This summer I traveled more than 3,200 miles, solo, on my solar bike from Ventura, Calif., to New York City, to raise awareness about solar energy and healthy living.
One of the greatest takeaways from the journey was that solar technology works. The SunPower panel flawlessly charged the electric bike’s battery, giving me an unlimited range. And it provided so much more, a visual hook for curious minds to learn more.
Here are the few fast facts from my solar bike adventure:
- 81 days on the road
- 13 states
- 3,276 miles
- 767,988 cycling revolutions
- 19 sit-down meetings (discussing wellness with businesses & municipalities)
- 2 crashes (no major injuries!)
- 8 flats (all caused by the metal mesh from blown-out tires on highways)
- 2 cable breaks (the joint where the two solar wires are soldered to the battery charging cable)
- 3 slow motion topples (sometime I forgot my feet were snapped into the bike pedals)
I’m encouraged and energized by: Obama's proposed Clean Power Plan, which is aimed at reducing CO2 emissions at power plants by more than 32% by 2030 and New York's Community Shared Renewable Program, providing greater access to solar and wind energy. These are big goals, backed by real plans, to fight climate change and bring more renewable energy online in America.
But how can we, the general public, participate in these plans?
Simple. Change our behavior of how we consume energy. We have the power, today, to reduce our energy use and become more energy efficient, which in turn maximizes the output and impact of renewables. Energy efficiency is the cheapest form of energy.
“May the angels be at your back,” said a sweet old man at a peach stand outside of West Memphis, AR.
It was a Thursday and he invited me to church that Sunday. Sadly, I had to decline the offer since I would already be out of town. So as a parting gift, he sent me angels.
They arrived 30 minutes later.
I saw my break in traffic and started pedaling as fast as I could, with 100% motor support and all the strength in my quads. I was taking over one of the two lanes on the I-55 bridge headed into Memphis. I was like a bullet train trying to make my 25-mph clip keep me ahead of the 55-mph cars that were quickly closing in.
And then BAM. The moment of speed changed. I felt a loss of balance, my trailer started squirreling out of control, and I went crashing into the side railing.
As I rolled into Little Rock, AR I received the best gift - Heifer International headquarters.
Heifer International is an impactful organization known for gifting livestock -- initially a heifer (a young female cow that has not yet born a calf) to now a variety of animals -- to families in need around the world as a means of providing self-sufficiency.
What I didn’t know is that these animals are also gifting fuel.
Manure for Fuel
The cows, goats and chickens not only provide milk and eggs but also manure that households can convert into biogas for fuel.
When I think of Oklahoma, I think of a state dripping in oil. Oil has created incredible economic opportunity but we are also seeing incredible environmental distress from drilling and the disposal of wastewater underground. In 2014, OK had three times as many earthquakes as CA. In fact, one week this June there were 35 quakes at 3.0 or greater. But this wasn’t the seismic shift that rocked my perception of Oklahoma.
Pumps of Oklahoma caused the rumbling. They help move water from the oil and gas, wastewater, to farming industries, but they also provide clean water to 36 developing countries.
For the past seven years they’ve been moving water in developing regions. This was the quake that shook my views. Pumps of OK founders Dick and Terri Greenly co-founded Water4, a non-profit offering manual drilling and water pumping systems that locals can install, operate and maintain.
To date, Water4 has worked in 36 countries, drilled and repaired 3,000 wells, trained 250 drillers and provided nearly 1 million people with access to clean drinking water since ‘08. Now that is one positive seismic shift.
I was impressed when I talked to locals in Oklahoma. They are aware that they have a problem. Obesity. OK is one of the top 10 most obese states in the nation. Not a list you want to make.
I visited Elk City and Oklahoma City and got the scoop on how these two cities are trying to reverse the obesity epidemic through policy and environmental change. The end game is to transform both communities into places that support and promote a healthy lifestyle.
In Elk City I met city hall members and had an in depth conversation with Jordan Parman, Program Director for Healthy Living at Elk City’s Youth and Family Services.
In Oklahoma City, I was eager to meet Mayor Cornett but alas he was out of the office. So I spoke to locals and researched Mayor Cornett’s success strategy.
Here are my top 5 ways to infuse health into a community:
“If you build it, he will come,” quoted Gary Gunner, one of the Route 66 Wind Project landowners.
Gunner couldn’t have referenced a more appropriate movie line. By building out transmission lines in five TX zones, they have come - investors, developers and countless wind projects.
Wind energy is booming in the TX panhandle. And I thought I’d be biking through oil fields. Myth busted.
- TX is the #1 wind state in the country
- TX also leads the nation with 17,000 wind industry jobs
- TX receives more than 10% of its electricity from wind
Route 66 Wind Project
I grew up with a print of Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Summer Days” hanging in our breakfast nook. For breakfast and dinner, I had the perfect angle to admire this piece.
The mule skull, softened by vibrant flowers was O’Keeffe’s way to symbolize cycles of life and death that shape the natural world.
To me it is depiction of what my mom always advocated that women are strong with a horizon of opportunity. She was always telling me to push the limits, to have no inhibitions and to be fearless. As mamacita said with a proud smile, “You hold the beautiful power of a woman.”
This is what “Summer Days” means to me –beautiful, wild power – strong as bones with the delicate softness of femininity.
“Santa Fe is like a high performance vehicle that has yet to be assembled,” said Mayor Gonzales.
He went on to say that Santa Fe’s engine is revving with horsepower – rich in over 400 years of the arts, steeped in culture and set in a landscape that inspires. It’s the sun drenched light and the colorful setting that has spoken to artists including Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, Gustave Baumann, and many others. Santa Fe has more artists than any city its size and is the third largest art market in the US.
The Mayor is right. Santa Fe’s engine is revving, powered by history, arts and culture. But even though it is the oldest capital city in the US with a powerful engine, they are still assembling this great vehicle.
I biked into Albuquerque, scanning for the recently famed picture of a desert, an RV and blue smoke. I didn’t see this Breaking Bad scene, but instead I discovered an oasis in Albuquerque.
I was floored by the greenways maintained in and around the city. From the Biopark adjacent to the downtown concrete buildings to the Northern Valley, where buildings turn to grass, lavender, grapes and other crops.
Biking along the Paseo del Bosque trail, I felt miles away from a bustling metro setting. Cotton was floating in the air; I was engulfed in greenery; and I leisurely snaked alongside the river stumbling about Los Poblanos Organic Farm where I indulged in lavender gelato and played bocce with a peacock. A short 5-mile ride, and I returned to my downtown hotel completely renewed.
In reflecting on my first 1,000 miles, what hit me hardest is that you can go on the most exotic adventure in your own backyard.
You see I’m one of those people that thought you needed to go to a new country to travel. To experience an adventure you need to be out of your comfort zone, handicapped by a foreign: language, transportation system, currency, cuisine, or culture. I didn’t think it would be possible to have such a journey in a country where you know the language, the value of a $1 bill and the way of life.
But my view on travel dove right into the equator and flipped over in the past 25 days. I feel like I’ve traveled to the farthest land and had the richest experience, but in reality, I’ve only traveled 1,000 miles from home.
In this time, I’ve been stripped down. I’ve stumbled across states. I’ve been humbled by the kindness of strangers. And I’ve been completely alive. Wide-awake. Soaking up every moment.
I grew up in a very German household. My dad left the motherland in his mid-20s and my mom after she could ride a bike. Together, they are a dynamite duo that runs a tight ship.
Growing up, I couldn’t just go out and run errands. Before I’d go, we’d optimize my route to save on time and fuel. And I can still hear my dad saying, “Downshift! Don’t hit the breaks, you’ll wear out the pads.” It was engrained in me to be aware of our resources and consciously extend the life of whatever I was using.
So when it came to building my sun bike, it was common sense for me to make it as efficient as possible.
I biked nearly 250 miles through the desert. It was hot. But even more taxing than the triple digit temperature was the long, straight road with no major markers of progress. It was a yellow strip flanked with desert shrubs and eventually a few cacti. Yes, the first 50 miles I found these spikey succulents quite novel and snapped up a number of pictures. But soon my mind needed more. I engaged it by counting out my revolutions. It was almost a military count, keeping my cadence and becoming my beat of progress.
However, it was the ride from Congress, AZ to Prescott, AZ that the scenery changed, and I got my much needed dose of Vitamin G.
Let me take you back in time to 2007. Obama was campaigning for his first term, Steve Jobs announced the iPhone, and I headed to Berlin, Germany as an Arthur F. Burns Fellow. I was working for Reuters, helping bring more international news to American TVs. It took me but a few weeks to learn about Germany’s solar success. They were winning the solar race at this time, and I couldn’t understand why. Germany has fewer sunny days than Seattle, which I consider a pretty rainy area. I was curious and pursued the story.
I had mentally been preparing for this day.
- 103 miles through the Sonoran Desert.
- A climb for the first 10 miles.
- 110 degree+ weather.
- 1 gas station for hydration.
- Riding an Interstate the whole time.
It brought me back to my water polo days. A few days before, I began psyching myself up for the game – a game between me and the Sonoran Desert.
Progress is defined as the gradual betterment. The progressive development of humankind.
When the word progress pops into my head, I think advancing, building, growing. This is exactly what Palm Springs has done since it was named “America’s Desert Oasis” in the 1950s. Hotels, golf courses, lush landscaping, swimming pools all developed in a hot, dry desert.
Development has continued – expansion to Palm Desert, La Quinta, casinos, more spouting fountains and 120 golf course.
But it begs a question, has this been gradual betterment?
“The mayor’s schedule is fully booked, and he will not be able to see you today,” said the San Bernardino Mayor’s Office. “It’s Bankruptcy Tuesday.”
Bankruptcy has been at the top of San Bernardino’s agenda, with the bankruptcy team coming together every Tuesday, since the city filed Chapter 9 Bankruptcy in 2012.
And this is exactly why I wanted to visit San Bernardino. I wanted to learn how a community rebounds from such a blow.
Last week I was invited to SunPower to listen to Dame Ellen McArthur speak. She is one badass woman. Not only was she the fastest sailor (yes! this includes men and women) to circumnavigate the globe in 2005 but she has since started the Ellen McArthur Foundation, which is accelerating the transition to a regenerative, circular economy.
How did a sailor transition into an economic leader? Simple. She is familiar with finite resources. While sailing she had to pack enough water, fuel, food and other provisions to sail the world. Daily she would watch these resources diminish; there was no way to replenish. They were scarce. She then realized, our global economy is no different.
One woman rides a solar charged electric bicycle across america to get well and do well. Marissa Muller Ignites a Wellness Revolution from California to Washington D.C.
Adventurer and sustainability advocate, Marissa Muller, sets off on a cross-country tour, riding a solar charged electric bicycle from Ventura, CA, to Washington D.C. The purpose of the ride is to ignite a wellness revolution across America. Along the 3,000+ mile trek, Muller will meet with businesses and communities to discuss, discover and take action on improving physical, mental, social and environmental well being.
They say we are roughly 60 percent water.
So how do you keep your internal H2O balanced and at the right temp? I’ve discovered a special thermometer that reads my two Hydrogen’s (Health and Happiness) and my Oxygen (Opportunities). When I feel physically and mentally on fire, and I’m a pushing the edge, fearlessly seizing opportunities, I know my H20 is flowing harmoniously through my body.