Ride With Purpose
Ride With Purpose is a community activism-oriented bike ride, intended to enhance neighborhoods throughout Detroit by holding regular volunteer efforts and by promoting actions to fight the issues that affect our communities, all while raising awareness for cyclists & pedestrians in our beloved (motor) city.
Ride With Purpose was founded in 2023 by Andy Meier, owner of Owl Beach Michigan.
RWP #5 - Spread Love
Our purpose for Ride With Purpose #5 is to share our love
and gratitude with the Earth, each other, and our elders.
Our first year of Ride With Purpose spanned 3 seasons. We rode over 50 miles, logged over 7 volunteer hours, and connected 15 individuals to each other and to local nonprofits for continued involvement. We started our journey in July 2023, gathering at Arboretum Detroit’s Circle Forest project where we picked up litter around the forest and along the streets surrounding it. We met a representative from Eastside Community Network who told us about the nonprofit’s work with climate resiliency and we heard from one of the founders of Arboretum Detroit about their efforts to reforest vacant land for the betterment of the environment and their community. Then we set out on our first community bike ride, heading south to the Detroit River.
In August, we collaborated with Keep Growing Detroit to visit a community garden project. We met at Sonny Acres in the Morningside neighborhood, where we built raised beds for a sensory garden that will one day be built for children and elders. In September, we partnered with KGD again and met at Emerald Gardens Morningside, where we weeded a butterfly garden and met the family who created the garden for their community, with the help of their neighbors. In October, we took the lead from a friend, and RWP Rider, on her quest to map the city’s buried waterways. Before embarking on a journey to map the invisible half of Fox Creek, we met at its mouth, where we picked up litter and collected trash around Mariner Park. The trash we later used to create maps of the area with the intent of reimagining our relationship to land and place.
In November, we reconnected with Kim Williams, owner of Sonny Acres Farm and the Food Service Director of Trio Community Meals, which partners with Detroit Area Agency on Aging to provide meals to Detroit seniors. She had her plate full preparing and cooking over 4,000 holiday meals! While she was well-equipped to handle this endeavor with her hardworking staff, and with volunteers from the DAAA arriving the next morning, we wanted to help the night before, in any way we could. We were tasked with preparing bags of cold food items that would be delivered with the meals. Unfortunately, due to last minute delays in the delivery of the products we needed, we had to pivot and shift our focus to giving another way. We chose to write notes of peace, love, and gratitude for the elders of our community.
We gathered on Wednesday, 11/22, with 3 friends at the entrance to the Southwest Greenway on Bagley. There, on the first floor of a large parking structure, is a public space that is heated, well-lit, and supplied with tables and chairs. Andy and I brought art supplies: paper, pens, stickers and scissors. Our friends parked nearby and joined us in the space, bringing warm hugs, large smiles, and the love they had to share. We spent the next few hours writing kind phrases, drawing cute doodles, and scribing words of gratitude. I selected pieces of the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address, a set of Greetings to the Natural World*.
After creating a few hundred love notes, we bundled up and took a walk together along the Southwest Greenway, to Roosevelt Park and back to Bagley. Our wandering was washed with laughter and conversation, the relating of old memories and new experiences. At the park, the 5 of us piled high on a large swing, giggling as we swung back and forth towards the night sky, the soft light of buildings filling our eyes. Thank you to Jo, Liv, and Kayla for joining us that evening - for spreading your love through words, both on and off page - for feeding the soul with the compassion you bring everywhere you go. A big thank you to Kim for the opportunity to connect with our elders and for all the work that she does for others on a daily basis. We love you!
As we bring the first year of Ride With Purpose to a close, I’d like to acknowledge the people who’ve made this journey possible. Our purpose has always been to connect our love of biking the city with our love of the community, combining volunteer opportunities with group bike rides. We could only do this with the help of the individuals and nonprofit organizations that partnered with us at each event. And the people who join us every time make it a success. Without your participation, it’d just be Andy and I doing what we normally do. But with you, we are able to establish greater connections with each other and our communities. Please donate to or volunteer with one of these nonprofits that made Ride With Purpose possible this year.
