For today’s Reportage, we linked up with Bay Area artist Ariel Wickham Earnhardt to discuss her artwork, her riding, and her role in the Full Circle Cycling Project video we posted earlier this month, which supports the Coast Miwok’s work to share and preserve their culture, by selling artwork inspired by the land, cycling, and community. Read on below for an interview and a look at Ariel’s local rides…
Hey Ariel, thanks for taking the time to do this. It means a lot. Why don’t we start with a brief introduction to who you are, what brought you to cycling, and in an ideal world what does cycling look like to you?
Of Course! Thanks for offering to help share this project, THAT means a lot!
Long story short I was born and raised in a small mountain town in central Montana. My parents came from two different worlds both racially and socioeconomically, yet they both held core values that connected them and greatly shaped who I am today. They taught my sister and me that nature was the Creator’s greatest gift to us and that everything around us had spirit. We were taught to always honor and respect it, and that whatever talents we were given should be used to give back.
They knew that education and exposure to nature were the keys to help people get connected to the earth. And when we feel connected to something we are more likely to work to protect it.
My father was a tinkerer and would often pick up beautiful vintage bikes from the dump or thrift stores and fix them up as a hobby. So I began to learn about bicycle maintenance and restoration through him. Soon our garage was OVERFLOWING with bikes. My mother (who worked to bring STEM/Outdoor opportunities to underserved youth, and always brought me and my sister in to help) had the idea for him to donate them to the kids in her programs. Seeing what these bikes and outdoor/education programs did for these kids wasn’t something I fully comprehended until later in my life when I moved to larger cities.
The bike became a vital tool for many things: mental sanity, access to nature, my only means of affordable transport, improving my health, and boosting my confidence in being able to fix/build/maintain and repair on my own. Soon it became my identity and main recreational activity which helped me meet other people and connect me to my community, and to nature.
All of us (the avid cyclists reading this) likely feel that the bike helps them in the ways I just mentioned. But I think we tend to forget that this activity is out of reach and not inviting to all members of society. Or we do, and we just don’t know how to/or have the time to work to share cycling with others not within our immediate circle. I 10000% know that I wouldn’t be doing the kind of riding I do now had it not been for industry discounts and perks, and people around me offering me safe spaces to learn and ask questions.
Another thing people enjoy with cycling is the land we get to see and experience. But how often do we work to show gratitude to the lands we ride? How often do we take the time to thank the plants and animals for sharing space with us? How often do we take time to learn the history of the people who once called it home and took care of it?
So in short I want cyclists to start getting all “colors of the wind” with riding and begin to take time to learn about the land, its history, its inhabitants, and to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the sport and nature. By exposing people to nature and bikes we can grow our community to be one that works with nature, and work to preserve it for future generations to come.
I know it’s hard to get involved, it takes time, energy, money, and not all of us have the time to put our energy into these efforts.
But there are so many programs out there doing this work. We just need to support them. This is why I started this project; I wanted to give people an easy way to directly support the programs already out there, and bring more awareness to them. By working to get more folks exposed to, and have safe spaces to learn about cycling and nature we can grow a community that will support and protect the places we all enjoy riding.
Doing this will benefit our communities greatly! Cycling needs to be a sport where all are welcome and feel safe.
Tell us about your local riding. What resonates with you about it? Your favorite rides?
I do a lot of my riding in Marin County. I live in SF and while there are things I love about the city, I’m a rural mountain woman at heart. I need to connect to nature away from the energy of the city, so Marin being just over the bridge is perfect! The Headlands are full of beauty both inland and near the shore. I can say without a doubt that my favorite experiences out there are when I connect with plants and animals. The most magical moments have been when animals join me for sections of my ride.
I’ve had curious hawks, ravens, vultures, and coyotes ride neck and neck with me on the trails. I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life. These instances were what initially inspired my artwork, and I know others have felt this way while riding out there as well.
Land acknowledgment is something that we can all do. What does that mean to you?
It goes back to connecting with the land. The land has a story, life, and history. And our generations have only been here for a small fraction of that. To really know it we have to learn its story, and understand that our ability to enjoy it now comes from… well… a not so pleasant story. The land still holds the negative energy from that past and we need to work to heal that.
My personal reason for working towards land acknowledgment comes from the struggles I faced with my identity.
For a long time, I denounced my Native American lineage because:
– I didn’t know much about it due to the history of oppression and squashing out of culture that took place. And that my ancestors took part in order to protect themselves in society.
– I grew up in a very racially disparate community where I was often the only POC, so it felt safer for me to identify with the other side of my racial identity to fit in.
In these last few years, I’ve become very aware of what happened to these (and my own) cultures. It’s taken me a great deal of unlearning in order to embrace and accept my ancestry. This has opened my eyes to the fact that part of my ancestors’ story has been lost or intentionally destroyed in order to survive. And I can’t begin to tell you how painful that feels.
When I learned that the Coast Miwok were the people whose land I today enjoy, I felt that it was my duty to offer a way to give thanks to them. But in a way that allowed them to control the narrative of their people and their legacy.
These lands are stolen lands. The act of acknowledging the lands rightful stewards and caretakers is the least we can do to honor them and start the healing process.
How do the land, bikes, and your vision of the future inspire and influence your design?
I touched on a bit of this earlier, but to dive in more I feel that cycling has long been put into this idea of domination. “Crushing” the climbs, “shredding” the trails, “smashing” springs, being “KING/QUEEN of the Mountain” (I really don’t like that term, ugh). These are phrases we often use when talking about riding. This type of language puts humans on a pedestal above nature.
