The Bicycle Diaries

David Kroodsma

The Bicycle Diaries

David Kroodsma

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The combination of a travelogue and an environmental call-to-action, American climate researcher and data journalist David Kroodsma’s nonfiction book The Bicycle Diaries: My 21,000-Mile Ride for the Climate (2014) chronicles avid cyclist Kroodsma's epic bicycle trip from Palo Alto, California, to the southern tip of South America. Along the way, he encounters some of the spectacular landscapes on earth—unique ecosystems vulnerable to the destructive forces of a changing climate. The Bicycle Diaries won the Independent Publisher Book Award for Travel Essay writing.

When the story opens, Kroodsma is at the border between California and Mexico. As he surveys the Mexican desert stretched out before him, he anticipates the coming adventure. In retrospect, however, he sees his goal for this monumental voyage—to raise awareness about environmental issues and climate change—was backward. He would come to understand that it was his own awareness that was being raised, his eyes opened in new ways to the challenges facing a planet on the verge of a climate catastrophe. He also experienced climate change in a different way than his work as an environmental researcher normally provides: He witnessed its effects up close and personal, and the very real impact it was having on individual lives and fates. However, at this stage of his journey, Kroodsma only knows the thrill of the journey ahead of him, one full of unknowns. He only knows that he will continue his bike ride into Mexico and through Central and South America until the road runs out.

In Part One, the narrative goes back about a month, as Kroodsma sets out from his home in the San Francisco Bay Area. He travels down the west coast of the United States before entering Baja, California. With desert as far as the eye can see on all four sides of him, he enters Central Mexico and eventually into the heart of Mexico City. The change in scenery jars Kroodsma, the abrupt shift from no-man's-land to bustling metropolis. From there, he ventures into Southern Mexico, which he soon learns is not always safe for bicyclists.

Circumstances grow more challenging—and more rewarding—once he crosses over into Central America in Part Two. In Guatemala, Kroodsma can practically feel the ghosts of history rising around him. In Belize, he rides along the Caribbean Sea, one of his first substantial glimpses of the effects of climate change on a vulnerable ecosystem. Then, Honduras pummels him with storms. In El Salvador, the lingering trauma of war weighs heavily on the hearts and minds of the people—and on the land itself. In Costa Rica, Kroodsma experiences the "disappearing mountaintops"; over a century of logging and forest fires have clearly taken their toll. Reaching Panama, it is time for Kroodsma to cross the massive canal to make his entrance into South America.

Part Three covers the author's foray through Colombia and Venezuela. In Colombia, Kroodsma is in for a pleasant surprise. As more cities have sprung up around the country, there has been a largely successful effort to make urban areas as bike-friendly as possible. In fact, not only is biking extremely popular, but many cities close their streets to cars on Sundays, giving cyclists full use of the roads. In Venezuela, Kroodsma spends the night with oil company engineers, making it impossible not to note the "petro-democracy" staking claim to the nation's natural lands.

In Part Four, Kroodsma travels the Amazon River to the Andes Mountains, through Brazil, Peru, and Bolivia. Brazil's rainforests remain on the brink of extinction, one of the most urgent red flags of climate change we have ever had. Kroodsma cycles into Peru, going from the jungles to the top of the Andes. Peru offers a taste of two climate extremes: the impact of melting glaciers in the mountains and the dry, virtually uninhabitable desert. After making his way through Bolivia, he enters Northern Chile.

The book's final portion documents the last leg of Kroodsma's two-year bike ride. In Chile, he observes widespread mining operations, flourishing cities, and out-of-control pollution. He wends through Argentina, taking multiple routes, and into Northern Patagonia. At last, Kroodsma reaches the literal end of the road in Tierra del Fuego.

Throughout his trek, Kroodsma promotes his cause. He calls his project Ride for Climate, and it receives worldwide recognition. Along the way, he stops to give more than 100 presentations at schools and other community gatherings. Journalists profile him and his efforts. Reporters interview him at many of his stops. All these contributions underscore the larger purpose of his ride. Yes, this was certainly a personal adventure. It was also an urgent plea for—and a love letter to—Mother Earth.

The Bicycle Diaries includes photographs, maps, a list of actionable steps anyone can take to help the environment, and general tips for bike touring.
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