Kindra Aschenbrenner posed next to her bike. Photo cred. by Corie Smith Photography
Months have passed since my last post. Though my bike tour ended in August, I still continue to share information about the horrific outcomes of mountaintop removal strip mining practices. My call and my argument are not targeted to coal workers, but rather to the industry itself and the nature of corporations exploiting poor periphery regions. The aim of bike4appalachia.org has consistently focused around the spread of awareness of the ills of mountaintop removal strip mining to the rest of the US.
Information became readily available after the January 9th MCHM (4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol) spill in West Virginia. 7,500 gallons of MCHM, a chemical used to clean coal of impurities, leaked from the ironically named Freedom Industry into the Elk River. The New York Times reported 300,000 people without clean water. The legal drinking water ban lasted for 10 days after the spill.
New York Times’ Ty Wright photographed people lined up for clean water.
Even though the January 9th spill received national attention, there since have been many other cases of contaminated water within the Appalachian mountain region. Here is the most recent news report of a coal slurry spill in Kanawha County, West Virginia.
Washington Post’s photo of Arsenic in a North Carolina River after the February 5th coal ash spill.
Retired stations have also been known to cause concerns for the environment and human health. Coal ash from Duke Energy’s retired Dan River Steam Station in Virginia began leaking arsenic on February 5th. Appalachian Voices covered the story. The leak itself lasted for five days, all of which the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources claimed that the water was safe to drink. Appalachian Water Watch recorded that the level of arsenic was four times greater then the legal drinkable amount, meaning that many people have been poisoned by their local streams and rivers.
Daily Kos image of hay bails used to prevent the spread of toxic chemicals and heavy metals from the February 11th coal slurry spill in Fields Creek.
This post simply outlines and shares the most recent news. Please check out my other pages to learn more about the process of mountaintop removal strip mining, as well as the environmental and social organizations that are working diligently in this region.
Alexis and Kindra, first look at the Atlantic Ocean!
After the bike trip has wrapped up, I just wanted to take the time to publicly announce my appreciation for everyone who has helped my sister and I along our tour. If you ever hosted us, fed us, bought us groceries, prayed over our trip or cheered us on as you drove by, we are sincerely thankful. It was a trip of a lifetime and I feel immensely blessed that I had the opportunity to experience this country and meet so many generous people.
We have reached the final destination on our tour across the country, New York City. Yeah Baby!
View out from Carolyn’s terrace looking out over upper West Side, the Hudson River and New Jersey
Midmorning view in the Financial District, notice more skyscrapers in the reflection
Our first few moments in New York City felt overwhelming as we left Penn Station. We were excited to explore places we have only heard about or seen on TV. The city itself is expansive and filled with such an incredible diversity of people. My friend Taylor (in NYC for a fashion internship, also from North Portland) explained that she had not yet met anyone from New York itself, but that people tend to move to the city to pursue their dreams.
There are many Halal food carts and affordable produce stands, which we took full advantage of.
Protoceratops Andrewsi, a whole big dinosaur!
Throughout our busy stay we: went thrift store shopping for nice dresses, walked around Lincoln Plaza and ended up watching a free African drumming show in their outdoor concert space, explored Times Square, ran in Central Park, checked out the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum, took a ferry to see the Statue of Liberty, shopped around in China Town, gazed at lists of names as we walked along the pools in the 9/11 memorial, checked out the architecture in the public library and saw a Broadway musical!!!
Carolyn in her 14th floor garden
It has been a truly incredible experience! We are so thankful for Carolyn our host of 3 nights. She provided us a refreshing dose of normalcy in an otherwise touristy city.
National Monument to the Forefathers
We are happy to announce our arrival to the Atlantic Ocean, the trans-America distance complete! Now we are heading back west, at least to NYC. Just outside Plymouth, MA, a popular tourist destination due to a certain famous rock, we found a much more impressive piece of stone. The National Monument to the Forefathers was built in 1889 and includes a list of all who traveled on the Mayflower.
