Recycle Cycling by Norm Reuss
“You get exercise, the road side gets cleaned up, and you have more money than when you started. What’s the down side? It’s a win-win.” Jane Nelson
Recycle cycling all started in September when I went over the top of my handlebars. The accident happened when my front wheel violently twisted out of my control. It was wedged in the cracks of ill cared for pavement. I landed in a ravine and was transported to the hospital where it took 4 days for the medical staff to put me back together again. The long term consequences included a permanent Traumatic Brain Injury and the loss of my job. At 62 I was now going to enjoy early retirement. That means, lots of free time with nothing to do.
Of course, after the accident I immediately resumed cycling; first on an indoor trainer and as soon as spring arrived, back to familiar outdoor routes. When I was able to take my eyes off of my fear, I saw what every cyclist, walker, or runner sees in the Vermont spring; a winters worth of debris, mostly composed of bottles and cans.
This year Vermont celebrated its 40th Green Up day this year. Green Up Day was initiated by Gov. Deane C. David in 1970. Vermonters taking care of Vermont organized themselves to collect the winters refuse from every roadside in the state. Green Up Day is a state wide equivalent to your own house hold spring cleaning.
I’ve done Green Up day. With youth baseball teams, school groups and as an individual on a bike; handlebars draped with plastic grocery bags and similar bags attached to a rear rack like poor man’s panniers.
Early retirement is not all it’s cracked up to be: too much free time and way too much of nothing to do! Every volunteer organization I approached was bloated with long waiting lists. Evidently the recession and plant closings had put lots of folks in my position, time with nothing to do, so they did the obvious; volunteer with the hope of making meaningful connections.
I was on my own, so I did what I do; create! I rigged a Bike Friday trailer frame to a plastic bin and became my own one man Green Up day, every day, four hours every day. I learned some things about myself. I am not an environmentalist. If it was not a redeemable bottle or can, it was left in road side hell. I was only interested in redemption. Cars and trucks frighten me. I once thought I was invincible. The accident proved otherwise. I now know why those leather skinned old men comb the beach with metal detectors- the thrill of a find. They look for gold. My color was the blue, red and silver of beer cans. I call my redemption center man “Saint Peter” because he is much more forgiving of a dented can than the redemption machines found in grocery stores. One dollar is a good day. Two dollars approaches nirvana. One weekend in Vermont’s North East Kingdom netted me $6.20 between Eden and Lowell, Vermont.
When you are interested in joining me in Recycle Cycling here are ten pieces of wisdom that I learned, mostly the hard way- through experience.
1. Willingness to make frequent stops to pick up discarded items. Actually this increases fitness!
2. Choose what discarded items you will stop for; everything, coffee cups, bottles and cans without dents and therefore redeemable , all bottles and cans no matter what condition.
3. Modify your bike to carry what you pick up. Beware bottles and cans always have one last drop in them which will find its freedom in whatever you choose to use as a carry-all.
4. Add distinctive reflectors or lights to your bike to become more visible to passing motorists.
5. Poses a positive attitude about yourself; some people will see you as a bum just picking bottles for who knows what purpose!
6. There is a market for just about anything except parts of tires, diapers and single shoes.
7. Kickstand! You must have one because there is never a convenient place to lean a bike. I like a kickstand without the rubber end piece, and then I can dig it into the dirt on shoulders that slope the ‘wrong way’.
8. Get 0ne of those 3 foot long grabber things from a hardware store. It is necessary for things you DO NOT want to touch and for those things that are out of your reach.
9. BEWARE, many soda and beer cans are used as spittoons and get tossed to the roadside. Leave these alone, they smell like ass and will contaminate all your gear with that odor.
10. Finally, roadsides are the breeding ground for poison Ivy. You can do one of two things; wash immediately or lather yourself up with a poison ivy blocker commonly sold at outdoor supply stores like EMS.
Post Script: Since the beginning of this project I have been able to dismount and mount over 2100 times to collect over 2100 redeemable bottles and cans and make three $39 donations. The first donation was given to a Grandmother so her grandchildren could have access to a public swimming pool, the second was given to a women to repair a tire so she could continue to commute to work and the third was given to a Mom who successful raised her daughter to a full college scholarship and could not attend parents weekend because she did not have enough gas for the car. All of these donations were distributed by two social workers in Addison County who knew of the need and the inability to fund the need through any other funding source.