Last May, 17 riders as part of Team LACBC rode 320 miles over 5 days along the Northern California on Climate Ride. This weekend, six members of Team LACBC will be embarking on an independent Climate Ride Challenge. Highland Park's Harvey Slater and his partner Ricky Gamez are bicycling along the California Central Coast over 6 days over 300+ miles with their four dogs: Max, Chiquita, Little Foot, and Carlos.
Read more about why Harvey and Ricky are doing the California Woof Ride, what their training is like, and how their dogs feel about it all. You can also make a donation to their ride on their fundraising page, follow them on Facebook, and see them off this Saturday. #CaliforniaWoofRide
When and why did you start riding a bike?
Harvey: I have been riding a bike since I was a kid like most people. When I was in my early teens the bicycle was my escape from a difficult childhood. I would disappear on my bike and take long rides that lasted all day. Sometimes I would strap a boogie board to my back and bicycle from the Valley to Topanga Beach. Back then they didn’t have bike racks on the busses, so I would just high-tail it over the Sepulveda Pass. I never thought about distance or difficulty. I just loved the freedom and peace of mind I received when I was on my bicycle.
As I grew older I had intermittent periods of car and then bicycle. For a while I lived in Venice Beach and my son went to school in Santa Monica. I was young, and managed to let a bunch of parking tickets accumulate on my VW Bug. One day when I was at work, the car got impounded, and I didn’t bother to bail it out. So my kid and I took to our bikes for a few years. We rode all over Santa Monica and Venice together, including riding him to school every day. Then, when I started my own business it was back into the car for a while. But I followed the development of the Metro rail and always supported Metro and the idea of bringing L.A. back to having comprehensive, multi-modal transportation options. I never liked being told that “you have to own a car if you want to live in L.A.” That statement used to drive me bananas. And by and large, I kind of resented feeling like I was forced into my car by poor transportation planning. I also longed for a completion of all the disconnected bike routes that are scattered throughout the region. This is the key reason I started following LACBC in the first place.
About six years ago, the bike returned, after I had let my health decline and I realized I hadn’t done any physical exercise for years. It kind of scared me. I realized that there was this huge gap where the bicycle and connection to the outdoors was missing from my life. I wanted to see what it felt like to ride a bike again. So I got a bike and started riding to work, but most of the way I needed to hop onto the bus to help me along. My health bounced back fairly quickly. Somehow that led to an entire career and life change and I had this epiphany to get out of the catering business. So I handed my company car keys to my business partner, walked away, didn’t look back, and never replaced my car. I realized it was finally time to fulfill my crazy car-free dream. I have been living car-free ever since. It is liberating, especially once you realize it is possible and life is happening, even though the car isn’t there any more. This has made me even more passionate about supporting LACBC and the work they do.
Ricky: Harvey got me interested in bike riding because it’s basically all he does anymore. Over the past four years, I have attempted to do more bicycling with Harvey, but my bikes kept getting stolen before I could even get started, so I would just find other things I was interested in while Harv did his bike thing. Finally, after Harvey started taking long rides that would last for several days, I got tired of staying home by myself, and told Harvey I wanted to go on a ride with him. So he designed this ride just for me and our dog family, so we could all do something fun on our bikes together. This is my first time really doing a serious ride. I am a little nervous because I have never done anything like this before, but Harvey says I am ready and he believes I can do it.
How did you get involved with LACBC?
Harvey: It’s kind of funny actually. I have always followed LACBC from a distance. But one night a neighbor friend randomly sent me a text inviting me to a local Neighborhood Ambassador meeting, that had already started. It was just down the street so I decided to check it out. What makes it funny is that my friend who invited me never showed her face at an LACBC thing again, and I ended up getting totally involved. Go figure! I didn’t have a lot of time to help with the NBA program, but last year was invited to ride with Team LACBC on Climate Ride California. That is when I really started getting more involved with the organization.
You’ve ridden with Team LACBC on Climate Ride California North Coast before. What inspired you to branch out and do the California Woof Ride?
Harvey: I wanted to include Ricky this time around, but there is a lot going on in our calendar this year. The California Climate Ride schedule and logistics didn’t quite match up for us. But I still wanted to participate and do something to contribute to the event and raise some money for LACBC. So I came up with this independent challenge, and decided to bring the dogs along to make it a little extra challenging and fun. I have always thought it would be fun to take the dogs on a camping bike tour. And I felt like if I was going to do something like this and ask for donations every year, I needed to give my donors and contacts something new and challenging to get inspired by. And, as much as I enjoyed the group ride, fueling our entire experience with our own brains and the legs on our bodies feels more true to the mission. That’s just me though. I have always been a little weird and unconventional. Oh, and I have always wanted to ride up the coastal bike route, starting in Los Angeles and going to wherever, so this is an exciting new experience for me.
What are you (and your dogs) doing to prepare for Climate Ride?