- Kindra at Horseneck Beach, MA
We were refreshed to finally reach a beach, not crowded and warm enough to swim in. Bellow is our first look at a sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean.
- Sunrise over Horseneck Beach, MA
As we venture back West towards the Big Apple, we have been dazzled by the beautiful countryside. As compared to most of Montana and other middle states we have biked through, country here is not necessarily “rural”. There are many farms, and produce stands proliferate the area.
A country road in Rhode Island
We briefly passed through Rhode Island, where we had difficulty biking because of the heavy traffic and limited space for bikers. The state itself is quite beautiful, but the bridges that connect the land masses between the piers do not allow for cyclists. While being forced upon the Pell bridge heading into Jamestown, we were then stopped by a maintenance man and driven across. Later that day we were stopped again by police who told us cyclists were not allowed on the highway that connects to the Jamestown bridge. Fortunately, we were picked up by our lovely Warm Showers host, Barbara, and had a great evening with her and her husband Dave.
Dave, Kindra, Alexis and Barbara in Saunderstown, RI
Biking out to Connecticut from their home was lovely, as long as we stayed off of the major roads. We of coarse took a stop in Mystic, CT where we enjoyed pizza and a nice afternoon in the harbor. We then ventured across the Sound Ferry to the tip of Long Island. It is beautiful out on the Eastern tip, but picks up traffic a few miles inland due to high volume of vacation goers and winos.
Orient Beach State Park
We have been fortunate to find camping at a beautiful state park, and are spending an extra day relaxing before taking the train into Manhattan tomorrow. One week until we are back in Portland and looking forward to enjoying the last of our trip here at the park and then in New York City!
Just outside Fenway Park before a game, that everyone knew was going to be rained out. What a crowd!
Boston was the oldest city we have passed yet. While walking around the other day, we got to go along Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride, see the Holocaust Memorial, Fenway park, the Harvard campus, and the Boston Harbor. It was so interesting to see buildings in the middle of a busy city that are nearly 400 years old, and still use today.
The Old State House
While in Boston, we stayed with a lovely couple from Warm Showers, Cynthia and Irv. After we left the city, we stayed just outside, in the town of Westwood with Mary, John and their daughter Katie, friends of the O’Gara’s, whom we met in Michigan.
Cynthia and Irv on their recumbent bicycles
Kindra, Alexis, Mary, John and Katie
It is amazing to look back on how far this journey has taken us, and be able to actually visit historical sites we have only ever read about.
Tonight, we are headed for Plymouth Rock. Then we will visit Cape Cod before turning south-west to New York City. Our adventure wraps up in 8 days and we are trying to savor every moment of it.
The beach is our next mid-day stop!
Zoe, Kindra, Alexis and Emily after breakfast with the Overland leaders
After reaching far eastern New York, we were unsure of which direction to take through Massachusetts. We were fortunate to find a place to stay in Williamstown located in the Northwest corner of the state. Emily has biked across the country twice as a leader with the outdoor student adventure group, Overland. Zoe, originally one of Emily’s students, is now also a leader with the same program. This route brought us on a surprise visit to Vermont! Which we thoroughly enjoyed for all of 30 minutes.
Alexis and Kindra at the Vermont border! Photo curtesy of Gordon and Mary
We then ventured eastward to Amherst, MA where we stayed with a good friend of mine from an exchange trip I took last Spring in New Mexico. We thoroughly enjoyed a day off and a little tour of this historic area. Northampton, only a few miles away was founded in 1654. This was oldest city we have visited on our tour thus far. We also had the privilege of seeing Emily Dickinson’s home. Which was a special treat for us because we studied and memorized her poetry when we were home schooled!
Kindra and Erika in front of Emily Dickinson’s home
A generous donation
On our way out of town this morning, we were surprised with a special treat! An anonymous someone had left us fruit and wraps from Whole Foods. Thank you! Tonight we will be in Worcester (pronounced “Wu-ster” with a full Boston accent) before heading into the Boston area for the rest of the week.
