Welcome to carbonstories.org. On this site you can learn about Michael Johnson-Chase and follow my blogs. With some exceptions, this site follows "theme based" cycling tours focusing on social and climate related issues. Slowed down observations of the world over days, weeks and months at 10 to 15 miles an hour can reveal a depth and quality of understanding about our environment often missed by faster modes of travel.

THE MIDWEST: GRID Alternatives

THE MIDWEST: GRID Alternatives

To see the final blog about the GRID Alternatives Trans American Cycling Tour, 2016, please go here

To donate to GRID Alternatives through Climate Ride, please go here.

This travelogue blog begins in Denver and ends in Pittsburgh. 

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Introduction

Welcome to my travelogue for the GRID Alternatives Trans American Cycling Tour, 2016. If you read some of my prior blogs you will see I am more interested in reflective writing on environmental issues than I am in writing a travelogue. However, the nature of the trip I am on (and have been on since April 8, 2016) makes me think this kind of writing has value. And because of the challenges and stresses a trip like this entails, I don't know that I will be able to write anything thoughtfully reflective until the trip is over. 

For those of you tracking this tour day by day, please log onto my Facebook and Instagram accounts. There are links for both (and my Twitter account) at the bottom of this blog if you keep scrolling down. But if you don't participate in social media you can check in here from time to time. But please be forewarned - I find it very difficult to find wifi reliable enough to keep my blog fresh - in fact, I am often as much as two weeks behind. That said, I will get to it when I can, so please keep coming back! I promise you I will add to it eventually, so your patience will pay off.

On this trip I will travel more than 5000 miles on a bicycle over a number of months and visit a total of 11 regional GRID Alternatives offices - 8 in California (San Diego, Inland Empire, Greater LA, Central Valley, Central Coast, Bay Area, Bay Area North Coast and North Valley) - and then 3 more GRID offices in Denver, New York City and Washington, DC. The route will zigzag northward through California, then east across the Rocky Mountains through Nevada and Utah to Denver, and across the great midwest and the Appalachian mountains back to my home in NYC. The final leg of the tour from GRID's New York office to GRID's Washington DC office will take place from September 17 - 21 as part of the signature “Climate Ride NYC to Washington DC tour". At each office I will meet with GRID staff and participate in volunteer installations wherever possible. I also intend to do some additional cycling to see family and friends, and celebrate the National Park Service’s Centennial.

A great way that you can help put some wind behind my back is to support fundraising for my Independent Cycling Challenge at Climate Ride. Funds raised from this Climate Ride Independent Challenge will support GRID Alternatives. Please know that I am not raising money for myself - the trip is entirely self funded. So 100% of your $ goes to a tax deducible organization. And several excellent ones at that - Climate Ride takes a small portion for providing the fund raising website, and the rest goes directly to GRID. GRID's teams of volunteers come together to install solar systems for low income homeowners at no cost to homeowners. In addition, GRID’s hands-on training has evolved into one of the best solar training programs in the country. Your generous donation will help GRID Alternatives improve the bottom line for homeowners, decrease carbon emissions, and offer workforce training in the solar field - from marketing and sales to system installation - for individual homes, businesses, community solar and affordable housing. This is how to put people to work; solar has been the fastest growing industry in the country for the last four years!

You can make a secure online donation today by clicking on the 'Support Me' button on this webpage. You'll automatically receive an acknowledgment and I will be notified by email of your support. Thank you for your help!

A map of Grid Alternatives regional offices and a map of my route "in development" can be found here.

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This blog picks up on June 29, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. Yes, its true that Denver is a western city, but in many ways it is also a gateway to the great American midwest. For that reason I am splitting this blog into 2 parts - arriving in Denver belongs to the western section; and being in and leaving Denver belongs to the midwestern section. 

June 29 - After several days of errands, working on my bike and catching up my blog, I rode into the GRID, Colorado office. What a great day I had. The ride to the office was lovely - 12 miles along Denver's famed South Platte River Trail. I met Allison Moe early in the day at the main office so she could drive me to the GRID warehouse. Along the way she explained that since marijuana had been legalized warehouse real estate had become much more expensive, which is why GRID Colorado had to find usable warehouse space so far away from its main office. Allison also told me about other "unintended consequences" of legalization, (which I had already heard before but not really believed). Legalization was driving population growth and a residential real estate boom, as well as problems with overcrowding in public schools. I spent the morning in a workshop with about 30 young people from "Bike and Build" (CUS16 unit) who were getting an orientation because they were going to volunteer on a GRID related "Habitat" build in Boulder several days later. I really enjoyed getting to know some of the "Bike and Build" crew - they are smart and committed group, and made me think that the organization has a lot going for it. In fact, it was by talking to one of the leaders about their route through Kansas that I decided to cross Kansas on Highway 36. 

