Tour des Trees 2019, Tennessee and Kentucky: Biked!

With a breakfast ceremony this past Saturday, the 2019 Tour des Trees to Benefit TREE Fund came to a close, with the top fundraising team (ISA Southern Chapter) presenting the “big check” for over $371,000 to our Community Engagement Manager, Maggie Harthoorn, who served as staff lead for the event this year.

This year’s Tour was a resounding success, and I can’t praise the work that Maggie, Tour Director Paul Wood, and the rest of our planning committee and support team did to make it so. First and foremost, our ~80 riders and ~20 support team members all made it to the finish line with no accidents, injuries, or incidents of note, barring one over-aggressive truck forcing a rider off the road onto a (fortunately) grassy shoulder, and a few cases of drivers feeling the need to yell at cyclists sharing the roads that we’re wholly entitled to share. The fundraising tally is the highest of the five years that I have served as TREE Fund’s CEO, and it’s still creeping up; as I type, it stands at $376,473. (We will still be accepting Tour donations here through September 30, if you want to make an after-the-fact contribution in honor of this year’s team). Our education ambassador, Professor Pricklethorn, offered 11 school programs for ~500 elementary school children, and we met with a variety of municipal leaders, businesses, and community groups along the way to spread the good word about professional urban forestry and arboriculture, and the scientific research that underpins those practices.

Those successes were all the more remarkable given the conditions under which we rode: ~450 miles over five days, in sweltering heat wave conditions with absolute temperatures in the 90s and heat indices pushing 110 degrees. I had ridden further and done more hill work this summer than I had in any of my prior Tour training seasons (moving to Iowa helped a lot in that regard), but despite that prep, I struggled physically on this Tour more than I had in any other, with the heat just sucking the energy out of me as the days went on, and with recurring cramping problems slowing me down throughout the week. I know I wasn’t alone in feeling that way, and I know that my gratitude for our support team couldn’t be higher, as they pressed along with us, offering encouragement, hydration, nutrition and care to a line of riders that could be stretched out over ~25 miles by the time the day was done. Just amazing, and inspiring.

As I’ve written before, this will be my last Tour des Trees as President and CEO of TREE Fund. The whole team was incredibly kind, understanding and generous toward me this year as I prepare for that personal and professional transition. I am grateful to them in so many ways.  I do intend to stay actively involved with TREE Fund and its mission — as a Tour rider, as a donor, as a volunteer, or however else I can be useful — in the years ahead, and I encourage you to do the same. It’s an important organization doing vital work, and the Tour des Trees is the strong beating heart that powers it.

As is often the case, it’s hard for words to capture the Tour experience well, so I’m going to let pictures give you a sense of my week in Tennessee and Kentucky instead. We have an incredible photographer, Coleman Camp, who rides and shoots with us, often at the same time; I’d be cranking up a hill sometimes and hear a “whoosh” go by me, looking over to see Coleman carrying two large cameras on his back, and still out-climbing most of us to get to the summit for the snaps he wanted. He’s an amazing human being and an inspirational artist: check out his professional work here, and his gallery of this year’s Tour (he’s still adding to it as I type) here. Ride On!

This year’s Tour featured a great variety of riding environments, from shady woodlands with punchy hills to wide open Iowa-esque agricultural regions.

It’s amazing how helpful it is to be cheered on from the roadside as one summits a nasty hill.

Words of encouragement from Paul Wood, our most outstanding Tour Director.

An icy cold towel from the support van hits the spot too.

Our friend Sam from Vermeer organized a trivia event at dinner one night. The winners received Kentucky and Tennessee appropriate cycling jerseys.

Having a route map on our sleeves makes it easy to explain our travels to visiting dignitaries.

We ended the week with an amazing event at Hull-Jackson Montessori Magnet School in Nashville. It was amazing to have a couple of hundred kids running out to greet the riders as they rolled in.

The full team in Clarksville, Tennessee. Where’s J. Waldo? (Hint: Throw the horns!)

Closing remarks on Saturday morning. Quite emotional!

