Returning renewed: An interview with Liza Stoner and family

Recently, I had an opportunity to sit down with Liza Stoner and her family following their their month-long summer adventure, which saw the 14-year-old bike nearly 1,600 miles from Minneapolis to Washington, D.C. to promote electric vehicle legislation. Liza’s mother (Amy) biked with her, while her father (Jeff) and 8-year-old brother (Christopher) drove the support vehicle. Her 16-year-old sister Corriell was at summer camp during most of their trip but joined the family a couple days before they reached the Capitol. At the end of Liza’s “Ride for Renewal” she had a personal meeting with Sen. Amy Klobuchar to take about their shared passion for environmental issues and her petition, which then included about 1,200 names. Highlights of the interview follow.

Mayer: First, welcome back, and congratulations. Maybe we can start at the end of the trip. What was is like meeting with Sen. Klobuchar? Were you nervous?

Liza: Not really. She was so nice. It wasn’t really scary at all. I spoke with her for about a half an hour. She even shared some of her stories about biking with her dad across the country when she was in college.

Mayer: Pretty impressive, having a private meeting with your senator at age 14.

Amy: Actually there was a Nickelodeon crew filming it all, a Senate videographer, several other photographers and Senate staff. We attracted quite a crowd, mostly tourists, who started gathering to see what was going on. Some even asked for [Liza’s] autograph. There was even this 10-year-old kid who started debating Liza and Sen. Klobuchar.

Mayer: Sounds like democracy in action. What would you say was the biggest highlight of the trip?

Christopher
: We saw lots of animals. Some bears. Deer. Snapping turtles!

Liza: But I think Christopher’s favorite part was the hotels. Swimming in the pools. (Christopher smiles.)

Jeff: Christopher and I would often drive the vehicle 20 or 30 miles ahead and wait at the next major intersection. We’d get out of the car and find a park. We even played some baseball.

Liza
: We met some really interesting people, too. A lot of bikers riding coast-to-coast. There was a father and son biking 100 miles a day with no rest days. A couple in their 60s riding across the country. Five guys in college riding from Pittsburgh to D.C. for AIDS orphans in Uganda. It was fun to share stories.

Mayer: What was the biggest surprise? Was the experience just like you expected?

Liza: It was a lot more fun than I expected. I thought I might get bored riding so much every day, but it was interesting the whole time.

Amy: Definitely not boring, though we did make up a few silly songs to pass the time in a few spots.

Mayer: Were there any really low points during the trip?

Jeff: Ohio was tough. It was really flat, especially the western part of the state.

Amy: The roads were bad, too, and the drivers.

Liza: Even the maps were bad in Ohio. They [Jeff and Christopher] had everything — On-Star, GPS, Adventure Cycling maps.

Mayer: Was it hard to return to your regular lives after a month of such unique experiences? Was there a sense of letdown when you finished?

Liza: Kind of. I really wanted to bike back home. I’ve been biking everywhere since we got back, but I take the bus sometimes, too.

Jeff: I had to go from being an 8-year-old to being an adult again. Deluxe, (my employer), was really great. I took some PTO and they gave me a leave of absence to do the trip. Actually, it was probably most difficult for Amy to reintegrate.

Amy: (Laughing.) Yes, it’s probably been hardest for me. I was so pampered. All I had to do was ride the bike. That was my job. I’m really itching to get out again. I actually think I’m kind of a flight risk right now. You guys might come home and find my bike gone and I’ll be nowhere to be found.

Mayer: Is there anything you’d do differently if you had it to do all over again?

Liza: I’d like to train a little more and ride more each day. Closer to 100 miles. But I’d have to get up earlier. (Everyone laughs.) I also really wish we could have had an electric vehicle for our support car.

Jeff
: Yes, we came so close. If we’d started a few weeks earlier we could have made it happen. Honda and Toyota both tried, but it was GM that really tried. It would have made a great story. [Watching the destruction of General Motors’ EV1 battery-powered cars in the 2006 documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” motivated Liza to plan her bike trip and petition.]

Amy: I agree. That was really our only regret.

Jeff: Oh, and I’d probably pack a little lighter. After all, we did laundry just about every day.

Mayer: Obviously you were successful with the biking portion of the trip, but did you accomplish what you had hoped to?

Liza: I feel like I did. I think we will get electric cars. Later the same day I met Sen. Klobuchar, she brought us to a press conference about oil speculation. (Klobuchar acknowledged Liza before the press and audience.) There are a lot of people who really want things to change.

Amy: Yes, we didn’t meet anyone who didn’t agree with the goal of making electric vehicles more available, regardless of their political background.


Mayer
: Do you plan to stay involved with the electric vehicle movement, or are there other issues you want to get involved with?

Liza: I think I’ll continue to be interested in electric vehicles, but I’m interested in other environmental issues, too.

Amy: Some people from Project Better Place will be in Minneapolis and want to meet with Liza. The director of the documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” sent a personal message to her, and so did Chelsea Sexton (executive director of Plug In America).

Jeff: I think it goes to show that one person, and particularly young people, can make a real impact. Liza had a vision, worked her tail off and, with the help of a lot of people, accomplished her goal. And I haven’t even had a chance to tell Liza this yet, but our board of directors [at Deluxe Corp.] wants her to come meet with them.

Liza: What?! Dad!

Mayer: So, what’s next for the Stoner family? Do you have any more exciting adventures planned?

Amy: Well, Liza’s already hatching a plan for a European bike tour — on her own dime, of course.

Jeff: And Christopher said he wants to ride coast to coast when he gets into 8th grade.

Amy: Yes, and I think it’s Jeff’s turn to do the riding this time. It’ll be a boys’ ride. Plus I really have to pay them back for sagging us the whole way.

Nickelodeon News has tentatively scheduled Sept. 21 to air its story on Liza’s trip.

Fred Mayer lives in Linden Hills. Check out his blog at shiftyguy.blogspot.com.