ADRIAN ORANGE & HER BAND
Adrian Orange & Her Band (K)
Adrian Orange is a man. And an admirable one at that. Instantly a love-or-hate situation, Adrian keeps the interested listening with an array of instrumentals and plenty of quirktastic vocals. Initially grating, Orange’s voice is humbled nearly-instantly; reflective, needy, and endearing. With a crew totaling in excess of twenty individuals, there is a lot to this, “her,” band. Plenty of goods make their way out of K Records, Orange is one such good.
BACK DOOR SLAM
Roll Away (Blix Street)
Time warppppp. Flashhhhhback. I didn’t even exist in the ’70s, but what I know of it is pretty much completely encapsulated in Back Door Slam. Psychedelic album artwork, husky vocalists, long hair, etc. and on. And, well, something is in the water on Isle of Man (near Liverpool), because the boys, yes BOYS, behind Back Door Slam are just that, kiddos who’ve not experienced the era either. They’ve done a damn fine study, though, and ape it with ease. Hard to imagine a huge demand for tunes of this vintage, but time will certainly tell.
From Beale Street to Oblivion (DRT Entertainment)
The real question that Clutch raises is not how they keep churning out album after album, but how they keep the quality control at Lee Iacocca-like levels. Granted Clutch haven’t been receiving bailouts from the U.S. Congress, but in all fairness they don’t need ‘em. Clutch just continues to produce. The days of metal-esque thump found in Blast Tyrant or their eponymously titled LP have been replaced by a steady diet of blues, soul, and rock. Vocalist Neil Fallon’s patter and rockin’ cadence still spew forth as it always has, but if you’re new to the world of Clutch this is not the place to start. The quality’s there, but do you really need a new Chrysler K-Car?
ADAM GNADE & YOUTHMOVIES
“Honey Slides” single (Try Harder Records)
Every time Adam Gnade gives the word that there is a new track to be heard, I am found for days after on email, MySpace and telephone proclaiming my love of it to the world. His new collaboration with the UK’s Youthmovies has followed the same course (and additionally this time ’round, various band members have been notified of the track, in my secret hope that it will better them both personally, and as musicians), but the song itself is quite a change of pace for Gnade. He’s now backed by the electro-pop of Youthmovies and the result is a dance party waiting to happen, replete with Gnade’s always somber, relatable, gorgeous mumblings. This debut track promises that the EP of the same name will be something well worth a listen.
Good Morning Revival (Epic)
Brace yourselves. Things are about to get scary. The new Good Charlotte album is (not completely, but somewhat) enjoyable. It’s full of really amazingly catchy, likeable, danceable, fun songs. I’m not joking. See, I remember Good Charlotte. I remember the sleeves of tattoos, the jet black hair, the dumb looks (and despite the new sound, those physical attributes all still remain intact, so there is that). My little scuzin Emily listened to them back in the day. She had the posters. She was one of the screaming 13 year old girls. Still, I hate to say this (nay, it frickin’ kills me to say this), but Good Charlotte might be a band to revisit? If you remember that awful “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” song, then that’s too bad. But, if you listen to the band’s new track “Dance Floor Anthem” and can imagine better (ok, much better) vocals, isn’t it really great?? Isn’t it great in a guilty pleasure, I-still-secretly-listen-to-the-Killers kind of way? No? Maybe. But maybe not.
Some music is just inexplicably incredible. Such is the case with the Mekons. Part creepy fairy tale, part hippie hoedown (barefoot in the grass), part sweetened reflection by the campfire, Natural is a trek not soon forgotten. For a band celebrating its 30th anniversary and 1st album in 5 years, this feels pretty darn fresh.
Few bands I love are more challenging on first listen (no pun intended) than the New Pornographers. Band leader A.C. Newman creates power-pop melodies that are amazing, but slow to reveal themselves. This record is no exception. Less rockin’ and more tender than their first two records, with more layers, much like their third effort, Twin Cinema. Some of the new songs now have so much string support you wonder whether Challengers is the side project of an Electric Light Orchestra cover band. I also hear echoes of Game Theory. But mostly I hear another solid album by one of my favorite bands. Their best yet? I won’t know ’til next year.
Now You Are This (Kill Rock Stars)
Unable to decide just what it wants to be or what it wants to do for its audience, Numbers is able to, surprisingly, accomplish a lot. Noisy, experimental. Rock, pop. Never uninspired, never dull. It’s a KRS release through and through, and a winner no doubt.
