They’ve got stories of falls and the scraped up shoulders to prove it, as well as tales of flat tires and the bike shops who lend a hand with mechanical failures. And they speak with a certain pride about how many peanut butter sandwiches they’ve eaten so far.
These are the tales of the 11 bike riders ages 19 to 25 from around the country who, a few weeks into their two-month journey from New Orleans to Dallas, are still smiling.
The group, with “Ride for the Future,” left New Orleans around May 22 and is riding to Dallas to ExxonMobil’s headquarters in an effort to raise awareness about reducing the use of fossil fuel and moving toward other energy sources. One way they’re doing that is through just the act of riding their bikes instead of driving or catching rides with anyone.
Van Scholten, of Tennessee, said people tell them they’re crazy for riding all that way in the heat of summer. However, he said, it gets people thinking the next time they’re going to get in their car to run to the store, maybe they should take their bike instead.
The group — minus one who had to get her bike repaired — were at Allen Chapel AME Church in north Baton Rouge on Thursday to help a local environmental group do resident health surveys.
The cyclists were helping Stephanie Anthony and her Louisiana Democracy Project’s “Pray for Our Air” program, do a straw poll of children living with breathing problems in certain north Baton Rouge neighborhoods.
With the closing of Earl K. Long Medical Center, they wanted to get a better idea of what kinds of health problems people might be having, Anthony said.
“When your child has an asthma attack, Our Lady of the Lake is a long way off,” Anthony said.
The “Ride for the Future” team had ridden two hours to get to the Allen Chapel AME Church on Scenic Highway where Anthony and other helpers fed them lunch before they did their volunteer work.
“They’re so wonderful. I’m so glad they’re volunteering with us,” Anthony said.
For the “Ride for the Future” team it was a chance to continue their work during the summer in talking with people who live in the shadow of the fossil fuel industry.
“Ride for the Future” is a program of the “Better Future Project” organization founded in 2011, that focuses on building “a future free from the burning of fossil fuels,” according to the organization’s website. The organization is funded by the nonprofit Open Space Institute, Inc.
Several of the riders this year were involved in a similar program with the Better Future Project last year in the Northeast while others found out about the program through environmental newsletter or friends.
Rider Ben Trolio, of New York, said they don’t get paid for this summer internship and “We live on about $5 a day for food, but we’re under that right now.”
Among other things, the group is urging that incentives and subsidies to fossil fuel companies be stopped and for companies to return those public monies back to the communities that have been harmed, according to the group’s website. In addition, they’re urging fossil fuel companies to invest more into alternative energy sources for the future.
“Encourage these companies to see themselves as energy companies, not just oil and gas companies,” said Kelly Pope, of Florida.
For some, just the bike riding in Louisiana has been eye-opening so far.
“When we were coming to LaPlace, River Road has so many refineries,” said Lisa Purdy, of New York.
Along with blog posts and updates available on the http://rideforthefuture.org/ site, the group is also taking video interviews of people they meet along the way.
Their trip will end in Dallas around July 30.