This book tells the story about my two-year bicycle journey across North and South America to raise awareness of climate change.
“This is the kind of adventure we need more of—someone actually taking what they know and carrying it out to the people who need to hear it. Pedaling a bike, and peddling the truth about the most important issue of our time.” —Bill McKibben, author, The End of Nature
“When scientist David Kroodsma talks about global warming, people listen—because he’s on a bike.”—Bicycling Magazine
I've reached my goal! However, if you contribute more, I will be able to do more.
With more support, I will be able to do the following:
- Fully fund the costs of production (~$12k)
- Promote the book through a broad outreach campaign.
- Giving some books away for free.
- Support the upcoming Ride for Climate Asia trip.
My friends at Marmot, who sponsored Ride for Climate USA, have just pitched in a dozen wool beanies! The next 12 people giving at the $75 level will get two signed copies and warmth for the winter months. (A value of $25 for the hat.)
Although the final book will not be available by the holidays, if you pledge any amount before the 25th, I will send you the first 5 chapters of the book in eBook format. Note that the formatting and small details will likely change between the 25th and February. Happy holidays!
Who should read this book?
This book is for anyone who wants to read an adventure story about biking across Latin America, and who wants to learn about what climate change means for the region.
At its heart, this book is an adventure story, and it shares what it is like to bicycle solo across two continents. Most days that I cycled I didn’t know where I was going to spend the night; I found myself camping in backyards, sleeping at fire stations, and sharing meals with countless families, both poor and affluent. I outran bandits with machetes in Mexico and turned down offers of marriage. I hitched a ride on a boat through the Panama Canal and biked across the world’s driest desert. When a road I planned to take in the Peruvian Andes turned out to be a foot trail, I disassembled my bike, loaded it onto the back of a horse, and hiked into the mountains.
Why did I go on this bike trip?
The original goal was simple: to see the world (or at least Latin America) by bike. I discovered bike touring in college, when a friend and I bicycled the Oregon and California coast. I was hooked—I couldn’t imagine a better way to experience the world, and I planned and saved for the day when I could bike out my front door and ride south for months on end.
So, what does climate change have to do with it?
Before leaving on this journey, I studied climate science for my master’s degree and then worked as a researcher for the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford. In the process, I became deeply concerned about climate change, and I decided to use this ride to raise awareness of the issue. As I traveled, I gave talks about the topic and appeared in the news, and researched how climate change is likely to affect the places I visited.
This book incorporates climate change in three ways. First, having an outreach project created a unique journey, as I sought out interesting people and had far more meaningful interactions than if I were merely biking without a project. Second, I studied how the places I visited could be affected by climate change, and the full-sensory experience of biking through them provided a firsthand and personal account of what is at risk. And third, such a trip changed the way I see this global issue, and the book shares this new perspective.
Why did I write this book?
I wrote this book for several reasons. I wanted to share the incredible experience of biking alone, for months on end, until I ran out of road. I could not believe how thrilling the journey was while I was living it, and I believed people would enjoy the story. I also believed that I could provide a unique and personal account of global warming—and do so through a book that is enjoyable to read. In a sense, the core message of the book could be summed up as follows: The world is an absolutely amazing place, worth exploring and protecting, and the people we share it with live just a bike ride away.
Didn’t I bike across the U.S. too? Is this book also about that?
Yes! But it’s mostly “no” to the second question. After reaching Tierra del Fuego, I flew to the east coast of the U.S. and biked back to California, continuing efforts to draw attention to climate change (for this leg of the journey I joined Bill Bradlee). Although I cover parts of the U.S. journey in the epilogue, this book is almost entirely about the trip to Tierra del Fuego.
Why am I self publishing?
A large publishing house nearly accepted this book a few years ago, and since then, the book has improved considerably—mostly through editing, feedback from peers, and hard work. In the meantime, self-publishing has become easier, and it also gives me more flexibility in how the book is created.
Why am I asking for $10,000? Isn’t that a lot to publish a book?
A good breakdown of publishing costs can be found here. The costs for publishing this book include:
- An editor to read through and smooth out the language, look for consistency, and make the book easy and fun to read.
- A designer to develop the cover and do layout for the whole book.
- Converting the book to an ebook.
- Buying ISBN numbers and “becoming a publisher.”
- Promoting the book.
- Printing costs. I am printing on demand, but each book does cost to print!
These costs (which don’t include any of my time, all of which is given to you free!) are likely to exceed $10,000, so if I raise more than that I will use the extra to help cover those additional costs and invest in further promoting the book.
Where did that awesome music in the video come from?
The music is from an album recorded by Denali DeGraf, Alberto Magnin, and Nagua in Argentina's Talampaya National Park. If you read the book, you will meet Denali! You can order the album here.
Who designed the awesome cover for the book?
I am working with Erin Seaward-Hiatt on the design and layout.
