Bike Travel Through History with HistoriCorps

April 18, 2018 - HistoriCorps staff members Liz Rice and volunteer John Milliken kindly submitted this guest post. 

Liz tours through a historic property in southern Colorado. 

The last time I drove across state lines or flew across the country, I reflected on the pace of modern life and the accessibility of, and between, places. There are quiet roads that only carry a few travelers or farmers’ tractors per year; other roads are so congested it would be faster to walk to one’s destination than endure stop-and-go interstate driving. Indeed, travel has shaped Americans’ sense of time. We now count the minutes to our destination, rather than the hours, weeks or months. But when I travel and explore by bicycle, I celebrate the return to a more human speed of life: one that is determined by my own legs, pack weight, and “just how I’m feeling today.” 

One of the main reasons I do a lot of cross-country or regional travel is to participate on HistoriCorps projects. HistoriCorps is a Denver-based nonprofit organization that engages volunteers to do the hands-on work necessary to save historic structures all across the United States. Because most projects primarily take place on spectacular National Forest and National Park Service lands, HistoriCorps volunteers get to explore some special places and connect with their history in a unique way.

Repairing the roof of the Hirz Mountain Lookout in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, California.  
Biking to the Harris Camp water tower in Oregon. 

I’ve restored masonry on lonely fire towers gracing windswept peaks, and rehabilitated century-old window sashes on former tourist lodges up deep river canyons. Other crews unwrapped and revived the original schoolhouse of George Washington Carver, replaced deteriorated elements on preserved South Carolina slave quarters, and formed adobe from the earth itself in Death Valley. The work is as diverse as our country's history.

Our history was built by indigenous communities, explorers, and settlers whose structures and cultural heritage we can visit today. Those ancestors could not rely on two-day shipping or the instant availability of desirable products. Many of the buildings and structures we see today were built to last and serve to remind us of a time when the priorities and pace of life were human-powered. Bike travel similarly reminds us of the joy and quality of life can be rediscovered human-powered mobility. 

The before-and-after of the Hebo Lake Community Kitchen preservation project along the Oregon Coast. 

I take my bicycle when on HistoriCorps projects. When the day’s work is done, just before sunset, I take advantage of the opportunity to explore the preserved history and nature at about the same speed I imagine the builders and residents would have. After a day debarking logs, carrying traditional masonry supplies, or carefully glazing windows, I become aware of the incredible labor, commitment, and challenges the original builders experienced. I reflect on the determination required to survive an 1860’s high desert winter, and the care that allows the building I am preserving to last long enough for me to touch it.  This year, I plan to pack my panniers (heavy work boots included) and take a few days to ride to a project closer to my home.

Exploring Pinnacle Trail in Oregon. 
Volunteers restored deteriorated masonry and other elements on this Civilian Conservation Corps-built structure, the Black River Harbor Pavilion, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Two volunteers, Craig and Sharon, packed their bicycles and rode in a supported tour across the state just after the project ended. 

As we continue to travel and volunteer, the bicycle provides a means to explore the roads, towns and forests near HistoriCorps restoration projects. Let this photographic travel-blog motivate you to volunteer for a HistoriCorps project and cycle to exciting locations near or far on an exploration of personal growth.

John Milliken is a resident of Portland, OR and an avid cyclist, volunteer, and historic preservationist. In 2017 alone, he contributed more than 250 hours of volunteer time with HistoriCorps toward saving historic buildings in Arizona, California, and Oregon. He can be reached at jmillikenpdx07@gmail.com.

Liz Rice is a Hoosier native living in Denver, CO and is an enthusiastic explorer of the natural and built environment - be it by two wheels or two feet! She supports HistoriCorps volunteers like John across the country. She can be reached at lrice@historicorps.org.

First photo by Liz Rice, all photos are property of John Milliken. 

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