I few weeks back I had an interview with an online journalist named Eliza Gale. She wrote and posted our discussion questions and answers on her site. Check it out!
98 degrees and we made it to the top of the hill East of Utica, NY
Sorry for the delay in blog posts… We are now finishing up our tour of Upstate New York. There is a beautiful landscape here of small forests and rolling hills, and even in the “rural” areas, it is more populated than any other state we have passed through.
Some of the cities that we have seen are old and many houses/public buildings date back to the 1700s. We have also stumbled upon many “ancient” graveyards out in the wilderness from the 18th century.
Unfortunately we have also seen many old post-manufacturing facilities. These buildings are big and sturdy but often boarded up. There has also been a great deal of recent flooding in Central New York, sometimes washing out potential campsites and bike paths.
Erie Canal and bike path
Speaking of weather, we have suffered the most heat and humidity combination so far on the tour. Major heat waves are followed by stormy nights. With the lack of state parks on our route, we have had trouble finding places to sleep at night. Luckily we have found two more Warm Showers hosts.
Alexis, Shae, Bill and Kindra in Rochester, NY.
Kindra, Meredith, Paul, Maggie and Alexis with dogs Casey and Nikko in New Hartford, NY
Today we are looking forward to visiting three different states. As we leave New York, we will cut into the corner of Vermont and will be stay in Williamstown, Massachusetts this evening.
Jackie, Tim, Alexis and Kindra in Long Beach, Ontario
We arrived at Niagara Falls after a long morning dealing with a broken spoke. Fortunately we had good directions from our hosts the night before, Time and Jackie. It was hot out and we were pleasantly surprised to be cooled by the mist. Though you could see the mist from far away, it wasn’t until we were on top of the waterfall that we could see the river drop. We were impressed by how many people were there and of such different origins. As we walked further, we saw a full rainbow appear, what a good omen!
View of Niagara Falls from the American Side!
Our next host met us at the falls and gave us a little tour before escorting us back to their home in Tonawanda. We were excited to get back into the USA and begin, as we call it, the last stage of our tour. We have four more states to traverse in three weeks. We will be taking breaks for Ali’s 24th birthday, a couple of college visits and of course a few days off in the Big Apple!
Pete, Linda, Kindra and Alexis biking around the falls
Bailey, Maggie, Alexis, Margaret and Kindra (not photographed Pool family members include Colin, Mitch, Virginia, Alan and Celina)
We have had such a pleasant time biking alongside Lake Erie here in Ontario. Our first night, there was an expected thunder and lightning storm. A local farming family, the Pools, took us in. We had just a wonderful time hanging out with them, swimming in their pool, drinking beer with neighbors and avoiding the rainy night. Shortly after we left the following morning, the Pool’s had a family emergency. Prayers for this hospitable family are greatly appreciated.
During our time here in SW Ontario we have seen many wind turbines, similar to that in Washington state. Contrary to ideals in Pacific Northwest, wind turbines are not as appreciated here. After talking with locals, we found out that the Canadian government pays farmers to put the turbines on their land, but all of the energy is then transferred down to the USA. We have seen many posters and signs to discourage the placement of these turbines.
We continuing our beautiful bike ride on Lakeshore Rd. paralleling Lake Erie. We first reached the lake in Port Stanley where we met Barb and Kelly along the beach.
Kindra, Alexis, Barb and Kelly in Port Stanley, Ontario
They offered us a place to stay and invited us to enjoy a night out listening to an open mic show!
View of Lake Erie from our campsite at the Norfolk Conservation Area
We are part way through Ontario and are looking forward to entering the State of New York. With 3+ weeks left on this journey, we figure that there is enough time to check out New England! As it stands today, our plan will be to bike from Upstate New York to Massachusetts, passing through Amherst and Boston. Then we will turn South into Rhode Island and Connecticut before finishing in New York City!
If you happen to live around this area or have friends/family who would like to volunteer a place for us to stay, we would appreciate the hospitality. Also, if you have visited this area or have any advise for us feel free to reply to this post, or send me a message on the contact page of this site.
