´Woody´ and Kate calling attention for biodiversity on their trip through the Andes

Through the years, we have now interviewed a couple of cyclists who for different reasons visited the Huaraz area on a bike. Faithfull readers will definitely remember Fernando (Nando) Padrós from Catalunya in Spain who abandoned European society, left his home, friends and job behind and took to his bicycle and was cycling around the world trying to support children in need. In February of 2014 we had the pleasure of meeting another intrepid cyclist in the name of Álvaro Pérez Ramirez, a veterinarian from San Diego (USA), who was travelling the world trying to raise awareness for the need for animal protection. That same year we also met Loretta Henderson from Canada who was cycling around the world and she started the Women on Wheels Wall; a community of over 120 solo female bicycle tourists from all around the world. Last but not least, we also got to know the Pikes on Bikes, who wrote a very interesting cycling guidebook. All of them, interestingly, had a goal or message they wanted to spread and the story of Kate Rawles is likewise very inspiring. Kate is from the UK although she grew up in Scotland and she may be called an adventurous environmental activist or freelance outdoor philosopher as she is raising awareness about the loss of biodiversity cycling through the rough Andes. Explorer Kate left the UK in early December 2016 and hopes to get to Cape Horn in early 2018. She is doing this, however, on a very special bike, a bicycle made out of bamboo. Rawles´ message on the loss of biodiversity was previously covered by the Guardian in England, Lonely Planet, the Bogota Post and El Tiempo in Piura. We met Kate in Huaraz for a coffee and got informed that her bike is probably the UK´s first home-grown bicycle.

Well Kate, please inform us about your reasons for visiting Huaraz during your trip

I am on route, all the way to Cape Horn in Chile, or at least as close as you can get on a bicycle. I started in Cartagena in Colombia and I am following the spine of the Andes hoping to make it all the way down to Southern Patagonia. I came to Huaraz, not only because it´s on route, but also to be able to spend a couple of weeks to explore the Cordillera Blanca and getting to know these amazing mountains here. They´re absolutely stunning, beautiful.

What´s so interesting about your bike?

It´s actually very special because it´s made of bamboo. That´s not all, it´s bamboo from England and there isn’t a lot of bamboo in England. There is a project in the very south of England called the Eden Project in Cornwall, which grows some bamboo. I went on a five-day workshop at the Bamboo Bicycle Club and learnt to build the bike. As far as I know, it´s the UK´s first home-grown bicycle. Grown and built in the UK and we shipped it on a cargo ship to Colombia.

Are you an experienced cyclist Kate and what do you do when you´re off the bike?

It´s not the first big bike trip I am doing, as ten years ago I rode from Texas (US) to Alaska following the Rockies exploring climate change. This time the focus of my trip is biodiversity. We are losing all kinds of species at a catastrophic rate. I am sure you know, the real aim of my journey is to understand better what biodiversity is and what´s happening to it, why that matters and what some of the positive solutions are. I am visiting lots of different nature conservations and projects while riding down the Andes. This trip I have called The Life Cycle and it follows-up the earlier journey from Texas to Alaska which was called The Carbon Cycle. The topic of biodiversity becomes very huge so I set out on our impact on other species, the biodiversity on Earth and what the possible solutions are. I visit national parks, conservation areas, conservation corridors and one of them for example the one here, the Huascarán National Park; a beautiful park suffering deforestation.

Have you already come to some pre-conclusions, prior to the end of the trip?

I have been really struck by some of the impacts on biodiversity on other species like mining and the pollution it creates. For example copper and gold mining have such a big impact on the water sources. The water pollution impacts hugely on agriculture and human´s ability to get fresh and clean water as well as all the other species are depending on clean water, clean soil and clean air. The mining issue was kind of unexpected and I really have learned a lot on how important that is. And also, how difficult to tackle it is because the small artisanal mines are one thing, the massive multinational mining companies are the real polluters which are often owned by South-Africans. For example, in Cartagena they had their own army trying to introduce their gold mine to a small community. The tiny community in Cartagena had resisted that gold mine by a public referendum and this is an amazing positive story but with some very dark aspects to it.

Are you reporting your findings?

I have been keeping a blog and have a private journal and do a lot of social media. But, when I get back to England, all my experiences will be published in a book. I wrote a book earlier on my Texas-Alaska journey [The Carbon Cycle: Crossing the Great Divide, published in 2012]. This book will be called The Life Cycle because it´s all about biodiversity.

As you´re leaving Huaraz pretty soon, what could you share about your observations on the Huaraz area?

