Monthly Archives: June 2017

The Gift of the Stank: or how being uncomfortable can change your life…

Last weekend I was taking a class where everything that could go wrong, quite possibly, did.  On the final day of the class I woke up just tired and crabby, too late to take a shower, even though I was already a day in to the sweaty, murky heat of summer in the South East without one.  I realized I wouldn’t have time to shower and get to class on time as I had overslept.

I threw some deodorant on and slid a comb through my hair…sprayed on some “dry wash”  spray and headed out for our uptown classroom.  Once there, I realized I’d dropped my wallet on the way so I quickly turned around and made a double route on my bike that humid Sunday morning, which means I produced twice the sweat as usual.  So I arrived at class sweaty, tired and certainly unhappy to be told we were all going out to cycle some more.  I was quite worried about how rank I was going to be at the end of the day.  How would I smell, how would my hair look?

That afternoon we finished up our riding drills and two of my classmates from out of town wanted to go on a ride around Charlotte but were not quite sure of where to ride.  So I nonchalantly told them, “I have a route.”  So already sweaty and questionable smelling from two days of sweat and sketchy hygiene habits, I proceeded on a tour of the city with some out of towners and friends.  We rode an eleven mile route and ended up back where we started next to Romaire Beardon Park.  I had somewhere to be later, and really did not want to just go home on such a beautiful day.  I was still thinking about stinking, so I did the next best thing to showering, which was to rinse off in the Romaire fountain and continue riding.

That night I returned from two days of riding outdoors at around seven pm.  It was perhaps the best shower I ever had, but even better was the lesson I learned, which I’ve been learning ever since I went car free.  Life, and myself, need not always be perfect.  I need not always be freshly showered with beautiful coiffed hair and accessories.  Life need not always be just so, without odd odors or small spills.

This morning I was sitting outside with my friend Heather after we each rode to meet at Duck Donuts for a phone meeting with some people from the NC State Active Routes to School organization.  We were each glowing from our efforts in the humidity on bicycles.  While we were sitting at our outside table, after our chat with Active Routes, we sat talking, like we always do.  That’s how Heather and I have come up with our best ideas, which include, but are not limited to:  Bicycle Friday and our last Donut Cake Party.  While we were there it started raining a bit.  I wondered if Heather would maybe want to get up and go in or go home, but she just sat there without even acknowledging it had begun to rain.  It was then I realized that I hope I’m friends with Heather for a really long time.  Not only because she doesn’t feel that rain will melt her,  but also because she deals with the uncomfortable more gracefully than almost anyone I’ve ever known.  The weird and the unusual don’t worry her.  She has endless patience for sparky spirits everywhere.  While we were there we watched birds gather on the sidewalk, talked to a mother and a child I knew a little about everything from raising a child with “issues” to the idea of riding a bike becoming something normal here, like it is in other places.  I mentioned that I can see that on the horizon, and we should all just keep working towards it as if it’s a real possibility (because it is).

While I was there, I was thinking again about my own discomfort, and how much of it over time has come from my perception of how others might see me.  My longing to be “normal,” that’s been a lifelong issue.  My need to “fit in.”  I’m in a place in my life, thankfully, where I know my best moments are when I let go of that need.  Those times when I forget about my own stank and keep moving (maybe rinse out my hair) through time and space, and those times when I forget to apologize for my own weirdness.   Those times I forget to try and be “normal.”  Those are the times I love the best.  Those are the times when I fly.

I’ve been ruminating on this for much of the week, and thinking about what it means to have the courage, the conviction of self acceptance.  Not the reactionary kind, where we’ve learned to react to all the things with which we don’t agree or which we don’t accept, but something about learning to live in the grace of knowing yourself, deep down and knowing when to push past the comfort zones of normal all the way to exceptional.

It’s a work in progress for me, as I’m sure it is for most of us.

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Bicycle Friday Year Three: And that’s a wrap…

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This has been the most unique and exciting year so far in the life of Bicycle Friday.  Heather and I began the year with terrific weather for bicycling and some of the largest packs of riders we’d seen.  We had a lot of new riders, and rides seemed to take an excruciatingly long time (sometimes we did not make it to school until after the time for clocking in had long passed).  We had to send out messages to parents to make sure children were on time to the ride, and Christy (the sweep) finally put her foot down and said we absolutely had to get to school more quickly since her children were showing up at the classroom before she got there.  Since Christy is a terrific sweep, we did our best.  We still had one or two kids who were persistently showing up as we were riding off, and I always get the vision of parents throwing them out of the car and unloading their bikes, tossing them a helmet and yelling, “Get going!”  I’ve not actually seen that happen, but it makes me laugh that it’s a possibility.

This year a bunch of new teachers and assistants have joined our efforts.  Ms. Heidi comes almost every week (and was the most recent person to get a tie dyed dress), two Ms. Jennifers and their children.  Ms. Amira and Mey and Alli.  We were even joined by our brand new principal Ms. Melanie, and her daughter, for a ride this year.

 

The 2016-17 school year was the first time we rode bikes in any temperature.  I talked to Heather in the fall, once the late summer crowds had gone down a bit and we were back to our core group of children who always ride with us, about cold weather rides because we always had a low temperature cut-off of 32 degrees  for rides.  This year Heather said, “Meh, let’s just show up and ride.  If children are comfortable riding in cold weather, they’ll be there, and the ones who aren’t won’t show.”  So that’s what we did.  Outside of one cold and rainy morning when we did cancel for rain, we rode in all temperatures.  Heather was right.  I thought the best part of that was that our children learned quickly how to dress for cold weather and it was fun to see the different get-ups they’d wear on the ride.  Vaughn wore a skeleton face-mask a lot and the Moody children always looked a bit like a cycling band of bank robbers.  Colin and AJ always wore a combination of ski and biking gear, like they were biking to the slopes.  Poor Kai could never get his hands warm enough, no matter who he convinced to trade gloves with him (one day it was his dad, and one day it was me).