Misbegotten Man (I and Ear)
When I was in high school and had outgrown my love of the piano lessons I attended grades 2-12, I had a discussion of “dissonance” with my 70ish year old instructor. I had brought in Elliott Smith’s “Miss Misery” to play. I learned it, she hated it. I’m reminded of this, because People is all about the dissonance. At its core this is an experiment between two people completely at odds musically. Intentionally. Mary Halvorson provides the oft-Regina Spektor-esque vocals (though they can also remind of Adam Green somehow?), Kevin Shea (called the “drummer”) is all over the place, trying at every turn to overpower and dethrone Miss Halvorson. It’s an unlikely battle of wits and makes for an exceptional listen. Not for the faint of heart.
What you need to know about this Spokane band’s sophomore effort: it’s shorter (8 songs) and better than their first release. The songwriting is more sophisticated, and the playing has gone up a notch. In it’s best moments Haunt hints at the old-world rhumba-rock charm of one of my favorite bands, Firewater. Enjoy the gloom. Dance around fire.
TEGAN & SARA
The Con (Sire)
I find the Quin voices EXTREMELY irritating. And when on track 4 “shit” comes out “shayhyhyt” (only longer), I just shut down. Track 5 shows hope, but this just has to stop. Tegan & Sara are charming and sweet and adorable in person, but there are so few female voices I care for, and these two… I do not.
Guilt by Association (Engine Room Recordings)
Quite possibly the best compilation disc ever created, Guilt by Association wastes no time capturing attention. Lead off track “Don’t Stop Believin” (yes, the Journey cringe-r), is recreated in its most favorable form yet by Petra Haden (who has worked with The Decemberists, The Rentals). It gets better. Devendra Banhart covers Oasis. Luna covers Paula Abdul. Jim O’Rourke (producer to Wilco, Joanna Newsom) covers Spice Girls. GOAT COVERS FALL OUT BOY. Your guilty pleasures just became completely radical (even, maybe especially, that last one!).
The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring
Random House, 2007, 284 pages.
If you were asked to find the least understood of Earth’s ecosystems, where would look? The bottom of the ocean? The polar ice caps? The top of alpine peaks? All likely places but all wrong. Our most seldom seen and poorest known ecosystems exist in the canopy of old growth forests. Once ubiquitous, these ecosystems now exist only where old growth forests remain.
In The Wild Trees author Richard Preston carries us to these little known places. What little is known of the treetop environment has been gleaned by a few small bands of researchers working in forests around the world. Among them is a group including Steve Sillett and Marie Antoine whose work in the last vestiges of the California Costal Redwoods is among the most detailed of the several ongoing projects. Their work is the focus of Preston’s book. Sillett and Antoine along with a small group of amateur naturalists are focused on completely describing the costal ecosystem before it falls victim to the chainsaw.
Some researchers use whirly crane systems, highline cables and even hot air balloons to reach the treetop ecosystems. Much of the interest in Preston’s work derives from the Sillett groups’ approach to the canopy; they climb to it. The book’s title The Wild Trees comes from the many unknown areas of the forest; a wild tree is an unclimbed tree. Preston traces the evolution of research climbing techniques from simply applying “power pole climbing” equipment to trees to using complex climbing sling and rope systems. The Wild Trees also touches on the emergence of tree climbing as a recreational activity and the risks that recreational climbing poses to the fragile canopy ecosystems.
Reading The Wild Trees you will explore the last fragments of the Coastal Redwood canopy ecosystem and gain a glimpse of similar ecosystems in Central and South America, Australia and Europe. You will climb with Preston into a canopy ecosystem as diverse as any on earth.
The Lonely Planet Guide To The Middle of Nowhere
Jenny Bilos, Editorial & Production Manager
Lonely Planet, 274 pages.
Instead of a standard travel guide of destinations, this book attempts to be the travelogue for a concept. What is the “Middle of Nowhere”? In our age of globalized 21st century tourism can you really find 57 locations that qualify?
Yes you can, and The Guide to the Middle of Nowhere catalogues them nicely.
The format is simple and ingenious: each destination gets three pages, two photos, and roughly a 1,000 words of text. The contributors, are all top notch writers, photographers or both, from around the world. Each chapter is a different spin on the combination of beauty and danger inherent in the geography of the middle of nowhere. And nowhere itself is subjective. Some writers tackle locations that are incredibly barren and remote, others focus on spots populated but unreachable because of war or economic barriers. It’s hard not to be convinced of the grandeur of any of them, and hard not to keep turning the page.
