Why wouldn’t a Jewish cross-country bike ride launch from Seattle? The region ranks number two among major American cities in which people commute to work by bike. The percentage of people who use bicycles as their primary mode of getting to work in Seattle increased 22 percent between 2009 and 2010, according to the annual American Communities Survey conducted by the U.S. Census. Promoting cycling as a major means of transportation is “a huge part of what this ride is about and the organization,” said Wendy Levine, ride director of the Hazon Jewish environmental organization’s Cross-USA bike ride, which launches June 10 in Kenmore.
Hazon creates programs to establish entry points for Jews of all backgrounds who are concerned about the environment. The organization runs its programs primarily out of New York, San Francisco and Israel and focuses on aspects of sustainable living such as transportation and food education. While most of the bike rides it sponsors take place only in these regions, for the first time since 2000 Hazon decided to bring its cross-country biking expedition back to Seattle.
“Seattle is very well known for how they care about their environment and sustainability,” Levine said. “The theme of our ride is sustainable food sources around the country, and Seattle is very conscious about the sustainable food system.”
The full ride will last 10 weeks. The route will take riders through Spokane, across Montana and into the Twin Cities, then down to Chicago, across southern Ohio, with a stop in Pittsburgh before rolling into Washington, D.C. on Aug. 16.
Twenty riders will leave from Bastyr University, 11 of them to make the full trek. The rest, as many as 45 in total, will do half the ride or legs between cities. The cyclists will cover an average of 70 miles per day, but take Shabbat off. Two trucks with gear and food will follow the riders, but in the spirit of Hazon’s focus on sustainable agriculture, they will of course stop for fresh produce from local farms and farmers markets.
In addition to the cross-country ride, Hazon will also sponsor a Seattle one-day ride to promote the launch on June 10. This ride will be fully supported with sustainable food due to a $5,000 grant provided by the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle.
“The one-day ride is a really great opportunity to introduce Hazon to the community. This will get the ideas going and give the exposure and is the first step in having regional bike rides in the future,” Levine said.
Jessica Aronson of Seattle has been working locally with Levine on marketing and promotion for the Seattle one-day ride. Aronson is no stranger to long bike rides: Her first cross-country ride in 2004 with the American Lung Association got started here.
“I fell in love with [the city] and ended up moving here,” Aronson said. “I think it speaks to the Seattle Jewish community and it’s such a big opportunity.”
She will ride with the cross-country group for the first three days.
Although the goal had been to sign up 50 riders for the Seattle day-ride, Aronson said it was difficult to get people to commit to participating, mostly because it had a fundraising aspect attached.
“It was a little bit of a challenge, because people have been struggling with the fundraising component. There was a $200 entry for the day ride,” said Aronson, which has since been removed as a requirement to sign up.
“With regards to the people who are participating, it seems like a very diverse group, very pluralistic,” Aronson said.
Renna Khuner-Haber of Seattle plans to ride all the way to the finish line in Washington, D.C. Khuner-Haber interned with Hazon in New York and also worked in its San Francisco office before moving to Seattle in January of this year to begin graduate studies at Bastyr University.
“I told Wendy I was going to be going to Bastyr in Seattle and she said, ‘Oh, that’s where the bike ride is going to start!’” Khuner-Haber said. She said she looks forward to reuniting some of her colleagues from Hazon programs who will be riding alongside her all to the “other” Washington.
While working at Hazon in San Francisco, Khuner-Haber helped to organize the regional bike ride there and trained riders. Cycling for her is a good way to exercise, have fun, and get to know people in her community.
“I see biking as a powerful way of building connection and community,” she said. “You really end up building friendships out of biking together every day.”