Malkolm is cycling on! He is now cycling from Alaska to Washington DC, and then continuing on to the UN Climate Change conference in Cancun in December.
It all started with Bird Year, Malkolm and his parents' year-long, fossil-fuel-free journey in search of birds. Cycling a total of 13,133 miles (21,144 km), they identified 548 different bird species and raised more than $25,000 for bird conservation. Bird Year turned them into confirmed cyclists and taught them that climate change was more serious than they had thought.
In 2009, Malkolm biked from Whitehorse to Ottawa as a part of Pedal for the Planet: the project called for the Canadian Government to become a leader in the struggle to come to grips with climate change. The Harper Government did not even meet with the young cyclists.
Malkolm is now 18 and just finished high school. On August 24, he dipped his foot in the Pacific Ocean in Skagway, Alaska. Then headed up and over the White Pass to the Alaska Highway on his journey to Washington and on to Cancun.

Monday, April 28, 2008

And the Winner Is....(Wendy)

We are on a biking/birding trip, but this blog is about bathrooms.

I feel qualified - now that we have spent 10 months crisscrossing the continent, and stayed in hundreds of campgrounds - to elect North America’s best campground bathroom.

We have encountered a variety of restrooms. Some are unclean and uncared-for, and you are scared to touch the surfaces. One bathroom in southern Florida would have delighted a zoologist. It had mosquitoes crawling the walls, cockroaches scuttling over the floor, spiders hanging from the showerhead and a cute little green tree frog on the toilet. Many campground managers maintain sparkling clean facilities: if I dropped a cookie on the floor of one of these I could safely pick it up and eat it. Most bathrooms are unsupplied. Half the time there is no hand soap.

Everyone knows that long distance travellers crave a home cooked meal. I think there is comfort too in a homey bathroom, and that is why I am choosing High Island RV Park’s as the winner.

This bathroom is decorated with a personal touch. I admired the leopard spotted shower curtains. (“Dollar store”, whispered Marie.) The floor is covered with botanical design mats. Marie changes the mats every day.

The shelf above the sink is lined with tiny bottles of lotion, shampoo, conditioner, also shower cap, shoe shining cloth. They are the kind you bring home from a hotel – and these ones are quality. There is a bouquet on the toilet, and a bird ornament over the sink.

A notice on the paper towel dispenser says “You are welcome to use the soap and shampoo. “

There is a drawback, of course. Everyone wants to use the classy bathroom, even if they have one of their own in their RV. There can be a line-up.

Come to think of it, this blog may worsen that problem......

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Golden Plovers (Ken)

I pulled my wool hat low over my ears and zipped up my windbreaker. The icy north wind shredded the fog and we could finally make out the bird’s dim silhouette on the ridge. It bobbed up and down like a marionette-bird and called, “too-lip, too-lip.” As the mist lifted, I saw a dozen caribou including several butter-colored calves feeding in a draw behind the American Golden Plover . . .

Okay. I know you’ve already figured out that this scene didn’t happen as we cycled across Louisiana. If I put on a wool hat in the steamy April warmth of the Gulf Coast I’d melt like a blob of butter. We did see three American Golden Plovers though, in a muddy field sandwiched between emerald-green rice fields brimming with yellowlegs, dowitchers and other assorted shorebirds. We saw these birds on a day when we had to cycle 83 miles, mostly against a headwind. A tough day, but nothing compared to what plovers do on a regular basis.

I can’t help but associate American Golden Plovers with the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Up north is where they are born. It is where they set out from on the first leg of their incredible migration when they are just a couple of months old. They fly eastward to the Atlantic coast, then launch into the void for a non-stop flight across the ocean to South America.

Our own “migration” across the continent in search of birds has given us a little insight into the difficulties faced by migrants. The biggest problem has to be shrinking habitat in wintering grounds, nesting habitat . . . and everywhere along migratory pathways. That is now compounded by climate change. It is no wonder that so many people have lamented that they aren’t seeing as many birds as they used to.

Since it was just Earth Day, I raise my coffee cup in a toast to all of the people we’ve met (and those we haven’t) who are doing great things to heal the earth so that wild creatures can survive into the future.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Migration (Malkolm)

I can sympathise with migrating songbirds on a new level now.

8 PM, April 17th I stepped into my nice, cozy tent. Around this time millions of birds took flight from the Yucatan Peninsula.

6 AM, April 18th I woke up, contemplating a long day of cycling. Those birds had flown all night, now they were contemplating a long day of flying.

7:05 AM, We cycled off, 82 miles of road ahead of us. That’s a long ways. Those birds still had hundreds of miles to go.

Mid Moring, It started to rain. We had a headwind. Luckily for those birds, the rain hugged the coast- so that last difficulty wasn’t a factor- yet.

