It had been an exciting night at the Proposition 99 Campaign Headquarters in Sacramento. The tobacco industry had just spent $25 million ($56 million in today’s dollars) trying to defeat our efforts to increase California’s tax on tobacco, which, up to that point, was more than it had spent on any single political campaign in its history. The industry regarded our efforts as the most serious threat it had ever faced, not because we were increasing the tax, but because we were proposing to spend a significant amount of money on prevention. It had hired some of the best political operatives in the nation, including Ronald Reagan’s former media director— and, it had run the kind of campaign you might expect from an industry that had made billions off of successfully marketing a deadly, highly addictive drug to children.
The prevention part of the equation had been my idea. If we succeeded, we would embark on one of the most extensive prevention program ever, anywhere in the world. The industry was right to be worried. And we were right to be nervous. As the full force of the industry’s campaign had come to fruition in the last week before the election, we had seen our once comfortable lead drop to .05%.
But the night was ours. Heroic efforts by our friends in the health and environmental communities, including my future sister-in-law, Jane Hagedorn, made the difference. Early returns showed us leading. Later returns showed that we had won. I gave a talk on the power of a small group to take on one of the world’s most powerful industries and win. I then led the group in a series of cheers as the TV camera’s rolled. I ended my night by consuming more alcohol than a health advocate should. Jane drove me home.
California’s health community went on to prove that prevention works. The state moved from having the second highest incidence of tobacco use in the nation to the second lowest. Five years ago the California Department of Health estimated that over one million lives and $70 billion in health care costs had been saved to date.
The Proposition 99 battle was won in 1988, over a quarter of century ago. Ancient history now— except it relates to the story I will be telling on this blog for the next 2-3 months. The campaign wrapped up an important chapter of my life, and it left me with a question: what would I do next? I decided to buy a bike and go on a solo, six-month, 10,000-mile bike ride around the US and Canada. It was a completely reasonable decision, right… kind of like taking on the tobacco industry. So I went out and did it.
And this brings us to the present. I earned a huge number of husband brownie points last year— billions of them. I spent lots of time with kids and grandkids, supported Peggy’s various efforts to improve our community, and did many manly chores around our property. The wife was impressed. She made a mistake. “Next year is yours, Curt,” she announced. “What would you like to do?” It was like a blank check. I got a wild look in my eye and (before she could reconsider), tossed out, “Take our van and follow the route of my North American bike tour… for starters.”
That’s the reason Peggy and I are sitting in a Big O Tire store now in Roswell, New Mexico while Quivera, our van, has some work done. I am sure a UFO is circling above us, the same UFO that caused us to have a blow-out last night.
Starting with my next blog, I will take you back to the beginning of my bike trek in Diamond Springs, California. I’ll talk more about my reasons for the trip and I will outline the extensive preparation it takes for such an adventure: I increased my nightly consumption of beer from one to two cans.
The blog will cover both my original journey and our present journey by van. For example, here’s what we have done in the past couple of days:
- Visited a small town museum in Springerville, Arizona that included a Rembrandt among its treasures that could probably buy the town, or maybe the whole county.
- Stopped off in Pie Town on the crest of the Rockies that is nationally famed for the pies it sells. The owner, who once gave me a free piece of pie, came out to have her photo taken with Peggy, me, Quivera and our bikes. (Crossing the Rockies was my first 100-mile day on the bike trip.)
- Magically showed up at the annual open house for the Very Large Array of radio antenna/telescopes that have been featured in movies like Contact and Independence Day. Scientists from around the world compete for time on the radio telescopes. We were given a tour by a scientist who is looking back in time to the very beginning of the universe.
- Contemplated the devastation created by nuclear bombs as we viewed the Trinity site where the first atom bomb ever was exploded.
- Paid homage to Smokey the Bear by visiting his gravesite and singing his song. (Do you know it?)
- Walked the streets of Lincoln where Billy the Kid fought in the Lincoln County range wars of the early West.
- Kept a sharp eye out for UFOs as we drove in to Roswell.
And that’s just two days. My challenge will not be in finding things to write about! This is a back roads journey through America and Canada, a Blue Highways Adventure. I’ll give more details on my next blog, but to get you started, here is a rough map of the journey I made by bike and we are now making by van. Please join us.