From pins to pedals

SJU graduate, wrestler hits bike tour with gusto

By Christa Schmidt '11

Munkhbaatar "Mogi" Baatar was an All-American wrestler and four-time national qualifier at Saint John's University, but when he graduated in May, the longest distance he had biked at one time was about 10 miles. Less than two months later, he began working his way around Minnesota on a bike.

Baatar, a physics major from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, attended a Youth Environmental Activists! (YEA!) Minnesota retreat June 16 in Eagan, Minn., to pursue his interest in sustainability and renewable and alternative energy. There, he met bikers Reed Aronow (Roseville, Minn.) and Justin Lindenberg (Elkhorn, Wis.), who were visiting on their first stop of the second Bike Minnesota 350 ride. The pair started earlier that day at Como Park in St. Paul, Minn., and after hearing about their focus on clean energy, local agriculture and bike transit, Baatar decided to join them.

"They seemed to be very motivated people, and I was looking for an adventure," Baatar said. "I had a few other things to take care of before I could go, but I joined up with them on June 21."

His first day on the trail was also the group's most difficult one. The group started at 10 a.m. and biked over 100 miles from an alpaca farm in Lester Prairie to Sauk Centre in 90-degree heat. They reached their final destination in Sauk Centre around 2 a.m. the next day.

The group arrived at SJU on June 23 to tour the new solar farm. On the first Bike Minnesota 350 trip in October 2009, Aronow had visited the site as it was being built and talked with construction workers and College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University Sustainability Fellow Theo Eggermont.

The group spent their last night at Minnesota State Auditor Rebecca Otto's 80 percent carbon-neutral home in Marine on St. Croix before finishing at the Harriet Alexander Nature Center in Roseville on June 26.

Despite his sore muscles and numerous mosquito bites, Baatar enjoyed his adventure. In addition to raising awareness and learning more about sustainability and renewable energy, the trip also served as a tour of rural Minnesota.

"I met a lot of great people, and it's promising and motivating. If I work with green energy, I don't think I would actually be working because I would really enjoy it. It's fun and solves problems for the future," Baatar said.

"The trip reminds me of St. Benedict. He moved out alone to live differently and was very isolated at first, but then other people joined him," Baatar said. "A lot of what I'm learning and seeing doesn't come across in mainstream media. The [environmental] situation isn't hopeless. We can fix these problems by making individual changes."

The name Bike Minnesota 350 comes from the organization, a solutions-based organization founded by Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature. The organization uses 350 because it is the highest number of safe parts per million of carbon dioxide in the air, and also because the number is not limited to one language, therefore opening up the opportunity to connect with international communities.

July 6, 2010