Father and daughter's cross country odyssey to benefit orcas
When you look back over your life, there are likely to be at least a few cornerstone moments, experiences of which the full meaning it may not be realized until many years later.
Olivia Carpenter and her father, John, are living one of those moments right now. The duo left Golden Gardens on Puget Sound in Seattle, Wash., Saturday, June 24, intent on biking 3,400 miles across the countRy to their final destination of Green Harbor, south of Boston. Their plan is to arrive in Boston in time to celebrate Olivia's 15th birthday on Aug. 25.
A few things you should about this extraordinary adventure. You can follow Olivia and John's progress as they pedal across America on their website at ridefortheorcas.com. There you will find brief biographies for the riders as well as a daily blog complete with Twitter and Facebook feeds and a GPS application with which you can follow their route live. You will also find a link to their Crowd Wise funding page through which you can donate to the cause inspiring this endeavor.
The News sat down with Olivia and her dad on the 35th day of their trip, a little over halfway, when they pulled into Bass Lake to spend a few well-deserved rest days with Pam Fricke and a collection of relatives at their place on Bass Lake.
A big endeavor is typically inspired by a big idea and fueled by plenty of passion. Olivia and John have both. It all started for Olivia when she encountered her first orca, or killer whale.
"It started six or seven years ago. My grandma took me to a camp on San Juan Island called Whales and Trails. We basically learned about the orcas and other wildlife in the San Juan Islands and we even got a chance to go out and see the whales. Ever since then, I fell in love with the orcas. I'd really like to become a marine biologist and save the whales. Riding across the country is a great way to raise awareness because they are really endangered right now due to pollution, global warming, boat traffic and lack of food source which is Chinook salmon," described Olivia.
John is an experienced bicyclist. He commutes daily to his office in downtown Seattle via bike. He also has a reputation around the supper table for concocting crazy ideas.
"Yeah, they say, 'Oh no, what's next.' I commute daily to downtown Seattle, but that's a very different experience than riding country roads. We had done some touring on the islands with the old tandem, but I was thinking we should really do a bigger tour. So we were sitting in the backyard a year ago on the 4th of July, I'd had a couple beers, and I said, 'You know, I've been thinking we should ride the tandem across the country,'" said John.
Olivia's passion for saving the orcas married with John's idea to pedal a tandem from one coast to the other and the big idea was born.
John knew the old tandem would not do, so he and Olivia worked with folks at their bike store, Counter Balance, to build a tandem made by Co Motions into a customized bike tailored perfectly for them. Co Motions hand makes their bicycles in Eugene, Ore.
"You'll notice the colors. We specifically picked them to be like the ocean. It fades from light blue to dark blue," described Olivia.
That was the easy part.
Being an experienced urban biker, John realized he lacked knowledge to formulate this road tour himself, so he turned to blogs and people who had experience to share. Eventually he and Olivia settled on the Adventure Cycling Association's Northern Tier route.
"So we bought all the maps, then we've also got all the GPS waypoints uploaded into the phone so we get turn by turn directions as we're driving. The phones mount right to the bike. The maps fold up and fit on the top of your case. They have information on the history and flora and fauna of the area you're going through and campsite information," said John.
Their route took them over Stevens Pass, into the Okanogan of Eastern Washington, through the Idaho panhandle, Glacier National Park where they crossed the continental divide, through North Dakota to Minnesota, into Wisconsin, ferry across Lake Michigan, into Canada north of Detroit then north of Lake Erie, back into the U.S. at Niagara Falls and through New York before finally working their way through Massachusetts to Green Harbor.
Two companies provided sponsorships for the ride. Delta Airlines will be flying the pair back home from Boston and Clif Bar provided a large case of performance nutrition bars for the trip.
One of the more important members of the team is Olivia's mom, John's wife Emily, who pilots the team's used RV which acts as a support vehicle carrying food, repair equipment, spare parts, first aid supplies, and provides sleeping quarters each night.
"The RV's been a godsend. We keep parts and tools in there. We had a blowout in the front wheel the first week. We learned a lesson in terms of how much you should inflate a tire when it's hot. Fortunately we were going slow," said John.
An adventure this big with all of its unknowns required the familiar company of some spiritual totems. One of those totems emerged from the discussion to determine what cause would benefit from this momentous adventure.
"I was initially going to do a fundraiser for a good friend of ours who died of leukemia suddenly a year ago. He was a huge bike advocate. He pioneered the bike to school program for kids in Seattle," said John.
"He is with us, because his wife gave us the cow bell that he would always use to take with us on our trip," said Olivia.
Ultimately Olivia and John decided to ride for the orcas.
