In 2016 Mindy Ahler decided to raise awareness of climate change by riding her bike across the country.
She readied her bike, a 30-year-old Trek that her mom had given her. She would start in Seaside, Ore., and ride almost 4,000 miles to Washington, D.C.
She and her partner, Paul Thompson, work as co-directors of Cool Planet, an Edina nonprofit that engages students and community members in sustainability projects such as composting in schools, installing solar panels where possible and using kilowatt meters at home to measure energy consumption. Ahler and Thompson also work as regional coordinators of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a nonprofit and nonpartisan advocacy organization addressing climate change. Through the Minneapolis chapter and a mutual friend, they met CCL member Jerry Yanz, who in 2014 proposed biking trips as low carbon ways to see the country. Ahler and Thompson took on the idea as a Cool Planet project, and with Yanz named it LowCarbon Crossings. They’ve organized rides of varying length, corralling numerous riders.
Last August marked LowCarbon Crossings’ first cross-country expedition. After being unable to find riding partners, Ahler looked over her handlebars at an 11-week solo ride between August and November.
Before then, in June, Ahler and Thompson made a presentation in Decorah, Iowa. Ryan Hall wanted to see them but had to cover a shift at a local co-op. By chance, Ahler and Thompson stopped at that co-op afterward. About to leave his job with Green Iowa AmeriCorps, Hall offered to join Ahler on the ride.
So together, they were off.
They met their toughest bout of weather less than 500 miles into the trip. On Rogers Pass in Montana, windblown rain turned into snow and sleet. Ahler and Hall covered their feet in plastic bags and used socks as extra mittens.
“It’s kind of amazing that we had our worst weather day so soon,” Ahler says. The rest of the trip was “this crazy-warm fall all across the Midwest, in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania,” she says. “We thought, yes, this is a beautiful day, but this is strange, and it shouldn’t be like this.”
Ahler and Hall stopped at breweries, restaurants, churches and parks to discuss conservation. Hall recalls stopping in eastern Montana. “We spoke with this man who had worked at a coal-fired power plant for 30 years,” Hall says. The economy of eastern Montana runs on agriculture and fossil fuels, although the man claimed they wouldn’t need the power plants if urban folks remembered to shut their lights off. “Coal is phasing its way out,” Hall says. “Americans are ready to have these difficult dialogues about climate change and energy.”
“The most valuable part,” Ahler adds, “was people sharing what they were working on, so others could learn about programs in the community that they weren’t aware of.”
Whether at a co-op or in Simms, Montana, during a sleet storm, Ahler found people willing to lend a hand.
“There were no campgrounds, but someone told us that Dave, this superintendent of the schools, likes bikers.” Out of the sleet, out of Rogers Pass, Ahler and Hall shared Dave’s home for a night.
Check out Cool Planet programming at the website here, or call 952.920.1547.