Jeff Barrie has been making independent environmental documentary productions as a freelance artist since 1994. His latest project, Arctic Quest, had him bicycling from coast to coast to raise awareness about the importance of protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska from oil development.

Monday, 26 Jun 2000

TURTON, S.D.

The rain is falling this morning as I write from my dad’s hometown of Turton, S.D. It’s a small farming community in the heart of the Midwest, a place for which I have many fond childhood memories. My cross-country tour is over so I’m going to flash back two weeks and write about the most exciting, intense week of the tour: our arrival in D.C.

I woke up this morning in Culpepper, Vir. Yesterday it was Charlottesville, and before that Newport News. For the last four months, I’ve seen a new home nearly every day as I pedal my bicycle across America.

Today’s ride promises to be a challenging one. Newspaper headlines warn of 100-degree temperatures, and this East Coast humidity makes it even hotter. Below the headlines I spot a picture of myself and Alex Tapia, my support driver, standing on a Culpeper street corner. Yesterday a local reporter interviewed us. Today our story is reaching thousands of readers.

A polar bear in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Photo: USFWS.

We’re on the adventure of our lives, speaking to countless Americans about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that Congress is considering for a possible oil development. It is our mission to make sure Congress knows that America doesn’t want or need the Arctic Refuge turned into an oil field, and that drilling there will not help lower the price of gasoline.

Alex and I first met at the 1995 Youth Environmental Summit in Colorado where 300 young people from around the world came together to learn about various environmental issues, including the Arctic Refuge. In 1996, Alex and four others traveled to Alaska to find the truth about this controversial oil development scheme. I was invited to follow their journey with my video camera and use my documentary filmmaking skills to capture their story. Last year I finished the documentary, <IiArctic Quest: Our Search for Truth, which explores their discoveries in Alaska. Now Alex and I use Arctic Quest as a tool, sharing it with audiences of all ages and all walks of life to illustrate the need to protect this wilderness treasure.

Last year, when I decided to take this bicycle journey across America, Alex volunteered to drive the support vehicle carrying food, water, clothes, camping gear, and a mobile office. An important part of our message is energy efficiency, and I felt that driving an ordinary car might be perceived as hypocritical, so last October I asked Toyota Motor Sales USA if I could borrow one of their revolutionary new 50-mile-per-gallon hybrid Prius cars to serve as my support vehicle. It seemed a bit farfetched that a major corporation would take me seriously and support this grassroots environmental effort, but after numerous follow-up phone calls and three months of uncertainty, I got the final word and we got the Prius.

Now, after four months with this car, Alex and I both believe that gasoline-electric hybrid technology will revolutionize the auto industry and perhaps save some wilderness in the process. Toyota is leading the charge. The Prius is being launched in the U.S. this summer.

Trusty steeds: my bike and the Prius.

Photo: Arctic Quest.

Together, with the bike and the hybrid car, we represent the voice of those who want to see the Arctic Refuge preserved as wilderness. In the basket mounted to my handlebars, I carry more than 1,000 letters addressed to Congress. We’ve collected these letters over the course of our cross-country journey and have promised to hand-deliver them to each member of Congress. In the past few weeks we’ve scheduled numerous meetings for an all-out one-week congressional campaign. Now we just need to complete the last 85-mile ride to D.C., and today is the day.

Two new pedalers have joined us. Eric Meury from Indiana is one of the truth-seeking stars in “Arctic Quest” who traveled to Alaska in 1996 — he’s ridden with us for 600 miles since Durham, N.C. My sister Jennifer recently finished her seasonal position as a ranger in Joshua Tree National Park and met us in Charlottesville two days ago.

At 11:00 a.m. Alex begins a load of laundry and packs up the car while Eric, Jennifer, and I set out to face the heat and humidity. We cruise through the first 38 miles in a wind-aided two-and-a-half hours. After our lunch break the fatigue sets in and the heat slows our progress. We ride another 10 miles, then stop to rest in the shade. Eric is queasy and feeling the symptoms of dehydration. Alex delivers some much-needed Gatorade. So goes the rest of the day, breaking every 10 miles to seek relief in shade or air-conditioned buildings. By dusk we reach the Potomac.

The sun is setting as we cross the Arlington Memorial Bridge, and we pause in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial. After four months on the road, this is a sentimental moment for Alex and me. We’re overcome with feelings of nostalgia and anxiety. We’ve both been here before, but never with such an important mission. In the distance, the Washington Monument and Capitol Building stand prominently as powerful symbols marking the end of our 4,600-mile trek and the beginning of our work ahead.