By: Erika Lundahl
Last Saturday the Road to Athabasca hosted our first public bike ride: #RidetotheRig. The pilgrimage started at the Ballard Locks, and curved around the sound about ten miles to the outlook of Pacific Pride Gas Station to see the Shell Oil rig up close on Harbor Island.
It was wonderful to see everyone come out to ride, to communally bear witness to the Shell Oil rig parked on Seattle’s own Harbor Island, and to create safe space to ask ourselves: What does it mean that this drill is here? How do we understand ourselves within the narrative of extreme oil extraction?
People gathered at the Ballard locks at 9:00am, and were greeted with donuts from Mighty-O and coffee, strapped to the back of a bicycle. We had a total of 14 people (including two babies in a bike trailer) which made for a nice crowd of bikes with Road to Athabasca flags made by Heather Elder passing through Seattle.
We began by walking our bikes over the historic Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (or the Ballard Locks). Built in 1917 by the Army Corps of Engineers, the locks maintain levels of fresh water in the Lake Union and Lake Washington, and move boats between the two different water levels. Walking over the locks made me think about how long and how thoroughly humans alter our environment to suit our needs.
We navigated railroad tracks through Magnolia, cycled parallel to oil trains and shipyards, and looked up as we biked past the rusting grain elevator on Smith Cove that takes grain overseas. We successfully faced the chaos of downtown waterfront construction. This meant we had to ride in the street—a challenge for some for whom this was their first ride, or their first ride of this length.
One of the great successes of the ride—other than the beautiful weather, the donuts and coffee beforehand, and the wonderful company of course—was the diversity of cycling skill levels that were represented. We had a couple of nearly beginning cyclists, to folks who are skilled at leading a pack of cyclists, and making sure no one gets left behind. [The Road to Athabasca is inspired by Occupy Your Bike, making bicycling accessible not just for sport, but for transport, and not just for the super fit, but for the everyday person.]
As we turned a corner in beautiful Myrtle Edwards Park we caught our first glimpse of the Shell drill.
Passing through the Industrial District and approaching Harbor Island, the landscape shifted from one of skyscrapers and clogged up cars to stacks upon stacks of shipping containers and heavy-load semi trucks that transport imported goods near and far.
We arrived at the Pacific Pride Gas Station at about 11:30am, the sun shining and seagulls flying overhead. The pure size of the drill from the outlook was humbling. It is overwhelming to imagine the sheer power of human creation that has engendered this monolithic piece of metal and technology to exist—so many generations of human effort, transnational collaborations towards “progress,”—have led us to this place.
It was even more overwhelming to imagine what power this drill’s use has over our future on this planet. How much is too much? How dangerous is too dangerous? The parable of the tower of Babylon came to mind as I was sitting in front of the drill. If we continue allowing extreme oil extraction projects to continue, what future are we committing to reality?
What role are we playing in the narrative of our planet?
After the ride, we met for a potluck at my house in Columbia City, and did a teach-in and had an in-depth dialogue about the connection of the tar sands to the Arctic drilling, the history of tar sands’ development and the colonialism that underlies nearly every aspect of social, economic, and environmental injustices. We also dug into questions exploring personal agency in the face of such enormous structural and environmental issues.
I encourage everyone in Seattle to do your own pilgrimage to the Shell Oil rig by bicycle. The experience offered us all an opportunity to help craft the narrative of what this drill is doing here, how long it will stay, and what kind of symbol it will become for the climate movement.
It invites us to experience and directly engage with the Port of Seattle and our community’s complex dependency on an oil economy.
As we continue planning for our pilgrimage to the Athabasca tar sands in Alberta, Canada this August, I know we will be feeling the urgency that this drill symbolizes.
Road to Athabasca is about striving to realize that urgency in our bodies and actions with movement.
Thank you for joining us in this journey.
In Solidarity ~
Road to Athabasca