fund-raise another aspect of the ride that is really important; they reach out to hundreds of peoples to raise money via social media, reaching a number of people exponentially about the climate ride cause.

WL: What steps did you take to create this non-profit?
CQ: It really is sort of a funny story for us. As I said, I was leading bike trips all over the world, and there is a woman I worked with while biking through Chile and Argentina. It turns out she ended up moving to Montana as well, a different city about two hours away, and we met up and we were talking about what we can do; we are really concerned. She has ridden her bike all over the world as well and we were talking about sustainability, how much we ride bikes, how we would like to see better bike infrastructure, and  have families and individuals be able to ride their bikes safely and not have to worry about getting hit by a car every time they ride their bike to the grocery store. There are all these issues, bikes are these amazing and powerful tools and if more people road bikes we could decrease the carbon emissions. We basically decided to have a charity ride for sustainability and bike advocacy, and nobody had done that before. There are a lot of charity rides out there especially for health related causes, but no one had actually done a bike ride that had to do with benefiting bikes. So here we are in Montana in the winter, and we want to have an impact, so decide we should ride our bikes to Washington D.C. and actually meet with a congressional representative.  There had never really been a successful bike ride from New York City to D.C. it is a challenging route to put together; six months later, we had 115 people pedaling from N.Y. to D.C.. It just came out of nowhere and we did everything together just the two of us: from the website, to advertizing, to becoming a non-profit, to reaching out to the issues and organizations we give the funds to, and then we got ten of our close friends to come along that are all professional bike riders, and it was a bounding success. We have an Expert Speakers Series, and we have arranged for everyone to meet with their members of congress at the U.S. Capitol when they arrive. It just worked and so we decided to do it again the next year. Here we are, five years later and this year alone we should raise close to $ 640,000 for beneficiary organizations. We made it happen, and it’s exhausting.

WL: Do you struggle with the cooperation of Congressional Represenatives?
CQ: Well you know what is interesting is, a lot of people don’t realize they want to hear from you and they don’t hear from enough people. When they are in office we have had a big success getting the riders to speak to them personally, and if they are not the rides meet with one of their staffers. It is their job to be available to their constituents, and so we have a profound effect on both the rider and the members of congress. They don’t actually ever have anyone say, I have road my bike 300 miles to meet with you, so it definitely kicks their interest and the riders have a story to tell. We also offer some training on the ride in how to talk to your member of congress. We have such an extraordinary government here and it is really important for people to realize that their voice can make them impactful citizens. We definitely encourage people to take advantage of the fact that we schedule these meetings for them.

WL: Why NYC/DC and California?
CQ: We wanted to have a ride on each coast so we can provide a ride that is accessible to as many people as possible. We chose NYC/DC because we can ship that entire Atlantic Seaboard and Northeast corridors, and it is pretty easy for people to travel either using train or bus. On the California ride we wanted to do a west coast ride, D.C. is more for raising awareness and actually reaching out to congress, California is more of a celebration for what we’re doing. We ride the Northern California Coast which is just one of those rugged and beautiful places of the U.S.. To ride a bike across the San Francisco Bridge and to city hall its just such an adventure, we have a little speaker series right there at city hall, it is a beautiful city hall.

WL: What is in-store for future rides?
CQ: We are also looking to give cyclists a Mid-West ride, sometime in the next couple of years. We want a ride in the center of the country, and we are looking at a few routes in the Mid-west. We have heard from so many people over there, and there is great pedaling in the center of the country: there is just beautiful beautiful country there, and we look forward to debuting it soon.

WL: What makes the Climate Ride special?
CQ: Really that we are the first to create a charity bike ride that actually has bikes as a beneficiary of the ride, and we are now the largest branch of charitable ride for bike advocacy. So really we work on both issues sustainability and bike advocacy, and how they are kind of tied together. The other important part that I love to convey is that our riders choose beneficiaries. So you can come to our climate ride and chose from 145 beneficiaries, whichever one you want to support. We wanted to do that so people could have an affect both locally and internationally. So you can support the Washington Bicycle Association, while at the same time you can support on a national level, and riders just love that. They love the choice: they love having that impact. The best five days ever. I go on all of the rides, except for the last California ride, because I had the baby that week. I’ll be on the New York Ride in just six weeks, and I can’t wait.

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