A workshop in conduit bending for the "Bike and Build" crew at GRID, Colorado.

Gathering with "Bike and Build" outside the GRID, Colorado warehouse. 

After a quick lunch I had the pleasure of attending a workshop led by Erika Symmonds (Director of Workforce at GRID HQ), who had serendipitously flown into Denver from Washington DC that specific day to talk to staff about national efforts to improve GRID's workforce training processes. Erika and I used to work together at Green City Force, so it was great to be reunited in this context.

On June 30, I left Denver to begin my trip across the midwest toward New York City.

Rick Long and his daughter Sarah giving me a proper goodbye in Denver. Yes, it was day 81 of my trip! 

I had not fully grasped that Highway 36 was as isolated and sparse in services as it is... it isn't as remote as Nevada, but still, I was forced to bike 100 miles between restaurants or motels. I didn't mind this in eastern Colorado as the climate was still dry, but as I progressed into Kansas and the climate became more humid, not having access to fresh water and a shower increasingly became a challenge.  

July 1 - Spent a wet night in Joes, Colorado out in the eastern plains. 

Thank God for this shelter. It rained heavily all evening. 

July 2 - Facebook entry: "Dorothy, I'm in Kansas again! In Atwood, Kansas, where the skies are threatening, the humidity is high and the corn is looking good. Comparatively I feel like I biked into a big sauna. And OMG it's flat! But I'm good - had a great time in Denver, did some great things at GRID, Colorado, and loved all the new bike paths along the many creeks and rivers in Denver." 

July 3 - Facebook entry: "Yesterday I mentioned how flat Kansas is. Well, surprise, after leaving Atwood this morning I encountered 80 miles of rolling hills - fun to go down and work to go up. But I had a productive day regardless. It's more Midwestern around me now - trees, blues, yellows and grays. And buggy. And humid. Blackbirds. Owls. Spiders. Big black beetles. And lots and lots of raccoon road kill. If climate change means more precipitation in the Midwest, Kansas is complying. Remember the saying about corn? Knee high by the 4th of July? Well, I'm looking at corn that is chest high. Incredible! Never saw that as a kid..."

July 4 

On a 96 mile day I wandered around Pittsburg, Kansas looking for a good deal for the night and found this city park with showers and bathrooms for $10. Only problem was being subjected to fireworks until midnight. At one point I thought sparks were raining down on my tent, but I did make it through the night unscathed.  

July 5  - Facebook entry: "Turns out north central Kansas isn't flat - it's rolling hills; at least for 80 east of Mankato. And it's hot and humid - mercury hit 99 degrees yesterday. I'm worried by the intensity of the heat - is it a harbinger of a harsher future? Let me also add that I'm enjoying this ride. There's blackbirds, raccoons, butterflies and lots of friendly people. Should get close to Kansas City today, where I will be visiting my cousins Phil and Eden. Then a quick 4 day flight back to NYC. When I return it's on to Galesburg, IL, where I will visit my Mom. So great to see family along this trip!"

July 6 - Facebook entry: "In Hiawatha, KS, after a moderate day. Been wondering why the heat in Kansas is affecting me more deeply than the heat in Utah did. So I went on the Climate Central website, where there is information about humidity increase with warming trends. Given that we've had 14 consecutive months of record breaking temps it's no surprise that humidity is an increasing problem. Combine that with the "dog days of summer" and the challenge is understandable. Check this out from Climate Central: "During hot summer days, additional moisture in the air stresses the body by making it harder to cool itself through perspiration. This effect is not just irritating and uncomfortable, it can also raise the risk of heatstroke and heat exhaustion and in some cases, death. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 7,800 people died from heat-related illnesses from 1999-2009. More moisture in the air also keeps the nights warmer, as humid air does not cool as easily as dry air. The warmer and more sultry nights mean that the body has less time to recover after a hot and steamy day in the sun, which further increases the risk of heat-related illnesses. As both temperature and dew-point rise with climate change, the number of days in which they combine to raise the risk for heat-related illness is also expected to climb. The number of danger days — days when the heat index (the combination of heat and humidity) is at least 105°F — will likely increase substantially in much of the country."