The table of contents is a map of the world. The locations are distributed evenly throughout all regions. When was the last time you considered Heard Island, Southern Ocean? Watkins Bjerge, Greenland? Or West Kalimantan, Borneo? There’s also more familiar names such as Easter Island, the Darien Gap, Yellowstone National Park and the Sahara Desert. What’s it like to visit those places now? This book pulls back the curtain for a brief glimpse.
The Guide to the Middle of Nowhere functions more as a coffee table book than a travel reference, but it does come with an interesting appendix called “Getting Nowhere,” that lists some basic travel info and tips on each destination, including the Moon. (“Don’t go without: Enough fuel for the return leg.”)
This is the perfect atlas for anyone who dreams of visiting another world-on this world we live in. The only question is, once you’re done reading it, do you keep on dreaming or start planning your next adventure?
Food Not Lawns
Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2006, 334 pages.
Trained in permaculture and co-founder of Food Not Lawns Cooperative in Eugene, Oregon, Heather Flores, wants to see us start growing more food-and in the process build stronger communities. By building the “ecological integrity” of the communities in which we live, she believes we will spend less time plugging-in and more time getting to know our place in the world. Flores sees a link between locally grown organic food, more healthy diets, more healthy individuals and more healthy relationships.
Part whole-systems theory and part political manifesto, Flores covers it all. She begins with general discussions around ecology and community, then moves toward conservation of water, reparing our soil, knowing plant culture, preserving seeds, and then on to knowing yourself, your place in the cosmos and how to become an activist in your community.
The book is less about the evils of the lawn and more a blueprint for Flores’ vision of a green utopia. The book is a constant reminder of our dwindling natural resources and our pressing need to become stewards of these resources through a constant conservation of resources. Waste is not allowed in Flores’ vision. She includes numerous statistics throughout, reminding of us of our present wasteful habits such as the following:
- Primitive people used about a gallon a day of water for drinking, cooking and washing. Today in the United States the average person uses, per capita, twelve hundred gallons a day for basic needs such as food, washing and drinking.
- Lawns in the United States consume around 270 billion gallons of water a week-enough to water 81 million acres of organic vegetables all summer long.
- Lawns use ten times as many chemicals per acre as industrial farmland.
- Lawns are the biggest agricultural sector in the United States.
According to Flores, a twenty-five foot area has the potential to grow more than a hundred pounds of vegetables a year. There is no need to head out to the suburbs to fulfill her vision-a small urban lot will do just fine. While some of her suggestions might be a bit over-the-top for the non-militant activist type, she offers a plethora of concrete ideas to help turn your city into a “paradise garden.”
Book Reveiws, Magazine Article |
As the summer cools off a bit, this time of year is great for bike touring. The Internet is chock-full of information about bikes, gear, destinations, how-tos and every other aspect related to loading up your bicycle and hitting the road. In this column, I’ll just focus on the why.
Why tour by bike?
The journey is the goal, not the destination
When you explore new areas by bike, you are a part of the landscape. At bike speed you are an active participant. Waves and friendly nods are common from the local folks along your route. By cycling through an area you get know it intimately. All of your senses are included: the aroma of a cool forest or fresh cut wheat; the weather is a constant uncontrollable companion. Fast descents push you quickly through microclimates of alternating hot and cool spots. Long slow climbs allow you to see, smell, and hear the streams, wildlife, urban landscapes, rural communities and human touch of the landscape that can be so easily missed as you drive by at 50 mph in a car. To enjoy bike touring to its fullest requires that you reframe your thinking from one that focuses on reaching a destination to one of savoring the moment and enjoying the journey.
The satisfaction of accomplishment
If you tour enough you will encounter the “epic day.” Epic days almost always involve some unexpected huge amount of climbing or a long, unplanned detour. Midway through an epic day you think you’re nearly done; it’s only late at night when all of your energy is completely spent do you realize the enormity of the day. When you look at the map and see what you did. Or when you lay in your shelter and your body is beyond the beyond, but your mind is alive and awake; you’ve had an epic day. I don’t know of a similar type of satisfaction of accomplishment than biking through an epic day and feeling that joy. Even tours without epic days provide a huge sense of accomplishment; just knowing that you traveled and explored an area by your own power is extremely gratifying.
A test of ingenuity and flexibility
Stuff breaks, the night falls too quickly, the destination you had been aiming toward has somehow fallen through or is not suitable. By approaching bike touring with an open mind, a loose schedule, and a sense of adventure, mishaps can be a great moment to teach patience, ingenuity, and to test your ability to be flexible. Mishaps can also expose opportunity that you might otherwise dismiss or miss entirely.
