Contributed by Sara Dykman
On my old steel mountain bike, dinged with the scars of past adventures, I loaded up all my gear and set off from the forests of central Mexico. My goal was to bike with monarchs, millions of them, from their overwintering forest to their summer range in Canada, and back again. The monarchs would fly because they were butterflies. I would bike because I was the self-proclaimed butterbiker.
It took three weeks for me to pedal from the forest of Mexico to the scrubland of Texas, where the female monarchs search out milkweed plants to lay their eggs. It took another three months to arrive to Canada. By summer, the monarchs had spread out from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. This vast range meant that there were many routes. To bike with monarchs, I merely needed to pick a road and bike.
Though I was on the route of the monarch migration, I was seeing only a fraction of what the migration had once been. The eastern population of the monarch butterfly has plummeted in recent years because of habitat loss, herbicide use, and climate change. Like getting to know a friend, hearing the monarchs’ story was the first step to saving them.
On my bike ride I visited classrooms and nature centers, recounting my adventures and explaining the migration to over 9,000 people. I spoke of the highway ditches alive and wild, filled with hungry caterpillars munching milkweed. I spoke of the horror of seeing that same habitat mowed down. I spoke of the relief I felt when I met people growing gardens. In this way, my bike ride with butterflies became a bike ride for butterflies.
By pedaling 10,201 miles with the monarchs I gave my voice to them, and helped remind people that just as human travelers need safe places to rest, healthy food to eat, and uninterrupted land for which to traverse, so too do butterfly travelers.
I am the butterbiker, biking to save the butterflies. Luckily there are many ways to help protect the monarchs – planting gardens, spreading the word, protecting wild places. You don’t have to quit your jobs and spend ten months biking with butterflies. But, of course, you can if you want to.
Sara Dykman divides her time between seasonal amphibian research, outdoor education, and education-linked adventures (www.beyondabook.org). She is currently working on a book about her bicycle trip following the monarchs.
We are delighted that Sara chose a Terry saddle to support her through her epic ride – a Liberator X Gel.