Spring came and more and more children were joining us again to ride.  For myself, I will never forget the first time Colsen joined for a ride, because he ramped up our already extreme amount of boy cycling competition about a hundred and five percent.  Colsen is a mountain bike competitor and I believe that on his first ride he still had a racing tag on his handlebars.  Since I ride up front in the mornings, I got to witness this addition of a new male to the pack first hand, and I have to say, that energy was both humorous and exhausting to witness.  I must have said, ‘It’s a ride not a race,” about a hundred times, and it all seemed to fall on deaf ears.  On the other hand, that was one of the fastest rides we ever had, and all of our adults were excited about getting to school early rather than late.

I have two favorite memories from this year.  One is the day the tropical storm was due to roll through in the afternoon.  We’d contacted all of our parents to make sure nobody was left behind who didn’t want to ride, and we were frankly certain that everyone would simply get picked up.  But Colin, in the way that we’ve come to expect of him, was not only riding with us, but he was excited about it.  I believe his exact words were, “Imagine, we’ll always be able to say we rode bikes in a tropical storm!”  He called it, “Experiential!”  I think I mumbled something about, “we can’t get rid of these kids,” as I smiled in my rain gear riding home with Colin, Vaughn, Elsie and Bea.  At one point we had to lift our bikes over a giant, fallen tree.  I think that was my favorite part, seeing and hearing the children react to an actual tree down on the greenway, and standing in our line helping to pass the bikes and children over the giant trunk.

The other favorite memory was the day we were supposed to take the Christmas light ride up Hillside home, except we had a cold spell so terrible that it was in the twenties on our afternoon ride.  We still had about ten children, but mostly nobody wanted to ride up that hill.  Langston was complaining loudly about how we’d all die of frostbite (he’s a tad dramatic), and he wasn’t going….no way, no how.  As it happened, almost nobody wanted to ride, except I kind of did.  So we agreed that we’d split off.  I was going up the hill, and Heather and Christy would take the bulk of the group back, but whomever wanted to ride with me, could.  I figured I was on my own, but when I turned around, there were Lorcan, Colin and Vaughn all waiting to see the lights.  So we rode.  Checked out the lights, took a wrong turn in the neighborhood, but ultimately ended up on Jameston.  We all loved that ride, and it only took us about five extra minutes anyway.  Also, none of us died of frostbite.

One more favorite memory was showing up one morning after a hard night’s rain, getting going on our ride, only to realize that two of our children are puddle jumpers.  Both Cole and Elsie insisted on riding right in the gutter on the side of the road because that’s where all the water was.  They showed up to school smiling and happy, wet all the way up their backs, mud splashes on their faces, with wet pants, totally not caring about any of that.

I want to take a moment to mention the small steps Heather and I have made to support biking to school becoming a regular thing in Charlotte this year.  We’ve both attended meetings with the health department, we hosted Ben Miller (Bicycle Program Director for CDOT) to talk about what he does and to do a presentation about the coming changes in cycling infrastructure in Charlotte, we once again took children on the Mayor’s Ride along with the children who’ve come through our program and moved on to Sedgefield.  We held a Bicycle Donation night at the spring picnic for Trips For Kids to get used bicycles into the hands of children who need them.  We showed up for a city council meeting with a gaggle of children who all volunteered to speak, even though we’d asked them last minute and they only had a weekend to prepare.  I believe of all the moments this year, that was the proudest for Heather and I.  Seeing that our children want to participate in improving our community and supporting them finding the appropriate avenue to support change was an awesome task and honor.  Honestly, I cried through a lot of that.  I watched our first speaker getting very nervous as she listen to Kate Cavazza quote statistics and talk about budgets, and I got to witness true bravery that evening.  Knowing that you can be nervous and scared and you can still stand up and speak because it’s important to do so is a lesson for us all.  I was really proud of our children that evening.  

Heather and I have taken this journey (which takes absolutely all of the planning skills of both of us and then for the universe to show up and sprinkle magic fairy dust over our efforts) for three years now, and it continues to present us with challenges and opportunities for growth and change.  I’ve seen Heather over three years be such a wonderful force for change and advocacy.  She’s now working together as Sedgefield moves to JT Williams school, with city planners and cycling advocates to make cycling a possibility there.  It’s not an easy task and it will take work, but her daughter wants to be able to have a Bicycle Friday at the new school.

Bicycle Friday inspires all of us who participate, I think in part because of what it means–in addition to the joy it brings to our children.  We began with three people; two adults and a child that first winter when we were just getting started.  We’ve grown so much.  But not only that.  The idea that one or two people can stand together, can say, “We’re going to show up and create a safe place for change,”  That’s a big deal.  The small changes we take on, standing up when we’re nervous, being brave, going in bad weather–when circumstances aren’t perfect, mentoring each other and not giving up when it’s sometimes a challenge.  Those things are inspiring because we think of change as something big and unattainable, but it isn’t.  It’s the work of every day.  It’s sometimes just showing up in any weather and going anyway.

Thank you to my friend Heather, to Christy (the sweep), to Heidi for your support, to Ms Amira for riding with us even after your accident on your very first day and to every parent and child who has shown up for this whimsical adventure for the past three years.  Happy Summer.  Bike Love!