There is a bike tour for everyone and it can be super cheap
You can go at it all alone or with a group. You can haul all of your gear so you are self-sufficient for days, or you can sign up with a touring outfit that will haul your gear and fix you dinner at the end of the day. You can tour by credit card, staying B&B’s and hotels. You can camp every night or every other night. You can tour the country side, the cool roads of the national forests, through towns and cities, over mountain passes, or just out your back door to experience your region with a whole new perspective. You can tour for a single day and be home by dusk; you can tour overnight; you can tour for weeks, months, or even years. You can tour on an old mountain bike, a race bike, or a fully loaded touring bike.
After you have bought your bike and gear, you can bike camp for as little as $10 a day; the majority of your money will go to food if you are good at finding camping spots.
Eat all you want
Perhaps one of the most satisfying aspects of bike touring is that you can eat and eat and eat-the food is your fuel. When I tour I pack away about twice the number of calories per day than I normally consume. And every bite tastes wonderful. I’ve always come back from tour weighing less than I did the day I left. What’s more, if you tour during summer or fall when local produce is being harvested, you will eat the best of the best. Cycling through Washington in late summer and early fall brings wonderfully ripe fruits and vegetables by the truckload, often bought right off the farms where the produce was grown.
The more you tour the more you learn about what you are good at, what gear suits you, what kind of touring your prefer, the kind of folks (or none) that you prefer to tour with. Just like anything that you spend time at, you gain skills that you didn’t have before. You get better and stronger at climbing; you learn how differences in loading a bike and seemingly miniscule adjustments can make a huge difference in how a bike handles. You learn, often by necessity, how to repair and properly maintain your bike. You understand what is hype and what is valuable when buying gear.
Perhaps most importantly, you learn about your own limitations, fears, weaknesses, and your abilities. I’ve not found a better way to learn about myself than when I’m bike touring, where I can quietly reflect for hours and the only sound I hear is the occasional chatter of my touring partners, or the running of water in a roadside stream, or the rush of wind; and the constant, persistent whir of my chain passing over my drive train as I pedal towards the next unknown.
John Speare grew up and lives in Spokane. He rides his bike everywhere. Check out his blog at http://cyclingspokane.blogspot.com.
Everyday Cyclist, Magazine Article |
Imagine this: you’ve traveled from Spokane to Bellingham and back at least twelve times in the last four years. You’ve flown, you’ve driven, maybe you’ve bussed, but you’ve probably never biked. Brian Nelson has.
The recent Western Washington University graduate and avid cyclist found himself earlier this summer with the opportunity for a new challenge: bike across the state. He did it in 21 hours of riding time, alone, in the record high temperatures of late May.
“Ever since I came to Bellingham for school I’ve always wanted to bike home, and now that I’m done with school and had some time off from work, I decided I should just do it,” Nelson says. Spurning his mother’s concerns (she offered to fly him home if he wouldn’t bike), Nelson scoped a route across Highway 20, borrowed some panniers (bike bags) from a friend, and set off.
“I went with Highway 20 because it has very cool scenery. Washington Pass was about a 40-mile climb, and it’s highway road so it’s not necessarily the safest, but on Highway 2 the cars are faster and there’s more traffic,” Nelson says.
What did he carry, and what carried him?
Bike: “I have five bikes,” Nelson says, “but my favorite bike and the one I used for the trip is my Surly Crosscheck. It’s a steel bike and it’s super smooth.” He especially likes that it’s made to accommodate all the extras that make it ideal for cruising around rainy Bellingham and for winter training. It’s made with eyelets on the frame for attaching fenders and racks.
“Race bikes aren’t always made for touring. The Surly is slower and heavier but it just makes you feel faster when you get back on your racing bike.”
For his journey across the state, Nelson stuffed an extra pair of his favorite Hincapie bike shorts, some water bottles and food in his borrowed bike bags, which he clipped to the rack he usually has attached to the bike frame.
Wheels: Ksyrium. “They’re bomb-proof.”
Tires: “I like to go with more of a cyclocross tire so I have less chance of getting a flat,” Nelson says.
Pedals: Shimano clip-ins.
Shoes: Northwave brand’s Aerator Race model.
Seat: Fizik’s Aliante. “I don’t think it matters much what seat you use. There’s no way around it, you’re gonna get sore.”
