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NOLS Instructor Spinning Towards Solutions
Chris Pyke Credits NOLS for Spinning towards Solutions

by Matt Lloyd

In early September 2000, Chris Pyke and Britta Bierwagen began developing a new relationship with their tandem bicycle. Chris and Britta are riding from Santa Barbara, Calif., across the United States. The purpose of the two-month trek is to give presentations to students about endangered species and conservation biology. The route will take Chris and Britta through 12 southern states and will end in Washington D.C. at the beginning of November.

Chris, a former NOLS instructor, calls the bike trip a 'front country' expedition that uses many of the same principles of NOLS traditional backcountry expeditions.

Chris credits his project as being partially inspired by Stephanie Habiff, a student on one of his NOLS educators courses. Chris says that Stephanie had an amazing determination and drive. Within nine months of Stephanie's course she organized her own cross-country bicycle expedition to raise money for breast cancer research.

Stephanie and her friend raised $35,000 during their 60-day expedition. "Seeing Stephanie in action got me thinking. It helped me realize that one very inspired person can really make something happen--not a message we can make very often. I realize it's a cliché and I never believed it until I saw people making it happen."

"Moreover, I believe that the leadership, communications, and logistical skills that Stephanie learned on her OEC (Outdoor Educator Course) contributed directly to her success. After seeing Stephanie, I went back in the woods on another course and mulled things over. After that, I saw NOLS in a new way. While most of our students will never get another chance to lead their peers on a hard-core wilderness expedition, all of them have daily opportunities to take personal initiative in their everyday lives. The 'Front Country' expeditions provide an awesome opportunity to make a difference in the 'real world."

Chris talked these things over with Britta. She added additional inspiration and helped make the project a reality. "Spinning Toward Solutions" was born. The project leans heavily on some elements of the NOLS curriculum including expedition behavior, leadership, conflict resolution and transference. "Each of these made a mark on our project," says Chris.

Chris thinks so highly of these NOLS concepts that he has posted his thoughts on their web page,

Chris envisions applications of NOLS leadership as integral to NOLS' on-going discussion about environmental studies curriculum. This past April Chris wrote an article in an issue of the NOLS newsletter describing some of the ways that leadership skills at NOLS can be used more directly for environmental studies. "I don't think that we need to make our mark on environmental studies by teaching more natural history; rather, we can develop the concept of environmental leadership. The logical extension of my comments in the newsletter is the idea of the ultimate in NOLS transference: the Front Country expedition."

Chris and Britta have now launched a new interactive map Web page. The page tracks the route of Chris and Britta across the country and provides click-able links to conservation resources including ecoregions and locations of special interest. If you are interested in finding out more about Chris and Britta's trek across the U.S. and Spinning towards Solutions please check out

NOLS has provided a generous financial contribution to Chris and Britta's effort as part of the school's commitment to outdoor education and environmental leadership. Chris and Britta hope that students along their route will look to organizations like NOLS for the skills and techniques necessary for turning environmental concern into conservation action.

Facts About the Trip

  • 3300 miles of tandem bicycling without vehicular support
  • 12 states
  • 750 GLOBE schools within 15 miles of our route
  • thousands of GLOBE kids
  • for more information check out

About Chris and Britta

Chris Pyke is an ecologist with broad interests in conservation biology, land-use planning, and ecosystem management. Chris is an instructor with the National Outdoor Leadership School. Chris holds a bachelor's degree in geology and a Master's degree in geography. Chris is a Ph.D. student in geography with an emphasis in wetlands ecology, Geographic Information Systems, and conservation planning.

Britta Bierwagen is a conservation biologist with active interests in endangered species research and land use issues. She has a bachelor's degree in biology and chemistry. Britta works at the National Center for Ecological Synthesis and Analysis as the Kids Do Ecology and outreach program coordinator as part of a graduate internship. Britta is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management.

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