Harvey: We have been training nearly every weekend. We started just getting Ricky acclimated to long days. Then we added some weight to his bike. Then we got the dog trailer-- that I lovingly call the “doggy wagon”-- and started just pulling the big dog. Then, we added all the dogs and all the camping cargo to Ricky’s bike. We ride 30-60 miles each time, to various destinations around Los Angeles. This is about training the dogs as much as it is about training the humans. We needed to get them used to riding along in the doggie wagon. We stop each hour for stretching, water, and play time. So, it is kind of the same as a humans-only ride, but the pace is a little slower and the water breaks are a little longer. And we had to get used to pulling all the extra weight over hills and long distances. We have done one practice camping run out to Lytle Creek, about 55 miles each way with some elevation. It worked out pretty well and it gave us an opportunity to do some refinements on our camping gear and lighten the load a bit. This last and final training weekend, we did an elevation ride over La Tuna Canyon, which is basically the equivalent of any one of our higher elevation days. It went extremely well. So, instead of training again the next day, we got a massage and decided that we are ready!
How do your dogs feel about this ride?
Harvey: At first they were a little perplexed by the doggie wagon, but once they realized that riding in the doggy wagon means spending quality time with their humans, they figured out that they are actually getting more of what they want-- to go with us everywhere. That is what every dog wants. Now, when they see us getting the doggy wagon and the cargo trailer hooked to our bikes, they get excited and run outside to the front gate. It is pretty delightful to watch them all jump into the doggy wagon and find their little corner for the journey. Max, the big dog, sticks his head out of an opening in the top that was created for larger dogs. We suspect, because of his police breeding, that he thinks this is his job, to ride in the doggy wagon and retrieve balls on the water breaks. He is totally focused on doing his “job” of riding and fetching. And then when we rest or sleep he puts his paw over one of us to protect us. It’s quite remarkable. Chiquita and Little Foot are older, so they mellow out and just watch the world go by. Carlos, one of the youngest, gets a little hyper and cries sometimes. This is because he wants to be up with Harvey and not down behind in a trailer. We tried other ways to let him ride up with Harvey, but nothing was safe enough. So, he has to ride in the trailer like the other dogs. We have to make sure they are totally safe and secure when we are out on the highway sharing the road with motorists. We tried to explain this to him, but we don’t know how to translate all that into “woof” speak.
What is the most interesting thing that has happened during one of your training rides?
Harvey: Putting your dogs in a trailer and pulling them around L.A. seems to bring out the best, and the worst in people. The awesome news is that it brings out the best in most people. People smile, laugh, point, take pictures, and engage with us at almost every red light and water break. It is really fun to pedal around making so many people smile. Sometimes the dogs play with kids at the parks where we stop. But then, and thank God just occasionally, it brings out the worst in someone, and we get the finger, or something awful screamed from a car window. One time, a guy at a park where we stopped got freaked out about our dogs being off the leash for a couple minutes and he started taking a video of us and threatening to call the police. He continued to film us as we rode away and I could hear him shouting “Don’t ever come back” in the distance behind us.
One other very interesting, and sort of profound observation is how it feels to not be able to go into every restaurant or place of business because we have four dogs with us; or to be treated the way we were at that park by that angry man. It makes us realize what it could feel like for people who are discriminated against or treated like second class citizens. It makes us thankful that we live in a world where this feeling only goes as far as the “no dogs allowed” signs and only on this journey. It makes us want to do more for an equitable world. Locally, that has a lot to do with how we get people around our city so they can handle their affairs and earn a living, regardless of their incomes, backgrounds, or class status.
Do you have any goals for Climate Ride? If so, what are they?
Harvey: Yes, to raise $4,000 but we are still far from our goal. And, to actually get to our destination without our legs falling off. Joking aside, we are looking forward to spending some long overdue quality time together.
What advice do you have for people that might want to do an independent ride like this?
Harvey: There are three areas of focus. First, you have to plan a ride that will inspire people you know to be supportive and either follow you on your journey, make a donation, or hopefully both. I believe the ride needs to be challenging enough that you can feel good about asking others to donate, beyond the cause itself. It’s kind of like you are earning their support with sweat, innovation, and a little bit of crazy and fun. The ride also needs to be personally fulfilling, so you can have an awesome personal growth experience from the whole thing.
Second, you have to plan out all the logistics. That includes making sure you have all the provisions and tools you need for unexpected breakdowns, spare inner tubes, proper nutrition and hydration, and then you need to make sure you have the equipment needed to carry everything on your bicycle the whole way. With the dogs coming along, this part becomes extra challenging and fun, and we are hoping it will make for great content as we share our adventure with everyone. You also need to plan your stops, where to sleep, where to charge your electronic devices, and if there are any sights that shouldn’t be missed along the way.
Third, you have to be physically ready for the ride. Besides training, we have been following a super clean, energy efficient diet so that we can exchange some body weight for cargo weight. Kind of like being an astronaut, but less complicated.
Is there anything else that you would like us to know about you?
Harvey: Yes, We get very sad when we don’t reach fundraising goals. So help make sure we won’t have a sad ride hauling our dogs for 320 miles, and make a donation today.
Support Harvey, Ricky, Max, Chiquita, Little Foot, and Carlos on California Woof Ride by making a donation to their ride on their fundraising page and following their adventures on Facebook. They depart this Saturday, June 11th. #CaliforniaWoofRide