Sustenance: “I’d never been on a bike for longer than seven hours, so my biggest concern was not my equipment, but my nutrition.” He packed bananas and Baker’s Breakfast Cookies to keep his energy level up, and stopped in almost every town along the way to refill his water bottles. “I took more food than I needed because I didn’t want to get stuck out there in those wheat fields that go on forever, and once your energy drops, you’re done for.”
Sunglasses: A pair of Smiths that he got from his cycling team in Bellingham, the First Rate Mortgage team.
Accessories: That ubiquitous training tool, the iPod. “My iPod ran out of batteries,” Nelson says, leaving him alone on the road for two ten-hour days of riding with just his thoughts and his cell phone. “It was a great way to get away and kind of meditate. I spent two whole days without really talking to anyone, except I had to call my Mom a few times.”
What would he not have survived the trip without? “A good chamois cloth and chamois cream,” says Nelson, who prefers the Assos brand to stay chafe-free.
If you’re thinking that bananas, chamois cream, and a gander at Google maps is your new solution to cutting travel costs, think again. Nelson trains hard and races competitively, so unless you, too, have legs that might win a Washington State Biking Association BARR award, good luck with that climb over the Cascades.
Magazine Article, What's Your Gear? |
Climbing with Johnny Goicoechea humbles even the best Inland Northwest sport climbers. On a recent trip to Riggins in central Idaho, Johnny gorged himself on the most difficult routes available in a massive limestone cave and tasted success on nearly everything he touched. Only a handful of Northwest climbers can even grasp what this freckle-faced, young man climbs-figuratively and literally. He’s a pro at climbing the impossible, with an emphasis on power and dynamic moves, and likely the most unassuming athlete you would ever meet.
Spokane’s legacy of bold climbers rivals the best from other outdoor-minded communities like Bend, Boulder or Bozeman. But few places, in North America or Europe, have a climber so driven he can float to the anchors of a 5.14 climb in fewer than 9 tries. What’s equally interesting is that only a small amount of people know Spokane hosts a few 5.14 climbs-virtually the most difficult rating attainable in the climbing realm. Given Johnny’s recent climbing spree this summer, Spokane is sure to have another 5.14 route soon.
Over a decade ago, while attending a wedding in Boise, some cousins took Johnny rock climbing at the local cliffs. Upon his return to Spokane, he quickly signed up for a belay card at Wild Walls Climbing Gym. Virtually brand-new at the time, Wild Walls attracted droves of kids that wanted to be just like climbing superstars Chris Sharma or Katie Brown. As expected, most of the teenage enthusiasm faded away in all but a handful. However, within two years Johnny started to train on and, soon after, master the most difficult routes in the climbing gym. Many top local climbers, including Brett Jessen and Brian Raymon, recount an enthusiasm and tenacity that made him stand out even in those initial years.
Jessen, who served as the Wild Walls climbing team coach at the time, noted, “He would climb seven days a week no matter how many times I told him to rest. At one point, I suspect he had stress fractures in both middle fingers, and it just made him want to climb more. Almost four years on the (Wild Walls climbing) team and he was way stronger than me. Now, he has become a kind, supportive, athlete that is as strong as he is humble.”
By his senior year in high school, Johnny started to tour the country for climbing comps and visit the most popular climbing hubs such as Bishop, the Virgin River Gorge, and several places in Colorado. He exposed himself to different styles of climbing, different types of rock, and he shared a rope with a number of gifted climbers. The meandering road delivered him to Colorado for a period, where he served as a model for adventure-photographer Brian Solano, and ultimately started working for climbing legend Christian Griffith at Verve clothing. A stampede of climbing antics throughout the West, paired with superb placement in various distinguished competitions, earned four significant sponsors-Verve, Five Ten, Revolution and Fortress Watches.
There is no doubt Johnny’s not oblivious to life away from the world of basalt, chalk, and finger holds; he just calls it “doing my thing” and quickly points out that he is a full-time college student. His family is very important to him, a pleasant surprise in present-day sports. Plus, he genuinely loves road trips, even if there’s no climbing at all.
Now, back in Spokane to continue his education, Johnny prefers to climb at the Main Wall at Deep Creek in Riverside State Park. He politely declines discussions about ratings, perhaps because it may sound too boastful, but he favors the most difficult climbing on the most overhanging sections of rock. He likes Motley Crux 5.14 for its sustained nature and other difficult routes like Dump Truck 5.12b and Quiver 5.13b for the challenge. He loves hard bouldering in the Tum Tum area and some uncommon but daring routes at Minnehaha. Still, that doesn’t mean he won’t climb fun and easy routes with his friends. Hanging out with friends is the highlight of every climbing outing, no matter what the grade or rating, and all of his climbing partners appreciate his enthusiasm whenever they meet their own climbing goals.
