It is an afternoon in mid-August and I find myself with a few moments to contemplate the bicycle tour I just completed.
During the last three weeks of July, I rode my bike from Missoula, Mont. to Pueblo, Colo., a trek of 1,165 miles. The countrysides I rode through in Montana, Wyoming and Colorado, were stunningly beautiful with the most enormous vistas of wide-open space I’d ever seen.
There were beautiful valleys with sparkling rivers, open land as far as the eye could see and snow-capped peaks (a few too many for these legs) more times than I can recall as I crossed the Continental Divide. I averaged 70 miles per day, with one whopper of a day when I covered 130 miles.
The ride was the major component in a project to raise awareness and money to protect sharks. My campaign, “Spinning to end finning,” is focused on putting an end to the cruel and barbaric practice of shark finning.
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Shark fins fetch about $300 per pound and are used almost exclusively for shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy once only affordable by the extremely rich, but now popular among the middle class. The finned sharks are thrown back into the ocean where they drown or are eaten alive by other fish.
I rode alone on this bike ride, but I was rarely alone. There were so many cyclists and other wonderful people I met along the way! Some were on shorter rides, like the five ladies I met doing a four-day loop through southern Montana. Or the mountain biker I met riding backcountry trails from Canada to Wyoming. But most were on the Trans-America route, riding from Virginia to Oregon in one summer, a journey of more than 4,000 miles.
One young guy I met was doing the cross country trek on a unicycle! He rode fast, too. Averaging 14 mph and about 70 miles per day, pulling a phenomenal 210 miles in one day as he rode through western Kansas. His cause?
To raise awareness that unicycles aren’t just for circus acts, but can be a functional form of transportation as well.
In Montana, I met a family of nine riding cross country together, just so the kids could get a sense of the immensity of our nation and meet firsthand some of the Americans we share it with.
One day, I pulled into the small community of Riverside in southern Wyoming where the entire town (200 people or so) was out having a barbecue. When I pulled up and asked, “What are you all celebrating?,” the gal at the food table said, “Nothing. We’re just having a barbecue together. You look hungry. Grab a plate and I’ll dish you up.” Such warm hospitality!
But probably the most amazing pair I met was a middle-aged couple riding together across the country, encouraging people across the United States to register to donate their organs when they die. This couple had lost their daughter when she was 11 and had just met the young man who was the recipient of her heart. He is doing wonderfully and loves his life.
When I rode through the ski town of Frisco, Colo., I stopped in to get a haircut at the local barbershop. The owner, Tina, upon learning about my shark campaign, wanted to make a donation on behalf of sharks and decided the best way to do that was to donate my haircut!
That same day, I met two young women studying marine biology at the University of Miami. They were so excited about what they might do to protect sharks and other creatures in the ocean that they are now planning an Ocean Awareness Week at their college to spread awareness about the plight of sharks and other large fish in the oceans.
In short, everyone I met was interested, supportive and eager to do all they could to put an end to finning. Some were already aware of what is happening to sharks. Others were stunned to learn that a practice as brutal as this is actually occurring and still others likened finning to the wholesale slaughter of the American bison in the 19th century. But all were united in their opposition to it and to contributing to ending it. At the beginning of my ride, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how people would react or if they would even care. After all, sharks are not particularly cuddly or endearing. To prevent their extinction will require a conscious decision by society to protect the most effective predator on Earth.
By the end of my ride, I came away feeling that there is hope that sharks can be saved. If we can succeed in making the ocean safe for sharks again, there is reason to believe that it will be safe for all other creatures that depend on it as well, including ourselves.
I wish to thank my wonderful wife and kids and all the individuals and businesses in San Luis Obispo County who contributed to making this campaign a success. “Spinning to end finning” will continue to take donations through the end of August, with 100 percent of the money raised going to shark conservation.
Visit our website, www.endfinning.com, for details. Mark DiMaggio lives in Cambria with his wife and family and teaches Earth and environmental sciences at Paso Robles High School.