The Strangest Souvenir Ever and What I learned on a Wenatchee Bike Trip

I hate recycling.

Ok, that's a bit rough and not entirely true. But I do find it to be a pain in the ass, especially when the rules change and at work you recycle one way and at home it's another and now we have to add a new compost container and listen to radio shows about how couples are fighting over new recycling rules and waa waa waa.

So here's the funny thing. Last week I was wondering what could possibly get me thinking more positively about recycling. Because it is for a very good cause, even if I'm occasionally suspicious about where everything ends up. The end-goal is to save Mother Earth and all that fine stuff.

So on this note of wondering how I can have a better recyling frame-of-mind: Whamo! I run right into my answer.

Tonya Berg! This weekend Tonya and I went to Wenatchee to ride our bikes with a group of fun bike crazies. And there's no one else I can have as much fun riding and complaining and laughing about it with than Tonya.

OK, a quick run-down on Ms. Berg: She's a healthcare professional, a Masters swimmer and mean breaststroker; she loves to watch TV a lot and does so guiltlessly. She drinks buttermilk before bed, is a huge Cougs fan and shops the sales racks like a champ. And she drinks a few Diet Cokes during the day ("as good as water!" she likes to say).

But here's a quintessential Tonya experience: If you're out and about walking with her and there's a little bit of trash here and there, she'll daintily bend over and pick it up and walk it to the closest trash bin--without saying a word. There is no "What's wrong with people" or "Jesus Christ goddamm SOBs...." She just quiety picks up whatever is in her way and puts it in the garbage and nothing changes about her body language or movement or dialogue, not a trace of resentment. As simple as that.

So on that note, there's this. It's Sunday morning and Tonya and I are packing up our things, while our third roomie, Jan is preparing for another day of intense cycling. I see Tonya rustling through the trash and pulling out the few cans and bottles in there. She says a few words to tell us casually she'll take them home and recycle them. !!!???

I must've said something because she then told us about the souvenirs she brought back from her trip to Tahiti a year or so back. She brought back all the plastic Coke bottles she drank while there--to recycle. In a giant suitcase.

"I smooshed them all down really well," she explained--as though that would make any difference. "Well, they don't really recycle there, they have to ship it all out," she added, as if that would explain things. And anyone who knows Tonya knows she likes to down a few bottles of Diet Coke per day. She brought home more than a few, that's for sure.

So, with that news downloaded I watch her pack about five bottles and cans into a plastic bag and haul it out to the car with her 17 other overnight bags. Just like that. There's no righteousness, no prostletyzing, nuthin'. It's a very remarkable attitude. She's a remarkable and strange and funny and unique person, our Tonya. But she also lives her life by example, and never once have I see her force her beliefs or ways upon someone else.

All day today I've wanted to pick up the phone and call Jan and say "Can you believe what Tonya did with those plastic Coke bottles?" Then I want to call and email all our mutual friends and say, "Did you know Tonya brought back many many plastic bottles of Diet Coke from Tahiti?"

Instead, I'll just write it here and proclaim Ms. Tonya Berg the Patron Saint of Recycling and other good deeds.

And maybe a few recycling cranks like me won't bitch so much while making way for more bins and containers.

Patron Saint Tonya poses at a gas station break for Coke and beef jerkey. The number on her bike hemlet is from Ironman Canada 2005. Her training regime is also what makes Tonya unique. It goes something like this: "Ah, once around the lake is enough riding." "Oh, a few times around Greenlake is enough running." "Man I could use a red beer!"