**Will I really bike to your house if you pledge $1000?
Yes, but I might not get to it in 2014. I promise it will happen at some point.
Read the Prologue!
The following is the current version of the prologue, which will be the first thing you read.
Crossing the Border
I stopped pedaling and looked anxiously at the frontier. In front of me was the California-Mexico border, marked by a white tollbooth-like structure and a large sign that read “Mexico” in metal letters beneath the country’s coat of arms: a large eagle perched on a cactus with a snake in its talons. It was an hour after sunrise on a Sunday in early December, and the light angled through the cool desert air, illuminating the quiet, dusty town of Tecate just beyond the tollbooth.
If I was trying to be inconspicuous, I was failing. Clad in arm and leg warmers, I essentially wore full-body Spandex, and I stood over six feet tall. My bike helmet had a large brim on the front and a cloth attached at the rear, both a futile attempt to guard my pale skin from the sun. Between my outfit and my black touring bike with four red panniers, I wasn’t going to blend in south of the border.
But, although I was conspicuous on the road, once I left it I was invisible. Unlike traveling by car, with a bike you can disappear off the highway at any point and set up camp, even just a hundred feet off the road, without a soul knowing where you’ve gone. Thieves can’t rob you if they don’t know you’re there. It’s the greatest sense of freedom; the world was my campground, my living room, my highway. The night before, five miles north of Tecate, I’d easily found a place to sleep, as numerous foot trails led away from the highway, and a patch of desert ground had already been cleared—likely by people also wishing to keep hidden. I wondered how many illegal immigrants, how many of the people I saw working in California during my eight years in the state, had slept on similar patches of ground, staring at the stars.
At twenty-six years old, I was on the adventure I had dreamed of since I was twenty: starting from my home in California, I planned to ride south until I reached the southern tip of South America. I know this sounds a bit crazy. What sane person would camp along the Mexican border—the site of countless crimes and murders—let alone plan to ride alone across all of Latin America? Numerous countries I would travel through are besieged by the residual violence from recent civil wars; Colombia in particular endures an ongoing civil conflict, with nearly a third of the nation under rebel control. Moreover—except for in Chile, where I had studied for three months during college—I had no friends and almost no contacts south of the border. My Spanish was poor, and I had never traveled internationally by bike. Yet for some reason I chose to ignore all of these facts, and instead eagerly planned my route heedless of the risks. I decided I would ride solo across Central America, the Amazon, the Andes, and the wastelands of Patagonia, and I would reach the Earth’s end in just under a year and a half. And not only did I want to bike this distance alone, I wanted to take the opportunity to raise awareness of climate change in the process—a topic I had spent the past four years studying. You might call me naïve. You might be right.
I had discovered bike touring six years earlier. After spending the summer after my sophomore year in college in the “biketopia” of Portland, Oregon, Tom, a college friend suggested we “bike to school” in the largest sense of the phrase: riding the nine hundred miles from Portland to Stanford—and doing it in under two weeks. Pedaling a 1980s racing bike I had purchased that summer for $125, and carrying only a sleeping bag, tarp, and change of clothes, I biked with my friend along the rocky Oregon and California coastline. After just a few days, I was hooked.
While biking, no windshield protects you from the rain, heat, or wind, and there’s no wall between you and the people along the road. In a car the scenery appears as if on television, framed by the windows. On a bike, you can practically touch everything you see. The world is right there, in 3-D. You also travel slowly enough that the person at the corner store can make eye contact and offer a greeting as you pass. And, off the highway, the bike becomes a prop for conversation, an excuse to talk. People lower their defenses and open their doors to cyclists in a way they don’t for those traveling by car.
The trip took us nine days, riding as much as twelve hours a day. On that journey, we briefly met another cycle tourist who said he’d once taken off two years and biked to Patagonia. Our conversation was brief—I didn’t even get his name—but the idea stuck with me. When we arrived at the palm tree–lined boulevards of Palo Alto, I didn’t want to start my classes; I just wanted to keep heading south. I later read online about a couple different adventurers who had cycled from North America to Argentina, and nearly every one said it was the best thing they’d done in their entire lives. It seemed like the greatest way to see the world, the most invigorating and intimate way to experience the planet. And a trip like this would also be relatively cheap—the main costs just bike gear, food, and a return flight home. I calculated I could save enough cash for it in just two years—that is, once I finished school and started working. From that point on I hoarded my earnings, planned, and dreamed.
I wanted more, though, than just an adventure. I somehow wanted to make a difference in the world—even though, in retrospect, I had a very limited idea of what this world is like. I had spent my entire life in school or labs, and it would be a major leap to head from the classroom to the open road. This bike-tour dream needed some fine-tuning.