Looking forward to the days ahead!
Awkward family photo pt. 2 with Kindra, Alexis, John and Amy
We had a wonderful last day in Michigan and stayed with John and Amy O’Gara, friends of Jordan and Dave, the two fellas we biked into a few days prior. John biked with us to the US border where we caught a $1 ferry into Canada!
Kindra at the customs gate!
From there we rode along beautiful countryside until we happened upon Uncle Tom’s Cabin! learned quite a bit about the Underground Railroad, different versions then those taught to us in the USA. Josiah Hanson played a key role in not only helping slaves in the South escape, but also set up schools and working communities in Canada.
Where Rev. Josiah Hanson (Uncle Tom) lived in the Dawn Settlement, now known as Dresden, Ontario
We have been the most ill-planned in the state of Michigan. Since we do not have a detailed map of the state (including all of the country roads) we often find ourselves either lost or seeking the help of locals.
Awkward family photo with Alexis, Jordan, Dave, Brie and Kindra
When we left Ada – despite Ali’s efforts- we had no clue of how to reach East Lansing, nor where we could stay that night. We joked about camping in the zoo where there is running water and a bathroom. After roughly 15 minutes of riding, we happened to run into two young men, Dave and Jordan, also biking to East Lansing! What fortune! They had a GPS AND a friend to stay with that night. We happily tagged along.
People here tend to be overtly helpful and giving, even to the point of driving us around to distant bike shops and through thunderstorms. One couple, Mike and Shirley, caught us stranded on a busy highway in the greater Detroit area quizzically reading our map. They donated their afternoon to helping us out. Our last Warm Showers stay was in the “secret” countryside North of Detroit. James and Lauren lived a few miles out on a dirt road, but were able to drive us into town and provide a map of all the backroads.
James, Alexis, Lauren and Kindra
Rain and Thunderstorms outside as we hid in a cafe
The state of Michigan is quite similar to that of Oregon. Out of eight days we have spent here, five of those have rained; including one night of miserable camping.
While crossing from state to state, we are frequently asked about the people we meet. Unanimously all of our experiences and conversations point to the kindness of everyone we meet and stay with. People throughout this country are so willing to help two traveling strangers. Thank you for giving us a real reason to celebrate patriotism this 4th of July. Some may say that as a country, our values are out of place. Our experience, however, proves otherwise. We have been truly blessed to continually meet the most generous people while on this journey.
Exhibit A: some friends of our parents that live just East of Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kibben and Janet.
from left Alexis, Kindra, Janet, and Kibben in front of their home in Ada, Michigan
They housed us for two nights, fed us incredible food, took us on a tour of the city in a convertible, and let us light some really big fireworks!
Alexis and Kindra in front of Alexander Calder’s “La Grande Vitesse” a Grand Rapids landmark
Big fireworks in Michigan!
We have now officially outgrown the sparklers. Happy 4th everyone!
As we left Kibben and Janet’s home, we met more new friends and so continued our journey of fascination and appreciation with our country and the people who call America home.
After Ludington, we enjoyed a gorgeous ride heading South along Lake Michigan. It was very pastoral with rolling hills, cherry orchards, and some cute little towns. That night we stayed at a campground at Silver Lake State Park and enjoyed a night swim in Silver Lake. Very Refreshing!
At first glance, we could have mistaken Lake Michigan for an ocean! It is that big! The water is warm and fresh, and the sod is sandy. Oh, and there’s no undertow. All this makes for some fantastic giant swimming holes!
The next day we were off to Muskegon where we stayed with a lively family of 6. We had fun playing games with the girls and enjoyed feeling like part of a big and entertaining family.
front row from left: Tricia and Morgan
back row: Payton, Hailey, David, Jenn, Alexis and Kindra
Upon leaving Jean’s house, we found ourselves crunched for time to catch the S.S. Badger, our ferry across lake Michigan, with about 60 miles to go in less than 5 hours. And guess what… We made it!
