Sunday, April 22, 2007

"Free The Panchen Lama Now" Bike Rally

Click Here for Video of Bikers by Daniel.

Report by Drew Hart (one of our awesome riders)

Preparation (April 18, 19)
The 2007 Freedom Ride for Panchen Lama began yesterday, Wednesday, April 18th, with 10 of the riders working their way through their various paths of domestic travel, with the help of Lhundup D. Amdo, President of the Capital Area Tibetan Association, to arrive at the house of Dechen and Lhadon la in Lorton, Virginia. Dechen la, Lhadon la and their hardworking daughter Dawa were not only nice enough to open their house to the eventual full group of 18 people, but outdid themselves in the kitchen, providing them with a delicious array of food to make up the bulk of their meals the first two days. Just before sunset, the riders all assembled around the big yellow truck, in which the bikes were driven out to the east coast from Indiana. By the last light of dusk, they assembled the cycles, filled the tires, and gave each one a close checkout and tune-up. Finishing the day late in the evening, everyone sat down to a wonderful dinner, chatted and relaxed, and headed for their first night's sleep.

Thursday the 19th, the riders woke early, ate a filling breakfast at the house, and headed out immediately for a day of meetings with an assortment of representatives. They first met with four individuals from the International Campaign for Tibet at the Firehook, a small cafe on Pennsylvania Avenue just near the Capitol Building, to brief the day's meetings and prepare their collective message and requests. Our sincerest gratitude goes out to our friends at ICT, Charlotte Oldham-Moore, Chris Fletcher, Program Associate Lucy Seefried, and Jacob Coulker, who gave so much support and advice, and so much time, facilitating their scheduled meetings, which without them would not have succeeded.

Once they were sufficiently prepared, the group made their way to their first meeting, with Noah Jacobson, legislative assistant for Congressman Jim Ramstad of the Third District in Minnesota, who gave them his full attention and concern and promised to step up his personal involvement in the issues of the Panchen Lama's abduction and of the Bush administration's proposed budget cuts to Tibetan-language radio coverage broadcast inside Tibet. Following that, the riders all proceeded to the Library of Congress to pay a surprise visit to Susan Meinheit, the Library's Tibetan Specialist, who welcomed them with open arms, and even took time out of her day's work to give them a tour of her facility and lunch with them afterward.

Five more riders from New York arrived and were brought to the house in Virginia to settle themselves and prepare for the following morning as the team proceeded to their final 3 meetings. They met with Mohamed Sabur, legislative assistant for Congressman Keith Ellison, Thomas Sullivan, legislative assistant for Minnesotan Senator Amy Klobuchar, and Ana Navaro, Senator Norm Coleman's legislative assistant for foreign policy. During their series of encounters, while navigating the buildings' halls, they also ran into Mr. Brad Bauman, Communications Director for Honorable Tim Ryan in the 17th District of Ohio, who has been especially active in advocacy for the Panchen Lama. Once again, everyone we met and spoke with was extremely attentive, concerned, and supportive, and we are looking forward to an increased political dialogue concerning the 11th Panchen Lama as a result of our exchanges.

At day's end, and after a quick sight-seeing tour of the nation's capital, the result of a fruitless search for a 395 South on-ramp, the riders returned south to the house in Lorton, proud and fulfilled. By twilight, and beneath a sky clearing of the final remnants of the week's northeaster just in time for the start of our journey, the bikers all chose, decorated, and made any final adjustments to their respective cycles. As a few of the final riders trickled in from Dulles airport, and the bikes were all safely stored in the truck, the group, now grown grand with an array of local friends and family as well as the riders themselves, had a festive dinner, laughing, chatting, and celebrating the beginning of a beautiful and meaningful adventure.

Once again, we are grateful to everyone who met with us and aided us in the past two days. Their friendship, consideration, empathy, inspiration, hospitality and outstanding support helped provide a strong, successful base for this whole event.

Day 1 (April 20)
The riders awoke this morning, had their final meal at the house of Dechen and Lhadon la, packed everything in the truck and van, and arrived at the Chinese Embassy, in two groups, and a bit late thanks to heavy DC traffic. There was a quick departure rally, the riders took off, made a loop through Chinatown, handing out flyers all along, and took Rhode Island Avenue / US Route 1 out of DC and 45 miles to Baltimore.

The trip was heavily trafficked and treacherous, and slower than hoped, being that all of the riders took some time to get used to their bikes and to the day's flow. Regardless of a few flat tires and bike adjustments, a necessary water stop, and two lost drivers, the bikers did an amazing job, arriving in Baltimore at 9pm, trailing the van for the final few miles right up to the front door of the Baltimore Tibetan Dharma Center.

