Riding Hills for Hillary!

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Welcome to Riding Hills for Hillary’s website! Here we will post route updates, writing posts, beautiful photos from our journey, and other media we create along the way. You can navigate the website bar above or click to learn more about us and our trip, support our efforts, and more.

Thanks for visiting!

Ben, Meredith, Jamie, Mike, and Nina

 

A Fond Farewell

Greetings blog faithful! I am sure many or all of you have given up hope for a culminating post of some sort and have instead sought refuge from the dreary headlines of the NY Times in the newest Netflix show or an old Austin Powers movie (this was actually a coping mechanism of someone we met). Even though it took a while to motivate after what happened on November 8th, I felt we owed to to ourselves, all the people who followed the journey, hosted or helped us along the way, and Hillary herself to write some sort of post-election reflection. So here goes…

First things first, we finished our bike ride across the country!! Wahoo!! Yay!! After expecting to hop on our bikes hung over from a Vegas election night party (there is no party like a Vegas election night party), we somberly set out on November 9th toward the Mojave Desert and Santa Monica beyond. The only cheerful news of the day was the addition of Meredith’s dad, Jerry, who decided to ride the final leg with us prior to realizing that the first couple days were largely going to be spent in dazed silence. We probably had it easier than many of you, though, as long biking days through the desert sunshine granted us time to think in quiet and solitude, process the bad news without being constantly hit by new waves of badness, and enjoy the beautiful and unchanging desert scenery (the cacti have no idea Trump is our president-elect).

The final two days before making it to LA we tackled some serious mountains, climbing passes of 7,000 and 8,000 feet with smaller climbs interspersed, which made for some of the toughest rides of the journey. These LA hills were truly magnificent though, and we couldn’t help but hoot and holler our way down around corners as new views emerged. Around one particular corner, downtown LA and the Pacific Ocean became visible in one spectacular moment that we will never forget.

Jerry contacted a friend in Santa Monica ahead of our arrival who is a member of the City Council there, and Ted (friend) organized a finish line party with around 20-30 attendees! It was awesome to end on a high note, as all the Santa Monica people we met were so grateful for our journey and kept saying, “Thank you for giving us something to celebrate right now!” We popped champagne, dipped our tires in the Pacific, took a glorious victory swim…it was a fitting ending to an incredible adventure. Thank you Ted, Jerry, and all the fine Santa Monica folks we met!

But once the champagne wore off and we remembered once again that Trump is our president-elect it was an important time to reflect on our journey. In the aftermath of this election, it is difficult to reconcile the amount of energy and time spent with such a dismal result. And I am not just talking about us bikers. There were many Hillary for America ground organizers we met along the way who quite literally dedicated their lives to the campaign, 12-14 hours a day, 7 days a week for months leading up to November 8th. Not to mention the thousands of volunteers, contributors, community mobilizers, and so on who took up this effort only to be met with the most disheartening result.

Yet for the Riding Hills for Hillary Team, the outcome actually makes us feel our journey was more valuable and important than we had previously imagined. We took up the ride primarily as a campaigning effort (and ended up canvassing for a collective total of 65 days!), yet much of our trip was centered upon listening to the stories and perspectives of the people we met along the way. From Michigan factory workers to disillusioned Pittsburgh African-Americans to angry Colorado ex-military members and even Navajo Nation tribesmen, we were able to at least somewhat understand and empathize with the diverse perspectives that citizens of this country have on the state of our country and the resultant direction we ought to head. During an election in which narratives centered on division and disunity between Americans urban and rural, male and female, white or minority, and so on, we are proud that our trip stood out as a connector, a link (however small) between these cultures. And we hope that this blog has succeeded in sharing some of these stories with readers, expanding their understandings of the frustrations felt by many across this country. This goal of connecting people and communities across the cultural divide in our country remains even more important after the election.

If there is a silver lining to this whole fiasco it’s that the thought of Trump as president has had a really motivating effect on the Riding Hills for Hillary team and (it seems) many others. Even though a campaign (and a bike ride) give the impression that the work is done at the finish line, Trump’s victory has been an important, if unwanted, reminder that progress on causes and issues we care for requires near-constant effort. Obama’s administration enabled a certain amount of complacency, an air of inevitability that was dramatically popped on November 8th. Trumps election gives us all a reason to pause and reconsider the way we spend our time, the issues we care about, and what we can do to contribute to these issues in the coming four years and beyond.

On this note, we received an encouraging word from Las Vegas campaign organizer and friend of RH4H, Zachary. He reflected that campaigns are essentially run by many volunteers donating a small bit of time. As an organizer he didn’t need the hero volunteer to do 20 hours a week but rather relied on average people to regularly volunteer for a few hours on the weekends or weeknights to sustain the effort. This is a good reminder for those that feel daunted by the thought of addressing any number of issues endangered by the Trump administration; it doesn’t take a Herculean personal effort, just a large number of people carving out time in their lives to further a cause. We hope for ourselves and for all of you that we are able to find ways to do this in the coming months and years.

So what’s next for the crew? Mikey valiantly rode onward up the coast all the way to San Francisco before flying home for Thanksgiving. He is planning to hop in his car and head west after Thanksgiving (a little faster this time) and move somewhere in Colorado or California. Leading contenders include Durango and Big Bear and Colorado Springs! Mike hopes to find work in the environmental education field, where he will undoubtedly be an all star. Benjamin the Brave is back home for the holidays and then deciding between staying in Oakland or moving out to Colorado Springs. He hopes to continue his work with food systems, nutrition, and helping fill in those food deserts (many of which we biked through). Good on ya, Been! Meredith is looking for some well-deserved stationary time after a truly incredible 15 months of near-constant movement (she was travelling on a fellowship for 12 months before the trip). She has looked into moving to DC to work for a congresswomen and is also deeply involved in the food rescue world. We are confident she will find something important to take on quite soon. James is back in Seattle, where he will be working with his father to start a new consulting enterprise and doing some park time work on the side, perhaps tutoring or working in a café. He is also planning to write a longer piece about the journey so stay tuned for that! Finally, Nina (remember her?) is working for an enviro organization called The Quebec-Labrador Foundation until February and then will head to Greece to work on refugee issues in a variety of capacities.

