Band of bikers trek across country in support of Clinton


WILLIAMSTOWN — The Great American Road Trip. For some, it's a daydream, a rite of passage, a destination.

Right now, four 20-somethings — two with local ties — are taking on the time honored cross-country tradition with a purpose, and by bicycle.

The group has dubbed their mission, "Riding Hills for Hillary," and is in major part, a pedal-powered push to gain support for the democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. But it's also a trek to take back the typecasting of a generation, and to walk the walk, or rather, ride the ride, to prove that millennials are more than a group of self-centered armchair activists.

These faces of a generation include 23-year-olds Merdith Bird, who grew up in Andover; Jamie Daudon of Seattle; and Ben Feldman of Oakland, Calif.; along with Mike Bienkowski, 29, who grew up in Lexington. Bird met Daudon and Feldman at her alma mater, Colorado College, while she and Bienkowski met while working at the Williamstown-based Overland summer camp.

The trip started in Portsmouth, N.H., and will continue for some three thousand miles over 60 days to their final stop in San Francisco.

Last Friday, Bird and Bienkowski returned to the Berkshires with their compatriots for a rest stop in Billsville, at the family home of another Colorado College student and local musician, Eliza Densmore.

"I'm really excited for them," Densmore said. "It's cool that they're taking advantage of social media and traveling on their own time to get the word out."

Sweaty, tired yet ever-optimistic, the four detailed their first days of their trip, through Keene and Concord, N.H., Brattleboro, Vt., and North Adams.

"Our generation has definitely been labeled as lazy, and Hillary Clinton has had trouble attracting young people to her campaign ... some of us weren't initially Hillary fans, but Bernie supporters, but we decided to work together," Bird said.

"We did some formal canvassing in Concord in a pretty working class neighborhood. I can only speak for myself, because we split up, but there were some pretty funny experiences," said Bird.

"Some people were really willing to engage ...," she said.

"And then there were others who were super friendly in answering the door, until they learned what you were there for," Feldman said.

One of their blog posts read: "We were definitely traveling through Trump-leaning territory, complete with Trump yard-signs and a homemade bumper sticker reading 'Obama Blows.'"

Feldman noted that "Riding Hills for Hillary" is an unofficial rally to not necessarily change voters' minds, but rather focus on reaching out to undecided and independent voters and having conversations to learn about different campaign views across the nation.

Daudon said of the reactions he found from people he met in Keene, "They seemed really excited about the idea of our trip and exciting to have young people involved."

Bird said she was also motivated to organize their effort simply for the sake of doing something "bold and fun."

Feldman said he saw a chance to answer "a greater call to action" in national politics.

Daudon, who has been a Clinton supporter from the start, said that while he sees his candidate as "a good leader," he also recognizes her lack of appeal among his peers. "I thought this would be a more interesting way to support the campaign and have a unique experience for myself," he said.

As for Bienkowski, he mostly just wanted to go for a long bike ride. "This is a little outside my comfort zone," he said of the campaign component. "But I realized that democracy doesn't work if we make it taboo. We have to talk about it, whether we agree or not."

The group members all agreed that being on bicycle, being seen hauling saddlebags of personal supplies along with campaign stickers, makes them a visually interesting and approachable group.

They've had a few negative things shouted at them along the way, but they've also found support from friends and family spread out across the country, as well as hospitality from perfect strangers.

While their loved ones expressed some concern for safety and their rigorous schedule of anywhere from 30 to 100-plus miles a day, they've mostly found support and interest.

Feldman launched a crowdfunding webpage at seeking donations to help supplement the cost of their trip, which has garnered them a few hundred dollars to be used toward food, lodging, bike repairs, etc., since they are unpaid volunteers. Otherwise, they're dipping into savings to support their trip.

Other unknown variables include where they're going — they've only mapped their trip out to Columbus, Ohio — and who and what they'll encounter on the road. According to their blog, interesting encounters and mishaps have included: discovering dirt roads and meeting state legislators; losing a pair of pants and finding friendly townsfolk; exploring swimming holes and avoiding roadkill.

Yet, there is also much to look forward to. Feldman favored campaigning in Vermont. Bird said she's looking forward to her maiden trek along the Erie Canal, while Daudon's stoked about seeing the Midwest.

"We'll probably run into a lot more Trump supporters there, but also have the chance for some very honest conversations," he said.

"I want to see small town America," said Bienkowski, who has done the most traveling by bike in the group.

He also commented on his bigger picture ideas. "This trip holds a lot of weight for me personally. I hope that people who we meet will be inspired in some way to do things that are bold. I hope that people really value that we are willing to take a risk, and I hope that we grow from this in some way. I hope that by seeing this, people will seek more types of experiences like this, getting to know different people and different places, in their own way."

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