Archive for the ‘Bikeful Beginnings’ Category

20 Things I Love About Bike Commuting

The raccoons, opossums, deer, and fox families watching me in the morn

Neoprene booties and gloves for the rain/cold

Feeling like a ninja on bike in a balaclava

Feeling like I’m riding in a dream in early am fog

The climbs getting easier

The irony of almost being hit by a deer

Cars who watch out for me

Trying to get into my 3rd ring in the front & realizing I’d been there

Running over a snake but not hurting it

Blinky lights and a down low glow

Waving at familiar faces on the ride home

The smell of bacon on Frontage Road in front of hotels at 6am

Muscles in my legs

Arriving to work stress free

Leaving school to work through the stress by bike

The smell of skunks at play on Northside High School Road (I know that’s weird, but I really do like it)

Miles under my belt (600+ :))

Downhills with no stop signs

That my husband helps make it happen, thanks honey!

That it means I get to talk about bikes and biking more!

Still wandering…

Since our bikeful wanderings in Damascus, Sparta, and other holy places in southern mountains, we are keeping the move on, eeking out every bit of summer before the school-term kicks up, for me first, then for my gals. (Still haven’t figured out a way to home school and make a living at the same time–maybe I’ll open a ‘wild-school’ for outdoor adventure in the future?)

My girl clan did FloydFest for world music and heavenly vibes, then a mountain lake in Alabama for family high life, then Clifftop in West Virginia for an Appalachian string music festival and camping and visiting with old friends.  We are perched to head out this morning for a week with 4 generations of family women at Smith Mountain Lake. 

I’ll be back in town to get back in the groove soon enough.  Til then, we’re enjoying the gypsy vibe and the outdoor life.

Some Headlines

Hit and Run of Cyclist and Child in San Francisco

Motorist Shoots Bicyclist in Asheville, NC

Firefighter charged with shooting cyclist carrying his 3 year old

These stories are being discussed widely in the child-hauling bike community, and daily I stop to think about my routes and how I can best avoid traffic.  Okay, I have to admit that the aggression and carelessness of drivers is scaring me into getting out less.  I have been more hesitant to take a local trip or two, have restructured some play dates to be at our house, and have asked for help from friends and family more often for rides and pick-ups.  I rethink the grocery trips and go only if I absolutely need to, or early in the am alone.  And I’ve prolonged my summer bike camping trip because I’m nervous about facing Blue Ridge Parkway traffic with kids alone.  The risk is high enough when it’s just me riding, yet I certainly feel more able to stand my ground in traffic as a solo rider commuting to work and back.  But when it’s my children in the thick of it, the worries increase.   Frankly, it’s been debilitating. 

But I’m not giving this up.  I have to get over this fear.

I’m happy about many of the changes in my life because of this choice:  health, community, my kids being bike-crazy.  I also have some figuring to do, and sometimes, I will have to weigh whether it would be better to drive in a given situation, like picking a child up at a high traffic destination in 5 0’clock traffic.  Maybe I will be forced to drive a car when safety is an issue.

The need is there for more riders, more education about cycling, driver education classes that incorporate bike sensitivity, and a general public discussion about how to protect the lives of cyclists and how not to irritate drivers into aggression.  I realize that if cyclists are smart, considerate and careful, we can go a long way towards educating people who do not like or understand cyclists.

On a lighter note:

Alabama bans wine with naked nymph on label   Where can I buy a case of this wine? 🙂cycles_cabernet_centralcoast_2004_sized

Wandering Gypsies

She's excited about riding on her own as much as possible.  Longest ride to date: 25 miles!

She's excited about riding on her own as much as possible. Longest ride to date: 25 miles!She's put in some hard miles too, and has yet to fall asleep on the back.carlite, escaping to the woods to ride bikes and enjoy being outside

 Xtracycle Ivyhappy camper

My two daughters and I packed up a car and escaped our town looking for adventure.  We found it 150 miles away on a week-long camping/biking trek that took us from Roanoke to Damascus, then through Grayson Highlands, to Sparta, then to Doughton Park, North Carolina near Boone.   We biked, played, swam, ate, talked, biked, ate, biked, ate, and camped in some of the most beautiful forests in Southern Virginia and NC.  Elsa got her first real taste of single track on the Lum trail and Ivy put in long but happy hours on the xtracycle.   I’ll have mountain biking children yet!

 The three of us met some fun families:  John, with 5 of his 11 children, camped nearby and entertained us for hours with stories, great food time and time again, and conversation.  Later we met Bettina and her two children.  They are from Germany, staying in the US for 3 years (in hot Mobile, AL).  She is on a summer getaway, and like me, is traveling by herself with her children.  However, she’s staying out in the wild hitting campgrounds all over the East for 6 weeks–she has 3 more weeks to go.  She became my traveling companion later in the trip when we headed East, then South.   

