Caeli Quinn’s revelation came in China. She was working as an international hiking and cycling guide for Backroads, leading groups of tourists on trips through South America, New Zealand, Europe and Asia.
On a cycling tour in China, Quinn and her charges biked through Beijing’s legendary pollution, past coal-fired power plants and gas stations built with hundreds of pumps in anticipation of a culture ditching two wheels for four.
Quinn calls it her “environmental awakening.”
When she got back to the United States, she settled in Montana just 30 minutes outside Glacier National Park, where climate change was already wreaking havoc.
“The park is famous for its glaciers, which are melting very rapidly. This park in particular is the canary in the coal mine for climate change.”
Quinn felt the need to do something. But what could a cycling guide do to impact a global issue?
She and a friend decided to organize a group ride from New York to Washington D.C. to raise awareness about climate change and raise their voices to Congress. One hundred people left Wall Street on a ferry and rode through New Jersey, into Amish County, through Maryland and into the nation’s capital.
As 100 cyclists rolled into Washington, D.C., Climate Ride was born. Ten years later, the non-profit travel company has 3,000 alumni who’ve raised more than $5 million to support climate change and active transportation advocacy. In 2018, Climate Ride has 12 departures on the calendar, including multi-day rides that cover hundreds of miles through Iceland, Bhutan and Glacier National Park. Guests spend their days in the saddle and their evenings listening to expert speakers on the environment. And as the miles streak by, every participant not only becomes a contributor to climate change charities, they become part of a community of activists and advocates working to help save the planet.
Why does the Climate Ride model work?
Most charitable events in the country support health- and disease-related causes like cancer, AIDS, HIV and MS. The top 30 events in the country raise $1.6 billion per year. But when you look at what Americans give to support the environment, it’s less than 2 percent of all charitable giving. This is a proven model that galvanizes people to take action. The average person says, I want to do Climate Ride, and suddenly they’re reaching out to 300 people, saying, “Hey this matters to me; this is important.”
How much of the money raised goes to charity?
We wanted to figure out a way to keep our fundraising minimums low so we could not scare people. So we set our minimums (starting from $2,800), and part of it covers the hard costs of the ride. The more a person raises, the more that goes to [their organizations of choice] in the end of year grant. On average, about 30 percent is hard cost of the event and 70 percent goes to support non-profit work, including 15-20 percent that goes to Climate Ride, so we can build our programming and introduce new events. At Glacier National Park, we’ve funded putting solar panels at Logan Pass and solar panels at the Apgar Visitor Center, which sees millions of people every year, as well as a shuttle system for bicycles in the park to relieve traffic and congestion.
What about the experience makes it stand out from other trips?
You really are getting that experience of going on one of the best adventures in the world, but it’s also sustainable. It’s meant to be you show up—you’ve done the incredibly hard work of fundraising—and then we want to take care of you and help you to achieve your goal. What’s most important is that people are there together, creating this community of people who are engaged to take positive action on climate change.
How do the rides impact people’s lives?
The idea is if you can ride your bike 200 or 300 miles in a week, you can probably ride the one mile to the grocery store. It’s very transformative for people to have this experience, because they realize how much more they’re capable of and it separates them from the car culture we’ve become so accustomed to.
What’s next for Climate Ride?
What we’re looking at now is the next step of connecting these advocates to make sure they go back to their local communities and have an impact. Our focus is on turning the [climate ride participant] into a impactful person for the rest of their lives and a person who’s connected to climate advocacy. That’s the big one.
How has your understanding of climate change evolved over the last 10 years?
When I started this, climate change was not a politicized issue. 2008 was a time when it seemed like, with cooperation and collaboration, this was something we could address and solve. Then something changed. There was definitely a time when I couldn’t believe how hard it was to be someone who cared about climate science and action. Now, I’ve seen so many people of all sorts of political persuasions and of all sorts of levels of income who now prioritize this issue. I think a change is coming soon. And it needs to happen very quickly.