Monthly Archives: September 2016

I am every cyclist…

Do you want to know how I came to be full time riding a bike?

I mean the real story, not the feel good one.  For all the years I was raising a child, I struggled to pay the bills, feed us, and maintain a car.  I somehow did all of this on 20 k per year without much outside help.  One summer we used food stamps (that was one of the early summers).  Every summer I paid my rent for three months with my tax return.  While other folks were planning on how to spend their tax return, (a flat screen? a trip to Wilmington?) I was carefully planning how to get bills paid, make sure I could keep a roof over our heads and stretching that 3,000 dollars as far as I could make it go.

Then sometimes something would go wrong with the car.  The year of the big cutbacks to assistant pay (where I went from making over 20k  per year to below), my daughter and I discussed how we’d make it through.  She was working part time by then and arranged to buy all of her school clothes.  She insisted that I keep on doing this job because it’s what I enjoy doing (she was right, I do), and that she simply make up the difference with her paycheck.  We cut out any unnecessary bills and we managed to pull through the beginning of the year except for the car.

The car needed something that was going to cost $700 dollars.  It needed that in order to be registered.  So we got together and discussed some more.  I could not face having to ask any family, or friends for money that year, on top of all the other things that were going on, so I made a decision.  We’d go car free.  We’d use alternative transportation to get around Charlotte.  I’d write about it…I still am.

To be honest I’ve used other than a car lots of times in my life, so I didn’t worry about it except that I knew it’d be hard for Madison.  The first few times she called from school saying she missed her ride were the hardest.  The first time I borrowed a car to pick her up, but after that I said, “Car free means we find other ways of getting around.”  So we did.

I’m saying all of this not as a sad story.  Cycling made us stronger.  It helped Madison become a better planner.  It made trips to the store a family fun event.  And of course it saved us money.  Thousands?, per year.  I’ve since had the money to get a much better car than I’ve ever been able to purchase as a single mother.  But I don’t want to drive anymore.

What I want to say here is that I’m every cyclist.  I’ve ridden behind the infuriating weaver (for a little bit, and afraid for my life, but he seemed to know what he was doing), I’ve ridden with cyclists who are much more aggressive and impatient than I am.  I’ve ridden up Tuckaseegee (hundreds of times on my way to USNWC for two years), and passed by cyclists who ride helmet free in the wrong bike lane–and waved and smiled and said hello.  I’ve ridden with bikers in gear, I’ve cried when forced to ride the Back Yard Trails on my commuter bike.  I’ve ridden with those infuriating cyclists who take the lane (we are so often squeezed by cars who won’t move over even a little), and I’ve ridden with cyclists who are afraid to take up more than an inch of road.  I’ve ridden with cyclists who, like me, don’t own cars, and with other folks who own two cars and seven bikes.  I’ve ridden with cyclists with varying accents, of various races, religious ideals, and sexual orientations.

We get on our bikes, and we ride.  The time I rode with the weaver, the crazy cyclist who goes in between cars and onto and off of sidewalks (you know who you are), that was probably the most scared I’ve been.  But other than that, I’m not intimidated by people on two wheels.

When I experience hostility from drivers, over myself or others, I’m frustrated.  I always get the line from cyclists and drivers actually, that bad cyclists are giving us a bad name. Meanwhile, there are so many drivers in our city giving drivers a bad name (distracted, impatient, thinking I’m the one person who needs to go through this red light, and my needs are greater than the community needs).  We don’t think of drivers giving other drivers a bad name even though 38,000 or so folks died of car crashes just last year alone.  That phrase “giving us a bad name,” only applies to cyclists for some reason.  It shouldn’t, but it does.

I’m writing this with a heavy heart today because among all the things that happened yesterday, one of them was my friend being purposely run over by a driver, while riding in the bike lane.  My friend Dread, whom everyone loves for his kindness.  Father, husband, son.  He is safe and alive, but probably not the same as yesterday.  So I want to say I am Dread.  I am my friend Noelle who was hit this summer.  I am Joe.  I am Greg.  I am Anna.  I am Rocky.  I am Geoff.  I am Jessica.  I am Kenya.

Watch for us please.  We are living, breathing human beings with families and people to love.  We want to live on this planet as hard and as long as you do.

