“It’s really been an amazing experience,” said Adi Segal, a 23-year-old student from New Jersey. “The ride combines three of my greatest passions, which are Judaism, the environment and cycling. I can’t think of a better way to spend the summer.”
Segal is one of 10 riders participating in the complete trip, which began June 7 in Seattle and will end in Washington, D.C., Aug. 16. Other riders have joined the group for shorter pieces of the trip.
The riders are promoting sustainable food systems across the country, which includes what they believe to be a just farm bill that promotes sustainable farming practices and healthy lifestyles. They have been collecting signatures for a petition that they plan on presenting to the U.S. Department of Agriculture at their closing ceremony in Washington, D.C.
They are also spreading awareness about the role bicycles can play in transportation. As luck would have it, BikePGH was in the middle of one of its busiest times of the year — BikeFest 2012 — and needed all hands on deck while the tour was in town.
“This group was looking to volunteer across the country on their days off and doing either food justice or bicycle advocacy,” said Scott Bricker, the executive director of BikePGH. “Serendipitously, it was during our busiest time when we’re putting hundreds of volunteers to work.”
As a Jewish organization, the third and final focus of its ride has, of course, been Judaism. Howard Metzenberg from Seattle explained that keeping kosher while riding bikes across the country has been an additional challenge, but an important aspect of the trip.
“I think it’s a very core part of the ride. It is a Jewish ride, and it is about food, and Jewish values are really tied up in food,” he said. “So it’s very important to keep the ride grounded in Jewish practice.”
Along the way, the group has stopped in big cities and small towns, meeting Jews from all different backgrounds.
“As we get closer to the East Coast we get the royal treatment as we come to JCCs and other places. We get locker rooms and Jacuzzis and all that, but we can get that at home,” said Segal, quick to point out the riders welcome those luxuries.
“But going places like Aberdeen, S.D., that don’t have a minyan usually and we come in as this small mobile Jewish community and really raise the spirits. To see the faces of those people — forget what it does for us — is just spectacular,” he continued.
“For them to be able to have a minyan and do Shabbat, the way they’ve been yearning to do Shabbat for many, many weeks, months, years, is a wonderful experience,” he said.
(Ilana Yergin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)