Green crusader biking to Texas

HONORA BAY—Honora Bay’s Justin Tilson is known as a champion of green causes (his run in the 2011 provincial election for the Green Party in Ontario made this well known) and next month he plans to create awareness regarding climate change and what ordinary folk can do to make a difference by cycling from Manitoulin to Texas.

The trip is over 3,000 kilometres, but Mr. Tilson hopes to see it accomplished in seven to 10 days. “I want to prove that this is doable,” he said. That means putting in at least 300 kilometres and six or seven hours of pedaling a day on his custom electric bike.

The hand pedal bike is electric powered to help him see that 300 kilometres, specifically when travelling into a headwind or up hills, as well as towing the five foot travel trailer with a solar panel atop that will further charge the motor’s batteries. The motor will also help him reach speeds of up to 45 kilometres an hour.

“Right now, transportation is due for an upgrade,” he said. “Last year I outfitted my handbike with a 48 Volt, 20Ah electric system that does a wonderful job of moving me 80 to 100 kilometres at 45 kilometres an hour. My next goal is to expand the capacity of my battery system and add solar panels so that it can be, at least in part, self-charging and emissions-free.”

“What motivated this trip is that I agreed to get on an airplane,” he explained, meaning he had to do something to counter that carbon footprint left behind. “This is virtually carbon free with the exception of some of the materials and construction.”

“I’m also doing this to challenge myself,” Mr. Tilson added.

The go-getter is doing this without a team, completely solo. “I’m a bike mechanic, I’ve winter camped at minus 30 (Mr. Tilson is a former Boy Scout)—I don’t feel like I’m putting myself in too much risk,” he said, noting that former Manitoulin Secondary School teacher Rob Cassibo logged 100,000 kilometres on his bike, solo, in a world adventure.

“And my experience (with mankind) has genuinely been positive,” Mr. Tilson said.

In his trailer Mr. Tilson will have room enough for his wheelchair, extra batteries, a winter sleeping bag, tools and a bit of food. He plans to ‘couch surf’ and follows the site www.warmshowers.org—an online community that pairs touring cyclists with hosts.

Mr. Tilson has started a crowd funding campaign on his own website, www.justintilson.com, as it will take an estimated $3,000 to $5,000 to build and outfit his trailer—chargers and batteries are a huge expense.

“There’s usually some reciprocity in crowd funding, so I thought I would pay it forward by planting a forest,” he explained. A pledge of $10 will have Mr. Tilson plant a black locust while a pledge of $100 will see two black locusts, two autumn olives, two sea buckthorns, two guomis and two Siberian pea shrubs planted in your name.

Mr. Tilson will be in Texas until April, but is unsure he’ll make the trip via bike back as it will still likely be wintry in this part of the world.

The trailer’s solar panel is a custom creation from a company in California that has agreed to help cover the cost as its lightweight formula (weighing only three pounds) is beyond your typical glass panel.

Mr. Tilson said he’s worried that climate change is not top-of-mind for most people.

“I’m frustrated by the priorities of our federal government, both here and in the United States,” he added. “Sometimes I feel frustrated and hopeless. Maybe by doing something in a positive context it will get people a little bit enthusiastic.”

Mr. Tilson quotes Buckminster Fuller, American author, futurist and developer of the iconic geodesic dome structure, saying “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

“Right now we’re pretty locked into using fossil fuels—the panacea to all our energy needs,” he said. “But the cost of this is high, not only to the pocket but to the environment.”

“We’ve got to start somewhere,” he added, urging people to retrofit their bike with an electric motor instead of driving a car.

To donate to Mr. Tilson’s cause, and to follow him on his journey, visit www.justintilson.com.

Alicia McCutcheon