“A Crash & a Sheriff Deputy’s Kindness” (Fri. and Sat., Oct 29 and 30, 2010)

Began the day by getting to drive Matt’s TWIKE around the block. Talk about fun. Test-drive one yourself, and you may never go back to a car.

Then it was back into the cockpit of the rocket trike for what turned out to be an 83-mile ride day. Started with a hearty breakfast in nearby Urbana before heading north towards Fowler, site of the enXco wind project I cut my teeth on when I first joined the wind industry nearly seven years ago. Met Neil Bernstein and his son Daniel on the way out the door, who were real excited about the ride. Thanks for the generous contribution, guys!

Weather now starting to get a little cool, but a beautiful day for riding. Encountered six hawks and two large dogs, as I rode by a farmer’s yard. They were barking with what was could only be described as joy and ran alongside me for a good couple of miles. They’d have gone further, I’m sure, if I hadn’t stopped to let them rest.

Made a side trip down Main Street in Rankin and a little while later, in Hoopeston, where I ran into local Alderman Bill McElhaney and Republican County Clerk candidate Dennis Miller, both big supporters of wind power. Finally crossed the state line into Indiana (one more state down). A short while later, a woman in a van flagged me down. She was a reporter from the Danville Commercial News whose son had just called her saying he had seen me on the road. We did an interview in the parking lot.

Finally spotted a huge wind project on the horizon to the north and made tracks for it. I was soon pedaling through a massive wind project, with hundreds of turbines dotting the landscape, as the sun began to drop. The setting sun, behind all those slowly rotating wind turbines, under a pale blue sky with wispy white clouds turning pastel pink, was a postcard perfect moment (but for the iPhone battery dying at that moment). What happened next was not.

As there were no towns of any size nearby, I had to make Fowler before dark. Missed my target by a few miles, which forced me to ride in the dark. Kids, don’t do this. Knocked on the door of a farmhouse to make sure I was on the right road. I was, so at least that.

By now, it was not only pitch black, but I was riding on a section of newly constructed black asphalt with no painted stripes and no shoulder (ironically built by a wind company), so it was hard to discern where the asphalt ended and a sharp, nasty drop-off began. Got a little too close to the edge at one point and over we went. Fortunately, it was a soft, grassy landing and the trike didn’t roll. Crawled out of the cockpit to survey the damage, fearing the worst. Not a scrape on the trike, which was lying on its side, and just a few small ones on me. A woman (never got her name) who witnessed the accident pulled over to see if I was OK, and was kind enough to slowly drive behind me as I pedaled the last couple of miles safely into town.

Briefly thought about pitching a tent in the town park, but was chilled and still soaking wet from sweating all day, so rolled up to the Sheriff’s Office to ask about other options. The dispatch, Courtney, called around (including to a church) to see if she could find me a bed for the night, but struck out. Finally, they proposed storing my trike, charging the battery up over night, and driving me up the road to the next town where there was a hotel. At this point, that sounded good to me. Before leaving, they loaded me up with Halloween candy and other snacks for the road.

When we got to the hotel, Deputy Jason Dexter asked me to please wait in the car, which I found curious. He came out a few minutes later, handed me my room key with his business card and said, “I really admire what you’re doing. Here’s your room key. Just do me one favor and email me when you arrive in DC.” He had personally picked up the tab for my room! I was flabbergasted. He said another officer would be by in the morning to drive me back to Fowler. Indiana’s Benton County Sheriff’s Department truly personifies the motto “protect and serve.” Thank you, Jason, for your heartwarming generosity.

MEETING A REAL ROCKET MAN” (Saturday, October 30, 2010)

The morning began with a knock at my door by the Benton County Sheriff’s Department. It was my ride. Deputy Don Munson was there to drive me back to Fowler to pick up my trike. On the way, we got to talking about all the wind farms in the area and he remembered where the wind farm I helped get off the ground years ago was located. Problem was, it was considerably north of Fowler, and I didn’t have the time (or the energy, after last night) to pedal all the way up there and back from Fowler. Without missing a beat, he turned down a side road and headed north. So I got to visit my old wind project, courtesy of the Sheriff’s Department.

Very satisfying to see the physical manifestation of something that seven years ago was just a hope and an idea. Surrounding us were 53 two-megawatt wind turbines generating green energy for Indiana and a providing a new source of income for farmers. Officer Munson is a huge fan of wind power.

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Grabbed a sandwich at the local grocery store and headed down the road to Lafayette, where I wanted to visit Purdue University, and hopefully a bike shop to get one of my front tires replaced. Learned that the university was having their annual Purdue Space Day at the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering today, which coincidentally was right where I pulled into campus. Rolled my trike into the building and introduced myself to the organizers, who welcomed the addition of a “rocket trike” to their event. Interesting fact: Purdue boasts the first and last astronauts to walk on the moon. A few minutes later, 600 3rd-8th graders began streaming into the building. Had lots of great interactions with the kids, then was told the head of the School of Aeronautics and Astonautics wanted to meet me. This led to a fascinating conversation with Tom I-P. Shih, who in turn introduced me to the event’s VIP astronaut speaker.

Astronaut David Wolf is the real rocket man, having logged 168 days, 12 hours, 56 minutes and 04 seconds in space over four separate missions. When I mentioned my trike, he asked if I had had any incidents with it. “Yes, in fact, I crashed it just last night…” which prompted this reply: “always put safety first.” Sound advice, coming from someone whose life literally hangs on that in space. He was curious to see the trike, so I walked him over to it after the event.

By the time I found the bike shop downtown and got the tire changed, it was close to 5:00. Even though I’d only 30 miles logged on the day, decided to play it safe and not push it this time, and grabbed a motel for the night.

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Tom Weis is president of Climate Crisis Solutions, a mission-driven environmental consulting firm dedicated to solving the global climate crisis. Active in the wind industry since early 2004 as a public outreach consultant to enXco, Inc., Tom played a key role in permitting 600 MW of wind energy projects in California. He served as strategic advisor to the president of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) from 2008-2009 and received AWEA's 2009 Special Achievement Award for his role in co-founding the American Wind Wildlife Institute. Tom also served as chair of AWEA's 2007 Fall Symposium, and represented enXco on the board of the Interwest Energy Alliance from 2005-2009.

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