It was raining the first time I met Charlotte. We met on the second floor landing of the Imaginon at one of the round tables. Our mutual friend Pam introduced us. It was raining that day and I showed up in my raincoat, perhaps trailing water droplets behind me. Charlotte came in a few minutes later, still helmeted, also in raincoat, dripping wet. She was a tiny giant. That’s what I’ve come to think of her as. She took off her helmet and her hair corkscrewed out in all directions. She had that glow you can only get from riding on a rainy day.
Pam introduced us because she runs a cycling class called Cycling Savvy. She’d had interest from parents who wanted to introduce their children (safely) to the rules of cycling. But Pam is more comfortable working with her adult class, and both Charlotte and I work with children. We are also both car free.
I came with my bad idea. I sat and I waited for an opening and I said, “This is what I’d love to see happen.” We went from there. With stalls along the way (my lack of confidence and my unwillingness to share the plan and ask for help being one of the main stalls).
For me at least (I try to never speak for Charlotte) the real goal of camp was not necessarily cycling, cycling was just the caveat. Or that’s what I mentioned. My concern in the city of Charlotte right now is our lack of diversity. Our “Bubble Living,” where we know people from our own sector, our own community, and we never get around to seeing a different kind of life than our own. We never quite see it as important enough to really work on making friends outside our comfort zone. That was one of the things I mentioned, that expensive camps (and I know from great experience as a poor, working single mom, that this was true), make it impossible for children of lesser means to get the experiences that many children in our city take for granted. I remember how hard and long I had to look (and that some summers it was just not possible) to find affordable camps. What we need/ed in Charlotte was a camp where a cross section of society could see each other as community and learn to care across socioeconomic boundaries..
Charlotte and I planned from fall to spring. We had weekly meetings to talk about what we wanted to do. We had just two weeks of camp to plan, but so many ideas we needed to organize. We had curriculum sessions and route planning sessions. We involved a few friends, Harry and Mr. Winters, and were invited on a trip out to Portland to see that city’s successful bike camp once our own camp was done. I was thrilled and afraid of those early decisions. I enjoy the safety net of a long term job, a stable community, and as little change as I can get away with. The unknown always terrifies me.
I generally write about experiences that move me, but I never did write about camp, and some of the things I experienced in camp were life altering experiences. I didn’t write about it while it was happening, because my only goal during camp was to have it be safe and successful. And I found when I tried afterwards, I could just never put it into words.
During our summer at camp last year, Trips for Kids paid for six children to attend. One of those children that first week spoke no English. I remember in the beginning wondering how the heck that was going to work. We used a lot of hand gestures and a lot of physical demonstrations. We had squirt guns and lots of park time. But we had a language barrier. Or I did. What we found was that our community gelled in some strange way, in the language that all children speak which is play. I found that when he needed something translated to me, one of the other children generally knew what he was trying to say. I watched that week through movement, through Charlotte’s mechanic lessons, and through having to ride as a group, community happened. It happened with our boy who had to build forts out of wood in the park, through our two children who were incredibly shy. Through our two boys who needed to be moving at every second of EVERY day. It happened with the teenaged mutant ninja turtle helmeted boy, and the twin girls who were clamoring for road bikes. It happened as we sat together at the picnic tables mesmerized as Charlotte sang and played her guitar. It happened through the older boy who came from Trips For Kids a day late, and at first would mostly not talk to anyone (I was so worried). I came to see that his silence was quiet observation, because at the end of the week, he won the tire changing competition, and had a deep understanding about everyone’s odd quirks and flaws, and what made each child–and adult–unique. It happened on Thursday, when this boy who spoke no English came into the kitchen and squirted me in the back with his squirt gun and I chased him outside and sprayed him until we both dissolved in laughter. It happened one day our second week of camp when we asked the children to share something that they enjoyed about our ride to Winghaven (a seventeen mile round trip from our building), and a quiet young man from the Trips for Kids group, remembered every detail of our ride, and how amazing it was to take that series of tunnels, which was Sugar Creek Greenway, across the city.
Community also happened last year because we were stunned and honored by the support of the entire community. I’ve learned over the past few years, even as I hate change and having to do something that I think should happen that I don’t really want the work of doing, is that when you stand up to do something good, your community (if you’ve worked together on building one) will absolutely stand up with you. Our ride volunteers from all walks of life, of all ages (from the masters to the twenty somethings) showed up on rides, not just for safety, but to encourage new riders and to support something they wanted to see. Even the adults who had not much experience with children found that they could connect over a shared love of cycling and came to see our camp children as young friends.
It was one of those experiences where every day I was at some point ecstatic and at some point exhausted (five pound jugs of water are no joke to carry on a hot day), and where every night I went home and cried a little to know how very much love and goodness exists in the world and that I’m so proud to have gotten to this place in my life, to be able to do this difficult, bafflingly wonderful, work.
Check out our plans for this year at http://www.cltbikecamp.org.