If my legs could talk...(inspired by a presentation by R. Bruce Allison, author of If Trees Could Talk)
Well, right now, if my legs could talk, they might tell you that they sincerely dislike the person they are attached to and desire a transplant to a more sedentary being. In absent remembrance of my recent efforts, they might break out in song:
"These legs are made for pedaling, and that's just what they'll do, and one of these days this legs are going to...pedal all over YOU...Wisconsin!"
Pedaling all over Wisconsin is exactly what more than 80 people did this past week on the STIHL Tour des Trees. The cycling was some of the best of my life. Paul Wood from Black Bear Adventures put together one stellar ride.
Each day on the Tour starts in a different location, and one morning we began our day from Madison and headed for Blue Mound State Park. Fellow cyclist Jim Urbanowsky and I made a brief unscheduled stop in the town of Mt. Horeb for coffee, pastries, and artisan wood. We then had a bit of climbing to a beautiful view of the state that was rewarded with great down hilling, and meandered through a beautiful Wisconsin valley off to lunch at a local winery. The rest of the day, the scenery matched the ride by taking my breath away. I made it back to the hotel after 107 miles. I felt the same as many of the other riders, accomplished, content and happy to be back on the STIHL Tour des Trees.
While in Madison, Professor R. Bruce Allison of the University of Wisconsin-Madison spoke to us about the relationship between humans and trees throughout history. He used his most recent book, If Trees Could Talk, as a reference to guide us through Wisconsin's tree history.
His presentation was full of interesting connections between prominent Wisconsin citizens and trees. He ended by telling us a story about one of my personal heroes, John Muir. As told by Professor Allison, John Muir had a profound moment with a horticultural professor while attending the University of Wisconsin for engineering. Muir and the professor had a discussion about the interconnectedness of all living things using the similarity of the Black Locust trees flower to a pea plants flower. Muir would write later that the interaction changed his life and motivated him to become a naturalist. It was said that whenever he bought a new house, the first tree he would plant was a Black Locust, and this story was a good reminder about why we are riding this week -- for the trees.
Throughout the Tour I am often asked by reporters, "Why do you ride on the STIHL Tour des Trees?" My answer has become quite standard and includes words like stewardship, inspiration, passion and determination. But tonight's presentation made me think a little deeper about this question. Of course I thoroughly enjoy being welcomed at the Milwaukee GermanFest, seeing the beautiful Wisconsin countryside filled with forest and dairy farms, but there is more to this than just riding my bike and seeing all these wonderful places.
The money that we raise along the way goes much further than the eye can see. At the opening dinner we were introduced to Matthew McKernan, a fourth year horticulture student at Kansas State University. He was recently awarded the Robert Felix Memorial Scholarship by the TREE Fund. He volunteered to be our luggage handler for this year's Tour.
This week we are having fun, but we are all fully aware of why we are here. Take young Matthew, for instance. His scholarship may not cover the entire cost for a year in college, but knowing that people in the industry he is entering care enough to help him achieve his goals will have a lasting impact. While here, he is exposed to a group of people that care about more than trees, they care about people and want to help them succeed.
On our third night of the Tour, we had dinner at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP). We dedicated a tree in true Tour fashion to Robert Miller, professor of forestry. Professor Miller started the urban forestry program at UWSP, which is the largest of its kind in the United States. After dinner, we heard from Professor Richard Hauer, who learned the importance of raising money for research while attending the International Society of Arboriculture conference in Toronto in 1990.
His mentor at the time gave him baseball cap and told him to go around the convention and fill it up with money. He would collect about $200 dollars, give it to his mentor, only to be told to go out and get some more. In true academic fashion he told us he tried to calculate how much money we raised per pedal stroke during this year's 585-mile Tour. He failed to give us a hard number, but he did educate us on the impact of our efforts. He gave several examples of grants that he had received from the TREE Fund to do research. The most impressive was a recent grant for $10,000 that enabled him to leverage approximately $250,000 from other sources. He let us know that each little bit mattered.
I did some rough calculations. Each rider is required to raise $3,500 multiplied by 85 riders equals $297,500. If we multiply that by 25 (the factor by which Professor Hauer's grant was multiplied) you get $7,437,500. More than $7 million in impact could be possible from the money raised by the cyclists on the STIHL Tour des Trees - just this week. Just think about how many kids could pursue a degree, how many scientists can find an answer if we all just gave a little. If you are able to donate to the mission of the TREE Fund, and to the cyclists of the STIHL Tour des Trees, give whatever you can. Even a little can make a big difference.