For the Birds Radio Program: Katie's Bike Trip

Original Air Date: Sept. 30, 2008

Laura’s daughter Katie is biking from San Diego to Savannah, Georgia, and Laura considers herself far luckier than bird mothers, because she hears from Katie fairly regularly.

Duration: 4′07″


Two weeks ago, my daughter set out with two friends on bicycles from San Diego, California, on a cross-country adventure to Savannah, Georgia. They have no structured support system—the only things they’re bringing are what fit into their panniers or Katie’s burley bike trailer, which has so far accompanied her all the way around Lake Superior and, last summer, from Bemidji, Minnesota to New Orleans. The kids usually camp wherever they happen to find themselves at the end of the day. Some nice people have put them up here and there, reinforcing my feeling that at some level, most people really are pretty darned nice. They proceeded fairly slowly at first as they climbed the coastal mountains, but in their first 13 days of travel they’ve crossed California, Arizona, and most of New Mexico—they spent their 13th night in Las Cruces, New Mexico and expect to reach Texas by the 14th day—today as I write this. Katie does these bike trips for a lark, but this time she decided she wanted to focus on some kind of project, so she’s keeping track of roadkill. Her friend Michael brought a good camera along and is photographing some of the more dramatic or interesting dead animals they encounter, but he’s shooting in raw format and the only times they have access to internet are when they stop during the heat of midday at a public library, so he hasn’t been able to email any of the huge files for identification confirmation yet. But so far, they’ve encountered lots of dead snakes and toads and birds—I won’t know what kinds until I see the photos—and also what sounds like a mountain lion. The animals probably don’t decay as quickly in the desert Southwest, because Katie said some look pretty old, which might augment the numbers. It will be interesting to see what changes she notices as she gets further east. I got an email from her last night listing all the stops so far, and so I created a Google map on my blog and website where you can keep track of her progress. They’re doing this trip at the very time of year when real larks and other birds are migrating. Like these young people, birds travel light, must be resourceful, and must be able to find food and water wherever they happen to end up after an exhausting journey. My daughter and her friends are headed east, taking at least a little advantage of prevailing westerly winds. Birds are headed south, and many nights they take advantage of tailwinds. We’re hoping for good weather for the kids but in an emergency they could always hole up in a motel for a day or two. Birds don’t have that option. Many got killed during Gustav and Ike this year, and many blown off course, like the adult male Magnificent Frigatebird that was pushed so far inland that the poor thing ended up in Ithaca, New York on September 21, where it died the next day. Katie is traveling in a group, and they’re equipped with GPS, a cell phone, and maps, so they certainly won’t go off course like that, and they’re a bit sturdier than a tenth of an once hummingbird, so I’m not too worried. But when my phone rings and I hear her cheerful voice at the other end, or see her name in my email inbox, I’m pretty thrilled. Bird parents should be so lucky.