The Big Check!!

The team gave me a TREE Fund jersey autographed by this year’s riders and support crew. I wore it while Coleman used me as an art shot model, with the Nashville skyline behind me.

And thanks once again to Paul Wood and Maggie Harthoorn for their tireless work in coordinating this year’s Tour. TREE Fund’s next CEO will be incredibly fortunate to have them on the team, as I have been.

Lessons I’ve Learned From the Tour des Trees

We are down to less than a week before this year’s 80 Tour des Trees riders have to meet their minimum fundraising goals, and the team as a whole is within $10,000 of our total goal for the year, hooray! If you want to help somebody get ‘er done here at rug-cutting time (or if you want to help push me up the leader board), you can click on the image above and support any of our riders. We should definitely hit our $300,000 mark this week, so I am hoping that when all’s said and done, we can be above last year’s $327,000 mark before the week of actual riding ends. The more we raise, the more research we fund or endow in next year’s budget, so it’s win, win, win to raise more, more, more!

I have to be at our office in Naperville the week before the Tour, so next week is my final training window. I feel in good shape at this point. It’s easier to do training rides in Des Moines than it was in Chicago, for sure. I’ve ridden a couple of centuries already this summer, and did a five-day unsupported week of 305 miles, so being in the peloton with regular rest stops, support and meals that I don’t have to carry should make the actual week’s tally of about 450 miles with one century and less climbing than we had last year in Ohio more than attainable. I won’t be winning any time trials, but I’ll be back at the barn before dinner every day, and that’s what it’s all about.

While this will be my last Tour as CEO of TREE Fund, I do intend to keep riding it in the years ahead, so long as my ever-more-creaky body allows. I was thinking this week about the things that make the Tour des Trees special, and some valuable life lessons learned on the road over the past four years popped into my mind, so I thought I would share them with you here. I’d welcome any of your own lessons learned in the comments!

1. When life gives you free lunch, you eat it.

2. When everybody stinks, nobody stinks.

3. Love every single glorious descent, because you will be punished for each one later.

4. No matter how many gears you have, life will always throw something at you where none of them are quite right, and you just have to grit your teeth and grind it out.

5. There’s nothing wrong with being able to recognize your friends by their butts.

6. Knowing you have support in front of you, behind you, and alongside you makes everything achievable.

7. No matter how nice your bike is, somebody else always has a nicer one.

8. A ride with no trees makes it most clear why we ride for the trees.

9. You’ll never have nicer conversations than the ones you share on a journey with fellow travelers.

10. What happens on the Tour does not stay on the Tour: it ripples outward, over space and time, and makes the world a better place.

Ride on! See you soon in Tennessee and Kentucky!

Tour des Trees 2019: Final Fundraising Push

I got back home to Des Moines last night after spending three days at the International Society of Arboriculture‘s (ISA) International Conference in Knoxville, Tennessee. We held our annual “Tree Fund After Hours” reception on Tuesday night (co-hosted with our good friends from ISA Southern Chapter), where a few hundred professional tree folks came out to celebrate our community, the work we do together, and the research that underpins our commitment to support and the sustain the world’s urban and community forests, and the utility rights of way that connect them.

As a result of our guests’ generosity, and the stack of checks and online gifts from other folks we had waiting for us when we got back to the office, we just pushed over a total of $250,000 raised by our 2019 Tour des Trees to Benefit TREE Fund riders and teams. Our goal for the year is $300,000 — and the deadline for riders to meet their individual minimum fundraising requirements ($3,500 each) is now only 19 days away. Folks are fundraising hard to meet both individual and aggregate goals, so if you’ve been thinking about making a gift toward this important community engagement event, time’s getting short, and there’s no time like the present for making that contribution.

I always try to lead by example and keep myself high on the fundraising leader board (I’m in fourth place among individual riders right now), so if you’d like to help me stay ahead of some hard-charging (friendly) competitors who are neck-and-neck with me, you can support my campaign here. Or if you want to support a rider who is still working to get his or her minimum fundraising done, there’s a list of all of this year’s 82 riders at this page, and you can click on any of their names to support their campaigns. Either way, you’ll push us closer to this year’s budget goal, and we’ll all be grateful.