Before we sign off, a huge huge huge thank you to all the many people who made it possible for us to successfully bike across the country and have such a wonderful experience. From distant friends who took us in for night and fed us food to Warm Shower strangers who did the same, to those who donated to Hillary through us or to our trip directly, to the many people who let us camp in their backyard, to the fine folks who bought us food or helped us get to bike stores, to the people who talked with us about our journey and shared their stories, to our blog and Instagram followers who threw us likes on hastily taken photos, to the Hillary campaign organizers and volunteers we interacted with…ah wow the list could go on. It was truly amazing to witness how much the people of the world just helped us out when we most needed the help. We could not have done it without you all!

Finally, if any of you are feeling down about the state of this country, or feeling disconnected from the people living between the coasts, we highly highly recommend hopping on a bike and taking a spin through. Bike touring is a perfect way to meet people you would never meet, as people across the country seem to absurdly friendly and generous to bike tourists. We would all be happy to talk about routes, necessary gear, planning, whatever else that comes up. It is much easier than you probably think it is, and a grand way to travel. To quote the Greek goddess, Nike, Just Do It.

Stronger together, but figuring out ways to make it in the world without one another,

Meredith, Ben, Mike and Jamie (and Nina!!)

Why some don’t vote. Why GOTV.

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RH4H cruises by the Las Vegas Trump Hotel. Love Trumps Hate

 

Greetings from Las Vegas, “The Family-Friendly City”! We arrived in this battleground city last night to GET OUT THE VOTE in our final campaigning push. In the final countdown before election day, Democratic campaign organizers and volunteers across the country are working their tokheses off to get voters to the polls.

As we’ve been volunteering at different campaign offices and seeing various techniques used to collect votes across the country, we have participated in some efforts to change people’s political opinions. However, the primary focus of our campaign efforts have been encouraging and enabling people to vote who might otherwise leave their ballots uncast. With just 3 days before November 8th, the outcome of this election may depend on volunteer efforts to rally, assist, (and sometimes beg) people to actually show up to the polls.

“It’s unbelievable that some people wouldn’t vote in this election,” you might be thinking. If you are reading this blog post right now, you probably have enough of an interest and concern for the upcoming election that you will vote. (We also suspect that the largest base of our blog followers represents a demographic with a very high voter turnout, i.e., well-educated middle and upper class friends of our parents.) However, usually only around 50% of eligible voters participate in each presidential election.

During an election between these two vastly different candidates, it is hard to imagine that anybody could be disinterested in the outcome of the election enough that they would decide to not vote. Many people reading this probably identify with David Sedaris’ description of this election as sitting on airplane and being asked by the flight attendant if you would prefer to have the chicken dinner or a platter of shit with bits of glass in it. (“To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.”)

Nonetheless, we have met many people who tell us “they’re both crooks,” or “no way am I going to vote for one of those two clowns” (why clowns? I don’t know. But I have heard that word used to describe our candidates many times). For the people who wish to protest the options provided by our presidential primary races, making some sort of small statement by not voting is more important than influencing the outcome of the election. Likewise, for people in swing states who will vote for a third party candidate, using their ballot as a micro-protest is more important to them than the outcome of the election.

In general, citizens under the age of thirty vote much less than older age brackets. We have spoken to a few millennials while “clip-boarding” with voter registration forms who seem genuinely disinterested in politics. It is no surprise that people may feel more invested in the outcome of the election after they have been paying taxes for longer. Even so, it sometime takes a lot of self-restraint to not grab these people by the shoulders, shake vigorously and yell “Do you understand what’s at stake?!” But apathy is certainly not the only thing that prevents young people from voting, and it would be wrong to blame our poor voter turnout on passivity alone. Voting is a complicated process that may be difficult for some time to figure out for the first time in their life.

It is a tragedy that anybody would decide not to vote, especially in an election such as this. However, the apathetic only represent a fraction of the non-voters. Most people we have spoken to in our efforts register people and provide information about polling locations actually seem pretty eager to vote. While some apathetic Americans may think their vote doesn’t matter, even those people seem to at least understand a few basic differences between the candidates. I suspect that the majority of people in this country who leave their ballots uncast are not indifferent to the outcome of the election. Rather, they are prevented from doing so by institutional barriers, complications in the voting process and direct voter suppression efforts.

Complications in the voting process tend to keep poor, young, less educated, and/or people of color, people who would likely support democratic candidates, from voting. Consequently, Democrats use GOTV campaign strategies and support policies that make it easier for all people to vote (Hillary supports automatic voter registration for all citizens when they turn 18), while Republicans tend to support policies such as strict voter ID laws that make it more difficult for certain people to vote. Through our travels, we have encountered Republican-backed efforts to make voting more complicated in several forms: In Ohio, citizens were required to apply to register to vote, then were sent a registration form in the mail with a ‘sample ballot’ that looks confusingly similar to the ballot itself. In Wisconsin, out-of-state residents are not allowed to administer voter registration forms. In many other states, there is a lot of confusion about whether or not people formally incarcerated for felony charges can vote.

Although they are difficult to pinpoint, there are also much more direct voter suppression efforts afoot. Ross McFarlane, family friend of the Daudons and volunteer poll watcher in Las Vegas, has told us that many low-income, people of color have come to the polls claiming that they have filled out a voter registration form with a volunteer in some public space, but their names do not appear registration rolls. It’s impossible to say whether or not their registration forms have gone missing due to careless errors or intentional fraud. However, there are reasons to be suspicious, especially when Republicans are trolling facebook with memes telling Hillary supporters they can vote via text message. (Ironic how team Donald is making the biggest fuss about the election being rigged).

Although these barriers in the voting process will certainly prevent a lot of people from voting in this particular election cycle, they are merely fearful attempts to prevent the inevitable. The Republican party, particularly in this election, has positioned itself in opposition to the changing demographics of this country. By denying certain people the right to vote, Republicans are able to ensure that government will continue representing the interests of the their favored groups (mostly religious white men). Consistent with the spirit of conservatism, voter suppression maintains the supremacy of groups who have traditionally held positions of power in an attempt to define who this country belongs to.

This sentiment is well exemplified by the reactions of Trump supporters to an infographic published by FiveThirtyEight showing that Hillary would win the election if only women were able to vote and that Donald would win the election if only men were able to vote. Not long after this report was published, many Trump supporters (including women) began tweeting #RepealThe19th.

There are women voting in this election who were born before the 19th amendment gave them the right to vote less than 100 years ago. It may be easy for some to forget that people have worked very hard to give women and people of color people the right to participate in our democracy. The victories of the suffrage and equal right movements should not be taken for granted, as policy makers can still prevent people from voting through convoluted voter registration processes. Voting for candidates who favor a more inclusive democracy may be the only way for marginalized groups to secure their right to continue voting in future elections.

To everyone reading this from a swing state, please consider volunteering to GOTV. The fairness and inclusivity of our election process depends on lots of volunteer support.

And to every disinterested millennial who says they’re ‘not into politics’, to every apathetic skeptic who tells us that “both candidates are clowns,” and to every jaded self-identified independent, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, on behalf of the right to vote, on behalf of inclusive democracy, on behalf of our tax-funded schools, libraries, health care, national defense, veteran support programs, income security, postal service, law enforcement, airports, roads, bridges, trails, parks, and on behalf of our aching, bicycle-beaten thigh muscles, vote in this upcoming election.

Stronger together (and stronger after 3,000 miles of Hills for Hillz),

Ben, Mere, Jamie, Mike and Nina (in abstentia)

Let’s Talk Policy (for once!)

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In-home stitch removal in Denver. Not everyone is lucky enough to have friends who do free medical procedures.

 

It is often remarked upon that this election has been about personality over policy. Debates center around character attacks and news headlines highlight the latest personal controversy. It is important to be informed about a candidate’s actions and beliefs, as it reflects their values and informs what sort of leader they would be. In the case of this election, however, personality has obstructed policy. As a result, there is a dearth of information, as well as an abundance of misinformation, on the candidates’ actual plans and strategies.

This has been glaringly apparent as we talk to citizens across the country who say things like, “I can’t vote for Hillary Clinton because I want to continue to hunt.” Or, “Hillary Clinton wants to shut down the military, and I’m worried my army friends will lose their jobs.” For the record, Hillary Clinton’s gun control proposal targets terrorists, domestic abusers, and other violent criminals and poses no threat to your average hunting aficionado. Additionally, Clinton believes in continuing our nation’s legacy as having “the best-trained, best-equipped, and strongest military the world has ever known.” 

Perhaps the biggest propagator of false information regarding the Clinton campaign, which should come as no surprise, is Trump himself. His false professions about Hillary’s policies resonate with many of the middle class rural Americans we have encountered along our journey. Ironically, these citizens are more likely to be hurt by Trump’s plans and helped by Hillary’s. Health care is a primary example of this, and one that comes up frequently in our discussions. In an effort to rectify this misinformation, and to focus on policy over personality, let us examine the actual meat and potatoes of both Hillary and Trump’s plans and how they will affect Americans.

For starters, Hillary would perpetuate the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), while Trump would fully repeal it. A full repeal means rescinding increased Medicaid eligibility,  insurance subsidies (millions of Americans receive tax subsidies that make it possible for them to purchase insurance), and individual market reforms such as bans on excluding those with preexisting conditions.

According to the RAND global policy think tank, the repeal would cause “nearly 20 million people to lose their insurance in 2018, increase average premium and out-of-pocket costs for people who buy insurance on their own, and increase the federal deficit.” The federal deficit would increase because currently, ACA’s Medicare reforms save the government money and current fees and taxes create federal revenue. These savings and revenue are more money than would be saved by eliminating insurance subsidies and the expansion of Medicaid.

As mentioned in a prior post, The People Behind the Polls, there are some serious issues with the Affordable Care Act. Clinton recognizes this and addressed some of these problems in the second presidential debate. She plans to take immediate action in reforming the aspects of ACA that raise insurance costs for millions of Americans, while maintaining the Act’s positive aspects. Her specific courses of action include:

  1. Refundable tax credits of up to $2,500 for individuals or $5,000 for families with private insurance who spend more than 5 percent of their income on health services. This would result in large savings for those with low and moderate incomes while increasing coverage to 9.6 million people.
  2. For individuals who earn $47,000 or less, lower the maximum amount that people pay toward Obamacare insurance plans from 9.7 percent of income to 8.5 percent. This would increase coverage to 1.7 million people and drop costs for those eligible.
  3.  Fix the “family coverage glitch,” which has incorrectly marked some families as ineligible for Obamacare. With this fix, 2.8 million more people would have health care.
  4.  In order to address the lack of insurers participating in the Obamacare Marketplace, add government-administered public insurance option in all state marketplaces. This would cover 400,000 more people and drop costs for middle-class marketplace enrollees.

When all is said and done, these changes would cost a cool $103.2 billion. Clinton proposes to pay for this with taxes on higher-income families and rebates from drug manufacturers. Additionally, according to RAND, “greater competition generated by the public plan, and the lower cost of the public plan itself, would reduce marketplace premiums and thus federal spending on premium tax credits.”

In summary, Clinton’s proposal is one giant step towards universal health care and it seeks to mitigate the ACA’s current inefficiencies. Trump’s plan is vague at best and according to RAND, would decrease insurance for up to 20 million people, increase costs for low and moderate income earners, and decrease costs only for high-income earners. It is, of course, important to remember that these proposals are just that. Proposals. They must be passed through Congress before being enacted, thus the congressional race will have a lot to do with what becomes of our health care.

Stronger together,

Meredith, Nina, Ben, Mike, and Jamie

 

p.s. Learn More here:

RAND ReportThe AtlanticBloomberg PoliticsHillary Clinton’s Official WebsiteDonald Trump’s Official Website

 

 

Hills for Hillz Part Two: The West 

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About to head to bed in Durango, CO before a 96 mile day so unfortunately we will have to be brief with this post and leave much to the pictures and imagination. Mere has the computer :(so we are comin at you live from the phone. No matter the means, here’s an update from the past week of life on the road for Hillary… 

We left C Springs as a crew of four, well rested and oh so pampered after a jolly few days with Ben’s superb relatives, Glenn and Laura, whose perch in the mountains above the city reminded us of a meeting location for a secret society. In C Springs (and Denver) we had spent three days canvassing, hitting the last weekend of voter registration and first weekend of GOTV (get out the vote for political newbs). 

South from the Springs we rode toward Canon City and then east up the Arkansas River toward Salida. From Salida we climbed south over Poncha Pass (see pics we really made it!) and biked through the San Luis Valley, a wide stretch of high desert flanked by the Sangre De Cristo mountains to the east and the Rio Grande Forest (also mountainous) to the west. After working our way up Wolf Creek Pass (10,800 ft for those keeping track at home) we dropped all the way to Pagosa Springs for a night before riding on to Durango. 

In this section we had the joys of a two glorious sunsets, one along the river and another in the mountains, and night skies were filled with tremendous stars from our high perches. The mornings have also been quite cold, dropping below freezing sometimes…nothin like hopping on a bike and riding downhill through wind when it is 32 degrees out. Don’t try it unless you have to. We have recovered from the cold with a soak in the hot springs on Monday and a sauna on Tuesday (back to back spa days!!). 

The riding experience out here in the west is far more varied and distinct than that of the east. Whereas days in rolling hills with green grass and trees would blur together in the east, out in CO each day has been punctuated by strong impressions from our surroundings as we move through different elevations, climates, and ecosystems. Being on a bike we really have the opportunity to sit and take in these changes of mood, from river gorge to high desert to alpine pass to lush valley, each has left a unique impression. 

A few shout outs before signing off…big thanks to friends Alex and Nancy from Illinois, who we met at Wolf Creek Pass and then saw in town afterwards, where they bought us lunch and exuded relaxed awesomeness as they told us about their retiree lives in IL, gardening, challenging themselves to meet new people, and taking the occasional road trip. Also had a lovely Warm Showers host named Danny in Pagosa, who saved us from the cold outdoor showers that passed through that evening. A random homie drove us to bike store and back when we had to hitchhike after popping a tire. And there is no way we could have dealt with complicated Durango logistics without the minds (and cars) of meres mama, aunt, and friend. Now we are staying with fellow millennial Maggie Reynolds, who made some incredible cookies last night and has really showed us the ropes around Durango. Thanks, as always, to all these people and many more along the way. We have been continually surprised and inspired by all the people willing to help us get across this country!

Could be choppy reception for the next week or so until we make it to Vegas, so we apologize ahead of time for any dropped calls and lack of updating. Also, Mere is joining us tomorrow and Nina must bow out for a bit. So we are back to the original four for the first time since Buffalo, this trip is really coming full circle. 

#strongertogether and happy birthday, Hillary!!

Jamie, Ben, Mike, Mere, and Nina 

The Trump Effect

Over the past two weeks the election has taken a noticeable turn away from being centered, if it ever truly was, on the economic future of our country, and has instead become increasingly mired in an examination of Trump’s treatment of and attitude toward women and other minorities. While Trump’s flirtation (to put it very politely) with racism, sexism and xenophobia have always been important issues, they did not become election dominating until the infamous video of him talking with Billy Bush was made public. Trump’s primary defense for this video has been the now well-known dismissal of his comments as “locker room banter,” and his debate assertion that it is “just words, folks. It’s just words.” Since then numerous women have come out providing evidence that it is not, in fact, “just words,” but rather a pattern of actions indicating an attitude toward women.

But even if (and this is a yuuuuuge if) these were just words, these are words coming from a presidential candidate, words printed and heard across the country, words that are far from inconsequential. Words are powerful, and for the past six to twelve months Trump’s words have probably been the most powerful as they dominate headlines, are repeated over and over again by news anchors, and digested by citizens across the country. We likely all bear witness to the effect of Trump’s words in our lives through the political frustration of our friends and family, the sadness of watching debates, the anger at the most recent Trump quote. Yet traveling by bike through swing states we have been able to witness a special power that these words have had on the Trump supporters we meet along the way.

