A Seattle girl with a love and concern for endangered orca whales hopped on a tandem bicycle with her tech-savvy father Saturday morning to start a cross-country ride to raise awareness and money to aid the species.
Olivia Carpenter, a 14-year-old freshman at Roosevelt High School, is taking on the big trip this summer with her father John Carpenter, the longtime IT manager at Madrona Venture Group.
On a sunny morning at Golden Gardens Park in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, the two shared donuts with friends and family before doing a traditional dip of their bike’s wheel in Elliott Bay. Joined by another dozen or so riders, they then headed off on the Burke Gilman Trail and the first leg of the trip, which will take them to Oxbow Farm and Conservation Center, 37 miles away in Duvall, Wash.
Over the next nine weeks, they hope to average about 63 miles per day and complete the 3,400-mile journey by Aug. 25 — Olivia’s 15th birthday. Along the way, some creative technology will aid in the effort.
“I’ve been an avid biker probably since college,” John Carpenter said. “Both of my daughters, Olivia and the older one, Rebecca, have been cycling with me all their lives and are used to the thrill of high speeds on the trail and all that.”
About six years ago, Carpenter bought his first tandem bike off of Craigslist and he and Olivia picked it up in Bremerton, rode aboard the ferry to get back to Seattle and have been hooked ever since. They’ve ridden the bike all around the city and toured the San Juan Islands, where Olivia has had a long interest in the southern resident orca population which frequents the Salish Sea.
“My dad was the first one to propose the idea of riding across the country,” Olivia said. “Immediately I jumped in, ‘Yeah, totally! This sounds so cool, it’d be so much fun.’ We quickly realized that since we’re doing such a cool adventure that we should raise money, and since I was a little kid I’ve had a huge and deep passion for the orcas of the San Juan Islands.”
Olivia said she always loved the whales, but credits her grandmother and a trip several years ago to a camp called Whales and Trails with truly heightening her interest.
“We learned all about orcas and the history of the San Juan Islands and we got to go whale watching and see the whales,” Olivia said. She also got to “adopt” a resident orca from the J pod as part of the experience. That whale’s name is Cookie.
The ride from Seattle to Boston — which you can learn more about via this website, and Twitter, and Facebook and Instagram — will benefit Orca Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness about Pacific Northwest orca whales, and the importance of providing them healthy and safe habitats.
Olivia said money raised — they have a goal of $10,000 — will help with education programs, wildlife restoration and environmental clean-up efforts. She knows a lot about how pollution and toxins impact the whales and the Chinook salmon they rely on for food. And she already knows it’s a focus she’ll maintain in her career choice.
“It’s definitely my dream to become a marine biologist and live in the San Juan Islands and continue to research and try to protect the orcas,” Olivia said.
Carpenter’s wife Emily will be driving a support RV along the route, and that vehicle will be decorated with RideForTheOrcas.com logos. Olivia has also made brochures about their cause to hand out to folks along the way.
“Olivia will have an opportunity to raise awareness as we travel across the country and meet a lot of people who have different views than we do out here in the Pacific Northwest,” Carpenter said.
For his part, other than being the lead power source on a bike pulling a junior whale expert to the East Coast, Carpenter is putting his technical chops to good use. He’s been at Madrona for 17 years and has learned a few things along the way about staying connected.
“While the managing directors have been kind enough to let me go off on this venture, it’s not a complete vacation and sabbatical,” Carpenter said.
A new bike from Co-Motion Cycles out of Eugene, Ore., will be home on the road and Carpenter said a Dynamo generator hub on the front wheel will power the front and rear taillights as well as a USB charger built into the bike’s headstay. That’ll keep an iPhone charged that’s mounted on the handlebars.
Carpenter will also wear a bluetooth wireless headset in order to get turn-by-turn directions from a cycling app called Ride With GPS.
“We’ve been able to download all the GPS waypoints from Adventure Cycling Association for the northern tier route which we’re taking. It basically takes Highway 20 and Highway 2 across the U.S.,” Carpenter said.
Ride With GPS will be live tracking the duo daily and those interested in the ride can visit that website to see where they are and what kind of progress they’re making as well as average speeds and elevation. Carpenter’s Apple Watch will also pull in his heart rate — which he says he’ll be keeping a close eye on especially as they ascend Stevens Pass and other mountain passes along the way. Carpenter will turn 52 about two weeks into the ride.
The two have been going on training rides on Seattle-area trails for the past couple months. Carpenter, who has been a daily bike commuter for three years in the city, said he’s looking forward to getting away from traffic.
“It’s such a different experience being on an open road in farmland on a bike than the hectic busy streets of Seattle and a daily commute,” Carpenter said.
He said he told Olivia, “We should go on a long ride.”