This summer, TREE Fund pushed over $4.3 million in total grant awards made to support tree research and education, and we published an independent report by Drs Richard Hauer (University of Wisconsin: Stevens Point) and Andrew Koeser (University of Florida) evaluating and explaining the outcomes, outputs and impacts of those grants over our 16 year history. Their complete report is available here, and it ably demonstrates how these grants change the way our industry works, and leverage other dollars toward applied research and outreach. It’s a compelling story, and the Tour des Trees is a cornerstone to our success in the past, present and future.

I’ve shared a few photos from last year’s Tour (by the awesome Coleman Camp) below just to give you a taste of the experience, which depends on the goodwill of thousands of partners and donors every year. I appreciate you considering a gift this year. Your generosity will make a difference — now, and for many years yet to come.

The love we’re shown by the countless towns and cities we roll through is truly inspirational.

Riding is only part of the Tour des Trees story. We also make frequent community engagement stops to share the importance of tree research and education, for kids of all ages.

The end of the road in 2018, at the Ohio State House in Columbus: tired, stinky, sore, and proud, with over $340,000 raised for grants and scholarships!

From Whence I Spring

My Mom moved back to Beaufort, South Carolina last year, where I was born, smack in the middle of the Low Cackalacky region where she was raised and where our family has been for a long, long time. My sister and I went down there for a quick trip this week. She’s turning 50 next week, and my dad would have celebrated his 80th birthday a couple of weeks ago were he still with us, and we don’t quite exactly know how old my Mom is, but it still seemed like a good season for the three of us to spend some time on our home turf together and celebrate. (Plus my Mom tricked us by scheduling surgery, then cancelling. Well played, you!) We ate way too many boiled peanuts (among many other things) and just enjoyed a few lazy days, including a trip to Beaufort National Cemetery (where my Dad is buried) and Hunting Island, which I consider to be the prettiest beach on the East Coast, hands down. Here’s some photo evidence . . .

Beaufort Waterfront Park and Marina

Can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent sitting up there when the drawbridge is open

My sister reliving her life guard days at Hunting Island

My sister continuing to revisit her lifeguard days

Lighthouse at Hunting Island

Glad that the island has (mostly) recovered from a year closure after Hurricane Matthew

Forrest Gump (left side view)

Forrest Gump (right side view)(My fave bench in a little downtown pocket park that tourists mostly ignore)

Mom made my sister and I sit together at dinner. Ewww.

Live Oaks and marsh: unbeatable beauty.

The massive live oak above my Dad’s grave.

“Touch Trees” (TM Alex Shigo) with my Mom.

Touch Wine (TM My Mom)

Tour des Trees 2019: $150,000 Down, $150,000 To Go

The Tour des Trees to Benefit TREE Fund will be rolling out of Nashville, Tennessee on September 15, and our 80+ riders have until September 5 to complete their fundraising campaigns. The team broke the 50% mark this morning as we rolled over the $150,000 threshold on the way to our $300,000 aggregate goal, huttah!!

While my role with TREE Fund will be changing after October 31, I purposefully selected my retirement date to ensure that I could see this year’s Tour through to completion, and I am passionate about having an epic fundraising and riding experience for everybody involved this year. And in the years ahead, too, hopefully: we’re planning to stage the Tour in the Denver region in 2020, and we’re evaluating Eastern Texas and Central Iowa as our two finalist destinations for 2021. While I have truly loved riding with the team as President/CEO of the organization, I do intend to continue riding as a regular ol’ member of peloton for as long as my creaky body will allow me to do so, and as long as TREE Fund and my successor(s) want me along for the ride.