Thanks to the wonderful, last-minute hospitality of Barbara, the fabulous culinary skills of Geshe Yeshi Chendu, and the work and help of everyone else involved, we spent a short but wonderful night relaxing, filling our stomachs and conversing, before drifting into a heavy, well-earned sleep, full of dreams of tomorrows 90 miles of country roads.

Day 2

One thing that sticks out in our minds concerning Day 2: it was long.

We awoke early, ate an energizing breakfast, compliments of our amazing hosts at the dharma center in Baltimore, and biked together out of Baltimore, headed north for the Pennsylvania. We made it into Pennsylvania, over the hilliest region of our whole journey in the slate quarry country just west of the Susquehanna River, and to our designated lunch spot later than hoped, famished and tired, after 50 miles of riding. Our luck as it was, there was not a thing in sight at our "lunch spot" except for cows, cars and trees. In our desperation we received a massive pizza and subs order to “the corner of the intersection of route 372 and 74 yes…on the corner...yes, we're sitting in the grass, we have bikes, you can't miss us." After eating our fare in the protection of the chase truck's shade, we took off for the second half of the day, speeding across a beautiful view of the Susquehanna River, a bald eagle soaring overhead. We continued on, sweating and fatigued, but determined, got our second wind, and ripped through 40 miles' worth of the rolling hills of Amish country, just in time to arrive at our designated stop for the night in Coatesville, PA.

Having covered 90 miles for the day, the bikers were delighted to be received with such amazing hospitality in the house Eric and Laura Collins, whom the group stayed with on the 2005 ride. We packed the truck, set up camp on the floors of the Collins' gorgeous house in the Coatesville hills, picked up take-out dinner to eat in the warm evening on the front porch, and slowly drifted off to sleep in between chatting and reminiscing with our hosts, playing with their children Haley and Ethan, showering and brushing teeth and reading and writing and otherwise spending well-earned leisure time. (And I can say from personal experience, as I stumbled over sleeping bags to the bathroom to brush my teeth and fall asleep last... the look on all of the riders' faces, steeped in sleep, was one of profound group pride and fulfillment, and true contentment. And it made my heart smile.)

Day 3

Waking to Laura and Haley preparing a wonderful breakfast, the riders, packed their stuff, cleaned the house spic and span, and ate breakfast in glee. We spent our last blessed hour with the Collinses laughing and chatting and speaking of rides in years to come. Then, waving goodbye, we biked further up the hill from the Collins' house, dropped down into gorgeous back-country roads along a running creek bed, and come out in pleasant, historic West Chester Township. From there, it was a straight 25 mile sprint over the final, long and gradual rolling hills, to the City of Brotherly Love. Being so well conditioned after yesterday's marathon ride, the team covered the short 40-mile day in a matter of three-and-a-half hours, arriving in Philadelphia for lunch! They rode into the city on Chestnut, making a symbolic arrival at Liberty Bell National Historic Park. Mr. Tenzin Tsultrim, President of the Tibetan Association of Philadelphia willingly, and at such short notice, arranged a fully-accommodated stay for us in the Philadelphia area with a belly-packing Tandoori Indian Buffet in West Philly. Full and fulfilled, we were then escorted to the Kalmyk Temple of Saint Zonkava, where we relaxed, set up camp, visited their beautiful temple, showered and used internet, and were served a delicious late-night dinner, before another night of well-due rest. Our sincere gratitude to Tenzin, Keith, and all of the welcoming, giving staff here.

We would like to take this time, as well, to thank a few people without whose help the ride would never have come together as it did. Our sincere thanks to our cosponsor the Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota ( and all other supporters including the Minnesota Tibetan Women’s Association, Mike Kruimer of New Jersey, Bob Patten of the Washington DC area, and many other helpful people from the East Coast Greenway association, who received completely unexpected phone calls and took much time out of their busy lives to provide route information, maps and contacts in the planning of this ride's route. Please know that you people were key in the safety and bikeability of our route. The East Coast Greenway is a network of bike routes, mostly non-trafficked, that will eventually link cities up and down the east coast, from the northern tip of Maine to Key West, Florida. Please check out their website at

And our last thanks goes out to all of you, you people who are, through whatever means, now reading this journal in support and compassion. You people, who believe in what we are doing and what people like us, individuals from diverse and humble backgrounds who have faith in our power to change the world, are the people that honk your horns, smile through your windows, and hold up your fists as we pass from town to town. You keep us going and make our trip meaningful. Thank you.

As we near our destination, and the motivation and confidence is building, the New York skyline lingers on

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