Many of the members of the Ruckus Test Team have been energized and activated by—to put it mildly—recent developments in American politics.
So when I found myself in a scheduling dilemma between leading the Ruckus Test Team Saturday ride and also planning to stand in solidarity with Planned Parenthood and resist a “Defund Planned Parenthood” rally, I pitched to the team that we combine our political activism with our ride, and do the following route:
STAND W PP
I wanted the route to do two things:
1: Spell out a clear message of support for Planned Parenthood
2: Still be kind of a decent ride
So rather than write it all out in 8-bit using city blocks, I had to map this thing out as best I could using the sinewy lines of Portland’s West Hills. This took me three hours.
The route would definitely incorporate some “unconventional” roads, but also some decent miles and some good climbing.
MINIATURE AMERICAN FLAGS FOR ALL!
The first thing to mention about the ride is that Stephen read an article in the Atlantic about what an effective protest could look like, and decided that we should all show up with American flags on our bikes, rather than divisive garb/signs. So myself, Stephen, Erica, Andrew, Dan, Johnny and Justin Tamale all taped as many flags to our bikes as we could, then headed on down to the protest/counter-protest!
Stephen’s idea was pretty good, as well as being kinda funny. The whole scene was a jumble of protesters and counter-protesters all packed next to one another, with only their signs and their stereotypical looks to identify which side they were for. Then us on our bikes with absolutely no specific statement other than American flags! The ambiguity was a breath of fresh air in a hyper-partisan era where you’re either reading Breitbart or HuffPo. Although I do regret not making a sign that said something as simple as “We stand with Planned Parenthood” just so people knew who the spandex people were supporting.
We hung around sheepishly for about 20 minutes as some better-organized people across the street chanted in support of Planned Parenthood to drown out any of the defunders. Then we hit the road to start our ride!
We rode the two big “P”s through NE Portland and looped back to the protest. By this point there were 2-3 times as many people, and the defunders had occupied their police-protected zone and set up their PA system to tell some insane-sounding story about fetuses and adoptions and sin or something. We talked with a friendly female officer who was laying down the vibe that she found the speaker as nutty as we did, then we continued on!
We rode across the bridge, walked down the stairs to keep our lines tight, then started the hilarious zig-zagging through downtown and NW Portland to spell out our “W” and “D.”
A NOTE ON GPS ART
This was my first time making “GPS art” and I learned a couple of things. Namely: have a really good Garmin or phone app to follow your route, and have your device on your handlebar so you can follow along at all times. I had a Garmin eTrex brick taped to my stem. The eTrex has an excellent GPS, so my location was always dead-on on the route I created with RideWithGPS. But I didn’t have a good basemap, so I had no context for the “blue line” I was following. Luckily my teammate Johnny had some GPS program on his phone, so I mostly followed him through the city parts with a lot of turns. I’d suggest using either one of the higher-level Garmins with good maps or a good phone app like RideWithGPS (use premium to pre-load a ride and follow along with the location dot).
Another factor I ran into was the natural inclination to use more major roads because you can see them on the map easier/they form straighter lines/they go the way you want your line to go. While it can be worth it to get the drawing you want, I think it’s worth mentioning that you should try to “look between the lines” of the major roads while planning your route. There’s a good reason you never ride up Burnside or on Scholls Ferry…
HITTING THE HILLS
OK so I forgot to mention that I was riding my single-speed cyclocross bike with tubular CX tires. I remembered minutes before I had to leave that I had a flat on my road bike and I didn’t have time/tubes to fix it, so I took out the ol’ SSCX thinking, “hey it’s only 2,500 feet in 30 miles. That’s not that bad!” I neglected to take into account that almost all of those feet happened within the latter 20 miles, making this actually a quite steep route.
So we went uphill. First, stupidly, on Burnside (YOU try to spell out an “N” that works with these other letters!), then straight up to near Pittock, then back down our steep climb, then up Burnside again, hoping our American flags would shield us from angry motorists (the jury is out), then up Barnes.
Our crew started separating as the hills persisted, and people realized that this 30 mile route was going to take like 4 hours. Eventually we were whittled down to just me, Dan, Andrew and Stephen. I was determined to finish, but also getting pretty worried that one of us would be hit by a car as people on Burnside honked and somebody on Humphry buzzed us in his WRX.
I felt my team nearing a mutiny for those last couple of letters, but they followed along—presumably because we’d gone too far to stop and Strava a ride that spelled out “AND W PP.”
I knew the “T” would suck, but I also knew it would be fast, so I tried to speed us along through the busy Patton and Scholls Ferry out-and-backs with their angry drivers. Once we finished, we only had the “S” to go, snaking its way across Highway 10 several times before finally riding on Scholls Ferry one last time then finishing on Hamilton.
Thanks for not killing me, drivers! (or teammates!)
We all stopped our Garmins/Stravas to post our triumphant GPS art, then rode back over the hump to downtown and home. It was actually a really hard ride.
DID WE REALLY ACCOMPLISH ANYTHING?
It’s hard to say what this ride really accomplishes. We didn’t have it tied to any financial/donation mechanism. We didn’t publicize it, nor try to attract a big bike community (which was good because some of those roads were sketchy!).
But it felt nice to know that we at least weren’t looking away from well-organized efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. We didn’t escape to our privileged bike land and turn away from serious threats to reproductive freedom. We dedicated our ride to a cause, successfully organized our team members to show up as activists, and showed in our small way that we won’t let a bunch of yahoos come into our city and shit on women (and men) who go to Planned Parenthood.
It’s easy to feel hopeless right now. But I felt hope out there standing up against narrow-minded people who (incorrectly) believe they have a divine mandate to control other people’s reproductive health. I felt hope out there on the road, American flags taped to my bike, standing out of the saddle, standing with Planned Parenthood in my own weird way!
- Successfully jumping rope with the double-Dutch “jump against Trump” girls
- Stephen’s dual American flags on the front of his bike flapping in the wind, looking like a Presidential motorcade
- Walking up a lot of stairs
- Seeing a ratty coyote sitting at the top of one set of stairs, looking like the Wizard of Westover
- Not flatting my tubulars and having to call a cab from the side of Burnside