07Jun2016

Introducing – The ‘Pedalling Astronomer’

Gary Parkerson, the Pedaling Astronomer

The Pedaling Astronomer Project is an educational effort undertaken to increase public awareness of, and to encourage participation in, amateur astronomy and bicycling as mainstream transportation.

It leverages the Great American Solar Eclipse – the biggest US-centric astronomy event of our lifetime – to turn widespread focus upon two of our most wholesome, mind-expanding, life-enriching pursuits.

What Is It?

The project consists of a 13,500-mile solo bicycle journey through all lower-48 US states, plus Washington DC. Along the way, the Pedaling Astronomer will share spectacular telescope views of the Sun, Moon and brightest night-sky objects, as well as provide educational talks on the feasibility of cycling as a primary mode of transportation.

The project is the brainchild of Gary Parkerson, the Pedaling Astronomer. By day, Gary is a dedicated cyclist. By night, he is an internationally recognized authority on the astro-tech industry and editor of Astronomy Technology Today magazine.

The Pedaling Astronomer Project is an educational undertaking, and its principal lessons are two:

  1. Paths to personal astronomical discovery are open to everyone;
  2. Bicycle transportation is not only accessible, healthful and responsible, it’s fun.

The Challenge

Can a 62-year-old non-athlete complete a solo, self-sustained, 13,500-mile bicycle journey through all lower-48 states, plus DC, carrying enough astronomical gear to share telescope views of the Sun, and of bright night-sky objects, in every state?

Undertakings like the Pedaling Astronomer Project do not happen without a lot of people working toward a common goal. For every hour I pedal, others work many hours seeing to the myriad details required of success. The project is a collaboration of family and friends, of which I am just one, but because I’m the one assigned to be the face of the project.

Astronomer?

This website bills me as the Pedaling Astronomer, but I’m not an astronomer. My formal training is in economics, law and education, not astronomy. What I am is an über amateur astronomy enthusiast. But the Pedaling Über Amateur Astronomy Enthusiast Project is too much the mouthful, so Pedaling Astronomer Project it is.

If I’m expert in anything relating to astronomy, it’s only in the industry that provides the tools of amateur astronomers. When asked to give presentations to astronomical gatherings, it is the industry I cover, not the science.

 Astronomy has fascinated me since childhood, but I did not commit to it until midway through life. Even then, it did not happen at once. Like a black hole at the edge of the cosmos, the attraction was subtle, yet irresistible. I’ve served as managing editor of Astronomy Technology Today since 2006.

It’s the only magazine, of which I’m aware, devoted solely to celebrating the tools of amateur astronomy. Other publications cover the science and cover it well. Yet others focus on the people of amateur astronomy and do them more than justice. ATT covers telescopes.

Ah, but telescopes!

What a marvellous subject! Telescopes reveal a universe that is at once humbling in scale and inspiring in grandeur. Indeed, they inspired me, then a middle-aged lawyer, to study math, physics and education – even art. Imagine what they can awaken in the far-less-jaded minds of youth.

Just one glimpse through a telescope is enough for some. Others need many, as did I. The Pedaling Astronomer Project will offer as many such glimpses to as many people as possible.

I find even more joy in sharing views through telescopes than in looking through them myself. I hope the Pedaling Astronomer Project inspires others to carry their telescopes wherever people gather outdoors, so they too may know the fulfillment of delivering breathless wonder. But delivering it by bicycle? There may be magic in that!
I pedal.

I’m not one of the spandex-wrapped folks you see speeding by on svelte road bikes. Although I admire their dedication, athleticism and sleek forms, I’ll never keep up with them. But I am a guy who journeys far by bicycle. I do pedal – a lot!

Traveling by bike is never tedious – it’s no more work than is astronomy. And just as telescopes reveal hidden wonders of the night (and day) skies, my bicycle delivers astonishing scenes I’d miss at highway speeds, ensconced in a steel-and-glass cocoon.

When I first encountered a young cyclist traveling cross-country, I asked why anyone would do such a thing. He gave three answers:

1. “Bicycles equal freedom. They carry you places automobiles can’t. They reward traveling light, liberating you from the clutter we stuff into cars.”

2. “You experience things from the seat of a bike that you don’t behind the wheel of a car. Small things. Big things. Important things. You experience details that blur at automobile speeds. You’re in the open, more engaged with your surroundings.”

3. “And you stopped to talk. How cool is that? You wouldn’t have otherwise, would you? People are friendlier to folks on bikes. With the least encouragement, they smile, they wave, they share.”

The Pedaling Astronomer Project made its public debut at NEAF/NEAIC 2016,

I resolved there and then to see for myself. Weeks later, I had stopped on a highway shoulder to answer a phone call during one of my first long rides. Minutes into the call, a driver paused to offer help. Moments after she drove away, a second stopped. Then a third.

It’s true, people are nicer to folks on bikes. Trips to work or to the store, once negotiated by car amid angry traffic and snarled parking lots, are now excuses for delightful cycling adventures, and refreshing exercise, to boot. Given the option of cycling, why drive?

Don’t tell me, show me!

It’s fine to speak or write of these things; it’s much more to show them. I know this, because when it was another on a bike who spoke of them to me, it was only because his words confirmed what his actions had just demonstrated, that I felt the truth of it all so completely. I’ve journeyed by bicycle almost daily since and hope to until my final day.

And that is what we designed the Pedaling Astronomer Project to do: To show through deeds that of which words can only hint. To paraphrase someone wiser than I, the project’s goal is not to invoke wonder at the sky above. That wonder has always been there – it always will. Our task is merely to harness that wonder – to help guide it some place special.