July 7 - Facebook entry: "Thought I'd broken my derailleur today but was able to fix the problem. Whew! Started the day in a thunderstorm, ended it close to 100 degrees. And north Kansas isn't flat. Bikers beware! At my cousin Phil's in Leavenworth now - haven't seen him in 35 years and meeting his wife Eden for the first time. Loving the opportunity"! I spent July 8 in Lansing, KS with my delightful cousins Phil and Eden, and flew to NYC on July 9, leaving my bike at my cousin Phil's place in Lansing, KS for a few days. While in New York, securing provisions, dealing with some medical needs and troubleshooting a plumbing crisis in my apartment. It took two days to return because of airport issues, but finally on July 15 I left Kansas City once again to continue my journey. 

Crossing the Missouri River. Some say this river carries more water and is longer than the Mississippi. 

July 15 - My Facebook post at the end of the day: "After a 6 day hiatus with an unexpected delay, I'm back on the bike, heading toward GRID, New York. In Missouri now, lots of woods, rivers, hills. Nice place, even north of the Ozark's, which are magnificent... Next destination: Galesburg, IL, where I grew up and where my Mom lives... I saw some signs opposing a Wind Farm development today - took me by surprise - want to research what that's about. Seems counter productive to me, of course..." 

I was surprised to see these. 

And then I saw this. You can learn more about this issue here

July 16 - My Facebook post: "In Brookfield, MO. It's HOT today. I didn't notice it so much on the bike, but walked a few blocks to get food and could feel the dog days of summer, made more intense by yet another record breaking month for heat (16 in a row now?). Yet, after some good Mexican food and a few beers to kill a serious thirst, I feel content". For the record, I had a very nice motel, clean and well maintained. And I paid $42. I have done better on two other occasions - $35 in the valley in California and $31 in Macomb, Illinois. None of these places were dives, they were all pleasant and well maintained. So, there are good deals out there if one is willing to look...

A coal train moving through Missouri. 

July 17 - Facebook: "Big ride today. I suppose I could have ridden for 3.5 more miles to get my century in but that seemed pointless. I was beat. Once I got off highway 36 and on MO bike route 161 I felt like I was in the Midwest I know and love; hills, lakes, even some great blue herons". 

July 18 - This was a big one, 94 miles after a 96 mile day before. The heat was challenging and I thought I would end the day at Carthage, but I found a very inexpensive motel in Macomb and after some good food, decided to go for it. Later in the day the humidity lifted and the ride became pleasant in the later hours. 

July 19 - Made it Galesburg! On the 20th I posted in Facebook: "Made it to my hometown Galesburg, IL, where I am taking a rest day and visiting my Mom. She's doing great, and I'm taking a short break from record heat indexes. Folks, this is only the beginning stages of what a warming planet is like. Let's make the life saving switch to renewable energy"! You can support the Climate Ride “GRID Alternatives Trans-American Cycling Tour”, 2016 by going to my Climate Ride Fundraising Page 

My mom in the living room of her apartment at the Kensington, an assisted living facility in Galesburg. 

July 22 - Last February my Mom fell and broke her hip. It was a pleasure to spend several days with her, and I am so proud of how well she has recovered. It seems a certainty that she will be walking without a walker or a cane soon. We had a lot of fun doing errands, reminiscing and complaining about the RNC (easy target this election season especially). But all good things must come to an end. After several days I left Galesburg early in the morning for the home stretch to New York City. The city is 1100 miles away so I am sure adventures await. I was forced to travel in incredible heat, but made very good time anyway, probably because I got on the road at 6 am and had no mechanical problems. In fact, I rode for 100.53 miles to Sterling, passing through some towns I recognized - Wataga, Victoria, La Fayette and one I didn't - Wyoming. 

Spoon River, muse for the famous "Spoon River Anthology". 

July 23 - I have two FB entries for the day. The first references this interesting article on Inside Climate News: "Biking through this heat makes it very real for me - and I can tell you, unrelenting high humidity and temperatures makes daily life much harder. And why is this not being talked about on the national political stage? It's time to acknowledge climate change for the grave threat it is... In fact, I just read that the Democratic Party needs a cause. Are you kidding me? It's addressing Climate Change, which, by default, is also about income disparity, social justice, public health, and infrastructure... Come on, Democratic Party, this is obvious!"