Detroit Area Agency on Aging
Eastside Community Network
Keep Growing Detroit
*“The Thanksgiving Address (or “Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen”) is the central prayer and invocation for the Haudenosaunee (also known as the Iroquois Confederacy or Six Nations - Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Onondaga, Seneca, and Tuscarora). It reflects their relationship of giving thanks for life and the world around them. The Haudenosaunee open and close every social and religious meeting with the Thanksgiving Address.” (Dance for All People). It is important to note that indigenous communities give thanks as a daily practice. Annual observances of the traditional US holiday known as Thanksgiving tend to appropriate and neglect the indigenous knowledge and practices that have been common in the Americas for centuries before the arrival of colonists. Common Thanksgiving traditions ignore the history of violence inflicted upon indigenous communities by white settlers, perpetuating the cycle of harm against native people. This is why Andy and I do not celebrate Thanksgiving on the third Thursday of November. Instead, we try to express gratitude for the land and the beings who inhabit it on a daily basis.
Please consider ditching old traditions for new wisdom!
RWP #4 - Buried Creeks
Our purpose for Ride With Purpose #4 is to connect with water
by following the course of one of Detroit’s old waterways.
There’s no denying that humans transform the natural landscape. We dig, build, and shape our environments into places that conform to our abundant needs. We drain water and bury waterways to create more land for development, often causing long-term environmental issues such as flooding. Detroit’s eastside is no stranger to this. Flood-prone neighborhoods on the eastside may attribute their challenges to crumbling infrastructure, though understanding how land, and the water that runs through it, was altered may expand the source of our problems to decades of modification - changes that have pushed us to the ledge we teeter on today.
Ride With Purpose #4 sought to explore the altering of Detroit’s old waterways by following the course of Fox Creek. This ride was in partnership with and inspired by Jo Coutts. Jo has been traversing city streets, greenways, and neighborhoods through the lens of water. She examines historical maps and uses GPS to trace the path of buried creeks by bike. Her project, “Mapping Detroit’s Buried Waterways”, combines her skills as an artist, cartographer, and activist. We met on Wednesday, October 25th, at Mariner Park to learn from Jo, and from each other, about the complex life of flowing water.
The chill of fall could not stop 9 individuals from bundling up and meeting at the mouth of Fox Creek, at the place where it meets the Detroit River. Jo, Andy, and I were there as hosts. Four local residents joined us. As did Arena with the Eastside Community Network, and a friend of Jo’s. We introduced ourselves, then heard about Jo’s project and the purpose for our ride and volunteer effort. Our goal was to help maintain Mariner Park by picking up litter strewn around it, near the river and the mouth of the creek, and in the trees nearby. We were instructed to save pieces of litter that could be used for a “trash map” making art project later in the week.
Five large bags of trash later, we re-grouped waterside and talked about our ride. Our route would be determined as we rode. We’d use an app called Gaia to trace the old path of Fox Creek away from the river. We’d follow the creek and one of its tributaries to an end, then return to the park. While leading a group of people without a planned route frightened me, I leaned into the unknown and started pedaling. We turned on our headlamps and bike lights, then rode through grass along the edge of the creek. As the sun set and the trees cast shadows on the road, I tried to picture the land before it had been modified. I would later research its history.
Fox Creek was named in the early 1700s after the French massacred hundreds of Native Americans there, where the creek flowed into the river. Many of the Native people were from the Meskwaki Tribe, whom Europeans referred to as Fox Indians. The Meskwaki, along with Mascoutin and other tribes, had besieged Fort Pontchartrain, Detroit, in an effort to preserve their homelands. They were killed or forced westward. Once Europeans had control of the land, it began its journey to the place we recognize today. In the mid-1800s, the Grand Marais (Great Swamp) to the east of the creek was drained to create more land area for what we now call Grosse Pointe Park. Then in the late-1800s, Fox Creek was dug wider into a canal that could support boats traveling inland.
We rode north on Alter Rd, the Fox Creek Canal beside us, the dim light of houses surrounding us. Many of the houses with direct access to the creek had boats pulled next to them, or garages which opened into the water for their boats to pull inside. Bridges over the creek allowed traffic to cross from the neighborhoods on Alter’s west and east. To the east, into Grosse Pointe Park, houses seemed to grow into mansions. To the west, modest homes along the creek battled floods with the construction of seawalls. We continued, stopping at Jefferson Ave where the creek disappears beneath the street into a sewer system which runs below the city. Gates were built there, at the base of Ashland St, to manage the flow of water into and out of the sewer. We crossed Jefferson and began to follow the invisible, the ghost of a creek that once flowed from further north and east.