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Bicycle Friday, Year 3

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Two years ago now, my friend Heather and I started on a unique journey together.  It started during recess one afternoon when we got to talking about my route to school and how it changed my morning.  I was telling her about the greenway, the occasional heron spotting, the trees, and how I generally arrived at school feeling, well, awesome.  She nodded at me.  We stopped talking and watched the kids running around the big, green schoolyard.  Then I said, “I really wish our children could have that as well.  That might really change the morning of more than a few of our kids, if they could start their morning getting themselves to school, outside in the fresh air.”

Heather looked at me and said, “Well, why can’t they?

That’s how we began.  We did our first Bicycle Friday ride in October.  Here was the plan:  Every Friday we’d show up in the park just after 8:00 and wait for families to arrive at the park and ride to school with us.  At that time, only one or two children that I knew of rode bikes to school.  It wasn’t very hopeful at that point.  We might have seven or ten kids each Friday that first fall.  Then in the winter it was crazy cold and I got discouraged, but Heather insisted we should just keep showing up.  “If we provide a consistent, safe opportunity for children to ride bikes to school, if we’re patient, it will happen.”  That’s how we made it through the first winter.  Sometimes Heather, her daughter Heidi (she didn’t have much choice) and often our friend Vaughn, who insisted to his mother that he could ride his bike to school, whatever the weather, were the only folks in the park on bikes.

Over that winter, we were joined by Ms Christy and her girls, whenever they could stand the cold.  Elsie was, at first, in a trailer hitched behind her bike.  Elsie doesn’t like the cold, so sometimes she’d be so bundled that you could barely see her.  Colin from my class joined us after that, and became so determined to ride his bike places, that I set him up to have a bike built with a bike finder/mechanic I know, and Colin was over the moon.  Also, unstoppable.  In the spring he started talking his mom into riding from Carmel/Colony up to our school, an 8 mile ride.He made them ride weekends as a family.  Any time one of these moms said, “It’s too ___ to ride,” the response was, “Ms. Bethanie rides in any weather.”

We developed a weather/donut related joke over time.  “Join us tomorrow for Bicycle Friday!  There’s a 70 percent chance of donuts.”  Heather and I took turns getting donuts in the mornings, and Heather also spent time making our first round of shirts out of bicycle artwork Colin had given me for my birthday that April.  We had a shirt making party and invited all of our regular families (we had about 7 regular families riding by then).  My friend Heather delivered that first round of shirts to the folks that had ordered them rolled up nicely and tied with ribbon.  It is in these small ways that Heather’s love of her life and her community so comes through.

Over time we’ve each brought our unique gifts to this project.  Heather knows how to show up and be present.  She’s a quiet but forceful human.  I bring my own gifts.  I’m good at loud inspiration and facebook advertising.  Mostly I like talking to kids. I love it each time a parent says that a little sister has been practicing so hard so they can learn to ride and join us.   I love Friday mornings, when the quiet peace of the park is interrupted with exclamation and laughter, with”passing on your left!” and “I made it over that hill with no hands!”  I love it when the children go off-roading on the park trails and we have to make sure everyone gets out safely.  I love how when someone falls, four children will offer to go back and help.  I love the moments at the end of the day on Bicycle Friday when I just want to go home and I look at all these kids and think…oh lord.  But then we start down the hill and once again there are a thousand moments to be grateful for.  Someone thought the hill was scary yesterday, but she made it all the way down.  Maybe my biggest gift that I add to our project is my joi de vivre.  Heather is the organizer, that’s for sure!

As we start our third year of this work together, I’ve been so inspired by our families and children.  One of the most unexpected things to come of our little project so far is seeing it spread it’s wings now.  Watching our first wave of children move on to middle school and ride bikes to school there.  Hearing about how they’ve invited new friends to ride and about how the bike rack our families put in at that school is now full.  Every day I show up at school to full bike racks (we’ve now installed 4), and one boy in my classroom who puts on his helmet before he leaves for the day like it’s the cool thing to do (his friends think so).

Over the past few years I’ve had so many people compliment me for this work, for how “we’ve changed things.”  But in the end, I’m the one who is changed.  It isn’t a gift I’ve given, so much as a gift I’ve received. I know my partner Heather feels this to.  We’ve both donated our time and money to this project, and our hearts really.  But what we get in return is  just another ordinary miracle.  It’s love.

So, at this beginning of year three, I’d like to say thank you…to the universe for this life, to Ms. Heather for always showing up in such a powerful way, and to Ms. Christy, for always riding sweep.