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Climate Ride Midwest: Dispatches from the Route

We are halfway through route research for Climate Ride Midwest and I’m pretty excited about how this ride is coming together. This is only my second time on the road with Climate Ride’s team and as always I’m impressed with both their vision and attention to detail. As a board member, my role is typically more on the communications and fundraising side. It’s great to get a glimpse into how the details of a Climate Ride come together and see their talented team in action behind-the-scenes. 

Route research trips—or ‘presearch’ as the Climate Ride crew calls them—are why Climate Ride gets such high marks for their events. The team works hard to tailor each event for seasoned cyclists and first time riders alike, meticulously focusing on all possible details. Every turn and hazard is marked, each path or roadway is ridden by bike and by car, then marked again for clarity. Water stops, lunch locations and overnight camps are pored over with the proverbial fine-tooth comb to ensure each mile lives up to Climate Ride standards. 

Climate Ride Midwest, Lake Michigan

The Good

Days one and two of Climate Ride Midwest showcase some of the 1,300 miles of trails and bike paths that crisscross the State of Michigan. Since leaving Grand Rapids a few days ago, many of our cycling miles have been on these paths. Traveling these trails by bike is a pretty stunning way to get the true Pure Michigan experience. For more photos from the route, visit our album we’re updating daily.

Climate Ride Midwest, Kal-Haven Trail

Many of these Michigan trails exist because of the tireless work of Climate Ride beneficiaries like Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, League of Michigan Bicyclists, and the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition (among others). These organizations work with lawmakers and local advocates to support the creation and preservation of safe cycling routes and public trails for recreational use.

Our route also traverses serene forest preserves, protected marshlands, rivers and creeks, sand dunes and beaches. Organizations like West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC), Alliance for the Great Lakes, and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) plus countless others help keep our local natural resources protected and available for public use such as biking and hiking. Climate Ride and its riders will reap the benefits of their hard work in September.

The Bad

The route also includes some important reminders of why we ride. On day two of Climate Ride Midwest, cyclists will cross the Kalamazoo River, where in 2010 the largest and costliest inland tar sands spill in U.S. history occurred near the city of Marshall. Over one million gallons of tar sands oil spilled from a broken Enbridge pipeline. Cleanup costs have pushed the $1 billion mark and four years later the river is still being cleaned up. The picturesque beauty where we cross the Kalamazoo River in Saugatuck belies the toxic sludge that’s still poisoning water and wildlife upstream.

Climate Ride Midwest, Grand Haven Coal Plant

Riders will also pass three different coal-powered electrical plants on day one and pedal just north of a nuclear power plant listed as one of the nation’s poorest performing in terms of safety violations, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The waterfront Palisades Nuclear Power Plant has experienced seven leaks since 2012, one of which leached 80 gallons of radioactive water into Lake Michigan. Say what you will about nuclear power, in an area so dependent on tourism and the waters of Lake Michigan, a major spill would be catastrophic on many levels. 

But this is why we ride. Climate Ride exists to support the work of its beneficiaries who fight the good fight for environmental stewardship. These spots remind us why our work, the miles we pedal, and the funds we raise are so important.

The Beautiful

All this said, the first two days of riding are truly stunning and it has been great to give the route a test run. In addition to the aforementioned wild spaces, there are also incredible views of Lake Michigan, sweeping dunes, lighthouses, piers, and many inland lakes, streams and ponds.

Climate Ride Midwest, Grand Haven Pier

The route is also full of great things like breweries, coffee shops, blueberry farms, wineries, local farmers markets, and all the things that give Pure Michigan its namesake.

Climate Ride Midwest, Farmers Market