67-year-old man hits Denver on cross-country bike trip to highlight climate change
March 23, 2010
DENVER (AP) – While Denver residents hibernate from the approaching snowstorm, a 67-year-old Alaska man will continue through the elements on his cross-country bicycle journey to talk about climate change.
Don Ross left Fairbanks, Alaska, on Oct. 9 and arrived on Monday nearly 5,000 miles later in Denver during his “ride for the planet.” The trip isn’t nearly over: Ross travels an average of 40 miles per day and hopes to arrive in Washington, D.C., for Earth Day on April 22.
On the way, he speaks with activists, politicians and schoolchildren about the changes he has seen in Alaska during his 25 years as a bush pilot in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Ross said the Alaska winters are milder but the storms are stronger. The ice caps melt and leave polar bears to swim longer distances, risking drowning.
Ross said the typical winters with weekslong stretches of -40 temperatures don’t exist anymore. Those temperatures are a necessity to kill the bark beetle plaguing western pine trees.
Ross studied fisheries and wildlife at Colorado State University in the 1960s, then joined the Air Force and flew planes during the Vietnam War. He and his wife moved to Alaska after he left the service, and he started flying freight and passengers to the Arctic refuge in 1983.
Until he retired in 2000, Ross took off from Fort Yukon in his Cessna 185 and was one of a few pilots with permission to land in the refuge.
He said he is no “environmental extremist.” He just wants to spread the word, calling climate change a “loaded stick of dynamite with the fuse already lit.”
Ross said the inspiration for his self-funded trip comes from the Peace Pilgrim, a woman named Mildred Norman who walked across the country from 1953 to 1981 to talk about peace. Ross titles himself a “Peace Rider.”
Ross hopes the environmental movement grows like the civil rights movement to bring political attention to climate change issues. He just hopes it doesn’t take as long.
Ross said this trip is the most difficult thing he has done physically. He traveled as many as 60 miles per day on the flatter terrain of Utah and western Colorado. Behind him, Ross pulls a 50- to 60-pound trailer with dehydrated meals, water, a tent and a collapsible wood stove.
Most of the time he camps, even in snowy weather, but sometimes he stays with friends along the way. In the coldest temperatures, Ross kept a gallon of water with him so it didn’t freeze.
Ross entered the lower 48 on New Years Day, traveled south along the coast to San Francisco, then turned east. He pushed along U.S. routes 40 and 50 through the mountains of Colorado.
He used a mountain bike from Fairbanks to Portland, then switched to a road bike to make better time.
Ross said the coast of California was the most difficult terrain, but Rabbit Ear Pass in Colorado was a close second as he pedaled up and down the 7 percent grade.
Ross said he didn’t strictly plot his route before he left. He said the route really chooses him. Ross is looking forward to the flat plains ahead, but more so he looks forward to the people and places he meets along the way.
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