Weird at My School: Peddling Against Poverty

I’ve been thinking about buying a new bicycle. Again. I buy a bicycle about once a decade. I’m good at buying them. I ask questions and comparison shop and take them out for a spin before slapping down my hard-earned cash. But riding? Not so much.

I grew up thinking the world was flat — not a lot of hills in Northern Virginia — so biking was an ideal way to get around as a teenager. But the real world has peaks and valleys. I get discouraged. Freshman year of college, I left my bike locked outside the dorm, untouched, for so long that I forgot my combination and had to find a bolt cutter to liberate it before my parents picked me up for summer break. My first Seattle bike sat in the basement so long I swear it became invisible; I finally gave it away to a friend.

What in God’s name has inspired me to revisit this folly? (Especially since the journey from KEXP to my home on Capitol Hill is pretty much all uphill — a gruesome prospect at any time, and even more so when my overnight shift ends at 6 AM.) Kentucky singer-songwriter Ben Sollee, who is currently on a mini-tour from his hometown of Lexington, KY, to the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, TN, this weekend. And he’s making the 330 mile journey by bike.

Now that might not sound remarkable to a seasoned cyclist or singer-songwriter. You sling your guitar over your shoulder and go, right? But here’s the catch: Sollee’s primary instrument is the cello. He is wending his way through Appalachia with the second-largest member of the stringed instrument family strapped to his extended-frame bike. Plus gear and luggage. And then he’s playing a show every day. And judging from the performance snippets online, the gigs have been swell.

He’s doing it all to raise awareness for Oxfam America, as well as make folks think a little more about sustainability and community. His whole adventure is being documented by his friends Katie and Marty Benson, and you can follow their journey on the blog Peddling Against Poverty. Even in the rain on Day #1, the scenes of the Kentucky countryside rolling by are pretty breathtaking. They really make me want to buy a new bike.

But definitely not a cello.

DJ El Toro is the host of the overnight show In Between Sleep & Reason, Wednesday mornings from 1 AM to 6 AM on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle and kexp.org. His column, Weird At My School, appears every Monday on the KEXP Blog. You can now follow DJ El Toro on Twitter!

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