Even if by bicycle.Odds are, sometime in the next few years, I’ll pedal a road near you, hauling such portable telescopes, I can carry the competent marvels thousands of miles by bicycle. With them, I hope you and I share life-affirming views of the heavens, just as I hope to demonstrate for you that all journeys can be life-renewing … when enjoyed at the more human pace of a bicycle. Until that happy day, clear skies and smooth roads, friend.

Preparing for a Very-Long, Astro-Centric Ride

Although I’ve logged thousands of miles pedaling The Big – the bicycle on which I’ll attempt to visit all lower-48 U.S. states before August 21, 2017, the day of the Great American Solar Eclipse – I’ve made relatively few overnight trips on it. Truth is, I’m used to road trips in a spacious old van, with room enough to haul everything I might actually need when away from home. And still I manage to forget something essential to the trip … every single time.

The Big is … well, big. It has huge cargo capacity for a bike – more than 100 liters of rain-resistant storage, in fact. But that is a tiny fraction of what I’m used to loading into the van for extended road trips. I’m simply not going to be able to carry everything I’ll need for the long ride. Which means I’ll have to make do with what I can carry. Which means I’ll have to prioritize.

Astro Gear

Sharing astronomy is key to the project, so astro gear gets the highest priority. Astro gear is also heavy. I’ll carry at least one small refractor telescope capable of delivering both solar and night-sky views, plus at least one tracking mount, both of which can be mounted on The Big in place of the seat post as shown in the image that accompanied my April 4, 2016, blog post. Key to getting both solar and night-sky use from the refractor is DayStar’s Quark Ha Solar Filter.

I’d like to carry an additional refractor and tracking mount, plus a camera tripod to carry both, so I can share views with even more guests, but I’m literally having to weigh that option in lieu of such mundane necessities as food and water. We’ll see.

Plus, binoculars. I’m going to be thoroughly immersed in the Great Outdoors, so, yeah, binos are a must.

Photography

One of the goals of the project is to capture at least one credible astrophoto from each state. My go-to terrestrial and astrophotography camera is a Canon 60Da, but it, two lenses, spare batteries, plus its bag, weigh 10 pounds – more than 10 percent of my maximum payload – so I’m going to attempt to do all still and video photography with a phone and two little bike-mounted action cameras. The phone is an LG V10, chosen specifically for the excellence of its cameras, as well as durability, so I may actually get away with this.

Shelter

Shelter is very basic: A backpacking tent and a sleeping bag for me, a lightweight tarp for The Big, plus a microfiber towel to dry us both.

Clothing

I’ll be pedaling for 16 months throughout all four seasons – I’m not at all likely to finish in the clothes in which I start out, but I’ll start out with two pairs of shorts, two pairs of long pants, three pair of underwear, three pair of socks, two short-sleeve shirts, two long-sleeve shirts and a lightweight jacket – all of quick-dry material – plus a rain- and wind-resistant top and bottom.

I should wear bike shorts and pants – you know, the skin-tight kind with padding built in – but I never have and probably never will.

I ride in cleated mountain-bike shoes that make descent sneakers with the cleats removed and will wear slides the rest of the time.

There’ll be no formal attire on this trip.

Mobile Tech

Despite that I’ll be traveling with no more than can be loaded on a single bicycle, albeit a cargo bike, I’ll remain as connected as anyone on the planet via a smartphone and a Wi-Fi hotspot. The phone won’t just keep me connected, it’ll also report my location. Those few of you, who may be so inclined, will be able to track my progress via this site – in real time – as well as on Facebook.

The phone will even gather heart-rate data from a wearable to more accurately calculate how many calories I have to consume to fuel each day’s ride. This is all ho-hum mundane as modern mobile tech goes, but it still feels like magic to me.

I’ll also carry a laptop or a tablet and keyboard. My current laptop is a ThinkPad – it’s compact but powerful as laptops go, but it is still heavy for a main bike-borne productivity device. On the other hand, it has phenomenal battery life thanks to its dual-battery configuration, but I’m trying out lighter tablet alternatives before leaving.

Power

I’ll carry a couple of 20 amp-hour USB power bricks, plus a lightweight fold-up solar panel for charging them during the rides. All mobile tech I’ll carry is either USB-charged or -powered, but for the laptop. Many of the camping facilities at which I’ll stay offer AC power even to tent sites, so if I take the laptop, keeping it charged means also carrying an extension cord.

Food and Water

The Big has four water-bottle cages, and I usually carry a bottle of water in each, but in the summer – especially in the hot, humid South – that’s not nearly enough. Most days, I stop and refill along the way, but there will be days when refill sites are not available, so I’ll need to carry additional water on those days.

Food may be my greatest challenge. I’ll average better than 50 miles per pedaling day and burn around 500 calories every 10 miles when pedaling the heavy Big. That’s on top of the 1500 to 2000 calories I otherwise require each day to stay alive. Which is a lot of food. A typical pound of trail mix packs about 2100 calories. I’ll try to carry a few pounds of it as a reserve. I’ll eat fast food where available, and even a sit-down restaurant meal now and then. The rest of the time, I’ll stock up at in-route stores. It’s a rare spot in the U.S. that doesn’t have a Walmart or Dollar General within tens of miles.

Replacement Stuff

We’ll ship replacement gear to and from the in-route bike shops with which we are coordinating the project. At Least, That’s the Current Plan. We have a plan, and as with most plans, reality on the ground will look much different. Truth is, despite all of our preparation, we’re not ready, but we’ll make it up as we go along.

Oh, and toilet paper. Wow, see, I almost forgot the TP! Source: Pedaling Astronomer – Home

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