Climbing 50,000 Feet in 50 Days on a Bike
The idea to start a non-profit organization called Riders Against Racism came after the murder of Ahmaud Arbery on February 23, 2020. This tragic death on the streets of Georgia started a conversation about “jogging while Black,” and how persons of color don’t always feel safe while participating in outdoor recreation activities.“After Ahmaud Arbery was murdered, and after I read How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi in May, I realized how important it is to build communities around the specific practices of anti-racism in outdoor spaces,” says Matt Niswonger, co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Adventure Sports Journal.
Niswonger, continues, “In terms of cycling, both mountain and road biking are disproportionately white and male. In light of the Ahmaud Arbery tragedy, the idea emerged to create a cycling organization devoted to helping cyclists become anti-racists, and to making the BIPOC, and LGTBQ+ communities feel more welcome in the cycling community.”
Riders Against Racism’s first 50/50 Challenge pushes riders to climb 50,000 feet in 50 days or less on a bike. Participants keep track of elevation gain via Strava and the leaderboard is updated daily to show cumulative totals.
The 50/50 challenge is a fundraising vehicle for Riders Against Racism (RAR) initiatives — the first of which is for the Washoe Tribe near Lake Tahoe.
“We are in a conversation about supporting the Washoe Nation,” Niswonger says. “Learning about the Washoe and their history in the Lake Tahoe region has been sobering. When I learned that the nearby town of Minden has a nightly siren that the Washoe have been trying to silence for over a decade it was an introduction to the sad history of the nearby towns.”
Until 1974 there was both a nightly 6pm siren and a law on the books that all Washoe must leave town by nightfall. The law was repealed but the same siren keeps blaring nightly to this day as a sad reminder of a traumatic past. To support the Washoe, Niswonger started an online petition to stop the siren that currently has over 12,000 signatures. (Read and sign the petition at asjmag.com/sign-petition.)
A few days after the petition was started, Niswonger was contacted by the local news to be interviewed alongside some Washoe elders including Serrell Smokey, who is the President, Chairman, and CEO at Washoe Tribe of Nevada & California. That interview resulted in a news story that aired on KOLO TV.
There is much opportunity to partner with the Washoe people in their efforts to thrive as a people. Mountain biking, road biking, and snowboarding/skiing can play a role in that.
Beyond the Washoe initiative and other initiatives, the 50/50 Challenge aims to grow a national digital community of riders who identify as anti-racist. Niswonger explains, “This will be an important part of our organization because having a Strava community built around anti-racism is a good thing for the cycling community. The higher profile we get, the safer and more inclusive cycling gets.”
Tax deductible donations can be made through January 5, 2021.
Donate at pledgereg.com/ride-against-racism
WHAT SOME PARTICIPANTS OF THE 50/50 CHALLENGE HAVE TO SAY ABOUT RIDERS AGAINST RACISM
When I signed up for RAR, I thought to myself, well I ride a lot. This is going to be no problem. Well as it turns out, it really is hard. The cumulative days of biking thousands of feet uphill builds up in your legs, and recent snow conditions have added another dynamic to the suffering. Embarrasingly, I was fairly unaware of what POC experienced living in the US until recently and 2020 opened my eyes wider than they’ve ever been to just how much racism exists. This year I’ve gone to BLM protests, seen the militia members flashing white power symbols with their automatic rifles and I’ve even heard the Sundown Siren sounding off in Minden as a solemn daily reminder to the Washoe Tribe that they aren’t welcome. I’m motivated to make racism wrong again. I’m determined to get the Sundown Siren silenced for good, but more importantly, I’m excited about helping and empowering POC to enjoy outdoor sports. The outdoors is for everyone.
I have spent my entire life engaging in what are loosely referred to as adventure sports. Sports that are generally you vs. yourself in an arena where mistakes can have dire consequences. Big mountain snowboarding, high altitude mountaineering, rock climbs taking a week or more to complete, and of course mountain biking. If there is one dominant characteristic that I have recognized from my early years of scaring myself, it’s that this is a bunch of white dudes having a blast in nature. Where are the persons of color? Where are the women?
When Matt and I first talked about doing a 50K in 50 days challenge, at first I thought, wow, that will be tough, and then I got very excited about it. The immediate next topic was how to use the event to raise awareness and funds for racially inspired social justice movements. How can WE make a difference?
It is inspiring to see every effort that we are making towards this cause as a team. Initially I was concerned that this challenge would just be a way to justify what can be a selfish and privileged pursuit. But no … it’s not about that at all. Each hard fought climb and mile gives me a moment to think about how I can change my ways, many of which are rooted in the racism of my family lineage. We can all make this world a better place with the kindness that is embedded in our hearts.
Each ride has made me equally sad and optimistic about the events of this year. The inequalities in so many aspects of our society are increasingly apparent. If I can make a difference to at least one person or help inspire introspection in others then it is all worth it. Thank you everyone. Let’s take this to the next level.
This challenge has impacted me more and been more significant than I could have imagined. I’ve also been thinking about how I’m a better person going through this contentious election— seeing more, learning more, reflecting more—than I would have been if I hadn’t spent so much time riding the last few weeks. Ride on!
Donate at pledgereg.com/ride-against-racism