If you would have asked me 16 years ago, I would have told you there is no road connecting a two-month self-supported mountain bike ride with running for federal office. But I traveled that unlikely road, and it has been one worth taking.
Back in 2000, I embarked on what was then the biggest adventure of my life, loosely retracing John Wesley Powell’s exploration of the Colorado Plateau traversing the beautiful, still mostly natural world that he explored from Green River, Wyoming to Mesquite, Nevada. This amazing experience was the longest immersion into what I truly love and need—our natural world.
I joined two friends who had been planning the trip for a long while. Over 53 days we covered about 1,250 miles and climbed just under 91,000 feet traveling mainly by back roads. Riding with backpacks, full panniers and hauling trailers, we were pounded and worn by the rugged terrain. Together and sometimes alone for long stretches, we passed through the beautiful and varied landscapes of Wyoming, Utah, Arizona and Nevada, experiencing extreme heat, hail, wind and at times deafening silence. We made ten caches ahead of time so we could resupply across the distance.
A week and a half in, we left Myton, Utah heading up Nine Mile Canyon Road along Wells Draw. Aptly named, but probably not for the multitude of pipes running haphazardly beside the road that linked a string of oil rigs. It made me wonder what this kind of extraction might look like in a less developed country. We descended into Gates Canyon to Nine Mile Canyon, arriving a couple years before the natural gas exploration did. We continued the descent finally pointing ourselves uphill at Dry Creek. From there we climbed to Bruin Point at 10,285 feet to be rewarded by a fantastic view of the Uintas, La Sals, Henry Mountains, the Wasatch Plateau, Mt. Nebo and the Wasatch.
At four weeks we climbed our way up the Burr Trail into Boulder then over Hell’s Backbone to Escalante and onto the Kaiparowits Plateau before dropping to the north side of Lake Powell on our way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
After a brief respite on the North Rim, we turned back north, passing through Fredonia then across the Arizona Strip to Toroweap. From there we rode past Mt. Trumbull through Main Street Valley and over Wolf Hole Pass. On our final day, day 53, we climbed the switchbacks of Black Mountain in the Virgin Mountains to our final 6,000-foot descent into Elbow Canyon and the setting sun for the final leg into Mesquite, Nevada.
On a journey this long, you have time to settle into a routine and connect with the world around you. You learn to put things in exactly the same place every time you pack and unpack. Everywhere you are feels like home. On a much deeper level, each day changes you, becomes a part of you, sometimes in the smallest of ways—the smell of rain soaked sagebrush; the doe and her fawn playing unaware 50 feet away; being so cold that I wore every item of clothing I had, getting warm only by riding hard and not stopping; meeting the leather necked rancher, Orville, at the watering hole; measuring out food and water to make it last until the next cache with hunger or thirst the payment for not getting it right.
It no longer felt like I was in nature, but with nature. Day after day I felt my gratitude deepen just for the chance to be out there, to be real. It reaffirmed to me how lucky I am to simply exist on this planet.
I’ve always tried to live life to its fullest and that has always manifested as enjoying myself in nature and doing it under my own power. This trip was one of those rare and wonderful times that I took out for myself away from a life of responsibilities.
I returned to Salt Lake to follow another dream, to create my own business—an art gallery and custom picture frame shop. I saw it as a way to connect my passion for the outdoors with a way of life. For seven years I made a go at living that dream—to work for myself and eventually make a living from my own landscape photography. It didn’t work out quite as I had hoped, and I found myself out of energy and out of business. It was tough to swallow but the silver lining was the birth of my daughter.
By 2009, things were different. I had changed. From that bike adventure, a failed business, and the joyful fusion of blessing and duty that is being a dad I felt compelled to find a way to make a living and to give back to nature in appreciation for all it had given me. At first I created a non-profit called Renewable Energy Resources. My vision was to help people become more energy efficient and utilize renewable energy. Immersing myself in that work, I learned a lot about climate change. I saw that, if left unchecked, a warming climate would mean losing much of what I hold dear. Climate change was a huge problem in a need of big solutions and I felt like too few people were aware of its scope or what the consequence of our inaction could be.
I found myself straying from the mission of my non-profit, talking about the big picture of climate change and seeking solutions that matched the scale of the problem. I had developed a monthly education and awareness series intended to cover what people can do at home to reduce their carbon footprint but quickly found my talks tackling bigger, more policy-level solutions. About the fourth month in, I compared cap and trade legislation with pricing carbon emissions. Far from the scope of my non-profit, I had stumbled on a direct and transparent way to begin to mitigate climate change—there should be a cost to the pollution we were pumping into our skies rather than paying for it through health costs and poor air and water quality. It was a turning point in my life.