For me, the headline story of the Huaraz area has to be the retreat of the glaciers. Yesterday, I read on the Internet that Peru is going to be one of the countries most affected by climate change in the whole world. Clearly, one of the reasons for that is that most Peruvians directly or indirectly mostly depend on the melting water of glaciers for their drinking water. We can´t survive without water. It´s absolutely key for human life, as well as for other life on Earth. The glaciers in Peru as I understand are receding extremely fast with some over 30% reduction rate. Cycling through the Cordillera Blanca is beautiful but also shocking. You can actually see with your own eyes where the glaciers once were, and how much they have receded. Once you lose water in the mountains, this will have a massive impact on humans, ecosystems and agriculture. Deforestation would be another headline story. As I cycle up through the Cordillera Blanca, I noticed a lot of non-native introduced eucalyptus trees. The native Polylepis (from Greek poly (many) and letis (layers) and called Queñuales in Spanish) are under pressure because of cattle. You can clearly see that there would have been a lot more of these trees but, obviously people need to make a living. There is no point saying, people shouldn’t have cattle here because that´s their form of income. What we need to be doing is finding other ways for people to earn a decent living that doesn’t have such an impact on biodiversity. The thing about trees is that not only do they give you water, but also soil stability. They´re absolutely critical as I have witnessed in Colombia. Here I saw destroyed trees, particularly on slopes, which caused really shocking mud avalanches that caused many deaths. This in combination with climate change and the El Niño phenomenon as the soil is very unstable. Trees give us life and protection.

How do locals react in a certain area when they notice your bike is not a regular bike?

The bike is amazing! I call it Woody although technically bamboo is a grass and not wood. The bike has a magic effect and it immediately breaks the ice. As soon as I stop, people start asking where I got it from and that sort of questions. They ask me why am I cycling on a bamboo bike and this allows me to share my story and create awareness for biodiversity and nature conservation. People react very differently; sadly, my Spanish isn’t good enough so this is a big limitation. However, most of the times there is a lot of interest in the topic, but there always is a variety of reactions.

When would you call your journey a success?

That´s a great question. Well, my first goal would be to make it all the way to Cape Horn. I have done little over 3,000 miles now (4,828 km) and until so far, the bike has done great without any breakdowns. I would call it a success if I can turn it into a powerful piece of communication. The idea is to use the adventure story as a hook, calling attention for biodiversity, species and nature. My message would be; nature is not a luxury. We really need it. We´re impacting it hugely and we have to tackle it because we´re not able to meet all our other social goals if we do not protect the life support system. My journey will be a success when I can get that message out successfully. I hope that we humans start to protect nature a lot better and treat it better pretty soon, rather than destroying it. I do believe that this is possible. With many of these big issues like climate change, biodiversity collapse and water pollution, there´s almost certainly still a window to turn things around. Across the world I am witnessing a certain positive resurgence of awareness. People are waking up, definitely on the topic of climate change, a little bit slower on other topics. We know how to tackle the problem, sadly it´s about political and social will. It´s about implementing them in win-win ways and you have to offer people a decent way of life but also tackle social inequity. What´s most inspiring on this journey is the meeting of some incredible individuals who are working on nature conservation and social development. People supplying all sorts of incomes to others in terms of educations, research, and nature conservation on many levels and doing it almost single handedly. It´s incredible and really inspiring to realise what one person with a vision, determination, compassion and smartness can achieve.

Is ´Woody´ a lot heavier compared to other materials and when do you expect to go home?

Actually, bamboo is pretty light, but the joints the bike is made of are made of hemp fibres which are pretty heavy. The whole bike is just under 18 kilograms. I guess it a little heavier than a standard steel mountain bike but a lot heavier than an expensive titanium mountain bike. I am here for a year, I have a tent, a laptop, a lot of stuff for the weather so it´s almost irrelevant, a kilo less or more. I hope to get to Patagonia in February, because I don’t like to get there in the winter. I already spent two months longer than planned but we´ll see.

For people willing to send a message of support or to get more information about The Life Cycle journey, please visit the website www.outdoorphilosophy.co.uk. The website includes a live tracker map so people can see where Kate is at the moment and also an occasional blog. On Twitter and Instagram Kate can be found as @Carbon-CycleKate and for regular short posts and pics she also can be found on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/biodiversitybikeride

2 Responses to “´Woody´ and Kate calling attention for biodiversity on their trip through the Andes” Subscribe

  1. Chris September 24, 2017 at 09:48 #

    Great piece – go bicyclist Kate! You are inspiring. Let us hope your message reaches every day people and people in power alike and that we hear your message.

  2. Andres October 9, 2017 at 09:48 #

    What an unbelievable trip. Buena suerte, Kate, y ojalá que tu mensaje se difunda por todo el mundo.

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