Kate Rawles will set off from Cartagena, Colombia in late-January, following the spine of the Andes to Cape Horn at the tip of the continent. Kate quit her lecturing job, has left little time for training and it’s been ten years since her last big cycling trip. Adventure Uncovered recently caught up with Kate before she sets off on a slow adventure away from the pressures and complications of modern life.

Kate, tell us more about ‘The Life Cycle’ – what’s the environmental issue you’re raising awareness about and why?
The main focus of The Life Cycle is the extraordinary diversity of species we share the planet with, otherwise known as biodiversity. As I ride through the amazing variety of South American habitats, from coastal mangrove ecosystems to rain and cloud forests to high mountain deserts, I’ll be exploring what biodiversity is, what’s happening to it, why this matters and, above all, what can and is being done to protect it. I’ll be having an adventure on a personal level, too, of course. I think of this as ‘adventure plus’: harnessing the power of adventure to help raise awareness and inspire action on some of our most urgent environmental challenges. It’s a follow-up to The Carbon Cycle, a ride from Texas to Alaska that I did back in 2006, following the spine of the Rockies and exploring climate change. I used the ride as the basis for talks, a book and various articles when I returned to the UK. The adventure becomes the communication medium for the environmental message, making it (hopefully!) more engaging and reaching all sorts of audiences.

“As I ride through the amazing variety of South American habitats, from coastal mangrove ecosystems to rain and cloud forests to high mountain deserts, I’ll be exploring what biodiversity is, what’s happening to it, why this matters and, above all, what can and is being done to protect it.”

As for why biodiversity, I think, we sort of get climate change now. Most people accept that it is happening and that we really need to tackle it (even if we are not yet doing enough about it.) But biodiversity loss, every bit as important, gets much less attention. We are losing species about 1,000 times faster than the ‘background’ rate of extinction, with potentially catastrophic implications for so-called ‘ecosystem services’ – rather important things like soil fertility, clean drinking water, and so on. It’s been called ‘The Sixth Great Extinction’ – caused by us. And of course, it has huge implications for many of the other species we co-exist with as well as ourselves.

What impact do you expect the cycle to have?
I really hope The Life Cycle contributes to a huge increase in awareness about why other species and ecosystems matter and a huge upsurge in positive actions to protect them. The impact will be shared via social media and articles while I’m en route and then talks, visits to schools and universities and community groups  – plus another book – when I’m back.

The trip will be mountainous along some testing roads, how tough and durable is the bamboo bike you’re riding?
Bamboo is incredibly tough and versatile. It’s used to make scaffolding in many countries around the world. I’ve no doubt that the bamboo will be more than up to the challenge. If there are weak points on the bike it will be down to my skills as a novice bike-builder! I built the bike myself, with help from The Bamboo Bicycle Club in London.

How have you prepared for the adventure and how will you adapt to your new environment for a year?
I trained for and rode the Fred Whitton Challenge in Cumbria last May and was cycling fit by the end of last summer. I’ve lost an awful lot of that fitness now, though! Other preparation has included research to find biodiversity/nature conservation relevant people and projects to visit along the route. I’ve also been working on my Spanish – which is still terrible.

“Preparation has included research to find biodiversity/nature conservation relevant people and projects to visit along the route.”

You crossed the Atlantic by cargo ship rather than plane, how did that go and how do you intend to return?
The cargo ship crossing was wonderful, in all sorts of ways. It reduced my personal carbon footprint immensely compared with flying. I’ve written about that crossing here: www.outdoorphilosophy.co.uk/blog. I’m not entirely sure how I’m getting back at this point! I’m keen to avoid flying back if at all possible, for climate change reasons, and I’m really hoping that Voyage Vert will be up and running by then: their vision is to provide a trans-Atlantic passenger yacht service which would reduce the carbon cost of the crossing to almost zero! This is how the figures compare for the Atlantic crossing (crossing only, embedded energy in the plane/boat not included):

  • First class flight: 6200kg CO2e (CO2 equivalent)
  • Economy flight: 2140kg CO2e
  • Cargo ship: 50kg CO2e
  • Yacht: virtually zero!

 

What are the biggest dangers and challenges you might face during the expedition?
Well, there will be the obvious challenges to do with distance, heat and altitude. Some of the road passes in the Andes climb to 15,000 or 16,000 feet and with a bit of luck, I should be able to get into some off-road sections that go even higher. But I think my main challenge is going to be language. The aims of this journey are all to do with communication – largely to a European audience of course but I still really do need to get to grips with my Spanish!

“The most important thing any of us can do as individuals is to find ways of living high quality, low impact lives – and visibly celebrate this!”

The project is clearly an arduous adventure that most wouldn’t embark on. What can people do in everyday life to impact the environment more positively?
It’s not always clear how we can best make a difference as individuals. I think it helps to think about different kinds of action at different levels. First is reducing our personal negative environmental impacts, everything from changing the light bulbs to flying less (climate change is one of the biggest drivers of species extinction) to eating less meat, avoiding those rainforest hardwood garden furniture products, consuming less in general etc. Then we need changes at a structural level, eg. to our food systems so that most of our food comes from low impact, biodiversity-friendly farming systems as opposed to high impact industrialised farming systems as is currently the case. These kinds of changes usually need to be made by politicians, working with business and NGO’s – so political action is key. Everything we can do to show we want our politicians to take action, from signing petitions to lobbying to voting for candidates who support pro-nature conservation/biodiversity policies. Finally, we need positive shifts in world views and values. We need to get beyond the disconnection from nature that is becoming so common in modern societies to remember, feel and demonstrate that we care about other species, that we don’t accept that only humans matter, that we are part of and dependent on, nature and natural systems. Above all, we need to focus on the win-wins. I am absolutely convinced we can create ways of living and working that offer high-quality lives, equitably shared, for humans; while co-existing with the amazing diversity of life we share the planet with (rather than destroying it.) So the most important thing any of us can do as individuals is to find ways of living high quality, low impact lives – and visibly celebrate this!

Finally, we need positive shifts in world views and values. We need to get beyond the disconnection from nature that is becoming so common in modern societies to remember, feel and demonstrate that we care about other species, that we don’t accept that only humans matter, that we are part of and dependent on, nature and natural systems. Above all, we need to focus on the win-wins. I am absolutely convinced we can create ways of living and working that offer high-quality lives, equitably shared, for humans; while co-existing with the amazing diversity of life we share the planet with (rather than destroying it.) So the most important thing any of us can do as individuals is to find ways of living high quality, low impact lives – and visibly celebrate this!

How will the legacy of the Life Cycle live on?
Via all the talks and articles I’ll be giving about it when I’m back. And the book – which will be a best-seller, obviously!


For more information on Kate’s epic two-wheeled bamboo cycle adventure:

 

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