An Interview with Cyclists and Activists Kindra and Ali Aschenbrenner

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Kindra and Ali  Aschenbrenner  run the Blog Bike for Appalachia, a site on which they detail their bike trip across the country. The purpose of the trip is to spread awareness of mountaintop removal coal mining. Here is a link to the website:

http://bike4appalachia.org/

Q: What inspired you to take your trip?

A: I was inspired to do this bike tour as a way of exploring the country for myself. I do not want to rely on stereotypes, but create my own understanding of the kind of places and people that live across the US. I also wanted the opportunity to exercise daily, and what better ways of meeting people than while on a bike.

Q:  Who is the most interesting character you have met in your travels?

A: There are so many people who surprise and inspire us with kindness and hospitality. Being on bike, we meet interesting people every day. One man, Kevin McKiernen is a retired firefighter in Lewiston, Idaho who found us on the side of Hwy 12 in the Blue Mountains with a broken spoke. He and his friend, Doug, stopped their car on a steep slope without any shoulder and found a way to nudge our bikes into a pickup truck that was already hauling a doghouse. After letting us camp out on his lawn and feeding us pancakes, he drove us around the following morning so that we could get our bikes fixed and get a new phone (since both of ours were broken by rain our first night). This man was well known and regarded around Lewiston and the surrounding areas. A few years back he fixed up an old 1950’s fire-truck, which he often volunteers for funeral, weddings and parades. He is a giving man who has no connection to the bicycle industry but just saw two people in need, and made the decision to go the extra mile for us.

Q:    What sort of training did you do to prepare for your trip?

A: We are both comfortable on the bicycle and have been familiar with bikes since we were kids. For about a month or two before this trip, we would each go on one long ride a week in addition to riding for commuting purposes.

Q:       What is mountaintop removal coal mining?

A:  This is a method of extracting coal where instead of mining underground, the top of a mountain is blasted off so that the coal is more easily exposed. All the dirt is dumped into streams and rivers polluting the natural areas and exposing the local people to dangerous chemicals.

Q:     What is the most frightening thing that has happened on your trip so far?

A: In Circle, Montana, we were woken from sleep by very loud thunder. We could feel it rolling right above us. We were camped outside under a tin roof shelter in the city park. The lightning was striking quite frequently. The initial thunder took our breaths away and as the storm continued, we could only sit in awe at the magic of it.

Q:  What kind of equipment do you have with you?

A: Aside from clothing and food, we are also carrying basic camping equipment such as a tent, camp stove and sleeping bags. Regarding biking tools and repair, we each have a spare tube, patch kit, and bike wrench tool. Alexis carries a wrench and Kindra holds the bike pump and spoke replacement kit.

Q:   What sort of challenges have you had on your trip?

A: Some of our challenges include: climbing mountains, extreme weather, and occasional bicycle repairs on the side of the road. On occasion we also have troubles finding places to sleep at night, but something always works out.

Q:     What kinds of bikes are you using and why did you pick them?

A: Kindra rides a 2010 Jamis Aurora Touring bike and Alexis rides a 2008 Fuji Touring bike. Both are old rental bikes from Waterfront Bicycles in Portland, Oregon. We chose to buy our bikes there because new touring bikes are so expensive and Alexis had previously rented a touring bike from this store and had a positive experience. They are both basic but highly functional, and we have yet to have any major problems with these steel frames.

Q:      ) What can people do to reduce coal usage?

A: Coal in transformed into energy, which tends to be an alienating process for consumers. In general, most people do not fully understand where the energy they use comes from. This often occurs because of the vast consortium of mines, and other energy sources. One unique website, ILoveMountains, integrates some unique features that allows people to see if their utility company uses coal from mountaintop removal strip mines, and if so, exactly where those mines are. Another feature will allow viewers to see aerial images of how those mines look today (in use or after reclamation).

Transparency is a major key to reducing coal usage, a focus of mine for this bike trip. But public policy and law enforcement are factors that will actually make a difference. Writing letters to representatives and supporting alternative forms of energy such as solar and wind will do more to reduce the amount of coal mined from unsustainable means than individual reduction in daily energy consumption.

Q:  Why do you think biking is so popular in Portland?

A: Biking is fun, less stressful, good exercise and fast! We have found that Portlanders, among a few select cities and towns, tend to be more progressive than most other places throughout this country. They recognize the physical health of biking and the impact that driving, especially commuting has to the community and environment.

Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)

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