If we could have traveled along St Paul St, we would have been closer to this buried waterway, though to the east of Alter Rd, residential streets are barricaded with wooden walls. This we recognize as one of the widest gaps of wealth in the country, the income and property values on the east and west sides of Alter Rd. The walls were built by residents to the east to keep their poorer neighbors off “their” streets - an appalling controversy. We continued on Alter to Kercheval, where the blockade was removed so that Detroit traffic could access the city of Grosse Pointe Park, more so that residents there could more easily access Detroit. We reconvened at the corner of a quaint GPP city street to check how close we were to the old creek.
The creek was to the south, running parallel to Kercheval. Further east, it curved north. We followed, taking side streets until we were able to cross I-94. There, Fox Creek split and curved back towards us as a tributary. We chose another side street to follow to Denby High School, where a mural of boats and sea creatures reminded us of the presence of water. As we continued northwest, a light rain pat our heads. I looked up at the dark sky, turned gray by city lights, and felt the water slide across my mind. Ahead, the bike tires of my newfound neighbors created small wakes in puddles, splashes in the shadows. A deer darted across someone’s lawn. Members of our group excitedly pointed her out to each other. After another mile, we landed at an intersection in the Mapleridge neighborhood of Detroit.
“Here it is,” exclaimed Jo, “the end of the creek.” A dog barked at us from a nearby backyard. Rain fell heavier. We released a collective sigh. A 7-mile bike ride into the unknown and the known, the hidden and the visible - what we were familiar with and could see, in search of what once was and what now lies beneath concrete. We headed home. Our eastside neighbors split from the group at various places, goodbyes drifting with their fading voices. A few of us rode back to our starting point, to the site where Meskwaki warriors lost their lives - to the precipice of development, for better and for worse. Back at the park, our faces were illuminated by streetlights and emotion. My heart felt like it was on fire - energized by the spirit of others and charred by the combustion of change. Andy and I rode home - our passion stoking the flame of hope we had for a better world.
Thanks to everyone that joined us on our adventure!
Here in Detroit, we are guided by water.
Let’s continue to listen to their wisdom.
A special thank you to Jo for helping me see my home more fully.
My bike rides through the city will forever be in memory of land before streets.
RWP #3 - The Harvest
Our purpose for RWP #3 is to celebrate the harvest
- the gifts of food security, wellbeing, and community that land provides.
At times, nature seems to place obstacles in your path. The gloomy skies on Wednesday, September 27th, hindered our motivation for Ride With Purpose #3. We watched the weather, wondering if a storm would force us to cancel the event. We handled responses from friends who couldn’t attend for various reasons, smiling in the face of worry. When the end of our work days came, we mustered all the energy we could summon to encourage ourselves and our remaining rider, Olivia, to pull out our bikes and hit the road.
We rode east on Jefferson from our meeting place, near the end of the Dequindre Cut. Light drops of water splashed against our skin as the sky began to open. Our pace was swift, hoping we’d beat the deluge to our destination - Emerald Gardens MorningSide, a community garden in the Morningside neighborhood of Detroit. Northwest on the Conner Creek Greenway we headed, dodging curbside floods. I laughed as cars sent waves of water before us - our group somehow missed them by zig-zagging back and forth.
We followed a bike lane east on Warren to Haverhill St. The rain let up as we ended our 7.5 mile ride at the corner of Haverhill and Cornwall. A large greenhouse filled the lot at one corner of the intersection, surrounded by rows of various vegetables. Across from Cornwall was a square of land filled with a garden of native plants. A wood chip path led to a circle in the middle of the garden, then back out towards a small shelter covered with a mural of colorful flowers. We walked our bikes to the back of the lot just as Gary Gray pulled up in his truck.
Gary is Chief of Staff for his district’s City Council Member and is an advocate for his community. He wore his professional attire, pleased as he walked over to greet us, hand outstretched and a warm smile on his face. He hadn’t been expecting us so soon (we arrived before our usual meeting time), though told us he’d be back to help after changing his clothes. Pointing to tufts of thistle that dotted the garden path, he explained what we’d be weeding and handed us pairs of rubber work gloves. Andy, Olivia, and I got to it, kneeling to pull the spiky plants at the roots, and tossing them into a pile to be stuffed into lawn waste bags.