A couple days after the video was released, we canvassed on the Grand View University campus in Des Moines, Iowa. While many students we talked with were upset by the video, some students were alarmingly dismissive. One male football player on campus accepted Trump’s rationale, saying, “man, we have all been in locker rooms and that’s what I think it is, just locker-room talk.” Trying to be patient with the guy I agreed that while perhaps men talk about women in locker rooms (and women about men), what is markedly different about this video is the open bragging about sexual assault, the complete lack of respect for women that does not characterize any locker room in which I have spent time. Still the student shrugged it off, “maybe it is a little worse, but not that different.”

A few days later in Omaha, Meredith (hobbling around on a cane at this point) and I were chatting with our Uber driver about the video, probing for his reaction and thoughts. Similar to the college student, our driver largely disregarded the comments. “Honestly, I have heard worse in the military,” the Arizonan man said. I responded by pointing out the glaring difference that none of his military friends were running for president of the United States, but he remained unfazed. “I am still supporting Trump” he said. We left it at that.

While these interactions are troubling in their own right, what is perhaps most striking about these individual’s responses was their unwillingness to condemn Trump’s comments as they became publicly disseminated. In other words, it is unfortunately not shocking that both had heard comments of a similar nature in private contexts; sexism and sexual harassment existed in this country before Trump and will continue to exist after Trump. (Mind you, this does not excuse comments or actions of this nature in any way!). Yet for as long as I have been around, something, call it political correctness, call it self-censorship, call it simple civility, has largely prevented individuals from publicly promulgating sexist, racist, and xenophobic remarks, while prompting most to condemn such remarks once they become public.

Enter the Trump Effect. Over the course of his campaign Trump has unapologetically invoked hurtful stereotypes about women, Muslims, Mexicans, Blacks, Jews, and probably several more groups. When these hurtful statements are broadcasted out to millions of listeners and reverberated throughout the country in newspaper headlines, radio talk shows, and private conversations, it changes what is considered necessarily publicly condemnable and opens a space for many around America to voice similarly sexist, racist, and xenophobic remarks with a newfound publicity. By elevating this language to the national, public, political sphere, Trump has managed to increase the acceptability of these sentiments in many areas around the country. It is the “If Trump can say it, why can’t we?” way of thinking. When these statements dominate the public sphere, it whittles away at our public understanding of decency.

We have observed this whittling in the various swing states in which we have travelled. In addition to the above conversations about the video, there were many related to race. In Belmont, WI we met a police officer who wanted to hang out and make sure we were safe from the evening thunderstorm (thanks, man!). When asked about the happenings of the area, the officer was quick to blame the recent influx of African-Americans from a neighboring town for all of the violent crime. The next evening in Monticello, IA we were told that the nearby Cedar Rapids was having crime issues from the refugees following Hurricane Katrina. And two nights after that in Blairstown, IA we were warned not to camp in a certain area because in the past couple years many Mexicans had moved there and “caused problems.” Of course we do not live in these areas so are unaware of the issues they are referring to, but it is telling that these individuals were so willing to voice these transparently racist remarks to total strangers.

Much was made, especially at the beginning of the election, about Trump giving political voice to a traditionally uninvolved population of the US. And while perhaps he has importantly keyed into an economic frustration amongst lower-middle class rural citizens, it seems evident to us that the most powerful voice he has empowered is a sexist, racist, and xenophobic one. And we are all, young and old, rural or urban, Hillary or Trump, white or Mexican, stuck listening to this voice, stuck hearing these words.

The only immediate recourse our country has for this type of politics is a thorough renunciation of the Trump Effect via the election results on November 9th. So if you, like many, are checking FiveThiryEight projections and feeling as though the country has staved off a Trump presidency, we urge you to recognize the importance of making a statement with this election. Simply put, it is not enough for Hillary to eek out a satisfactory victory in the Electoral College and a few points edge in the popular vote. It feels more important than ever to deal Trump, and his brand of politics, a resounding defeat throughout the country. That is why Hillary’s 50-State campaign is necessary, and why her recent strategy to move into fringe swing states like Arizona and North Carolina is so important. That is also why it is vital that we all vote, whether we live in liberal-as-can-be Massachusetts or hopelessly red Texas. It has become myopic to think that his election’s end goal is merely to put Clinton in office and defeat Trump. Instead it has become a campaign to restore civility to our politics, to reaffirm that this type of language is unacceptable on a public (and private!) level, to ensure that the words shared throughout our country do not encourage sexist, racism, and xenophobia, and to reject Trump’s Effect on our country.

#strongertogether, all the way to the end.

Jamie, Nina, Meredith, Ben, and Mike

A Tale of Two Cities: From Des Moines to Omaha

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

 After a hearty breakfast in the heart of Des Moines, we bid adieu to our splendid host, Bill, and set off to brave the wicked winds of the West. Our ride was off to a lovely start as we zoomed on bike trails that were smooth as butter and surrounded by verdant forest.  We were cruising along the Raccoon River Valley trail when Jamie discovered that he had broken yet another spoke. Having used our very last replacement the night prior, and being many miles away from a bike store, we were stuck up creek without a paddle. Enter Brian, our savior. In a very fortuitous series of events, we got a ride with this kind gentleman who not only happened to have a pick up truck and some time on his hands, but had biked across the country himself!!

Bri-guy brought us and our bikes to his fave bike shop (shout out to Bike World – haaaaaaay!!). We thought we were going in for a mere spoke replacement, yet two hours later we emerged with new wheels, new tires, and new brake pads. In classic Mer-Jamie style, we had been neglecting to fix these things for many a week, so it took the wisdom (and assertiveness) of the bike shop pros to finally make it happen.

