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By Karen Kefauver – Sentinel correspondent
May 15, 2009
Link to Sentinel article

Cyclists for cultural exchangeAsk Emilie Holder about touring on a bicycle and she’s quick to tout the benefits of two-wheeled travel.

“Visiting a place on a bike makes a huge difference
wherever you go,” she said. “For starters, bicyclists are less
threatening than cars. It is a slower mode of transportation. Also, to
see someone on a bicycle, especially carrying all their gear, makes
people want to reach out and help you no matter where you are from.”

Holder, a 25-year Santa Cruz County resident who is
in her 50s, speaks from experience. She pedaled through Poland, Slovakia
and the Czech Republic for nearly a month in 1995. Last summer, she
toured Turkey for three weeks with her 17-year-old nephew from Oregon.

On her international bicycling tours, Holder was part
of a program called Cyclists for Cultural Exchange [CCE], founded by
Santa Cruz resident Frank Pritchard. Launched as a non-profit in 2004
with roots dating back to 1989, CCE promotes, according to its Web site,
“peace and international understanding through exchanges between people
with a common interest in cycling.”

In Holder’s experience, it has been successful.

“We found that when we cycled through villages in
Turkey, people were very serious at first. But after we said, Hello,’
formally in Turkish, then people smiled, waved and opened up
communication,” said Holder, a respiratory therapist and longtime member
of the Santa Cruz County Cycling Club. “It was thrilling to see this
happen between two cultures on opposite ends of the world.”

On Sunday, CCE celebrates its mission of cycling
diplomacy with the 20th annual Strawberry Fields Forever, a recreational
bike tour with 30-, 65- and 100-mile routes that roll through Santa
Cruz and Monterey counties. The annual recreational ride raises funds
for CCE programs. That includes exchange trips like the ones Holder
participated in, as well as projects like local bike builder Craig
Calfee’s bamboo bikes program in Africa and Bike Smart, which educates
county children about bike safety.

“I feel like an expectant mother,” joked ride
organizer Pritchard about Sunday’s event, which has filled to capacity
with 1,200 riders.

Pritchard is also coordinating a delegation of 14
riders from Russia, Poland and Turkey who are coming to Santa Cruz to
celebrate two decades of CCE. They will ride the Strawberry Fields
Forever event, then join other local residents on a 10-day bike tour in
Napa that Pritchard has organized for them.

“I think for me, CCE is an opportunity to represent
America and the American spirit at a level that the world does not see
so often,” said Pritchard, who met his wife and CCE partner, Vita
Pritchard, in a Moscow cycling exchange program in 1991.

Holder, one of 150 volunteers for CCE, indicated the organization has thrived off the goodwill of its founders.

“Frank and Vita are amazing humanitarians. They are
both unconditionally committed to world peace,” said Holder, a board
member and 20-year volunteer at CCE who moved to Northern California two
weeks ago.

Holder said she has tried to be an ambassador for the
program, spreading goodwill wherever she goes, much like the
Pritchards. In return, new doors have opened for her abroad and at home.

“This is far more than a bike ride,” she said. “It
made me realize that there were possibilities for things that I felt
were impossible.”

Karen Kefauver is a freelance journalist specializing
in endurance sports and adventure travel stories. Her cycling column,
Spin City, appears monthly in the Sentinel.

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