A lot of people talk about the Tour des Trees as as “life altering” event, and while I’m not one for hyperbole (usually), in this case, those folks are right: the community, the riding experience, the cause, the support . . . all of those things are amazing. It is hard, no denying that, but the sense of achievement when it’s over each year is glorious. As is the response year after year from so many individual donors and companies who give so generously to make it all possible, thereby allowing us to maximize the amount of funding we apply to urban forest research every year. We’ve pushed out $4.3 million in grants since our inception, and the Tour des Trees is a cornerstone to that success.

It’s a win for everyone when we have a successful Tour, and I hope you will consider joining so many others (744 gifts so far) in supporting us this year, perhaps building on your earlier giving, or perhaps making a first time contribution. I always try to stay high on the fundraising leader board, but I’ve got some serious competition this year, so if you could click the banner image below and help the organization, the team, and me as I work to hit my personal fundraising goal, I’d be a happy rider and a grateful CEO!

Also a bit of a tired one, too, truth be told . . . I logged 302 training miles on the road this week. Tomorrow’s Sunday. I’m gonna rest!

Home from Greece

After a loooong travel day yesterday, Marcia and I tumbled into our (best) bed (ever) in Des Moines to try to get our body clocks readjusted for regular life again. Our 30th Anniversary Trip was truly amazing, with great stops in Santorini, Mykonos and Athens. Some quick thoughts and observations from a still-travel-addled brain:

  • Santorini was sublime, unique, and captivating, though with the caveat that it has become one of the main cruise ship stops in the region, so its hip destinations (most especially sunset at Oia) can be annoyingly swamped and commercialized, their magic tamped out by hyper-tourism. (We are not fans of cruise ships, as they tend to blight their ports of call, alas). We stayed on the quieter Eastern shore of the island, in Kamari, and I would recommend you do that as well if you visit. The sunrises on that side of the island are spectacular too, and you can get over to the crowded/sunset side of the island fairly easily if/when you want to. I would also most heartily recommend taking a sailboat cruise around the archipelago, with a stop at the volcano at the shattered island’s heart. And also eat lots of the local Santorini Fava, om nom nom!
  • Mykonos was probably our least favorite (barely) of the three destinations, as it really favors the sort of tacky money/party/beach/rave scene in ways that aren’t quite aligned with our lives at this point, and that tend to attract a bit more drunk/criminal element than is optimal. That said, we stayed at an isolated resort called Kirini My Mykonos Retreat that may well have been the most spectacular destination we have ever over-nighted, and the boat trip to Ancient Delos was well worth the stop at Mykonos in its own right. I guess I would have raved about Mykonos if we just went there and nowhere else . . . but seeing another Aegean Isle and spending time in the Capital just made this stop seem a little bit crass, comparatively speaking. Plus, we had the experience of getting into a cab one afternoon, only to have our vehicle pulled over by armed police officers a few blocks later, one of the gendarmes using a power drill to remove its license plates while we sat inside, caught in the middle of a local power/shakedown play. That put us off our feed a bit.
  • I loved Athens. Which, honestly, was a little bit of a surprise because so many people have complained (crowded, noisy, smelly, hot, etc.) or said “one day was enough” to me about their own visits there. It’s a big city, sure, but I guess having lived in one of those for most of the past five years, my tolerance for the urban experience may be a bit higher than that of a casual suburban tourist type. We had great food, great walks, a great hotel, our visit to the Acropolis was no more harried or frenzied than what one experiences in any major global destination, and I found the parts of the city we explored to be lovely and engaging. I hope to return with more time at some point, and will gently chide anybody who makes sniffy noises to me about it in the future. Philistines.
  • We booked this trip using the independent travel option with our long-time favorite U.S. Travel Agency, Gate1 Travel, and I have to say they absolutely hit it out of the park in terms of the quality of the package, and the support available in-country from their local teams. Just superb. You could book it yourselves here. When you get to the lodging options, I’d recommend you upgrade to the premium level . . . it was totally worth it, every penny, in terms of the quality of the experience.

Okay, that’s about as much as the brain can handle this morning, so let’s send you to the photos, if you care to see more. Click the image of Marcia and I doing our best jobs to find the selfie lens below, and see what it looked like for us while were there: