• lbirkes

Biking The Divide

Updated: Sep 30, 2019

Tales Of Change


I live in a fairly remote place, so it’s not everyday (or ever!) that someone arrives at my house by bike.


That changed in July when my friend Florian Reber reached me after three weeks of biking from Vancouver, British Columbia en route to New Mexico. Yep, Florian is biking the Continental Divide. Off road.


Florian’s adventure alone is noteworthy enough, but the journey has a broader purpose: detailing the impact of climate extremes as he bikes “the Divide.”


Tales Of Change, his adventure with a purpose, began in the fall of 2018 as he biked though the Alps from Trieste on the Adriatic Coast to Cannes along the Mediterranean Sea. Observing ever-diminishing glaciers in the Alps, dried-up riverbeds in the Dolomites and forest fires in Italy, his documentation began.


This summer he turned to the Rocky Mountains, following the Continental Divide, with a slight detour to Paradise Valley. When Florian reached me, he was 1400 miles and three and a half weeks into a 3700 mile 3 month trip. Taking a few days to rest, we spoke of the conversations and observations he’d had along his journey. From interviews with first nation leaders, artists, conservation practitioners and academics, each shed light on the changes they’re observing from increasing environmental extremes.


Equally, he shared his personal insights. One pedal at a time he was witnessing the disruption of nature’s delicate ecosystem balance as he rode through hundreds of acres of trees killed by an infestation of pine beetles. Warmer winters in the past led to the insect’s proliferation, devastating forests but also impacting food supplies to native species.


During his time in Paradise Valley, Florian shed a heartening perspective on the innovative nature-based solutions that are emerging, and their broader importance in building sustainable rural economies.


What really struck me, however, were Florian’s reflections about speed. He noted that biking is “the perfect pace to take-in one’s surroundings.” With hiking it’s slower. With driving it’s faster. To say nothing of flying, which doesn’t allow us to process anything between airport queues in different cities. But the momentum of biking, he believed, is about the speed at which the brain can process its surroundings.


I hadn’t thought about it until he made the point, which now seems obvious. Our lives are so fast-paced that travel has become a means to an end, always heading toward the end destination, rarely taking part in the journey.


How would our perspectives on the world around us be different if travel were paced at a speed in which our brains could process? Winding back the hands of time, to let’s say 60-100 miles a day. This would mean sensing changes in smell, temperature and air quality. Transitions in the flora and fauna. Under the stars, differences in the night sky. Experiencing fire, wind and rain. Our relationship with wildlife too would be different, likely grounded in more respect.


For weeks Florian biked though grizzly bear country, armed only with bear spay and common sense. No doubt it was scary at times, but it made me realize we lose a connection to our landscape when it’s merely a backdrop to which we’re never vulnerable. Over time, that distance has a cost as we lose touch with our environment.


To watch Florian make his way, one revolution of a wheel at a time, up the long gravel road leading to my house, knowing he’d done this for many miles and many weeks, and had many more to go, was a powerful reminder to be deliberately present in one’s landscape.

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