3:30 PM, The road parelled the sea. We were getting tired. Suddenly I spotted a tiny songbird fluttering across the road. But as we cycled on I noticed more and more. Indigo Buntings, Orchard Orioles, unidentified flashes of yellow...

4:30 PM, We arrived, exhausted at Peveto Woods Sanctuary. We were hungry. Ken and Wendy had a beer. But I was more hungry for birding than for food. I snuck through the woods. Exhausted birds were everywhere, a Blackburnian Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Scarlet Tanagers... they feasted on bugs, and I soaked in the incredible scene.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Good Bird Jokes (Wendy)

Today we are pedalling south of Baton Rouge. Our bellies are full of grilled redfish and fried catfish, thanks to Grill Master Craig Houston and his talented family. This blog is about something that happened a month ago, but the jokes are timeless.

March 21 was a big time for us. We were three-quarters of the way through Bird Year, and had just passed the ten thousand mile mark. We visited the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Gainesville. At our presentation there, we enjoyed the most entertaining introduction ever.

A hundred people sit on stackable chairs in the high-ceilinged Sanctuary. A woman with a long blonde braid walks to the front. She wears a blue peasant skirt, white blouse, blue print over-blouse, and a name tag: LoraKim Joyner. She is a co-minister. She picks up the microphone.

“I understand”, LoraKim starts, with a mischievous look, “that Malkolm, Ken and Wendy have not been alone in understanding the need for habitat protection and reducing the use of fossil fuels. They’ve found some special birds along the way in your Bird Year.”

First-time visitors to UUF look puzzled. Church members smile. They know that LoraKim Joyner loves birds – and bird puns. They know what is coming.

“Like the birds who were so sad about climate change and losing their habitat,” she continues. She peers out into the crowd.

A church member calls out, “Mourning Dove?”

“Sure”, says LoraKim, “and Blue Bird. Then in Texas you worked with a clergy bird who spoke out against pollution. Who was that?”

No one knows.

“The Cardinal!” LoraKim cries. “Alas, there have been some detractors – those birds that want to build and expand human structures for economic gain - the Crane, the Shoveler.

And what about those birds that want to develop the Arctic Refuge for oil?”

”Bushtits” says a woman in the second row.

“No comment!” laughs LoraKim. “What about Petrels?”

“A marijuana smuggler’s boat got shipwrecked in a storm,” she continues. “It crashed on a bird rookery in the Florida Keys. All those drugs went ashore. The Drug Enforcement Agency was concerned about the effects on the nesting terns, and called the Audubon society. Their fears were tern was left unstoned.”

“Now I will turn the microphone over...”

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Guest Blog #5 (Sam Skinner)

By the time this is posted, I’ll have been discharged (with honour?) from Team Bird Year, and will likely be somewhere near the Cafe du Monde in New Orleans eating. Speaking of eating, at Malkolm’s urging, I’ll write about “Feeling Alive!” Originally, I used this expression to refer to when one has eaten something with a flavour so intense that all else escapes your mind at that moment. One such moment on our two weeks with Team Bird Year was biting into a Florida-grown kumquat. The sweet-sour zestiness put me right into the moment. However, after riding for 2+ weeks, I’ve come to realize that “Feeling Alive!” can happen independently of food, and could be better described as when your entire consciousness is focused on the razor-sharp edge of the present, with no thought of the future or the past.

The razor analogy fits frighteningly well with a situation where I sometimes found myself “Feeling Alive!” with Team Bird Year: riding along the very thin white line at the edge of the road with heavy traffic on one side, and on the other either an abrupt drop onto what’s left of a washed out shoulder (rural/suburban), or a series of hurricane-ready, skate-park inspired, bike-swallowing storm sewer drains (urban). “Feeling Alive!” also came in less abrasive forms. For a moment while riding up and over bridge (with a wide shoulder), nothing occupied my mind other than that one Brown Pelican gliding low over the wave-tops, pulling up a bit, flapping, and dropping into another glide. On many nights, I really did feel alive when going to look for alligators or Screech Owls, or even just walking to the bath-house, because the chorus of frogs and the warm humid night air were so alien to me yet so comfortable. I suppose even the pun-laden jokes that were past back and forth over dinner or while riding on a quiet stretch served to put me in the moment (so much so that I can’t remember any good examples – or maybe there never were any?).