My second entry for the day was this: "I bought a pair of Schwalbe Marathon tires when I started my cycling tour. Those tires held up without the slightest issue for well over 4000 miles. But, beginning in Palmyra, MO and again this morning in Streator, IL I have woken up to slow leaks on my rear tire. I fixed the first rather deftly (if I say so myself) but the second took me much of this morning to repair, since I discovered the leak about 20 miles into the day. I was on rural roads - miles from help and no traffic. But after some emergency pumping I got the bike to a General Store (these are like 7/11's in the Midwest..) and was able to unpack the bike and replace the inner tube. And a friendly biker even handed me a spare tube since I was using up my only spare... Hope it holds - my back tire is now showing 4500 miles of wear and needs to be replaced... Wish me luck until I find a bike shop - not too many around the rural plains..."

In eastern Illinois I passed a handful of wind farms in corn fields. They can be quite majestic.  

July 24 - I didn't find a bike shop, and the next day I was plagued again by another slow leak in rural Indiana. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to stop at the house of a truck driver/farmer who had an air compressor pump. Later I learned his name was Mike and his wife, Andrea. I didn't get their last names but they were incredibly kind and helpful, adding to my "bike karma" debt. Together we managed to get my tire patched enough to make it 20 miles north (and back west!) to Valparaiso, where I spent the night so I could get to Buck's bicycle shop for new tubes and tires the next day. It worked, and an astute mechanic was even able to discover several small slivers of glass in my rear tire that were the cause of the problem (mixed with increased tire pressure as the days grew hotter). I was amazed because I had spent a lot of time looking - unsuccessfully - for the cause of the leaks.. 

July 25 - Stopped in Nappanee, Indiana, an Amish town in north central Indiana. I had some company for dinner that evening - an interesting woman named Scarlet Whitehead - who was interested in hearing about my cross county tour. Scarlet is quite funny and down to earth, and as a family member that owns a construction company in Columbia City, Indiana, makes her living rebuilding restaurants. Practical and clever folks, those Hoosiers! And, although we didn't talk politics, I got the impression she agrees with me about the urgency of climate change... which was comforting because Indiana seems to be home to a significant number of people who don't seem to believe what climate scientists are telling us. 

July 26 - My FB entry for the day: "Good day, made it to western Ohio... after yesterday's stop at Buck's Bike Shop in Valparaiso, IN, I have new tires and tubes all around. What a relief. And to top it off, the heat and humidity has lifted-- I never thought I'd consider 86 degrees reasonable but that's my new normal..."

July 27 - From FB: "I continue to make progress through Ohio. Took many beautiful side roads and glad I didn't have many hills to climb... "

Can this be called the opposite of a "barn-raising"? 

July 28 - From FB: "Got to Wooster, OH and my Warm Showers host took me to a local brewery. Can't tell you how good beer tastes after 85 miles... Today I starting climbing hills on my approach to Pittsburg (where I will be hosted by my friend Kittie Verdolini). Tonight I'm in a campground near the PA border..." 

July 29 -  From FB: "Today I starting climbing hills on my approach to Pittsburg (where I will be hosted by my friend Kittie Verdolini). Tonight I'm in a campground near the PA border..." 

July 30 - From FB: "Not long in the bike today since I had a mechanical issue about 8 miles into the ride... Rain, a hill and some traffic seemed to rattle me enough for me to shift poorly and jam my derailleur significantly - so much so that the cable snapped, and the derailleur and the frame bent. But some crises are quickly solved - my friend Kittie drove 78 miles from Pittsburgh to get me, and dropped me off at an REI in downtown where my damaged bike was quickly repaired... Hats off to Kittie and an extraordinary mechanic who saved the day and my bike!"

A ruined derailleur and a bent frame. 

July 31 - I spent the day sleeping in, catching up on this blog, organizing gear, hanging out with my friend Kittie and her husband Tom and reading about the Allegheny Passage Bike Trail, which combined with the C&O Trail, goes from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC.  What a great day of rest! Tomorrow I begin the third chapter in my cross country journey, the Eastern US. Look for the story in my next blog - THE EAST.   

THE EAST: GRID Alternatives

THE EAST: GRID Alternatives

WEST: GRID Alternatives

WEST: GRID Alternatives