Cycle for One Planet, by Maggie Sheerin

        Driving a car is too fast to enjoy your surroundings, to make decisions for yourself, or to harness your intuition. I have been fortunate to not need a car by living nearby public transportation or in bike-able cities. I was living in Atlanta working in a corporate office when I started truly reflecting on my life and purpose. I thought back to a book I read, Tracks by Robyn Davidson, about a woman's solo traverse across Australia with her dog and four camels. It gave me a feeling of alignment, but I didn’t know why yet. I remembered a female friend of mine telling me about a trip she made on a bike and it gave me an idea...I could bike across America. I called my friend the next day to share with her my idea and ask for any tips. There is something special about sharing passion and enthusiasm with a female. Her encouragement was the ultimate push that told me I could make this idea a reality. A few of the notes I recall are Warmshowers, Ortlieb, peanut butter, and Adventure Cycle Association. I was never so sure about anything in my life.         I decided my mission would be to bring environmental awareness through first-hand acts of kindness and second-hand connection to nature. I purchased a 1993 Trek 520 with front and rear racks already installed from a kind man in Connecticut selling on eBay and 2 front and rear yellow panniers from Ortlieb, a well-known European brand specializing in durable, waterproof bags. Oh and I took back the solar panels that I gifted to my brother for Christmas - that was a must. There were multiple conversations with family members, mostly expressing concern and discouragement; however, my gut instinct told me otherwise and I knew my next step was finding a cause.         In researching for a program I wanted to support on my journey, I realized that climate action was introduced to me at an earlier age and that I was equipped with the right resources to make more informed decisions. I stumbled upon Recycle Across America, a nonprofit working to standardize recycling with an initiative to raise money for recycling programs in elementary schools. I knew I could get behind this call to action because it was working from the ground up. The partnership evolved from flying an RAA “Earth flag” on this bike tour to raising enough money for 3 elementary schools’ recycling programs to planning a week-long loop to all 39 municipalities in Rhode Island, my home state, in 2019. It was set. My cross-country bike tour was scheduled to begin in September, 2017.         Everything seemed to be falling into place - a cause, maps, equipment and support, but something very big was missing...riding experience! The longest I had ridden was a 50 miler from Providence to Arcadia Management Area State Park round trip. You have to start somewhere. You have to get lost in the woods, so to speak. I remember falling from the weight of my pack as soon as I turned the corner from my mom’s sight. If nothing else is gained in reading this essay, I hope that you can take this. You will fall and you may need to lighten your load, but starting somewhere begins the journey to a more sustainable lifestyle. Small mantras helped me along the way, such as mind full, need less, manifest. Setting intentions like this can really help clear your head and make room for new learnings on your own journey.         The most interesting thing I learned was that many parts of America don’t recycle for various reasons, such as contamination problems or not having the infrastructure. Recycling isn’t perfect, but it forces you to think a little bit more about your consumption. On my bike tour, I made a point to further the conversation to composting - the natural process of decomposing organic matter into a simpler, nutritious compound. It can be used for fertilizer, weed control, stormwater management and it is easier than recycling! In response, I heard that it smells, it attracts animals, it takes too much space, but none of these are true when you find the right solution and stick to it. I truly believe it is one of the most responsible decisions we can make as humans on Earth. I brought along one book called “Love Letter to Earth” by Thich Naht Hanh - I thought it was most appropriate and happened to be quite light. I could pick it up anywhere and immediately fall in love with nature around me. One night during my journey, I was camping alone on Conchas Lake in New Mexico, reading. A family invited me to set up with them, eat with their family, and I even stayed an additional day to swim and enjoy the rock sculptures. My favorite stop was Taos, New Mexico witnessing the snow tops of Sangre de Cristo Mountains melt into the raving Rio Grande. Riding down the High Road into Sante Fe gave me an entire new perspective of America. “I am in love with Mother Earth”, as Thich Nhat Hanh reveals.         Although some moments were disheartening and some exhilarating, I am beyond grateful for every experience on the tour. From Rhode Island to the Blue Ridge Mountains, over the Smokies and along Route 66, it allowed me to develop relationships with strangers, the planet and myself. If you were to ask me if you could bike across America, my answer would be YES! I challenge you to be open minded - it doesn’t need to be a bike tour across the country, what about a hike or a visit to a nearby lake? What can you do in your life to deepen your connection with Planet Earth?         Cycling gave me a sense of how my breath coincides with the breath beneath me and around me. It taught me the synchronistic nature of everything. I so badly want you to feel this connection, to allow our planet to heal, to reset human norms, for ecosystems and its natural processes to thrive, and for all human beings to be one with the planet. I named the tour Cycle for One Planet in hopes of spreading my experiences in nature to inspire others to enjoy the beauty and in turn protect the planet.