Everyday riding with Team Bird Year was punctuated with dozens of moments of “Feeling Alive”, and, while I’m jealous of their whole year of wonderful (and lively) experiences, I feel lucky and honoured to have spent two utterly alive weeks on their journey.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Guest Blog #4 (Polly Madsen)

Phew – it’s hot here in this trailer park at 8:00 p.m. It’s also loud with the sound of frogs. We are in Gulfport, Mississippi and it’s our last night with Team Birdyear. After more than 2 weeks of travelling with Malkolm, Ken and Wendy, we (Sam, Kirst and I) have fallen into a good rhythm of biking, birding, biscuit eating and beer drinking.

There are, however, some differences between us and Team Birdyear. Firstly, while we do occasionally sing, we refrain (and actually cringe a little) when Team Birdyear fuses bird names into rock and roll classics, such as the frequently heard verse of the Beach Boys ‘Barbara Ann’ with “bah, bah, bah, bah, bobolink” inserted into the chorus.

Secondly, while we are carrying what some may refer to as “extraneous items”, such as shaving razors and mascara, Team Birdyear carries such items as their favourite ‘pooh sticks’ (see Winnie the Pooh) as well as mason jars, which will be carried for miles, until some unsuspecting RV’er will be pressured (by Wendy) into becoming a food canner so that the mason jars won’t be thrown away.

Finally, while Team Birdyear is frequently armed (with binoculars) and ‘on a bird’ (meaning looking at a rare and interesting bird), we have one pair of sad binoculars between us and if we are ‘on a bird’ it is most likely to be of the fried chicken variety.

Differences aside, we will be sad to leave. Come next week we will be participating in the great adventure of birdyear from the sterile environments of our various computer desks and the only evening sounds we’ll hear will be the cold wind outside our house (or perhaps our cat Alice asking to be fed).

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Yucatan Express (Ken)

The future was misty and unclear when we first started talking about doing a Bird Year several years ago. Malkolm, however, knew one thing. He wanted to be along the upper Gulf Coast during the spring migration. Now I know why.

Before we headed to Dauphin Island, a famous “migrant trap,” we stopped at the bird banding station at Fort Morgan. We were lucky to meet Scott Weidensaul (Pulitzer Prize nominated author of Living on the Wind), and Bob and Martha Sargent, the founders of the banding station. It was a slow day for birds at Fort Morgan.

“The songbirds are all being blown to the interior,” Bob said, pointing up at the trees swaying in the brisk south wind. “A front is coming through tomorrow though – things will be different this weekend.”

He was right. On Saturday the canopy at the Shell Mounds was dripping with warblers, orioles and tanagers. It was hard to know where to point your binoculars. Bird rumors rippled through the birders along the trails. “There is a Painted Bunting down at the bowl. Have you seen the Scarlet Tanager? I heard someone saw a Swainson’s Warbler near the Bee Tree!”

Most of the other birders had heard about Malkolm’s Bird Year and were chasing him down whenever they saw an interesting migrant. By the time the sun set on Saturday, Malkolm found 10 new species of birds – a tough thing to do when you’ve already identified 474 species. Sunday was the same and we were all frazzled at the end of the day.

We were almost relieved when the weather cleared and the south winds resumed on Monday. We could imagine the invisible migrants riding the northward Yucatan Express over our heads. Almost relieved.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Guest Blog #3 (Kirsten Madsen)

Ken was scissor-jumping in the air as our Greyhound bus pulled into the station in Panama City, Florida, and two other brightly-colored cyclists were waving loonily (in the non-bird sense).
"I guess that's your people," someone on the bus said.

How did they know? Is it that obvious?

Ken, Wendy and Malkolm have become super bike mechanics and assembled our bikes in no time flat and we were off.

It is taking me a while to get used to how friendly everyone is. People ask lots of questions, like "Where y'all headed?" and KWM get to talk about how they've been biking for 9 months all the way from what we refer to as 'up near Alaska'. Then the people look at Polly, Sam and I with our white legs and clean bright shirts and we admit we've been biking at least a couple of days.

Biking yesterday we got at least one middle finger and a number of Springbreaker yawps. We stopped in Seaside (where The Truman Show was filmed, if that gives you any indication) and there certainly were a lot of white picket fences. On the lawn in the centre of town genetically modified children giggled cutely. I passed two women tsk-ing on a wooden boardwalk. "Look at that stain," one said, shaking her head sadly over a frothy pink splotch on the wood. "I know," the other woman said sadly. "It's been there three days now."

Through a birding connection, we ended up going from camping to lounging in a luxury condo development the next night. All I can say is I don't know how I lived without a private beach before; the public beach is just so tacky.

Those with a particular interest in my ass will be pleased to hear it is holding up okay. As long as I don't actually sit on my bike seat it hardly hurts at all. Yesterday we rode 63 miles. That's like ONE HUNDRED kilometres.

Oh yeah - birds. I think I have seen about 8 species so far. (It would be more like 11 but Malkolm tells me Hooters don't count.)