When pressed about his strengths and weaknesses, Johnny responded, “I would say my strengths in climbing would be powerful, gymnastic climbing, and a good ability to try hard. For my weaknesses, well … I try not to think about those. They will almost always hold you back.”
Brian Raymon adds, “I just don’t think people really know how good Johnny is. I mean he does things in weeks that might take other climbers years. I get sick just watching him push his limits, but at the same time, it’s inspiring.”
Perhaps Johnny’s greatest contributions to Spokane’s climbing legacy lie in the years to come. A handful of open projects-bolted routes that have never been climbed-still exist, and he’s the most likely candidate to climb them in the coming months. He also has his sights on a few other Inland Northwest crags he hasn’t visited yet like Laclede or some daring routes in western Montana. Yet for all of his accomplishments, Johnny is known in the climbing world not only for his exceptional talent, but also his modest personality and enthusiastic demeanor off the rock-an absolute inspiration to all who get the chance to climb with him.
Magazine Article |
Moscow, Idaho’s Village Bicycle Project is on the Cutting Edge of Two-Wheel Economic Development
One of the best programs in bicycle-related economic development operates right here in the Inland Northwest. The Palouse Clearwater Environmental Institute, in Moscow, Idaho operates the Village Bicycles Project. This program has been shipping bikes to Ghana for almost a decade. David Peckham, Director of VBP, took a moment for an interview with OTM this summer while administering the program in Ghana. He has a unique perspective about the global economy and what a functioning bike means to the average African villager.
How did PCEI, a group founded in response to regional concerns about nuclear energy, get into shipping bicycles to Ghana?
PCEI’s mission is about involving local citizens in decisions to protect the environment, and after Hanford closed and the downwind threat had abated, PCEI got involved in stream restoration and transportation issues. Bicycles are an important part of the solution to congestion, pollution, energy crises, and climate change. When this local project to reuse bikes overseas came up, PCEI took it on.
How old is VBP? What lessons have you learned since the program began, and how have you incorporated them in to making VBP more effective?
The phrasing of the question seems to imply that we started with a set idea. VBP started in 1999 when I went to Ghana to study the bicycle environment. Several years earlier the government had removed import duties on bikes and I wanted to see how that had impacted cycling, and if there was anything I could do to help. So in a way, it has all been lessons. Look for the problems, and look for ways that you can address them. Early on I was working many different angles, and I wanted to go with what was easiest, most effective and most fun. I abandoned efforts to build local cargo racks, because it wasn’t taking off. I also gave up on getting bikes to the police cause they were a difficult group to work with. After a nightmare experience retailing the first shipment, I turned that over to Ghanaians.
I really wanted to do an outreach with farmers. I made contact with Peace Corps, and that part has really done well. Last year we trained about 850 people in bike repair basics, each receiving a discounted bike, and this year there will be twice that many. Every step of the way there are lessons, and today we’re running into some logistical obstacles. Our approach to development-look for the problem, then try solutions- is advocated in a recent book by long time development economist insider William Easterly [White Man's Burden, now in paperback-ed.]. He says that the current mainstream approach to development-a multi-lateral master plan backed by big money-is top heavy, disconnected from the people it is supposed to help and not lifting the poor out of poverty.
Can you give an example of how donated bikes have made a difference in the lives of those who’ve received them?
It blows my mind. Last week we went to Songornya, where we did programs in 2005 and again two months ago. 160 bikes. It’s the place where Ayamye was filmed. It’s a group of three villages along a terrible rough road about two miles from the main road and four miles from the main town. Transport to the main road is expensive and infrequent. People said that at times they’d see someone waiting for a ride as they biked out, and two hours later upon their return that same person would still be sitting there, waiting for the ride. One family is hauling bread from the town by bike, and the two dollars transport fee is now profit, (national per capita income is a dollar a day). A health worker is saving about an hour a day he used to spend walking or waiting for a ride, and $600 a year. In another village where we got bikes to rural health care workers, people are delivering health education, medicines, even patients by bike.
School kids are getting to school in time and not exhausted from a three-mile walk. A furniture maker now has a wider customer base, as he can easily travel to a much wider radius from his home. I’ve heard probably a hundred stories from people, and its kind of a no-brainer. If someone who has to walk everywhere suddenly gets a bike, they are going to be more mobile and save lots of time.