We jetted out once again, feeling so fresh and so fly with our new setups, though it did take some time to get used to the fact that our brakes were actually working. All was going swimmingly until Mere had a space out moment and went CRASH BOOM BANG into a fence. She was wearing her newly purchased hi-vis (high visibility) vest, but clearly the fence was not. She escaped with only a few minor flesh wounds and soon enough we were on our way again. We made our way through small town Iowa, enjoying the views and the nicely paved roads. This changed 16 miles away from our destination for the night, when we were once again met with our arch enemy- gravel. Nonetheless, we continued to enjoy ourselves as we conquered hill after hill, taking in the beautiful, expansive sky as it began to blush pink with sunset. 

It was a measly 5 miles from the finish line, that the tables turned and one of the hills conquered Meredith. Indeed, ol’ Mere went careening down a hill at warp speed only to be met by a nasty patch of loose gravel at the end, this time acquiring a not so minor flesh wound. What could have been a perilous situation (stuck, bleeding, deep in the countryside with night setting in), turned out miraculously well, thanks to a few key players. Penny, our Warmshowers host who we planned to stay with that night, fetched us and our bikes and brought us to her home where a delicious feast awaited us. An hour or so later, Paul and Annette Smith, rolled in and brought us straight to the ER in Omaha. 

The first hospital decided Mere’s gruesome wound was out of their league, so they sent her across town sporting some fresh new scrubs. Our grand tour of Omaha’s hospitals came to an end at Nebraska Medical Center, where a kind young doctor spent 30 minutes collecting bits of gravel and dirt from inside Mere’s thigh before sealing the deal with NINETEEN stitches. As Mere’s grandmother said, “nineteen! They’re old enough to vote!” If stitches could vote, you can bet these babies would be voting for Hill-dawg. #Hurtingforhillary.

We were finally released from the hospital at the dark hour of 4 am. We returned home for a steak dinner (breakfast? brinner?) to help compensate for all the iron Mere lost that day. The sun was beginning to rise when these weary little soldiers finally laid down to rest.

You will all be pleased to know that, two days later, Mere is healing up nicely and looking forward to her gnarly battle scar. Though the majority of her time in Omahaha has been spent in the supine position, this dangerous duo has managed to get out on occasion and see some of the sights. The Joslyn Art Museum was a highlight, particularly Andrew Moore’s exhibit, the Dirt Meridian. His photos highlight life along the 100th meridian, which intersects the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. These glorious pics of life at the gateway to the Western frontier made us a little sad to not be biking through and seeing it for ourselves. However, we have vowed to one day come back and fill in the gap between Omaha and Denver (which we will be traveling via train tonight). West to East this time- tail wind baby!!!

Now we are off to enjoy another crisp Nebraskan day.

Love trumps hate,

Meredith, Jamie, (Mike, Ben, and Nina in spirit)

And Then There Were Two…

Friends of Riding Hills for Hillary,

Since we last wrote in Madison, we have endured approximately 300 miles of biking, a few broken spokes, and another presidential debate. After all this we ended up in lovely Des Moines, Iowa where we currently write from the home of our Warm Showers hosts, Bill and Saraleigh. Des Moines is another up and coming city of America, with a truly awesome capital building, a AAA baseball team called the Iowa Cubs (go Cubbies!), and an impressive sculpture park. We took a campaigning/rest day here today, hitting Grand View University for some canvassing work with Next Gen Climate, which is part of 350.org. Nothin’ like talking to fellow millennials about the Climate and Hillz all at once!

Our most important news is that the crew of five that entered Madison has now split up for the time being (but will be reunited soon!). Fierce Nina (yes, the one we took through the gauntlet in Northwest Pennsylvania) has been dealing with knee demons for the past couple weeks and finally went to see the trip doctor. Doc said it was “bad, bad, getting worse” and ordered a strict two-week hiatus from any bike related activities, so Nina is firing up the base in Minneapolis before rejoining in Colorado. Benny Boo Feldman had to part ways with the crew a day after Madison to spend time with his family in California, where he is currently scouting the beaches for an appropriate final destination swim, and also plotting his return to the journey in Colorado. Finally, after much deliberation we decided to send Mr. Mike (Bike) Bienkowski as an envoy across the Nebraska plains while we take it slower through Iowa, stopping to campaign and enjoy the corn fields, and then hop on a train from Omaha to Denver. So it has been Meredith, Jamie, and Iowa for the past few days of riding.

Our time since Madison, though lonelier on the dusty road without the rest of the crew, has remained quite joyous. Day uno found us riding through spectacular, rolling Wisconsin farmland as we set off southwest. That night we hunkered down in a town park to avoid getting caught in a thunderstorm, where we met a jolly police officer who offered to take us in a ride in the back of his car (why did we turn this down!?!) and opened the basement of the police station in case the downpour became too extreme for our liking. Fortunately the storm mostly skirted past us and we had only a brief period of intense yet manageable rain attack.

The next day we had a surprise visit to Illinois (another state to the trip list!) before crossing “America’s River” and officially entering the fine state of Iowa. If you, like we, had visions of Iowa being a desolate plain of dry cornfields, then you are sorely mistaken! Well, there are a lot of corn fields, but the area we have been biking through is known as the “driftless region,” which means that those behemoth Ice Age glaciers didn’t quite make it down here to do some natural plowing. Good for residents of Iowa, as there are many lush areas and lovely hills, bad for bikers trying to crush miles. Ever since we entered the state it has been up and down up and down over rolling hills, leaving our legs real tuckered out.

Iowa is also home to what we have now termed “The Worst Biking Road in America.” We encountered this road, Dreaded Highway 30, just west of Cedar Rapids. Google Maps had us cruising this thing for 30 miles, which we confidently took to mean that the conditions were dreamy and decided to take a leisurely lunch, nap, ice cream afternoon in Cedar Rapids before hopping on the bikes. After beating our way out of CR we popped on to 30 and soon found that the shoulder on this road was not paved, but instead consisted of a thick layer of gravel. We can abide by gravel roads in rural areas, or biking along busy highways if we are going warp speeds on nicely paved shoulder, but the combination of getting windblown by semis while churning gravel was downright disheartening. Without any backup options we labored at a solid 6-7 mph before jumping ship and taking to the dirt roads.