Aboard the deck of the S.S. Badger looking out on Lake Michigan
Aboard the giant ferry, sea sickness soon set in. It was a nice vessel, but boy, let me tell you we were both glad to get off.
We stayed the night with Nicole in Ludington, then enjoyed a lazy morning exploring the town.
Kindra, Scout, Nicole, and Alexis
And look what we found just docked in the bay of Lake Michigan:
Kindra and Alexis at the helm of the Madeline
It’s a restored 1850s schooner, the Madeline, which now serves as a training ship and goodwill ambassador sailing around the Great Lakes.
We have so enjoyed our time in Lake Michigan, it only wets our pallets for the Atlantic Ocean soon to come!
Since reaching Wisconsin, Alexis and I have unexpectedly powered through the state at 70+ miles most days. And poof! Now we are in Michigan! But here is a recap…
Kindra, Roger and Alexis just West of Merrill
Carol, Alexis, BJ, Kindra and Ariel in Custer planning our next day’s route
Will, Alexis and Kindra in Green Bay
We have stayed with many Warm Showers and other warm hearts we have met along the way. One in particular, Jean Thompson, not only opened up her home to us on my 21st birthday, but also provided a cake!
Alexis, Kindra, Jean, John, Lauren and Linda celebrating with cake and wine
I had a lovely day shopping in Green Bay in the morning, and then biking around to a winery and micro brewery near Appleton, Wisconsin. Where we enjoyed our first tastes of cheese curds, a Wisco specialty.
Kindra doing some birthday shopping in Green Bay!
And yes Aunt DiAnne, we did ride around Lambeau Field.
Alexis, Miss. Iris, Kindra and Mary (a kind woman who hosted us our first night in Wisconsin)
The ACA maps route bikers through northern Wisconsin through beautiful National Forests. Unfortunately, we need to take a ferry out of Mantiwoc across Lake Michigan. So we decided to create our own way through the great state of Wisconsin. Our route is as follows: St. Croix Falls, Birchwood, Cornell, Merrill, Stevens Point, Green Bay, Appleton and out the next day to Michigan. We are on day 4 in Wisconsin and will be spending the night with a farmer in Merrill.
Hwy 48 after Birchwood
Since we are off of the Northern Tier route, many of these towns are not familiar with tourists such as ourselves and are wowed by our endeavors. For example, police Officer Rubenzer who woke us up at 12:30 this morning to ask if we were going to come out of our tents. He didn’t quite understand the concept of traveling via bikes, on roads or camping in parks. Fortunately we were able to enlighten the gentleman in a nice EARLY morning talk (unfortunately he did not bring us donuts nor coffee). I was able to use this as an opportunity to spread further information about Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining in the Appalachian Mountains, of which he was also unaware.
Officer Rubenzer was, however, able to teach us more about the ticks in Wisconsin, of which there are many. We have both been bitten several times yet no one has died of lyme disease yet. If it’s not the wolves in Idaho, the bears in Montana, the rabid dogs in Minnesota, it’s the ticks in Wisconsin. Fate only knows what kinds of fearsome animals Michigan will hold.
Until next time,
Alexis and Kindra Aschenbrenner
Kindra, Terry, Louie (the dog) and Alexis
Just a few hours after we arrived into Minneapolis at our hosts Terry and Kevin’s house, windy storms loomed large throughout the city. Power shut off and we enjoyed a shared dinner in the basement. The storm calmed down by 9pm and we made it out to a local music scene with Terry and Kevin. Even though most did not have power at that time, many still enjoyed the weekend night life in the city.
Many are still without power and we passed by lots of down trees, even across the bike paths.
Fallen tree along the Gateway Bike Path
Weisman Art Museum
Alexis and I took one rest day to explore the city. We enjoyed visiting the Weisman Art Museum, the St. Paul Farmers Market, Old Mill Town and downtown Minneapolis.
The following image looks out onto the Mississippi River. At this spot in particular we found an abundant assortment shoes hanging amid tree branches on the University of Minnesota campus.
A look at the Mississippi River from the University Bridge