Additionally, a crucial component of the program is the maintenance education. People seemed to think that there was something mysterious about bike repair, and they had no concept of preventative maintenance. We’re making sense to many of them; they are listening to their bikes, and keeping them up. I’ve been tweaking the curriculum for years to make the workshop as straightforward and simple as possible.
Do Ghanans view cycling differently than Americans do?
We think of bikes as alternatives to driving, while for most Africans bikes are alternatives to walking. In an African village, owning a bike is more of a status symbol than car ownership is in the US, because in most parts of the US everyone has a car. In many African villages, only a few even have bicycles. We have seen that owning a bike in Africa usually means poverty reduction, because either you have more time to be productive or you’re saving money you once spent on transit.
You are in Ghana right now. Any new developments there that have affected how you run the program?
I’d have to say that there’s a delayed effect going on. Now we are trying to incorporate changes that caught our attention months ago. A bit more than a year ago we started exclusive women’s programs. We found out that most of the women who didn’t know how to ride before the program still don’t, and someone else, usually male, is using her bike. Now we are going to prioritize learning to ride, incorporate riding skills at the start. Women’s’ workshops may become two days, instead of the one day program we have been doing. It’s in flux. We may split it into two tracks, one for riders, one for non riders.
This trip I’m seeing a lot of opportunity coming our way, but we simply don’t have the infrastructure to follow through. Maybe by the time of my next visit…
How is the program funded?
We are funded mostly by private donations and a few small foundations. Some of our bike donors pay part of the shipping costs, and that becomes a donation to fund programs. I’m a full-time volunteer, so we’re doing this on $25,000 a year.
There are many in the U.S. who could benefit from a functioning bicycle. With all the effort aimed at trans porting them overseas, why not just try to place donated bikes with the less fortunate in inner-city America?
Many of our bike donors do just that, but they have so many more bikes donated than they can turn around in the community that they can send us, and others, 450 at a time. Bikes Not Bombs in Boston, Bike Works in Seattle, Working Bikes Cooperative in Chicago, are all sending us their surplus bikes. The number of unwanted bikes gathering dust in the rich countries is staggering. In Moscow, without really trying, we collect 400 bikes a year.
Are you the only organization in the U.S. sending bikes to Africa?
Heavens no. I know of three other organizations sending to other groups in Ghana alone, and there are probably hundreds of others sending bikes to Ghana. Most however, are commercial enterprises. I know of several other non-profits who are doing outreach as VBP is, in other parts of Africa.
What do you think of the Kona/Bicycling Magazine Africa Bike project?
Part humanitarian aid, part media stunt, wholly unsustainable. I wish I had a chance to finish reading the story before commenting, so my facts may be a bit sketchy. The way I recall it, they pretty much dropped the bikes off. There was no study of access to repair or spare parts, no repair training, some of the bikes ended up locked up by people in authority.
Many in the rich countries think that the way to help the poor world is to give stuff away, but that is all wrong. If we come in, give it away, and leave then we can have this feel good thing, but it is so irresponsible. We think we are operating in a vacuum, “Oh lets give them some bicycles.” It fosters dependency, it ignores and hurts those who are already there, somehow selling and repairing bicycles. Those who are already working with bikes, managing somehow, are the link to sustainability. They will still be there when we’re gone. It is essential that we work with them and help them do their work better.
Do you have any thoughts on long-term transportation solutions for Ghana? Will there ever be a native bike manufacturing industry there?
Ghana has very recently struck oil, but having oil is no longer a solution to transport problems. Nigeria has plenty of oil, but 70 % of the people, that’s 100 million people, live on less than $2 a day. In this age of climate change, oil wars, and for Ghana, a crippling imbalance of payments, appalling traffic congestion, inadequate public transit, and widespread poverty, bicycles should be a significant part of transportation planning. But, the Ghana government, like so many poor countries, really has very little control over its economy or development. Power is in the hands of the IMF, World Bank, and holders of external debt, who dictate the trends of development, which favor corporate globalization. I think ‘globalization’ is a warm fuzzy straightjacket to force everyone in the world into the trade economy. Traditional communities are forced into export-oriented production at the expense of growing food, so they must buy imported food, profiting huge companies far, far away. It is about corporate power at the expense of local economic self-determination.
Will there ever be bike production in Ghana?
Current trends suggest that Chinese companies may locate in Ghana for cheap labor to work for the export market. Maybe this means bike factories may one day locate here, but not to the benefit of Ghana. Will the bike factory workers be able to afford their own bicycle? In a totally different twist, someone from the US recently introduced a bamboo frame bike, that with the right combination of a good product, skillful development and some luck, could challenge the prevalent paradigm. [See http://www.calfeedesign.com- ed.] The growing used bike market in Ghana is today undermining demand for the junky new Chinese and Indian bikes. More and more people are experiencing a better ride for their money in the used European and North American bikes than the shiny junk that’s been the staple offering for decades.