Despite this serious setback, we did manage to complete our first century ride of the trip the following day! We are quite proud of our ~108 mile trek from rural Iowa to the heart of Des Moines. More to come when we reach Omaha in a couple days and have more time. 

#strongertogether, even when we are divided…

Meredith and Jamie (plus Mike, Ben, and Nina in absentia)

P.S. We saw Bernie in Madison! Even though the primary is over you will all be happy to know that he is still talking about the 1%

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The Debate

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As many of you probably witnessed, a little over a week ago Donald J. Trump squared off with Hillary R. Clinton in a much-anticipated showdown. The debate received record-setting attention, with 80.9 million Americans tuning in, the most in history (though still only around ⅓ of eligible voters in America). Leading up to the debate we were simultaneously excited and anxious. Would Trump flail in national debate that required knowledge, preparation, and restraint? Would Hillary’s more traditional debating style look too stiff in comparison with Trump’s unscripted responses? Would Trump manage to come off as presidential?

As we watched in Russell’s Point, Ohio after a long day of riding we were largely pleased with what we saw. A slowish start by Hillz soon became a thorough trouncing as she demonstrated herself far more thoughtful, knowledgeable, and prepared on matters of race, crime prevention, foreign policy, gender, and more, while also effectively communicating her economic vision and strategy. She also did an excellent job of accepting responsibility for the email gaffe and moving on, not allowing the topic to cloud the real substance of the debate.

Yet while we were impressed and satisfied with Hillary’s performance, a nagging question remained, what do 50% of Americans think of this? What are they hearing that we are not hearing? What rhetoric excites them? For example, while Hillary’s nuanced articulation of the need to bring communities together and address implicit racism in our police force seemed excellent to us, perhaps Trump’s simplification of the matter to “Law and Order, Law and Order” would resonate well with other voters. So we decided to make it a goal of the next few days to ask the undecided voters and Trump supporters of rural Ohio and Michigan for their opinion on the debate in an attempt to understand what they are seeing.

For starters we had to look no further than our Warm Showers hosts for the night. Larry and his wife Mary had kindly taken us, cooking a spectacular meal, offering a delightful shower, and a big screen TV on which to take in all the action. Although Mary went to bed before the debate started we watched with Larry, an undecided voter who worked for a Honda manufacturing plant nearby and had previously served in the military. At the beginning when Trump was talking about manufacturing jobs moving overseas, Larry was clearly moved by this, saying things like “that’s true” and offering that Honda had just opened a plant in Mexico. He was further in agreement when Trump started talking about America spending money to protect other countries like Saudi Arabia without those countries paying their fair share. When pressed on these issues, however, he admitted they were more complicated that Trump was making them seem. He agreed that the different costs of labor in Mexico and the US are hard to overcome, and that an import tax would hurt the middle and lower class consumers. Larry also agreed that the US government and military likely had other interests in places like Saudi Arabia (oil security!) that were being met. While it was satisfying to have these discussions, it made us think how difficult it is to use the debate format to challenge one’s own opinions and actually think through the issues throughly. Just as Larry was responding positively to statements by Trump that aligned with his knowledge and experience, so were we responding to such statements by Hillary.

Halfway through the next biking day we stopped to take a swim in a glorious looking backyard pond of a house that coincidentally had a Trump sign outside (woooops!). After asking the woman for permission to splash around we got into a conversation about politics and asked for her thoughts on the debate. “Funny you should ask,” she said, “I was just trying to find what the news reporters are saying about it. I heard from somewhere that Hillary didn’t do too well.” To be clear, this woman had watched the debate herself, but seemed hesitant to form an opinion independent from that of the news anchors. This interaction raised important questions about the function of a debate. If voters, even those who actually watch, seek primarily to determine who won the debate (not whose policies, opinions, and demeanor they find most agreeable) and their likely source for that information is partisan news channels that simply reinforce a party line, then the debate itself becomes a charade, rather inconsequential for influencing voters’ minds. While this woman does not characterize all of American voters, it interesting to use her anecdote to reflect on our own debate-watching habits. To what extent do we want to witness Hillary “win” instead of hearing her say things with which we agree? How many of us sought ought Fox news post-debate coverage? How influential are news organizations to frame the outcome of a debate?

Perhaps our most fascinating interaction came as we sought shelter in a gas station in the small town of Charlotte, MI during a truly rough downpour (for those keeping track at home the rain did not subside at all during our 30 minute break, so we went back out to get soaked again 😦 #biking in the rain). In the gas station we began talking about our trip with an early 30’s woman, who was a biker herself and pretty pumped about the journey. When we told her that we were campaigning for the presidential election she surprised us all by saying, “I am crossing my fingers it’s for Trump.” She seemed like a very reasonable person so we inquired about her debate-watching experience. “I thought Trump was rather dull,” she responded, which we took to mean “unsharp,” i.e. unprepared and intellectually overmatched by Hillary. However, she went on to elaborate, “I understand that he needs to tone it down for the 20% of undecided voters, but normally he is a far more entertaining and boisterous…it was kind of a boring performance.” Ahhaa, turns out she meant “dull” in the sense of being unentertaining. And Hillary? “If you have been following politics as my husband and I do she didn’t say anything unexpected or out of the ordinary.” In other words, Hillary was conventional and uninteresting.

