Wednesday, July 28, 2010

It's Going to Be a Wild Ride

I am just an ordinary person who works with extraordinary people who are doing extraordinary things. Working in the Marketing & Communications Department at Denver Zoo I know that my work supports the Zoo’s mission to secure a better world for animals. Our department provides support to all the Zoo’s efforts. I feel fortunate to work for such an amazing organization and to use the skills I have in support of wildlife conservation. However, often, it does not feel like enough. Degrees in Journalism and Political Science don’t exactly provide the qualifications necessary for meaningful field study to save animals. Sometimes I feel detached from what we do because I don’t have that direct link to saving wildlife and wild places.

Recently our EcoWheels Committee came up with a brilliant idea that is going to change my life. I applied for something called “Wild Ride,” a challenge to one zoo employee to give up their car for commuting for one full year and to all zoo employees to increase their use of alternative transportation. The purpose of this challenge is to promote alternative methods of commuting and reduce single-occupancy-vehicle commuting by Denver Zoo employees.

Unlike our talented conservation biology team, I won’t be going to Peru to save frogs (which I desperately desire to do), but this is something meaningful that I could accomplish. However, it wouldn't be easy. I would have a lot to overcome, including:
1. I have a 3-year-old girl that must be dropped off at preschool at 8 and picked up at 5:30
2. I am the spokesperson for the zoo and am on call 24/7 for emergencies. I also often have to work late unexpectedly and I occasionally have to be at work at 4 a.m. for live shots with the media.
3. I play volleyball every Tuesday in Broomfield. Games start as early as 6 p.m.
4. I live 12 miles from the zoo.
5. I LOVE breakfast burritos and it will be difficult for me to get them if I bike or bus to work. (I realize some obstacles are bigger than others to overcome, but due to my freakish love of breakfast burritos this one actually occurred to me - probably even higher up on the list. What can I say… I'm food-driven.)

I had used public transportation and rode my bike to work occasionally - only when it fit my schedule and whimsy. When I first started taking the bus and riding my bike, I was afraid. The bus scared me because I didn't know what I was doing or exactly where it would take me. Fortunately, I just tried it and it was easy. Biking to work was even more frightening. I was afraid of the cars, becoming lost, getting a flat and potentially dying of exhaustion. Then I read about this amazing woman named Shannon Galpin who started a nonprofit that provides women in Afghanistan bicycles, giving them access to health care, employment and education. Through her work she has brought bikes to midwives that enable them to reach women in labor, built schools for deaf children and has ridden her bike across Afghanistan. If she can do all this, surely I can make it to work without my car.

So, beginning in June, I started doing it. I wanted to see if this was really something I wanted to do before turning in my application for the "Wild Ride" contest in July. Some days have been better than others. I didn't appreciate the extra protein and calories provided to me by a bug that I accidentally choked down the other day and I certainly could have done without the experience of almost hitting the homeless man sleeping under the 20th Ave. bridge bike route. I've had a flat tire. My bike became stuck in high gear during a gruesome uphill ride home in 93-degree heat and then there's the Rockies foot traffic that resulted in the feeling of swimming upstream while being strapped to a bicycle. Or, my personal fave, when Google maps showed a road that wasn't actually finished yet and I had to carry my bike over some pretty rough terrain to get to my volleyball league.

Despite the inconvenience, I wouldn't trade these experiences because these events make this challenge my personal journey. They make it real. I value the resources I am saving and the example I am setting for my daughter and this by far outweighs the challenges and inconveniences I face. So, I (with the support of my amazing family) I decided to go for it and turned in my application for "Wild Ride."

Fortunately I was chosen as the first official wild rider. I am so thrilled at the opportunity and thankful for the generous donations other environmentally-conscious organizations have given me to help with my adventure. I am also so thankful for the support and encouragement my husband has given me. Without him, this would simply not be possible. I also must recognize the support of my teammates who are also taking this challenge - my fellow wild riders. Many of them plan to blog as well! In many ways they are more amazing than I am, as they have chosen to do this on their own accord, without the benefit of prizes. Last, but certainly not least I must acknowledge the support I receive from my fellow coworkers. Their understanding is crucial to my success.

I hope you will follow my blog and be inspired to try alternative transportation. This is something I can do to make a difference - and if I can do it, anyone can. And who knows; maybe after this I will do a field project or go to Afghanistan to ride with Galpin. Anything is possible, right? At least, that's how I feel by doing this one small thing.