From the base of the thistle plants we pulled, emerged docile bees. They crawled from the roots and waddled across wood chips away from us. Perhaps they were taking shelter, in the heat of the Earth, from the recent cold spell we had? Or maybe they found something to thrive on beneath those tricky plants. I recalled reading of thistle as a source of indigenous medicine, and wondered how someone could consume such a prickly plant. Gary returned with a cooler of beverages. We each cracked open a sweet drink and grinned at our progress. A mound of thistle was piled in the middle of the circle at the center of the garden.
Our last ride had been a few blocks away at another community garden. I reached out to our friend there, Kim of Sonny Acres Farm, and within minutes, she was pulling up along the road. She appeared at the edge of the garden, bursting with her signature positivity, arms stretched wide for a hug. I hopped over to receive her loving energy. Gary greeted her kindly and introduced himself. The neighbors laughed at their chance encounter and exchanged contact info, excited for the local connection of shared interests. Then the sky opened back up. This time with a flood of rain.
Kim waved goodbye and dipped back into her truck, off to continue her work day. Gary pointed to the greenhouse across the street for cover. We gathered our things and rushed inside. Lucky for us, there was plenty more weeding to do there. Even better, food supplies were dropped off by Gary’s wife - hotdogs and hamburgers for both vegans and meat-eaters. Gary fired up his grill as we started pulling thistle and bindweed from the dirt floor. He then joined us in the dirt as his daughter and son arrived to manage dinner.
Jessica from Keep Growing Detroit arrived to help us finish the rest of the weeding effort in the greenhouse. The covered dirt was now clear and prime for planting. And our bellies were ready for filling. We gathered near a table at one end of the greenhouse and filled plates with as much as we could eat. Delicious garden tomatoes, harvested from the land on which we stood, topped each of our tasty meals. The time that we put into tending the Earth was rewarded by a harvest of hospitality - our bodies and minds satiated by the sustenance of food and conversation.
As the rain slowed, we said our goodbyes and hit the road for a fast-paced ride back home. We took Haverhill to Jefferson and Jefferson back to our meeting spot, close to home. A flat tire and another deluge slowed us down a bit, but nothing could overpower the comfort that we were feeling within - an abundance of community that enlivened our spirits. When Andy and I returned home, drenched, we felt that, whatever nature had sent our way that day, we did our best to receive her offerings with gratitude. While it may be stressful to commit to a purpose, and be pushed outside your comfort zone - persistence will always prove fruitful when you cherish what the world has to offer.
Many thanks to Olivia for sticking with us - for reaching into the Earth, and pulling out love.
RWP #2 - Cultivating Wellness
Our purpose for RWP #2 is to celebrate our relationships with nature,
be it cultivating land for urban agriculture or enjoying the outdoors through recreation.
Our second Ride With Purpose community bike ride was tucked between thunderstorms - rain and lightning lapsing from the time Andy and I left our apartment to the moment we returned. We followed the weather stringently that day, knowing we’d have to postpone or cancel if thunder remained. Fortunately for our plans, fair weather persisted. We rode east to Sonny Acres Farm, where we were to meet with Romondo Woods, the Garden Development Coordinator at Keep Growing Detroit - a nonprofit which grows produce in Detroit and provides garden resources to community members. Romondo had found a community garden for us to volunteer at. While we didn’t know fully what to expect, we felt prepared after reading KGD's group volunteer guide and were excited to get our hands dirty.
Andy and I arrived at our destination around 6PM - a large grassy field where the beginnings of a community garden were taking place. Romondo greeted us with a hearty laugh. Kim Williams, the owner of the land, reached out for hugs. We learned about her plans for the space - about her desire to create a “sensory garden” for her 3 autistic grandchildren - a place for all her loved ones to relate with the Earth and experience the power of homegrown nutrition. We also learned that Kim is incredibly active, raising her children and many grandchildren, volunteering in her community, and working as the Food Service Director for Trio Community Meals - an organization which “provides meals to homebound seniors in the cities of Detroit, Highland Park, Hamtramck, and all 5 of the Grosse Pointes”. She explained that her community garden will include resources for these seniors as well, describing her vision for a place of solace and wellness.
