Twelve-year-old Solar Youth cyclist Jeremiah Godley didn’t think the fates were working in his favor Saturday morning. The sky had clouded over; it was raining intermittently. But when his Rock to Rock team leader announced it was time to go, he pedaled with all his might — and made a pact to himself that he wouldn’t stop until he reached the finish line, eight miles away.
That spirit of persistence marked the ninth annual Rock to Rock Earth Day Ride, a cycling extravaganza doled out in eight-, 12-, 20-, 40- and 62-mile routes. This year over 1,100 riders made their way through rain, mud, and chilly temperatures Saturday morning, raising over $175,000 dollars for a number of local, environmentally-minded nonprofits. That amount is up from last year’s $160,000. A week remains for riders to fundraise before Rock to Rock tabulates official totals. This was also the first year Rock to Rock practiced a “zero waste” approach to the ride, asking food vendors to use recyclable-only materials in the take-away containers they used.
For all riders, the day began at Common Ground High School and ended in East Rock Park. But the in-between, many said, was harder than expected because of the weather. As rain fell on the roads, some bikers found the asphalt slippery, or hard to navigate because of silt and sand. Others headed home immediately after the race, shivering in their lycra, spandex, and polar fleece at the finish line.
Riding the eight-mile route for the fourth year in a row, Godley wasn’t the only one worried by “crazy rain everywhere,” a few bursts of thunder, splattering mud and ambulance sirens for several miles of the ride. Friends Jack Schlechtweg and Nate Carpenter had committed to doing the 40-mile ride as they fundraised, looking forward to it “as the first real ride of spring,” Carpenter said. But around Lighthouse Point, they missed a turn and got separated from the larger group. So they made their way back to East Rock Park, riding about 29 miles in all before crossing the finish line together.
“It was a blast,” Schlechtweg said — but also a little scary because of the sandy roads, and a chill that they’d both been unable to shake until they stretched out at the finish.
Heading straight from the finish line to check out an East Rock dance band, School of Forestry students Ben Rifkin, Cameron Musser and Emma Crow-Willard said they’d had a similar experience — but saw the rain as a reason to press on, and put everything they had into finishing the race. Rifkin and Musser had signed up for the 40-mile ride when they thought the April weather would be milder. As rain started to fall around 10 a.m., they thought of peeling off to ride with the 20-mile group. When the rain continued, they stopped at a designated turnoff for the 20-milers. And then Rifkin took a deep breath, turned to Musser, and said “screw it.”
The two pushed ahead on the 40-mile ride. Once they’d committed to it, Rifkin said, “it was really fun.”
For some riders, it was also a season of firsts. Elementary schooler Alden Neuman braved his first 20-miler ever with his dad Justin, and arrived at the finish line with raindrops running down his face. The ride had been cold and exhausting, Alden said. But there also hadn’t been any question in his mind about whether he was going to finish.
“It was so tiring,” he said. “But it was really fun too.”
That was also the case for Newhallville Bike Team captain Doreen Abubakar, who hadn’t been on a bike for 30 years, she said. She’d first considered the ride last year, when she worked with Bike Month representatives to apply for a grant that brought eight adult bikes, 16 kid-sized bikes, and donated helmets into Newhallville for residents who wanted to ride. The bike team is still tiny, she said — only three came out for Rock to Rock — but she knew she had to finish the 12 miles she’d set out to do. A few miles in, the rain picked up, and she said she wasn’t sure she could finish. Her legs didn’t feel like they had enough pedal power left in them; her back hurt. So she started repeating a mantra to herself: this was for the community.
“If the young people can do it, I can do it,” she said. “And now I’m looking forward to continuing this.”
“Responsible Guardians Of The Earth”
As a few of the 62-mile riders continued to trickle in around 2 p.m., a crowd of 2,000 different crusaders — some of whom had ridden in Rock to Rock — gathered in the same spot for March for Science New Haven. Organized by Yale researchers Diane Krause and Valerie Horsley, the march joined hundreds taking place nationally to protest President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts and deregulations that would affect the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
Taking the stage to applause, loud cheers, and the bobbing of homemade pro-science signs, 15 speakers warned of the potentially damaging consequences of those cuts and deregulations. Recalling a mistrust of science from the persecution of astronomer Galileo Galilei to the Scopes Trial of 1925, State Sen. Martin Looney warned that “we have to battle this at every level ... and recognize that we are not going to be stampeded by a political agenda that denies the reality of science.”
Science teacher Chris Willems recalled questions he heard from curious science students each week. Global Health Partnership Director Gregg Gonsalves pulled a bottle of pills from his left pant pocket and told the audience that they were his body’s best protection from death.
“Let us pledge to be responsible guardians of the earth,” said Priyamvada Natarajan, an astrophysicist at Yale University. A loud cheer went up from the crowd, and then another as stem cell researcher Laura Grabel urged the group to fight back, because it was the only thing to protect the field.
Chanting “Science now!,” protesters then filed out of the park, waving signs mixing humor with protest (“There Is No Planet B”; “Science Means You Can’t Just Make S**t Up”; “Never Underestimate What a Bunch of Angry Nerds Can Accomplish”; “If You’re Not Part of the Solution, You’re Part of the Precipitate”). With chants of “Science now!”, “What do we want? Evidence-based science! When do we want it? After peer review!”, and “This is what democracy looks like,” the march, several blocks long as its strongest, streamed from Orange Street to Humphrey to Whitney Avenue, then doubled back on Canner Street to Livingston and back to the park.
Brian Slattery contributed reporting.