About six years ago now I read the book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, which documented the lack of natural experiences in the lives of today’s children (here’s a link to the description/book page, if you are interested http://richardlouv.com/books/last-child/ ). I was raising my own child at that time and worked hard on connecting her with the outdoors on the limited budget of a single mom. Surprisingly (or maybe not), thinking back on our First Wheels week of CLT Bike Camp, I was reminded of those two things.
Our camp was hosted this week by my Church, HLUMC, on Hawthorne Lane. We were headquartered out of the gym there, which was very low tech. We didn’t even have AC. They were very patient with our little ones, as a few of the mornings we spent doing drills in the parking lot. We also did that thing I’ve realized children on bikes will do in any parking lot, anywhere on the planet, which is to ride in circles until something better comes along. We spent our first morning in Independence park, broken into three groups working on skills and drills and learning about nutrition. Also, we played some awesome games. Charlotte and I weren’t expecting quite the range of ages we had at camp, which is why we divided camp up into three skill levels this year. What we found is that sometimes skill level and age don’t necessarily correspond. You may get a six year old who is a BMX competitor (we did have that) or a ten year old who’s just learned how to ride a bike. We were concerned that we wouldn’t know what to do with such a wide range of children (ages 6-12) but as it happened, we didn’t really need to know that. Over the course of the week, community meshed (as it generally does). The older encouraged and supported the younger, and occasionally the younger impressed us with tricks, like standing on top of his seat, holding onto his handlebars and kicking one leg out behind him while trick riding in Freedom Park.
It’s a somewhat true thing about life, you just don’t know what you’re going to get. But that’s generally combined with another truth which is this: things generally work themselves out in the end.
On Monday we went over to Chantilly Park in the afternoon, which has hardly anything exciting to do there. There’s an old set of swings, a covered area and two small playgrounds. I, at least, worried that the kids would get “bored,” and complain that there wasn’t anything to do. But that didn’t happen. They invented games, rode their bikes on the dirt path and climbed the equipment (one set has a king of the hill type seat on top of everything that provides a bird’s-eye view of the park). Charlotte and I and our volunteer, Michelle, sat and talked and observed. We made ourselves available to whomever showed up for a break from the others, and spent an afternoon in the most pleasant way, watching children display feats of strength and magic, (“watch this!”), and taking in the surprisingly cool weather. In the end we all road home, along a new stretch of greenway that connects Chantilly with Elizabeth, and back to church to be picked up by parents.
Every morning, a tiny boy from the neighborhood came over to ride bikes with the kids at camp. He’d stand waiting at the little opening in the holly bushes with his little bike and his mom, for the kids to arrive and start riding parking lot circles (they really do that, nonstop), and then he’d join. Nobody ever said he was too small, and they all seemed to know to be aware he was around. To tread lightly. That’s the real gift of mixed ages, a learning curve of how to treat others. If you’re older, you are responsible to set the example, especially of courtesy and kindness. If you are younger, you get to try to impress these grand heroes. We had a lot of that going on.
During our low tech week of camp we rode to Independence Park, Freedom Park, Veterans Park, Chantilly Park (twice) First Ward Park, Imaginon, the Recyclery and Nadine’s community garden. We went slow and took stops along the way. It was magical. There’s really something magical about riding a bike. We made left turns sometimes, and sometimes we crossed tricky intersections with great care. Charlotte and I listened to children yell, laugh, support and joke. And in spite of a general lack of video games, phones or ipads, nobody was bored. I don’t remember anyone even complaining about the heat. We saw turtles and birds of all kinds. At Freedom Park we even got to be surprised and slightly alarmed by a copperhead in the creek. One child read us jokes from a joke book, and another, when he could not get others to dare him to do things, would say to nobody in particular, “I dare myself.”
We had a great group of volunteers just like last year, who made it their mission to just be with us for whatever time they were asked, which in today’s world is such a huge gift–to take time out–to be present with children and support their safety because it is important. We got yoga lessons, nutrition lessons, bicycle history lessons, bicycle maintenance lessons, mountain biking lessons, trick riding lessons from our teenage mentor Daniel, and Free Pizza to boot. Also the children got to pick squash and take it home (you’re welcome parents).
I am so appreciative of the investment of our parents who trusted us with their children. We are also so blessed by a wonderful cycling community who continues to show up and show the next generation how to ride a bike. I believe I speak for both Charlotte and I, partners in this crazy idea that we brought into the world, when I say we felt both love and gratitude this week, and did our best to repay it in kind.
Feel free to visit our website at http://www.cltbikecamp.org