As another rider arrived, we unloaded supplies from Romondo’s truck - shovels, wheelbarrows, wood, and screws. The wheelbarrows were wheeled over to a mound of dirt at the end of the driveway. The shovels laid down nearby. The wood and screws were organized on the driveway for the 3 raised beds we would make. We took a brief break to experience Kim’s commitment to feeding others with a tray of snacks she brought out, accompanied by a bucket of cold water bottles. Introductions were exchanged as we pulled work gloves over our hands. Then the work began! Kim and I laid cardboard over the areas the raised beds would be installed. This helps compost the soil, creating a bed for fresh dirt to eventually blend with. Andy and another rider, Jo, drilled boards together, creating the base of a bed. Romondo provided guidance and assisted with a helping hand, when needed.
Soon we had our first bed constructed! Another rider, Nick, arrived and assisted with installing it. We roughly measured where the four leg posts of the bed would sit and dug holes there with shovels. Once settled, wheelbarrows full of dirt were wheeled over and the dirt was spread evenly inside the bed. Kim and I started on the next one, both nervous about using a new drill, yet feeling strong once we mastered it. Two more beds were constructed and installed by our crew. While we worked, we got to know each other a bit, chatting about our experiences and shared interests. Laughter was always present, especially from Romondo, who we learned is the founder of Urban Youth Agriculture - a small business that develops “school and home gardens throughout the metro Detroit area” as well as “agriculturally based lessons and activities for local schools, youth summer camps, and afterschool programs”. Shortly after 7PM we were standing around 3 dirt-filled raised beds on Kim’s property, thrilled with our achievement, minds wandering with the thoughts of plants that would soon grow there.
Next we gathered our bikes. Kim and her son, Steven, pulled there’s outside. We checked tire pressure and discussed our route. Romondo joked about being left out. If only we had an extra bike! We posed for group pics in front of the raised beds, then saddled up and hit the road, waving to Romondo as we peddled away towards Mack Ave. We took Mack to Conner and the Conner Creek Greenway to the Detroit River. Steven, our youngest participant, rode ahead, circling back to confirm the next turn. Kim, Jo, and I brought up the rear, happy to take our time. Andy and Nick kept a steady pace at the front. The two-lane greenway was a pleasant ride with few obstacles. We crossed Jefferson Ave and stuck to the bike path, where the greenway split to both sides of the road. Soon, we reached Maheras-Gentry Park and followed a bike path through grass and around playscapes and fields.
At the end of the park is Habitat Island, an area of land formed by humans to shelter a fishing pond from the swift Detroit River. We dismounted our bikes and walked them across a bridge to the island. The path was overgrown with wildflowers - coneflowers, cornflowers, daisies, black-eyed susans, and queen anne’s lace, to name a few. We marveled at the view across the water to Belle Isle and Canada, a scene framed by the plant life that surrounded us. Another 10 feet and we arrived at the next bridge. We stood there for a moment, feeling the breeze and resting our legs, then returned to the mainland and peddled back the way we came.
Twilight marked the path on our return trip to Sonny Acres Farm. Lightning flashed in the distance. Spirits were high as we buzzed with the energy of activity and new connections. We discussed plans for the future, for continued involvement in each other’s lives. By the time we returned, 9 miles later, our hearts were stronger than before. We gained experience, friendships, and ideas for our next adventures. Kim thanked us again for helping to start her garden project. We gazed out at the yard, seeing the magic that’d spark growth in her loved ones and community. More hugs were exchanged and we said our goodbyes under a darkening sky. Then Andy, our neighbor Nick, and I rode off to race the storm back home - fueled by the cultivation of wellness and growth on the Eastside.
RWP #1 - Environmental Justice
Our purpose for RWP #1 was to bring awareness to environmental hazards in Detroit
and how Detroiters are resisting with resilient efforts to revive a healthy planet.
