It’s been a busy first few days for the WOWFWL team. Three members of the team departed from Union Station in St. Paul amidst a crowd of our closest friends and family. We count ourselves extremely lucky to have such an amazing and supportive group of people cheering us on & we couldn’t have asked for a better send off!
The next riveting 54 hours of Amtrak transport consisted of talks with Jerry, the first opponent to National Monuments we’ve met, but who was still kind enough to gift us with one of his lucky silver dollars; crazy thick smoke that we could both smell and taste inside the train from fires across Montana and Oregon; and two significant delays from freight train mishaps on the tracks ahead of us.
It’s unfortunate that Amtrak doesn’t own their own rails, otherwise they would probably make it around quite a bit easier. Luckily for us, Jimmy John’s was able to deliver some sandwiches (freaky fast!) to the station at one such delay.
All in all we had an awesome experience with Amtrak, but we are really dissappointed about the huge budget cuts to Amtrak’s funding which could mean losses of major cross country routes, especially between smaller rural towns. Often citizens of these towns are the ones who really depend on Amtrak for their commute.
We stepped off the train in the big city (San Francisco), starry eyed and smelling of stale sweat & dreams. Ariana was there to greet us, and finally our little family was complete. We spent about 3 hours assembling bikes, and even with engineers and mathematicians on the job, we still were not 100% confident they were ready to go.
We stopped by the Bike Hut, a non profit bike shop located at Pier 40 on the Bay. The Bike Hut helps at-risk youth by connecting them with biking. There we met the owner, an awesome guy named Michael, who gave us the go ahead, and we were on the move.
September 8th was our first real day as a team on the bikes. We started out with a chaotic and exhilarating ride through downtown San Francisco, the roads of which have a surprising number of bikers and bike lanes. We were just a few among many bold bikers pursuing the busy downtown streets. Cruising on our bikes dressed in our matching jerseys, the four of us felt like such a squad (#squadgoals).
Our ride took us to the national office of the Trust for Public Lands. We spoke with Julia and Carrie and learned more about the TPL, and how it actively works each and every day to protect and add to our national network of public lands. We asked them about how the massive budget cuts to the department of the interior are affecting their work and they told us about the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Created in 1964 as a way to protect our natural landscapes, the fund relies completely on earnings from offshore oil and gas. The American taxpayer doesn’t have to pay a cent, and instead oil and gas companies can play a small part to aid in cleanup & preservation. It helps fund 50,000 parks, including a majority of the parks and public lands we’ll be riding through (we will included a list of the specific parks that are affected by this fund soon). Unfortunately, this fund has been perpetually underfunded. It is earmarked at a 9 billion dollar fund, however throughout its lifetime, congress has only appropriated 45% of the fund to its intended purpose of land preservation. In the current political administration the fund is under threat to be cut entirely. We hope to learn more about this fund in the coming weeks and gain a better understanding of how we can help and encourage others to do the same.
Next, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, which was wrought with oblivious pedestrians, busy taking pictures and wandering into the bike lane. We somehow got safely to the other side, biking along the water in Marin county and making our way to Muir Woods National Monument. Located just north of San Francisco Bay, Muir Woods is one of many areas that is included in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The recreation area protects 82,027 acres, and is not one continuous area but a collection of areas. It is one of the biggest urban parks in the world, and includes Muir Woods National Monument, Alcatraz, and the Presidio of San Francisco (former military fort). It was established in 1972, when President Richard Nixon signed “An Act to Establish the Golden Gate National Recreation Area”. Over the next 30 years, more and more areas of land were incorporated into the park. Today, it receives over 15 million visitors each year. Muir Woods alone receives close to a million visitors each year. It was created in 1908 by Theodore Roosevelt, using 554 acres of land donated by William Kent and named after renowned outdoorsman John Muir. Most notably, the monument protects 240 acres of old growth coastal redwood forest (Sequoia sempervirens). The tallest tree is 258 ft tall and the oldest is at least 1,200 years old. Many plants in the forest thrive in the daily layer of fog that covers this coastal marine area, absorbing the moisture in the air for use in times of drought. We biked to the Tennessee Valley beach to put our back tires in the ocean, symbolizing our journey from coast to coast. Beautiful cliffs surrounded the beach, and it was exhilarating to be next to the ocean. It solidified the feeling that this trip was finally a reality and that we were in this together.
To reach the official starting point of the trip, the team boarded a ferry to take us from San Francisco across the bay to the city of Vallejo.
We hadn’t been off the ferry for more than 10 minutes when most serendipitously we ran across a farmer’s market full of fellow public land enthusiasts. It was an awesome opportunity to talk to the local chapters of the US Forest Service, Californians for Western Wilderness, Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Sierra Club. We went around asking folks about their favorite public lands, what public lands have meant to them, and what specific challenges or threats to public lands that most concerned them. We learned about invasive species plaguing California fisheries (bullfrogs can eat ducks!!!?!) and the crazy popularity of California’s public lands (Desolation wilderness is the most populated wilderness area per acre in America (how ironic!)) and the management challenges that accompany such popularity.
We also got to meet a real life Leslie Knope, Amy Yockus Hartman, a woman who is very committed to her community and its well being. She, along with her partners in the Greenbelt Alliance, are taking on the challenge of developing a countywide park and open space district in Solano County, which out of the 9 Bay Area counties is the only county lacking in such a district. It’s a project that the community has been working on for the past 20 years, but they have finally begun making progress in the past 6 months. Overall, it was the most fitting start for our trip and we left the city of Vallejo inspired by the love and commitment this particular community has to its California public lands. It’s always awesome to meet other kindred land lovers.
In the last couple days we have been biking and drinking water and eating (A LOT!) and biking some more and sweating the most. The suffer is real and we are very tired.
Signing off for now,