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.