What Would Mary Elvira Stevens Do?

The rest of my time in Kolding was restful and allowed me to think a little bit about the direction I was taking with this trip—literally and figuratively.  I actually didn’t do that much planning before I left Seattle. I was busy transitioning out of my role at work and devoting a lot of attention to my personal life since I knew I would be gone for half a year. Over-planning is a pet-peeve of mine, but in Kolding I realized that I needed to really think about my vision and goals for the trip.  This fellowship was created decades ago through the endowment of an 1891 graduate of Wellesley College, Mary Elvira Stevens. The Fellowship Committee has almost no information about what her life was like and her vision for fellows was incredibly broad.  The endowment states that the recipient should “live in a spirit of knowledge and understanding, express common sense in observing and comprehending social, economic, and political situations, and have a deep love of beauty.”  I’ve thought about Mary over the past few weeks—I´ve wondered what she was like and what she hoped I would gain from my fellowship. Past fellows have studied everything from modernist architecture to the oral traditions of rural Chinese women and have used their experiences as inspiration to write books, launch businesses, and become activists.

I was only going to stay one night in Kolding, but ended up staying there for four nights. Helle and Neils made me feel incredibly welcome in their home and encouraged me to rest up for a few days if I needed to.

On a little outing in Kolding.

I also had some really helpful kitchen table conversations with them about my trip and my concerns about balancing the amount of energy I would be dedicating to bike touring versus research and writing.

Helle and Niels' kids and S.O.s came home for dinner on Saturday night--this kitchen table discussion was all fun.

How did I want my Stevens experience to shape my life and career? 

I realized that I am primarily invested in using this experience to gain an understanding of how to promote and facilitate active transportation in urban areas. I want to gather ideas, inspiration, tools, and connections to contribute to and further efforts that are already underway to transform American cities from car-centric places to people-centric places. Achieving this goal and absorbing as much information as possible will require me to be in cities.  Cities are the future of people. I recently learned that by 2050 it is projected that 70 percent of the world’s population will live in an urban area.1

After a few days of touring I realized that I underestimated how much time it would take me to get from city to city—especially for these segments that I’m doing alone.  (Drafting off someone helps you save a lot of energy, between 10 and 40 percent depending on conditions.)  I came to the conclusion that I will need to cover some ground by train in the coming months in order to have the time, energy, and resources to explore and research the many urban areas I hope to go to. 

After coming to this conclusion, I decided to hop on a train Sunday morning to Groningen, a city of close to 200,000 people in northern Holland with one of the highest rates of cycling in Europe. I actually ended up taking five trains to get here and felt thoroughly beat up by my bike after getting it on and off trains and through train stations all day. The different trains accommodated bikes to varying degrees—some with dedicated spaces and signage for bikes and others with just a bit of extra space for a bike or two near the doors of the train cars.

Bike touring season has begun in Europe! There was a full train car for bikes on the Denmark leg of the trip.

Groningen is a university town with a noticeably young population and an amazingly vibrant city center.  Yesterday was my first full day here. I felt like I had made the right decision to take the train and was glad I would have time to immerse myself in this new place rather than just pass through. 

I'm staying just off this street.

I spent the morning biking around town with the morning commuters and in the afternoon had a good conversation with Professor Lars Bo Andersen—an expert on the health benefits of physical activity.  (More to come related to that conversation.) 

Travelling requires constant decision-making, recalculating, and adapting. I’m not sure how Mary Elvira Stevens would want me to carry out my fellowship, but as I reread the descriptions of past fellows’ trips and their current life work I saw a common thread.  Their trips inspired them to be agents of change by fully exploring something they were passionate about and then sharing their experience through writing, teaching, policy-making, building, scientific research, painting, photography, and so on. I love riding my bike, but my real goal for this trip isn’t about me.  It’s about expressing the benefits of active transportation and healthy cities to other people.  In 2050 I don’t want the world to be full of cities clogged with cars where people can only be active by going to a gym. Activity should be embedded into the everyday rhythms of city life.   

Before Denmark feels too far away I wanted to share this video I took in Copenhagen at the Dronning Louises Bridge.  Sitting on a bench watching the steady stream of afternoon bicycle traffic flow by was one of my favorite memories from Denmark. Imagine what sitting on this bench would have been like if each of these people had been in their own personal car.  Think about how much louder it would be, the smell of exhaust, and the amount of space that would be needed to accommodate all those cars. 

1http://www.prb.org/Educators/TeachersGuides/HumanPopulation/Urbanization.aspx

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2 thoughts on “What Would Mary Elvira Stevens Do?

  1. Dear Christine,
    Sounds like a wise decision to take trains occasionally (especially after that Highway 31 adventure). Harry’s figuring out when to join you so he can take the lead and you can do some serious drafting.
    I think Mary Elvira would love what you’re doing.
    Love you lots,
    Mom

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