So again going back to the “colors of the wind” mindset, we need to change the way we see “cycling”, and how we talk about it.
(Yes I know that song has some baggage being part of a Disney story that inaccurately depicts First Peoples and the story, but it’s a song that truly has lessons we can all learn from so please know that I am well aware of this.)
Cycling doesn’t always have to be about dominating obstacles and nature.
I hope that my artwork inspires people to be a bit more chill, and really take in the gifts nature is constantly freely giving us.
Go for a ride just to take in its beauty, don’t worry about your segments! And if you see something cool, stop and give it a moment of thanks and gratitude for what it’s sharing with you. Sit for a few minutes off the trail and just allow your surroundings to speak to you and listen to what it’s saying.
You’d be surprised how much nature can teach you if you only listen with an open heart and mind.
How did you get involved with Trips for Kids Marin?
I know there are MANY other programs out there and in the Bay Area, so looking to find one was sort of daunting, and Google wasn’t that much help. So I leaned on my cycling community to direct me to a program that aligned with the goals of this project and one that benefited the community I was focused on for this project.
Tell us about the designs you created for this project and how do they tie into the Full Circle Cycling Land Acknowledgement?
Well at first the drawing was just an expression of my own feelings and experiences on the bike while riding gravel in Marin. I posted an initial sketch on my Instagram account and a ton of my followers reached out telling me how much it resonated with them, and that they already wanted to buy whatever final piece I made from it. As an artist, this is exactly what you dream of and I knew this piece had the power to do more.
So taking from my parent’s teachings of giving back I wanted the entities that I gathered inspiration from to benefit from the artwork. As I was working on it, I was researching programs that I could donate the profits to. And I was struggling to tie the artwork into a story that could verbally express what my intent with my artwork was (every visual artist’s struggle!).
But that all came together when I attended a learning session put on by a few Coast Miwok at Olompali state park.
Prior to this, I had no idea who the first people were in Marin. There really wasn’t much to even suggest or acknowledge their existence on these lands. Learning their history really made me… just feel sickened as their story resonated with my own and my ancestors’ background.
During the learning session, we were brought to a large Laurel tree and were taught the many uses the Coast Miwok had for its leaves. One use, in particular, stood out. The Coast Miwok would place the leaves around the perimeter of their dance circle. Doing this helped protect all who entered the circle. Anyone who entered the circle also understood that within the circle there was no hierarchy and that all were equal and protected.
This teaching was the key to verbalizing what my goal had been all along. One I immediately knew was one that the cycling community could learn from. For it is their land (stolen land) where the sport of gravel/mountain biking was born. And we have them to thank for that. What better way is there to honor the Coast Miwok than to learn their lessons and apply them to our community?
The perimeter of Laurel leaves on the art was the final aspect that brought everything full circle.
Cycling needs to be a sport where all are welcome, all are equal, and all are one.
What do you recommend people read for more information on the Miwok people and the land?
The best way to learn more is to hear from the Coast Miwok directly.
The Coast Miwok are currently working with other entities and with the community to help their efforts as well. So more should be available in time! I have several links on my website that members have created and are working on. They also plan to host more learning sessions around Marin County when covid is under control. You can also follow @coastmiwoklandacknowledgements on Instagram to learn more in the meantime. They will likely share the learning session events when they start back up as well. And if you want to you can visit Olompali State Park in Novato. There you can read some didactics they have posted near landmarks, and some around a small path with plants that have Coast Miwok names and uses posted up.
What are your favorite post-ride digs? Do you have a favorite café or establishment?
OOOoooooo, getting a HookFish Burrito on a hot day is probably my favorite post-ride thing to do! They have a spot in SF and in Mill Valley. OR going to Sol Food for a BIG glass of Ponche, and a few Plantain Chips.
If I’m in the city Excelsior Coffee has some KILLER breakfast noms, and amazing coffee.
But honestly, the best post-ride meal is the one you have after you’ve showered and are sitting in your bed. Nothing beats that.
The Easton project is great! Anything else on the horizon?
To be honest I thought this was going to be a very small project of like 50 bandanas, and that was going to be it. But seeing how large the interest level was to support projects like this was daunting. It’s not easy to do projects like this where you are doing all aspects; art, website, Instagram, finances, taxes, shipping, fulfillment, production, marketing, filming, directing, PR, management, etc. So I’m so grateful for what Easton and other local brands, (BRAAAP and Excelsior coffee) have helped me accomplish.
There are some ideas up my sleeve as I want to continue this work! I just need to be ok with baby steps since I’m doing it all on my own.
I also want to make sure that these projects are ones where the Tribal Council and Members feel they have a voice. My goal is and will always be to SUPPORT them in ways they are comfortable with. And not to speak for them. I’m merely here to use my skills to help amplify their stories so that they can preserve their history on their terms in their own voices.
Easton was more than willing to make adjustments so that we could ensure this project was done in this way, and for that, I am extremely grateful.
This is a delicate step that anyone who wants to do this kind of work must be fully aware of, and be willing to take the time to ensure this aspect leads the project.
Many thanks to Ariel for spending her time with us on this interview. You can support this project by picking up some of the goods for sale at the Full Circle Cycling Land Acknowledgement Project. Thanks to Easton Cycling for assisting in this post!