For two weeks in May, twenty five teenagers had an epic adventure as they traveled by bicycle together.  Our community of students, teachers, bikers, campers, question askers, non-complainers, jokers, pranksters, thinkers, dreamers, and laughers rode over 300 miles from Ferndale to San Francisco, California.  This trip was part of Life Academy's post-session, an innovative immersive learning program where high school students spend two weeks earning academic credit doing off-site programs. 

 

The fact that these students only earned two PE credits is almost comical, considering that they rode their bikes through some of the most challenging biking conditions I've ever experienced (and I've spent over a year of my life bike touring!) But beyond the credit, they had an experience that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.  After the trip, we asked them, "what are your key takeaways from this trip?" 

 

Here were some of their answers: 

 

I learned that I am capable of doing more than what I think I can.

I learned that I can do things I’ve never done before in my life.

I can do more than what I think I can do.

That I can do anything and I shouldn’t let my mind trick me into thinking I can’t do something because I very much can.

To never give up and keep being persistent.

No matter how you feel no matter who you are you can do amazing things - you just need to put in the effort.

There is always a downhill to an uphill. Fear shouldn’t be the reason I don’t do something and mental strength is as important as physical strength.

Keep pedaling.

I learned that if I wanted to I can actually accomplish a lot of things. I also learned how to work with a community and live with new people.

I can do anything.

 

We made a short video with some of the highlights from the trip, you can watch it below. One of the participants wrote a reflection on the redwoods that puts into words some of how it feels to be in the middle of ancient trees.

 

This trip was made possible by SO many people, road magic never fails to take care of us when we're putting in the effort. Special thanks to Wendy and John, who shared their family farm with us on our first night and introduced the riders to Bob the llama, to Gary at the Peg House, who not only connected us with the kind folks at Richardson Grove RV park who sheltered us after two days of riding in the rain, but also DELIVERED BURGERS! So that we could give the kids the dinner we promised them. Also huge thanks to Sheldon at Albion Field Station for rearranging things so that we could stay in the lovely cabins there, and explore the river on our rest day.

 

Thanks also to everyone at Life Academy who helped make this trip happen - the indefatigable B (Rich Boettner) and Nina Portugal, who took a wild idea and made it real, to Sam Solomon for helping with transportation, Venus for helping with, well, everything, Alicia for your support with transportation, and especially Alykhan Boolani and Aryn Bowman, the hardest working co-Principals I've ever met. The community at Life is a truly special one, and I'm so glad to be a part of it. 

 

And thanks to everyone who contributed financially to help us pay for the food, the trailer we filled to the gills with aforementioned food, the campsites, the educational tours, and the snacks.  Special thanks to the Neda Nobari Foundation for being the principal sponsor of this trip, and the Oakland A to Z Fund and the Ventures Foundationfor providing material support.  

 

While we probably learned more about how to keep going when you're soaking wet and tired, we ALSO learned about the history and ecology of the places we passed through.  Gratitude to Amanda Benson of the Bear River Band for sharing the indigenous history of the Eel River Valley, and for feeding us before we started our ride. We got to stay dry AND listen to the incredibly knowledgable Sophia Eckert from the Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association tell us about the redwoods.  

 

Thanks also to Hank Birnbaum at Fort Ross for giving us a tour and sharing the history of Russian colonization of the Pacific coast.  And thanks again to Sheldon Schultz of Albion Field Station, who not only gave us a dry place to stay but also told us stories about the days when ships full of logs pulled out of Mendocino harbor every day bound for the Gold Rush boom town of San Francisco. 

 

It seems to be a truth about camping that no matter how overprepared you are while camping, when it rains you're never going to have enough gear.  We owe enormous thanks to Bay Area Wilderness Training, where trained youth leaders can borrow gear for free to take young people outdoors, and Patagonia, who donated technical gear to keep us warm even when we were wet.  We might have frozen without it. 

 

We also got invaluable support from Ride for A Reason, the community bike ride that raises money for Oakland schools (including Life Academy). Not only did R4AR invite our participants to ride free of charge, they also donated their leftover snacks, ensuring that we had a seemingly endless stream of energy bars to fuel ourselves up those hills. 

 

And, last but not least, a giant thank you to the trip leaders - Zeph Fishlyn, Diego Arana, and Dart Kaufman, who biked, cooked, cleaned, organized, dried, schlepped, drove, and did innumerable other seen and unseen things to keep the trip going.  Thanks also to Eric Welsh and Karen Smoot for joining the ride and pitching in. 

 

A bike trip, of course, is nothing without bicycles, and the Field School is incredibly lucky to partner with Cycles of Change and use their Adventure Fleet for our bike trips. Benji Rouse and San Saephan are mechanical wizards and provided both pre-trip and on the road facetime troubleshooting, and Jason Wallach at Laurel Cyclery helped organize the bike drive that built the adventure fleet into a fleet big enough for our students. The bikes were donated by generous community members throughout the Bay, and Trips for Kids Marin donated a bike and racks.

 

 

CALIFORNIA'S CHANGING COAST: A BIKE TOUR

WITH LIFE ACADEMY, OAKLAND

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WATER, GOLD, AND CALIFORNIA'S HISTORY UNDERGROUND

 

In July of 2018, seven high school students participated in the California Field School's first trip from Lake Tahoe to Sacramento. Over the course of eleven days, we had lots of adventures, swam, fished (unsuccessfully), and learned about California history.  

 

 We started our journey with a visit to the California Indian museum in Sacramento, where we got an overview of California's indigenous people.  Then we headed to Lake Tahoe for 1.5 days of orientation, which included a bike ride through a torrential hail storm!  


Our ride began down the old stage route into the gold and silver fields of the Sierra Nevada, over Henness Pass. We spent two days biking through the wilds of the upper Yuba river watershed, and along the way we heard stories about the Gold Rush and

the experiences of both Anglo miners and miners of color. On the fifth day of riding we arrived at Malakoff Diggins State Park, once the site of one of the biggest hydraulic mining operations in California.  

 

In Nevada City, we learned about the hidden history of the Gold Rush and the genocide against Native Americans from Shelly Covert, spokesperson for the Nevada City Rancheria of the Nisenan People. She also runs the California History Indigenous Research Project, a project that aims to record and preserve the indigenous history of California. 

 

From there we left the Yuba River behind and entered the Bear River watershed, where we learned about modern day gold mining techniques from an amateur miner staying at our campground.  We had breakfast with Otis Wallen, who is part of the Save Bear River coalition fighting against a new dam on the Bear River. 

We descended from the mountains through the American River watershed, climbing through the canyons of the north and middle forks of the river.   The last leg of our journey was a beautiful ride down the 27 mile long bike path along the American River, ending in Sacramento at the confluence of the American River and the Sacramento River.  We celebrated the end of our journey with a rafting trip, and said goodbye to the old friends and new friends we made along the way.

One participant said "I liked everything - from the dinners, to the bike rides, from the steep hills we went up and down...if you have more trips like this, I would love to come back...it makes me feel free."  The community we built over the course of the trip has separated, but the memories we made will last a lifetime. 

We are so grateful to everyone who helped make this trip possible, and we're looking forward to more trips in the future! To get info about upcoming trips please click here to subscribe to our newsletter!

Check out photos of the trip below! 

ADVENTURE LEARNING TRIPS FOR YOUTH EXPLORING ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIAL JUSTICE

Email us: info@californiafieldschool.org

The California Field School is a project of The Hub for Sustainable Living, a 501c3 non-profit organization.

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