Our first Ride With Purpose community bike ride was graced with clear skies and a warm summer breeze on the evening of Wednesday, July 19th, 2023. Around half a dozen participants met at Circle Forest (3301 E Palmer St, Detroit) where we were greeted by Kinga Osz-Kemp, one of the founders of Arboretum Detroit, a nonprofit in the Poletown East neighborhood specializing in reforestation of urban landscapes. Kinga introduced us to their native habitat restoration project on land once vacant, now flourishing with meadow grasses, paper birch trees, and other native plant species, many of which are marked with name signs written in both English and Ojibwe (acknowledging the Anishinaabe tribes who lived on the land before it was colonized). We learned about the goal to connect the forest to other green spaces in the neighborhood, and of the weeding and various community-driven tasks required to maintain a native habitat in an urban area.
Arena Johnson, the Equitable Mobility Coordinator with the Eastside Community Network joined the group as we dispersed to collect the litter that lands on the edges and in the tall grasses of Circle Forest. As we searched for garbage to discard and acquainted ourselves with the space, bird song rose louder than breath and the sound of car engines revving in the distance. Individuals found peace among the trees, marveled at mushrooms forming on nutrient-rich logs, and stopped to admire the mulberry-stained path of an ADA-compliant boardwalk installed through part of the forest. After filling a large trash bag, we gathered around the fire pit that marked the junction of trails meandering softly across the land. Arena spoke about the work that the Eastside Community Network is doing for climate resiliency - providing a place of reprieve at the Stoudamire Wellness Hub for residents to temporarily escape the impacts of heatwaves and poor air quality, and offering classes focused on well-being and community-building. She told us about their latest community bike ride along the partially completed Conner Creek Greenway and about the next Eastside Climate Advisory Group meeting - a virtual opportunity for eastside residents to discuss climate equity with city officials and technical experts each month.
Soon Tatiana Pastor and Rob Pelkey from Wheelhouse Detroit joined the group to serve as “sweepers” - experienced bikers who’d ensure that no one was left behind by a flat tire or dropped chain. The first Ride With Purpose group then saddled up and hit the road, heading SW on E Palmer to St Aubin. We grimaced as we passed polluting industries like US Ecology and Vescoe Oil, corporations who’ve shown residents that, in true capitalist fashion, “profit is greater than the health of the people who make industry profitable”. Continuing down a street with pavement battered by heavy truck traffic, we rode towards the Dequindre Cut Greenway, where we enjoyed a smooth path, green grass, vibrant murals, and a colorful sunset overhead. A mile down the Cut we gently squeezed through a crowd that had formed for the Black Bottom Jazz series at Campbell Terrace, then got to know each other as we rode in pairs along the spacious trail. In our group I was pleased to meet my Italian neighbor, a musician from Dearborn, and an artistic cartographer who told me about her ongoing project to map the city’s creek beds. At the end of the greenway, we headed NE on Atwater to Valade Park, where we stopped for a restroom break and to rest our legs.
Next we headed NW on the Joseph Campau Greenway, a newer path surrounded by residences, trees, and playscapes. Children ran and rode scooters beside us as we took in the fresh scent of grass clippings and flowers blooming. We turned on bike lights as daylight faded into twilight and turned left on Vernor highway, the (current) end of the greenway. We took a right on Chene and crossed Gratiot, our busiest intersection. Businesses faded to open spaces as we continued NW on Chene, through an area on the outskirts of Paradise Valley. Past one of Michigan’s oldest blues bars, we turned right on Frederick, continuing NE until passing Arboretum Detroit’s Treetoit 1 and Field Temple projects at Elmwood Ave. A satellite view of this area will reveal labyrinthian shapes and spirals, earthworks sheltered by new growth forest. Exploring from such a vantage point further solidifies the perspective I’ve had riding through here over the years - the land is reawakening - is being fed by seeds and shovels and rain once again.
We turned left on Moran. I stopped and walked my bike along the Oxygen Alley trail, another Arb Detroit creation, then sped to the group, taking a breath to catch the scent of meadow and wildflowers at Callahan Park. Together we turned left onto E Palmer and were back at Circle Forest. Light lingered on the horizon. Breeze settled in the trees. Our first Ride With Purpose was complete. A group of five people remained, smiling brightly in the night, bidding farewell to the forest, to the experience and to each other as we rode away our perspective ways into the hopeful dark. As my partner, our neighbor, and I rode home, a small sense of accomplishment remained with me knowing we helped maintain a sacred space. My body pulsed, alive with the resilient energy that is strung across the Eastside, from my neighborhood and the others that surround me, to every community in our beautiful city. Thank you to each righteous being that shared this journey with me!