So in the meantime I continued with my junior year at Stanford University, studying physics, a major I had chosen just because I enjoyed it, not because I thought it would make me particularly employable. Two years later I earned my master’s degree, in interdisciplinary environmental science. I happened to be most interested in the most abstract of global problems—climate change. I found it fascinating how carbon dioxide cycles through the Earth’s biosphere, lithosphere, atmosphere, and oceans—and how this odorless, invisible gas has the power to so greatly alter the world’s climate.
I was researching this issue in the years before the award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth was released in 2006, before climate change emerged as part of the national discussion. Through reading scientific papers and attending lab group meetings, and working on an ecological experiment studying the effects of warmer temperatures, I had become convinced that climate change poses a real and significant threat to our civilization, and that too few people understood the magnitude of the challenge.
At some point I realized that these concerns dovetailed beautifully with my dream ride, so I decided to “ride to raise awareness of climate change.” I would research the ways global warming was affecting the places I would be biking through—from California to Tierra del Fuego—and I’d encapsulate all I learned in a blog: rideforclimate.com. And as I traveled from region to region I’d share what I’d learned with each community, giving talks at schools and speaking with journalists about the very real threats climate change specifically posed to their environment.
In my head, it was a great idea; in practice, I had no idea how I would enact this plan in Latin America. I didn’t even know how to say “carbon dioxide” in Spanish when I started. And, given that the U.S. pollutes far more than Central and South America, raising awareness in those less-polluting lands was a lower priority, Earth-wise. And never mind that the original goal of my journey was adventure and not activism, or that multi-year bicycle vacations won’t solve a problem as enormous as climate change. I was just as ignorant about my activist goals as I was about how I would travel in Latin America.
In retrospect, my goal of raising awareness was obviously backwards, and in the end I learned far more than I taught. I saw that climate change is just one of many challenges facing humanity. In many ways, it’s less urgent than ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, or than the daily poverty experienced by billions of people across the globe. And it isn’t something that we should solve by restricting development: most people in the world rightfully want more, not less.
But all that being true doesn’t alter the fact that climate change is real, and my trip gave me a vivid and personal sense of what is at risk—unique ecosystems, coastline settlements, and the livelihoods of countless people. While some of humanity will probably survive its consequences, I know we will regret what we will lose by not taking action.
But at the border with Mexico, though, just a month into my ride, none of these thoughts crossed my mind. I didn’t know what lay ahead or how it would affect me. I was just excited that the adventure had arrived, and that I was about to cross into Latin America. I didn’t know my exact route, or whom I would meet, or how I’d raise awareness; I only knew that I’d ride south for months on end, until I ran out of road. I took a deep breath, inhaling the crisp December desert air, and pedaled toward the frontier.
Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
The main challenge is the timeline. I am already working with an editor and a designer. There is a chance that we'll miss the February date, but it will not be too much later than that.
Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.
seconds to go
Pledge $15 or moreYou selected
An ebook!Estimated delivery:
Pledge $30 or moreYou selected
A signed print copy of The Bicycle Diaries.Estimated delivery:Add $20 USD to ship outside the US
Pledge $50 or moreYou selected
Up to two signed copies of the Bicycle Diaries (in print or ebook). Also, if you like, I will give you advice on any bike route in the San Francisco Bay Area.Estimated delivery:Add $20 USD to ship outside the US
Pledge $75 or moreYou selected
6 backers Limited (6 left of 12)
Up to two signed copies of the Bicycle Diaries (in print or ebook), and a beanie from Marmot! Also, if you like, I will give you advice on any bike route in the San Francisco Bay Area.Estimated delivery:Add $25 USD to ship outside the US
Pledge $100 or moreYou selected
ADVENTURER. Up to three signed copies shipped to you (in print or ebook), and your name printed in the acknowledgments of the book as an "Adventurer." I will also, if you like, give advice on a two-day bike tour anywhere in California, or answer any question you have on climate change.Estimated delivery:Add $20 USD to ship outside the US
Pledge $250 or moreYou selected
CONTINENT CROSSER. Up to four signed copies shipped to you (in print or ebook) and your name printed in the acknowledgments, listing you as an "Continent Crosser." Also, if you like, I can help you design a week-long bike tour anywhere in the U.S., or answer any question you have on climate change.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $500 or moreYou selected
PAN AMERICAN HERO. Up to eight signed copies of the Bicycle Diaries shipped to you (print or ebook), and your name printed in the acknowledgements as a "Pan American Hero." And, if you like, I can provide more extensive bike touring consulting, helping give advice on gear, routes (for a tour anywhere in the world for any duration), and general strategy. Or I can give a presentation (over Skype or in person) on climate change and this bike journey.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $1,000 or moreYou selected
CLIMATE CHAMPION – I will ride a bike to your house** and give a presentation on climate change, and a slideshow of past bicycle journeys. And I will send you homemade cookies. You will get up to 10 signed copies of the Bicycle Diaries (print or ebook), and you will be listed as a "Climate Champion" in the acknowledgments. You will also get more extensive bike touring consulting.Estimated delivery:
- (32 days)