This final interaction exemplified exactly why we wanted to hear other people’s perspectives on the debate. While we were sitting there in Larry and Mary’s house trying to dissect their arguments and rhetoric, theorizing that “law and order” might appeal more than “implicit racism,” this Michiganian (?) woman was hoping to be surprised and entertained by the candidates, hoping for the debate to be a spectacle. This possibility did not even really cross our minds as we were imagining what the rest of America was thinking.

All these experiences together cause us to question the effectiveness of the debate to serve its ostensible purpose: to be a meaningful discussion of visions for the future of the country. If many viewers around the country are waiting to have news organizations tell them the outcome, only open to ideas they already hold, or (most problematically) only watching to seek entertainment, then the debate becomes a charade without the weight of a genuine national discussion.

The next debate is on Sunday, so we look forward to the debate discussions and reflections to come! Also, if you missed the SNL parody of the debate it is definitely worth checking out…Alec Baldwin has captured Trump in all his glory!

Madisonian State of the Biking Union

 

A big Wisconsin hallo to you all from the capital city, Madison. Madison is pretty ideally sandwiched between two lovely lakes (the technical term is isthmus), which makes for super exciting times. The town is also the most biker-friendly city we have traveled through, with peachy bike routes crossing this way and that up and around the lakes and through The Downtown, as well as yuuuge number of bikers taking to the streets. It’s almost as if they designed the place to be biker-friendly…crazy liberals!

We have a couple longer posts up (see the one on canvassing and on the debate coming soon), so this update will be rather short and sweet. After a restful time in Columbus with the dear Frankie Jeney and Jeney family, we convinced Sir Frank to take to the road with us on our way to Grand Rapids. He conveniently joined for the sunny day, and let us take on heavy rain for the next two days (our bikes almost sank). When we made it to the Grandest of Rapids we all hopped into a warm shower and resolved to be better about doing our sun salutations to bring back the blue skies.

Something must have worked because our two biking days since have been blue skies and smooth sailing. Speaking of sailing, we actually hopped on a ferry across Lake Michigan, which made for a glorious ride to Milwaukee. It was extremely exciting to be traveling on something not powered by our own legs, big salute to the internal combustion engine!

We canvassed in Columbus, Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, and now Madison as well. Hitting the campaign trail hard. On to Iowa manana!

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Stats:

Miles: 520 (including one 99 mile day, which is heartbreakingly close to 100)

Bugs Taken Straight to the Eyeballs: ~2 per hour in Wisconsin

Bon Iver New Album Listens Since Release: ~20 (it is super glorious, check it out!)

Poison Ivy Contractions: 2

Times Yelled at by Ferry Captain for Jumping Over Rails: 1 (another would have resulted in a plank walk)

Max Inches of Rain in 24 Hour Period: still waiting to hear from trip statisticians

 

 

Canvassing Commentary

A big component of our efforts to help the Hillary campaign is connecting, and canvassing, with campaign headquarters in battleground states. This typically consists of registering voters, disseminating information regarding the democratic candidates, as well as poll locations and timing, and committing people to vote for Hillary. These stops serve both as a tangible way to help the Clinton campaign and as a means of engaging with people in neighborhoods we would not otherwise visit. Since last we posted one the ole blogosphere, we spent one day in Grand Rapids, MI and one in Milwaukee, WI, registering voters and informing people that early voting had begun, respectively.

Some of the most valuable aspects of these outings are the responses of the people we engage with. They range from exuberantly kind to aloof to hostile and inclined to call the police (see prior post from Concord, New Hampshire). While roaming the streets of Grand Rapids, registering voters, we began writing down responses in an effort to keep track of some of the overarching thoughts and feelings people have about this election. A few of the most interesting, and telling, responses collected were,

“I’m voting for Jill Stein so that I can feel good about myself when whoever gets elected screws everything up.” This is not the first time we have encountered this sentiment, especially amongst young voters who perhaps do not remember what happened with Ralph Nader in 2000. 

“I’m registered to vote, but I’m not voting in this election. I’m not a woman voter,” shouted a man as he ran off across the street so as not to be admonished for the last statement. Similarly, a woman in Pittsburgh told Jamie and Nina, “I’m worried that Hillary is a woman, so she has emotions.” If only these views were surprising. For more infuriating examples of how Hillary’s gender has impacted her campaign, read Larry Womback’s recent piece in the Huffington Post.

One man, Cesar, originally from Puerto Rico, but now a US citizen, explained that he wanted to vote but did not have information on the candidates because he could not read. This is not an isolated problem considering that 32 million adults in the United States are illiterate. Many will not vote, but those who do will make their decisions based on what they hear, which is often less reliable then textual information. Of course, one does not need to be illiterate to rely almost solely on what they hear from others to make their decision. On three separate occasions, Meredith encountered a recently turned 18 year old walking around Grand Rapids with their mother. When she asked the 18 year old if they wanted to register, their immediate response was “no thank you,” until all three of their mothers pestered them into registering. One young woman said, “but mom, I don’t know anything about the election. Who will I vote for? Well, I guess I’ll just vote for whoever you and dad are voting for.”

As individuals privileged to have grown up in households where education and critical thought is highly valued, it is easy to forget that many don’t have the time, resources, or interest in informing themselves about our upcoming election. What can be done about this you ask? For one, you can vote for the candidate who has been working to reform our education system for decades!

Lastly, a public service announcement to all of our faithful readers: in many states, early voting has begun, so get on out there! As we told our canvassees in Milwaukee, if you vote early then you can volunteer with your local Hillary headquarters on election day to ensure that people are able to go vote. If you have questions about your voting locations, here is a good resource for voters in every state.

Stronger together,

Meredith, Mike, Nina, Ben, and Jamie