By Doug Hoagland
Loren Friesen (BA ’19) biked across the country with a photographer’s eye and an activist’s heart to raise awareness about climate change in Anabaptist communities. He and 16 other cyclists—including Fresno Pacific University senior Toby Bartlett—rode from Seattle to Washington, D.C., in 59 days last spring and summer.
The beauty of nature unfolded before Friesen in unforgettable images. In Montana, “a dome of blue sky” stretched from horizon to horizon, he says: “It took your breath away.”
In Nebraska, the rising sun shone through the mist to create the colors of the rainbow over bales of hay. “The simplicity and humility of the scene made it all the more breathtaking.” And there were the great waterways—the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Ohio. “It was amazing to cross these gaping rivers on beautifully constructed bridges,” Friesen says.
‘A perfect planet’
The Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions (CSCS) organized the cross-country “Climate Ride.” The center is a collaborative initiative of Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia, Goshen College in Indiana and Mennonite Central Committee, an international Christian relief organization founded by Mennonite and related denominations.
CSCS is leading Anabaptist efforts to respond to the challenges of climate change, and action is urgently needed, Friesen says: “We live on such a perfect planet, and we’re throwing it all away.”
Climate change also is a justice issue to Friesen. “It’s going to have disproportionate effects on people who can’t afford to escape it,” he says. “Western countries are the biggest polluters, and they’re in the best positions to avoid the effects of their actions. That’s not basic justice.” The cyclists had opportunities to talk about these issues at several town hall meetings they held along their route.
But before any of that could happen Friesen and Bartlett faced a fundamental question: Do I want to spend two months riding from coast to coast? Friesen saw the ride as an adventure waiting to happen.
“I like seeing the world and challenging myself,” he says. “On top of that, the ride was organized in the name of creating more space for conversations about climate change in the Mennonite church. That made it even better.” And finally, ride organizers were looking for an intern to visually document the trip. That meshed perfectly with Friesen’s work as a freelance videographer/photographer/graphic artist, and he was chosen for the job.
Bartlett also was initially attracted by the challenge, plus the prospect of camping his way across the country. “That really spoke to me,” he says. The cyclists mostly stayed overnight in campgrounds, their gear carried by a support vehicle. Learning more about climate change on the ride was a bonus for Bartlett, a kinesiology major aiming to become a sports psychologist. “It was a new world for me, and I absorbed it,” he says.
‘Left in the dust’
Having said “yes” to the Climate Ride, Friesen and Bartlett—who are cousins—set about training. Friesen did a 100-mile ride, and he also tried to log 30 to 70 miles every weekend through the winter and spring.
Bartlett also cycled, but his main training was running and lifting weights as an athlete at FPU. He’s a decathlete on the track team. When the Climate Ride left Seattle on May 31, Bartlett found himself trailing the other cyclists. “Oh man, I was in last place the first two weeks. I got absolutely left in the dust,” he says.
But he quickly built up his endurance as well as his tolerance for the bike seat. “You need to train your butt, too,” Bartlett adds with a chuckle. On their way to the nation’s capital, the cyclists pedaled 3,737 miles and crossed 13 states: Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland. They encountered rain, hail, thunder, lightning and lots of sunshine.
Support and pushback
They found extremes among the people they talked to. Anabaptist communities turned out at the town hall meetings and were generally supportive. At one of those meetings in Lincoln, Neb., a city council member spoke about local policies addressing climate change.
“It was a fantastic opportunity for us to listen to local perspectives,” Friesen says. “You realize how complicated the picture is and how we’re trying to tackle the same problem but in different ways and in different contexts.”
But some informal conversations produced pushback. In Washington state, a man advised the cyclists—who had stopped for water—not to tell anyone else about their cause or they might be run out of town, Bartlett says.
In Wyoming, Friesen talked about climate change with a group of skeptical older motorcyclists from South Dakota. “Two of the guys explained how coastal people don’t understand the issues of the Midwest,” he says. “Our nation definitely has significantly different cultures, and that speaks to our political gridlock.” Friesen and the motorcyclists found common ground on the belief that the oil industry is wasteful.
Big changes needed
On the last part of the Climate Ride, some new cyclists joined the group. One was Friesen’s father, Ken Martens Friesen (BA’ 84), Ph.D., professor of history and international studies at FPU. He rode from near Cumberland, Md. to Washington, D.C. (He also cycled the first day out of Seattle.)
The experience “reminded me of the immensity of our country and the challenge to fundamentally reorient our lives to enable these young people to live in a world where they don’t have to worry about increasing temperatures and even more drought,” Martens Friesen says.
After arriving in Washington, D.C. on July 28, Loren Friesen and Bartlett met with aides to U.S. senators to talk about the ride and climate change. Friesen believes public policy—the domain of the U.S. Congress—is needed in areas like public transportation and emission standards to effectively address climate change. “It’s true that every individual can do something—that’s part of the journey. But we need to go forward with big systemic changes, as well,” he says.
One final small but interesting fact: Bartlett had 13 flat tires on the Climate Ride. Friesen had none—he rode on tubeless tires. “I missed an opportunity to become an expert on tire repair,” he says. “But I had far less headaches than my cousin!”
Photo of Toby Bartlett by Loren Friesen taken for the Center of Sustainable Climate Solutions. See additional photos of the ride at https://instagram.com/cscs_climate?utm_medium=copy_link