08/14/2012 12:40 pm ET Updated Oct 14, 2012

Riding for Research With Coffee, Donuts, and Lessons in Life & Tree Care

Yesterday ended the official STIHL Tour des Trees for 2012. What a ride!

This morning was the last breakfast buffet. We had a much later start than normal, and I was excited to ride as a group through the streets of Portland. The city's set up for biking with bike lanes galore. Most of the drivers are very cycling conscientious, and it makes for much safer riding. As we rode through the streets, the rhythmic sounds of more than 100 bikes hitting the same obstacle made me smile. It felt like we were taking the city over.

We couldn't be missed with our sharp blue graphic jerseys. Unfortunately, my ride was cut short when one of our riders was cut off by an aggressive mountain biker who wasn't part of our group. One thing I've learned this week is how important bike safety is, and how easily things can go wrong on a bike. Our friend was okay with minor injuries, but it was disappointing that the other cyclist involved didn't so much as stop once he saw our guy was hurt.

My riding partner and I are both first responders, and we've been lucky on this Tour that so many of the cyclists have similar experience. Four or five of us were able to assist getting him back up and taken care of. We went to the staging area to meet up with the other riders so all 100+ of us could arrive together to the final event in Laurelhurst Park in Portland.

While we were waiting, fellow rider Phil Bennett and I decided to go get some coffee at the Rocking Frog Café, where the doughnuts were pretty radical. I had two vanillas, and Phil had chocolate. They fry the doughnuts to order and then put the icing on them. They come out piping hot, and for someone who just rode 585 miles to get one, it might as well be mouth gold.

While we were enjoying them, the cashier asked us if we were racing. "Yes," Phil joked. "We are so far ahead we decided to stop for coffee."

The cool thing about bikers is that when you meet other cyclists it's an instant connection. The cashier was leaving later that day to embark on a 1,100-mile, 14-day trip on his bike through California. We told him about our experience this week and could sense his anticipation to start his own ride.

After leaving the shop, Phil and I got into a good discussion about our purpose in riding this week. Being an engineer and not an arborist, this week has imprinted a sense of responsibility in me that wasn't there before. I asked Phil, what should someone like me do when I get home to keep this spirit of the event alive?

He shared an interesting perspective that I hadn't thought of before: Phil emigrated from Great Britain, and is now an arborist with the city of Snoqualmie, Wash. He said when he first moved to the U.S., he was extremely homesick and didn't feel settled. He decided to get to know his new environment better -- and not culturally or socially, but from a natural standpoint. He studied the geology of the region, the ecology, and got to know the locale from this point of view. Once he thoroughly knew his surroundings, he felt at home. He said to me, "How do you know what you need to protect if you don't know what's there to start?"

At the end of our conversation, we both agreed that the issues we face concerning trees and the health of our urban forests are extremely complex and have to be considered from a variety of angles. Everyone -- not just arborists -- needs to work together to learn to care for our environment in a responsible, manageable way. I don't think it's practical to be a complete idealist, and the solution is to never cut down another tree, but I do think there's a middle ground where the conversation about how to care for trees starts, and a viable, working solution can be constructed. We joked and said that if you asked an environmentalist and a conservative member of the Sierra Club how they felt about the forest, they'd probably say the same thing as an arborist would... or an engineer from Virginia Beach.

You have to start somewhere, and I told Phil when we see each other on the Tour next year, to ask me how much I've learned about Virginia Beach. This is only one example of profound conversations I've had on the Tour. I have met passionate people before, but the STIHL Tour des Trees cyclists are at the top of the list.

This event isn't just about riding or raising money, but, more importantly, it's about the passion these people share, and their commitment to spreading the word even further. I want to thank everyone that I came into contact with this week as we worked together for the TREE Fund, as well as those from the TREE Fund who worked to make this event such a success for us. Whether you realize it or not, you won't be forgotten. What an amazing adventure.

As my friends in Germany would say, I am leaving with one eye laughing and the other crying. Safe travels and vaya con Dios mis amigos con bicicletas. Until next year! (I'll explain later).


Chuck Kellen is an employee of STIHL Inc.who is spending this week cycling through Oregon with the STIHL Tour des Trees. The event benefits the Tree Research and Education Endowment Fund (TREE Fund). To learn more, visit and

Photo Credit: Alvin Gilens

STIHL Tour des Trees