"It was both of our ideas to raise money for a cause, and so I suggested the orcas. Our bike is named Double Stuff after one of the Orcas. The pods have been given names by an organization called the Whale Museum so that people can adopt whales. I have adopted for the last six to seven years an orca #J38 named Cookie and his mom was named Oreo and Cookie's brother was named Double Stuff. Double Stuff recently passed away most likely due to pollution because he wasn't very old, so we named our bike after him," explained Olivia.
They set an ambitious goal to raise $10,000, which will be donated to the Orca Network. Within days of reaching Bass Lake, the duo learned they had reached their goal. But they wanted folks to understand they can continue to donate and that money raised beyond their goal will be donated either to the orcas or another charity.
"That's one of the things we hope to figure out in the next few days. It's just (been) physically and mentally exhausting," said John.
As for the tour itself, it has been every bit the physical challenge they expected.
"Harder than I expected. I was talking to mom this morning. They had mentioned to me that it was going to be super hard, but I think that I subconsciously dismissed it and didn't recognize it because I wanted to do the trip for the accomplishment. For me it's also been more of a mental challenge accepting that this is what we're doing for the whole summer. Like 'here's wheat, here's corn, oh here's some more wheat,'" said Olivia.
"Particularly week four was the worst. Everybody said it's going to be mentally challenging not physically challenging; you'll ride into shape. My legs are constantly sore, but I can ride. It's not really the monotony. Eastern Montana is huge, but it was really pretty. So was North Dakota, it wasn't boring. But it's really demoralizing when it's really hot with a headwind and all we can do is 7 mph," said John.
Some of the things you might have expected Olivia and John to encounter.
Dogs. "We've learned the best thing to do is to stop so we don't excite it more by a chase and also command it to go away and usually that seems to work," said Olivia.
Bugs. "In Montana, we were going through this town called Seko. We heard that it was like mosquito land and it was bad and they would swarm you. People gave us this high tech powerful mosquito repellant. We were totally covered up. I was ready for war. The day we went through, it so happened that the bugs were not there so we lucked out," said Olivia.
Thunderstorms. "That hasn't happened yet. I fully expect that to happen at some point," said John.
Boredom. "Actually, we both have ear buds. I listen to music. I like the TED talks and the 20 minute short things on Audible (.com) are great I listen to. I listened to MPR and Garrison Keillor coming through Minnesota," said John.
"I listened to music for the first three to four weeks and then I realized, even though I had found new music, listening to music for seven hours a day is actually tiring when that's the only thing that you hear. So I've been listening to audio books. I really enjoy that," said Olivia.
Screws. "Going out of Fargo, we rode through a whole pile of screws," recalled Olivia.
"The whole shoulder was black, like a minefield," said John.
"It was solid so we couldn't tell what it was," said Olivia.
How has it been spending so much time with your dad and mom?
"It's fine being with them. Truthfully though I'm getting a little tired of it, because I miss my friends and people my own age. It's hard when I see on social media all my friends are hanging out with each other and I'm all alone," said Olivia. "I'm not getting on a bike for a while after this," said Olivia.
John and Olivia pedal an average of six to seven hours a day.
"There were some days when we had an amazing tail wind and we knocked out 107 miles. And then there were awful days with a huge headwind where it felt like we were pedaling in place," said Olivia.
"The average is 63 (miles) a day. We're actually almost at 68 right now on riding days. Sixty-three factors in only one rest day a week, but we're taking four days here (Bass Lake); we were supposed to only have two days. The fact that the whole family is going to be here, we had an incentive to ride hard to get here," said John.
After a four-day layover to relax, do some swimming and catch up with family at Bass Lake, Olivia and John began the final leg of their adventure in hopes of dipping their wheel in the Atlantic Aug. 25. The final leg promises to be a little more interesting with stops in Detroit to visit Olivia's sister, a stretch over the border in Canada, a tour of Emily's alma mater Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and a stop at Niagara Falls.
"I think this second half is going to be more interesting and motivational. I've never been to the upper Peninsula of Michigan; it's all going to be new territory. From here we go to Osceola then head to Green Bay then to Manitowoc to get on the ferry to Ludington," explained John.
With a little over 1,860 miles in the rear view mirror, the initial energy of the send-off with doughnuts and coffee and friends on bikes is just a memory. What remains is the determination to see the adventure through to the end, Boston, Green Harbor and a dip in the Atlantic Ocean.
Now a "seasoned" trekker, Olivia would offer this advice to others contemplating a similar adventure.
"Do it, because I know that it will be a great experience. But just know how hard it is," said Olivia.
"Follow your dreams. Put it on your bucket list and do it."