Santa Monica: From Bike It! Day to Biking Cross Country

Rachel & Owen from image right, blowing the minds of Roosevelt Elementary students ( who were competing for active miles to school) with their cross country trip plans. (source: odog4life.wordpress.com)

Owen Gorman and Rachel Horn, two friends who’ve known each other since their time attending Samohi, are embarking on a coast to coast bicycle tour combining their advocacy interests along the way. The two college graduates were both part of the early student led effort to host a bike to school event on the Samohi campus that became the successful Bike It! Walk It! program. I caught up with them recently to chat about their plans for riding coast to coast and about their advocacy.

Our Santa Monica weekly column is supported by Bike Center in Santa Monica.

Owen, who you may have seen behind the scenes at many Santa Monica bike advocacy events, first filled me in on some of the back story to the early days of the Bike It Day! movement at the school. I was curious to hear more details about the beginning as I had seen it all developing from the outside back when I was first taking interest in blogging the local bike movement, but I had never been involved directly.

He told me he had started going out to Santa Monica Critical Mass rides, back when it was bigger and before the police campaign had completely stifled its momentum. That participation sparked his interest in the politics of bicycling, and new possibilities for the way life and local transportation. Owen was a school newspaper photographer at the time and started covering Santa Monica critical mass and started the Santa Monica High School Bicycle Coalition, with students he got to know through covering critical mass.

Around the same time, the Samohi Solar Alliance, a school club that started in 2004, succeeded in their goal of getting solar water heating installed on the school’s Drake pool building. The scope of issues the group tackles has revolved around moving away from fossil fuel dependency and environmental sustainability, with a think global act local ethos. From solar power, to waste reduction, to reducing car trips, the Solar Alliance has had it’s sights set on promoting forward thinking at the school.

Rachel Horn was a member of Solar Alliance club when the group, led by then Samohi student Lulu Mickelson, decided they wanted to promote biking to school as an alternative to the line of cars drop off culture that became the norm.  Rachel told me the idea was proposed as a collaboration with the Bike Club. The initially generically titled “Bike To School Day” event was born at Samohi in 2007. The effort expanded and later became known as Bike It! Walk It! day, which I’ve watched continually and gradually shift the culture not only at the local schools, but of the whole community.

Owen stayed involved in bike advocacy while he was studying cultural anthropology at UC Santa Cruz, helping to get a student bike library program going to make bikes more accessible to incoming students. He also helped put together an after school bike club at the local middle school. I’ve also seen him teaching student bike safety classes since returning to Santa Monica among other things to keep building the local bike culture.

Rachel & Owen preparing to test their gear. (source: odog4life.wordpress.com)

Rachel said she had long dreamed of riding across the country, and after one friend bailed on the idea, she found new motivation after reading about the group Sustainable Cycles. The group founders, Toni Craige & Sarah Konner rode across the Pacific Coast of the U.S. in 2011, promoting awareness of the product waste life cycle and toxins present in many women’s menstrual products, and less wasteful alternatives like reusable menstrual cups.

Rachel has joined Sustainable Cycles & along with fundraising support through the group she has gotten a load of Diva brand cups to bring on her adventure and get them out to women at planned talks and meet ups. As a student at Berkley (studying Environmental Earth Sciences with a Forestry minor) Rachel lived in a student co-op where she was involved in managing student waste reduction, and wants to take the message of waste reduction and promoting women’s health on the road.

Owen had also been drawn to making a cross country trip by bike as well, and the two decided to travel together when Rachel was looking for a new riding partner to make the trip with. Owen, who has taken an interest in fostering safe routes to school, and the funding for making that a reality, including stints interning with Alta Planning and the LADOT, is making that his focus on the ride. To raise awareness, to talk with local advocates and planners in communities along the way, and document best practices for implementing and encouraging safe routes to school.

Rachel also told me they “want people to join us as we’re going along, people who are passionate, about bicycling advocacy or menstrual shenanigans” (Sustainable Cycles promotes creative ways to call attention to menstrual issues). Her dream is a mass of cyclists to roll in with in NYC, with Owen chiming in “or at least for a portion of the way”.

Their route begins in San Fransisco, and they are rolling out on the 28th. Owen planned out the route, with Adventure Cycling maps and Google Earth, with plans to connect with extended family on along the way. This Saturday the 27th they will be presenting at the UC Berkeley California Student Sustainability Coalition’s Convergence for their final talk before hitting the road.

Owen Gorman's Google Earth Route Map from SF to NYC

They’ve done some training rides to get ready, including joining the recent SMC Bike Club bike camping overnight, but they are going in self aware that their butts are going to get kicked for a while and will have to ride through it. I wish them both the best of luck on what will be incredible journey ahead and will definitely be tuning in for updates. Owen emphasized a number of times looking forward to the sense of freedom of the open road for a while, and becoming a “bike machine”. At one point Rachel called the trip “one more step toward growing up”.

Rachel and Owen are two young advocates of sustainability worth keeping an eye on and I look forward to tuning in for updates on their trip and what they accomplish in the future. Rock on, good luck, and may the wind be always at your backs you two.


For more info: Odog’s Odyssey Sustainable Cycles - Facebook Page