What kind of support does VBP receive from folks in Moscow?
The core of VBP’s support is from Moscow area folks. Five of our eleven biggest financial donors are local. We’ve probably generated more than 1000 bikes locally for shipment, which is pretty amazing for our population. That is out of 20,000 bikes total shipped.
How can readers get involved with supporting VBP? When will the next container loading happen in Moscow?
There’s lots of ways to get involved. There’s administrative work (the boring but essential stuff), program volunteers in Ghana, board membership, helping locate, collect, deliver and prepare bikes for shipment. Groups of us in Moscow prep bikes on a sort-of regular basis, its fun-o.
We’re looking at loading a container in Moscow on Saturday September 22. It is so expensive to get a container there and back, that we have to load while the driver sits and waits, at $50 an hour. So it’ll have to be quick and efficient, well organized, and a big party. We want to have a band play, food and drink, and a bike parade/escort when the truck leaves. We hope the driver has a sense of humor, fun and adventure!
To find out more about the Village Bicycle Project go to: http://www.pcei.org/vbp
To learn about the Village Bicycle Project
documentary film go to: http://www.ayamye.org
Ayamye: The Village Bicycle Project Film Comes to Spokane
See Ayamye the Award-Winning Film about the Village Bicycle Project. Out There Monthly is proud to bring to Spokane this new film, for one of its only non-film festival screenings this year. The film documents the story of bringing used bicycles to Ghana and will be shown at the Magic Lantern Theatre at 25 W. Main in downtown Spokane on Saturday, September 15 at 7PM. Tickets are $7 with proceeds to benefit the Village Bicycle Project. According to Dirt Rag magazine: “Ayamye follows the lives of four community members in an African village that receive bikes, over the course of one year. The film tells the story of the determined and resourceful people of the rural village, in a dramatic look at how lack of transportation can impact the education, health and livelihood of their community.” The film, created by Eric Matthies and Tricia Todd, is 50 minutes long and will be followed by a presentation by Dave Peckham, Director of the Village Bicycle Project on “Bike Repair in the African Bush”, highlighting some of the DIY techniques people use to repair bikes when resources are next to nothing. Don’t miss it. Seating is limited. Call OTM at (509) 534-3347 for more information.
Magazine Article |
Is anyone as tired as I am hearing about how Portland, Oregon is some sort of angelic eco-city? PDX is an American bicycle nirvana, leaving everywhere but Davis, CA in the dust-allegedly. Am I the only one who remembers a toxic Willamette River, Skinheads who killed people, and Portland drivers so hostile to cyclists that a good friend of mine used to bike around with an extra chain to retaliate against anyone who tried to run him off the road?
I hadn’t been to Portland in three years and hadn’t biked there in longer. I was going to a conference at Portland State and decided to bring my bike and witness the city’s bike miracle first hand.
I stayed with friends in South East. The street they live on is a designated bike street. That means signage, bike lane connections, and roundabouts at intersections that discourage car through-traffic. They are professionals who have a 3-year-old, and both work downtown. They just bought a bike-trailer to take the their kid into daycare on the way to work. Their bike commute takes all of seven minutes and includes great bike lanes on big arterials and a trip across the Hawthorne Bridge.
Shadowing them across the bridge I felt like I was riding on a bike route actually designed by a cyclist; entrance and exits worked great, separation from pedestrians was logical, everything seemed well-maintained.
Portland cyclists come in all shapes, sizes, genders, and ages. Regular folks-not just road warriors. Other cyclists actually smiled at me while I was riding, as if to say “Hey, isn’t it great we’re all riding bikes?” This doesn’t happen to me in Spokane, not because of a lack of cycling solidarity, but because if I see another cyclist here it’s usually across four lanes of car traffic. In Portland I was actually in bicycle traffic, with riders all around me.
I did encounter a few things that made me feel right at home: bike lanes that went nowhere, lack of signage, a trail that dead-ended unexpectedly. But in general, with bike racks all over, a coherent network of bike routes, and lots of fellow cyclists, Portland felt like a different two-wheeled universe than Spokane.
I was told the biggest changes there have happened in last five years. How much more bike-friendly could Spokane be in five years? It’s time to find out. We could learn a lot from our neighbor PDX.
Editorial, Magazine Article |