While researching my presentation I discovered the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL)—a non-profit advocating for federal legislation that would place a gradually increasing price on carbon emissions and return all the revenue to households. I was all in. I shelved my non-profit, picked up work as a carpenter like I had done in years past and got to work as a CCL volunteer. I found what I was looking for. I also knew that if I was going to walk my talk that being on the sidelines and simply talking about this solution in local presentations wasn’t enough. I would have to go to Washington myself to join meetings in DC with other volunteers from the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
This was June 2010. My first time out with CCL was a meeting in Senator Hatch’s Washington DC office to talk about carbon fee and dividend. I was terrified, just an average guy, quiet, someone who would much prefer to be on a bike adventure and not at all confident I could speak to these people effectively. But there I was, way out of my comfort zone in Senator Hatch’s office literally shaking and reminding myself of what my mother used to tell me, “we all put our pants on one leg at a time,” which was absolutely no consolation. But I made it through that first meeting and have been to many more since.
As I learned more about the consequences of climate change, I felt a stronger pull to do more. I pushed myself to present to groups and meet with all kinds of people in the public and private sectors trying to build support for action. Many of those I met with didn’t believe in climate change much less want to do anything about it. But that didn’t matter. I had to keep engaging them and I’m still doing it.
Since 2010 I have seen huge progress—not only have I seen people change their minds and embrace climate action, but I’ve had huge breakthroughs in my own capacity to communicate and to do it based on respect and being ‘for’ something, something in this case that makes sense from nearly every angle. My work with CCL has reinforced the value of building positive respectful relationships with political leaders so that we can find common ground to build on.
After I threw in with CCL, I continued to look for more ways to talk about the issue and promote the fee and dividend solution. I saw that candidates for public office were not even talking about climate change. Unable to stand by while they avoided the most urgent issue of our time, I took another giant step outside my comfort zone and decided to run for federal office. With the help of friends I collected the 1,000 required signatures to get my name on the ballot and filed as an unaffiliated single-issue candidate to run for Senator Hatch’s seat in 2012, the guy I was terrified to meet with just two years before.
That year I received less than one percent of the vote.
I ran again in 2014, for U.S. Congress in Utah’s Second District. I got 1.5 percent of the vote.
In each run I campaigned by bike riding a total of 1,850 miles over the two campaigns. In 2012, I rode 1,200 miles through Utah from the Idaho border to the Arizona state line. In 2014, I rode 650 miles through Utah’s 2nd District ending my ride in Capitol Reef. Even though I didn’t get much of the vote, success for me was getting out there—using the candidate’s platform to speak out and reach out to the people of Utah encouraging them to lead through the influence of their vote and create meaningful action.
Riding through this beautiful land only strengthens my resolve. I will ride more miles this year as I run for U.S. Senate again, this time against incumbent Mike Lee. Like the 91,000 vertical feet I rode in 2000, I will ride for 91,000 votes, which is 10 percent of Utah’s voters—a tipping point for Utah that can have a far reaching effect.
Ten percent has made a difference before. The idea for the first Earth Day in 1970 was to rally people across the country for a “teach-in” to raise awareness about the environment. The inspiration came when then-Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin saw the devastation from a massive oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. On that first Earth Day, 20 million people—10 percent of the U.S. population—held protests, marches and gatherings across the country, and a bipartisan environmental consciousness took hold. The same year, the Environmental Protection Agency was born and Congress passed the Clean Air Act, unanimously.
A lot has changed since then, both in politics and the environment, but it has never been more important for Utah than now. You can help move the conversation as was done in 1970.
I am a long way from that two-month adventure ride 16 years ago. Even though the road I’ve chosen is hard and far outside my comfort zone, I have to get out there to speak up and promote a legislative solution for climate change that is within reach. I cannot not do this. I am compelled to take a stand regardless of the odds.
I believe it is the moral responsibility of our generation to take action on climate change. This is not the time to shrug our shoulders and ride through with our eyes shut hoping that someone else takes care of it for us. Every day that passes makes it a little bit harder to ensure a livable world for ourselves and our children, and their children, and the doe and the fawn and the sage and this beautiful place that we adventure through and love.
My daughter, Emily, was seven when she wrote a note to me, “drem big for wat you want to happen”. She was right. We can’t control the outcome of what we take on, but we can certainly act and the time for action is now.
As one call to action, I invite you to join the ride—to literally join me as I ride the state again this year to bring awareness to climate change—and to make a clear and strong statement with your vote this fall. In November, just 10 percent of Utah’s voters can make a difference and inspire our leaders in Washington to act on climate change. You can vote for climate action by voting for Bill Barron for U.S. Senate.
This political adventure has pushed me farther than any self-powered adventure trip in nature has so far. There have been and will be false summits and headwinds and unforeseen obstacles, but we can do this—for ourselves, for our natural world and for the wellbeing of our children. Can you think of any better reason?
To find out more about the campaign and how to join the ride, go to www.voteforclimate.us.
Sidebar on “Carbon Fee and Dividend”:
-A fee is placed on carbon-based fuels at the source (well, mine, port of entry
-This fee starts at $15/ton of CO2 emitted, and increases steadily each year by $10 so that clean energy is cheaper than fossil fuels within a decade
-All of the money collected is returned to households on an equal basis
-Under this plan about 2/3 of all households would break even or receive more in their dividend checks than they would pay in higher prices due to the fee, thereby protecting the poor and middle class.
-A predictably increasing carbon price will send a clear market signal which will unleash entrepreneurs and investors in the new clean-energy economy