Dave Goodrich’s coast-to-coast bicycle trek and rolling climate change education project


Dave Goodrich stops in the lava fields at the summit of McKenzie Pass in Oregon, just before descending into the forests of the western Cascades. (Courtesy of Dave Goodrich)

Our friend David Goodrich has completed his transcontinental Atlantic-to-Pacific bicycle ride after retiring earlier this year from the NOAA Climate Program Office, where he headed up the Climate Observation Division at the end of a long science career. Along the way he looked for opportunities to talk with people about the reality of climate change and its impacts – showing a kind of integrity and spiritual soundness that is in short supply among ‘leaders’ back here in the stifling nation’s capital.




From John Kelly’s write-up in the Washington Post (“Dave Goodrich’s Lessons on Climate Change”):

Somewhere west of Washington — somewhere in that vast expanse of this Manifestly Destined nation of ours — a woman asked Dave Goodrich why he had decided to ride his bicycle from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

She worked at a motel he had checked into that night after a hard day in the saddle: 60 miles or more battling head winds atop his Trek bike. Dave explained that he was a scientist from Rockville, freshly retired from a 36-year career at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where he had overseen programs to study climate change.

That’s why he was riding, Dave said. To educate people about the threats of man-made global warming, stopping whenever he could to talk to school groups and service clubs.

“She said, ‘Do you know Al Gore?’ ” Dave remembered. “I said, ‘Well, no. I’ve heard him speak.’ ”

That’s when Dave realized that many people can’t think of climate change without thinking of the former vice president — “and he is such a polarizing figure in certain places. I had the sense the reaction to climate change was the reaction to Al Gore.”

Maybe now for a few people stretched out along the blue highways he traveled, the reaction is to Dave Goodrich. Perhaps a few people were convinced by his cogent argument that there really is no debate in scientific circles about this issue.

“I think what I was trying to say was that climate change isn’t this thing that’s going to happen in 100 years, that it’s happening now and that the things that people do are largely responsible for the long-term trends,” he said.

Weather isn’t the same thing as climate, of course, but as Dave rode west he couldn’t help but think of what we’re doing to our planet — and how that affects certain 58-year-old retirees biking across the United States. In Kansas he endured day after day of 105-degree temperatures. “The state had been having them for weeks on end,” Dave said. “And that certainly wouldn’t have been normal 30 years ago. . . . There’s been that steady increase.”

As he approached the Rockies, Dave saw entire hillsides blanketed in dead trees, victims of the mountain pine beetle. “It used to be they’d have winters to 30 or 40 below, and those haven’t happened in a long time. You need winters that cold to kill the larvae.”

When he worked at NOAA, Dave was a regular bike commuter. And he’s done some long rides before, including up to New Hampshire. But this was his longest, a year in the planning. On July 24, he dipped his tire in the Pacific at Waldport, Ore., after cycling 4,209 miles over 93 days.

Dave decided not to plaster his bike with signs that read “the Global Warming Express.”

“Part of that was because of some of the places I was going,” he said. “I had no idea whether I might get run off the road.”

There was a town in Idaho whose sporting goods/hunting supply store had a stuffed coyote out front. On it was an Obama mask, and in the window were all kinds of screeds against the president. Dave did not stop to discuss greenhouse gases. “It was kind of like, ‘Yeah, I think I’ll just ride through here.’ ”

Among the positions he held over the years, Dave was the executive director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program Coordination Office during 1997-1999, in an office next to mine when I was working in a senior professional staff position there. He was a voice of calm reason in the challenging task of getting turf-conscious federal research agencies to support the key climate science priorities while acting as some semblance of a team.

Dave is a good example of what I have seen in Washington of the many skilled, public-spirited professionals and technical experts who do the day-to-day practical work of moving the great federal government enterprise forward.  Many out there in the Heartland cavalierly trash them as ‘bureaucrats’ and complain about taxes – while exempting themselves from actually learning anything much about the vital work that is done by those who work at agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  And while electing global warming denialists and other third-rate ‘leaders’ to send to the nation’s capital to posture and give the whole place a bad name.

I expect Dave will gently chastise me for flaming voters and will continue on his way, patiently explaining scientific reality to them at any opportunity.  Congratulations, bro, on actually pulling off this expedition. I wouldn’t mind heading west myself, though not via several thousand miles on a bike.

From Dave’s “Crazy Guy on a Bike” blog, explaining his mission at the start of the trip:

Like many other riders on this site, a US transcontinental ride has been in the back of my mind for a long time. I’ve been a bicycle commuter for a couple of decades, and in between different jobs have taken some long tours … But riding across the US has always been the ultimate …

There’s another piece to the motivation side. I’m a scientist who has worked in climate for 30 years for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and spent a three-year stint in Geneva, Switzerland, heading the Global Climate Observing System office at the World Meteorological Organization. One of the real frustrations over the last several years has been watching the remarkable distortions of climate science in the public discussion. To quote Animal House: “This calls for a stupid and futile gesture on someone’s part, and I’m just the guy to do it.” So on the ride across, I’ll look for opportunities to talk about the science of climate change to anyone I can (short version: It’s for real). And I’d like the chance to listen to what people have to say across the country. While I’ve worked in climate for a bit, I won’t be affiliated with any group except AOGIS (An Old Guy In Spandex). Perhaps the medium will be a bit of the message. Or, this could be dislike of airline food taken to the extreme.

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