Student charged up for Minneapolis to Washington bike ride

  • Article by: RODRIGO ZAMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 15, 2008 - 10:58 PM

A 14-year-old girl is attempting to ride from Minneapolis to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness of electric vehicles. The "Ride for Renewal" is planned to last 36 days and cover more than 1,500 miles.

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Liza Stoner, 14, of Minneapolis is dedicating a month of her summer vacation to ride her bike to the nations capital to deliver a petition to the U.S. Congress to encourage legislation that will grant tax credits and incentives for companies who produce, manufacture or sell electric vehicles in the United States.

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PowerBars? Check. Equipment inspection? Pass. Helmet? Ditto.

It is Monday morning and like many fellow eighth-grade graduates of City of Lakes Waldorf School, Liza Stoner anticipates spending another summer day biking outside.

But unlike most other 14-year-olds, Liza isn't taking a leisurely spin. She's going on another 20-mile ride to train for her "summer vacation" -- a 1,500-mile bicycle ride from Minneapolis to Washington, D.C., to help raise awareness of electric vehicles.

The 36-day "Ride for Renewal" is part of Liza's plan to deliver a petition to Congress seeking to grant tax credits and incentives for companies that produce, manufacture or sell electric vehicles in the U.S.

"The whole thing started with the documentary, 'Who Killed The Electric Car,'" Liza said. "It made me really angry and I wanted to do something, so I decided to go on a bike ride."

While her father supported the idea when it surfaced in the spring of 2007, her mother thought it was just another phase that would pass. For a few months, it did.

The eighth-grade project

In October, Liza was assigned a broad eighth-grade class project: Pick something to study and create a physical representation of it. She again took up the idea of a bike ride and pestered her parents.

"We told her that she could plan a hypothetical ride but that there was no committing to it," her mother, Amy, said. "But we also said that if she did all the work that goes into it, we'd talk."

Secretly, Amy hoped Liza's teacher, Jeannine Ouellette, would ax the idea, saying it was too big in scope, but, instead, her teacher egged her on.

"I wanted to encourage the interest that leads to action that leads to change," Ouellette said. "I see that in Liza."

Liza began researching her project and talking to cyclists. By April, she had a route, website, logo and a petition that has garnered more than 600 signatures.

Liza didn't just convince her classmates, she won over neighbors and many in the Twin Cities cycling community. Her family signed on.

With the exception of her 16-year-old sister at summer camp, Liza's family will be coming on the trip. Amy will bike alongside her while her father, Jeff, and 8-year-old brother, Christopher, travel in a support vehicle -- ironically, an SUV.

"We just can't take anything smaller because of all the gear we have to bring, so it was the trade-off we had to make," Amy said.

The family intends to cover 40 to 70 miles per day, taking roughly four to five hours. The plan is to bike mostly in the morning, take a break during the hot afternoon and finish the day's work in the evening.

To reduce the cost of the trip -- which Amy estimates at $8,000 -- the family plans to camp and cook most nights.

'No real preparation short' of this

Friends hooked Liza up with Gene Lew, a bike enthusiast and former racer who developed a training regimen for her.

Liza has been biking 40 to 60 miles a day on Sundays and 15 to 20 miles per day for the rest of the week since April. She has also stuck to a carbohydrate-heavy diet. Lew bikes with her twice a week and monitors her progress.

"It takes a certain level of focus and a lot of mind-over-matter to deal with the monotony of the whole ride," Lew said. "There's no real preparation short of doing this."

Using a heart monitor and sensors on Liza's bike, Lew will be fed information about speed, her heart rate and the distance covered whenever the family has Internet access.

Liza also plans to update her blog (www.rideforrenewal.org) as they travel.

Once she gets to Washington, Liza hopes to meet with policy leaders such as Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. James Oberstar and Rep. Keith Ellison.

Though she knows her petition may not lead to immediate change, Liza said she would be perfectly happy knowing she at least raised awareness of electric vehicles.

"Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of people 14 years of age can't do this sort of thing because they're not going to want to do it," Lew said. "But Liza has produced this concept ... and she has all the environmental pieces in place to make it. She's ready and she can do it."

Rodrigo Zamith • 612-673-4895

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