John graciously shuttled us to the lake for sun and swimming
John graciously shuttled us to the lake for sun and swimming (Joanne, Annika, Elsa, Ivy, Naomi, Joseph, Josiah, Lief, and Victoria)

Bettina holding Lief, and John at the lakealways feasting


One of the greatest adventures of this trip was leading 8 kids down the Virginia Creeper trail.  John was shuttle man again, and this was our second Creeper day, so the girls and I felt happy about not paying for shuttles or biking all the way up to come down.  He took just below the top at Green Cove and dropped the me and the crew off for a pleasant 16 mile journey into Damascus.  Amazingly, we had no malfunctions, major crashes, or technical difficulties.  The kids’ only disagreement was who was going to be in front.  We enjoyed the lush copses, the easy trail, the beautiful pools, and the exploration in the creeks.    I enjoyed the life of an outdoor bike adventure guide and wondered if that was my true calling.  It’s easy to think that when you have such an easy time of it.  Still, kids are happiest in the wild, evident by the wonder, excitement, and joy in the faces of the gang of 8.

Thanks, John!  The Xtracycle sits proudly strapped for a trip up the mountain
Thanks, John! The Xtracycle sits proudly strapped for a trip up the mountain

shuttling up

Couldn’t get that helmet off of her

happy crew, ready for the trail

 kids on rock, best bikers ever!

beautiful poolMama PelotonInto the wild

We had a grand adventure in Damascus: We made it through good weather and bad, braved thunderstorms and torrential rain, increased bike mileage and hill climbing, and general toughness.  But we’d hiked, biked, swam, and camped in the same place, and my wandering spirit was pressing me to move on.  Bettina was heading  southeast and asked if we were interested in traveling together for awhile as the kids were getting on well.  We agreed.   After a wonder-filled ride through Grayson-Highlands, we spilled out into Sparta, NC.  There was a music festival happening this weekend and it seemed a good place to refuel, re-supply, and hear some music.  We ended up camping at the festival, a fiddler’s convention, at the fairground site in lovely downtown Sparta.  We heard some familiar tunes, listened to amazing musicians, and met more great folks who were happy to share their passion for music.  The children were occupied by an enormous dirt pile where they pretended to be gold miners, then they rolled about on the steep ridge that looked onto the music, and played happily.  My husband, an old time musician himself, would have loved being here, and it was here that the three of us started really missing daddy. We took notes on the festival, and promised to bring him back next year.

We camped near the top of the bleachers with a great view and ear of the stage.  We avoided the bowels of the RVs this way, and were lulled to sleep with tunes into the wee hours of the night.
We camped near the top of the bleachers with a great view and ear of the stage. We avoided the bowels of the RVs this way, and were lulled to sleep with tunes into the wee hours of the night.

tiny tent city on the ridge in Spartahappy campers, Elsa and Annika


After Sparta, we headed down into North Carolina via the parkway, and came upon a terrific camp spot at Doughton Park.  A women’s work day was going on at the Brinegar cabin, exhibiting the toil that women went through on a daily basis.  We avoided that exhibit like the plague, feeling firsthand that we were working hard enough at the moment.   The kids played well enough, but signs of fatigue were showing.  We stayed for a night, but on Sunday, we knew it was time to go home.  We were missing Daddy something fierce, and we could all use a bath and a night’s rest in a bed.  We loaded up and headed home on the parkway, for a gorgeous 130 mile cruise home.  After a rest, we plan to go back out again, Bettina-style, possibly back-packing, though I’m feeling like a bike-packing trip may be due us soon.

Bettina is a Waldorf kindergarten teacher in Germany, and we had wonderful conversations about the raising of children, the differences in schools here and there, and the simplicity in living a life where kids are outside and moving, imagining, dancing, and negotiating with each other within nature.  I’m struck again by how complicated things seem in our winter life, particularly when school is in session, and am thankful for summer wanderings.  Our purpose then is to make it last and be as purposeful and meaningful as we can, to take it with us into the winter, and to always get outside.

Sad News

I am always distraught at the news of fellow cyclists’ deaths.  This one hits very close to home.  While I don’t know James well, and have only dealt with him briefly at the Share Bike shop in Roanoke, I wish him greatest condolences for the loss of his brother, Bruce Rosar, killed yesterday by a car in North Carolina. 

It was only 10 days ago that we lost a cyclist in Blacksburg.  Ride safely, everyone.

Tomorrow, I meet with James’ colleague Ron McCorkle to discuss possible sharebike/bikes not bombs efforts in our locale.  Afterwards, mijas and I are traveling south to Damascus to get away from the commuter-life in Roanoke.  Yes, we are driving a car down there (cars for escapes are in my rules), but will park, camp, and bike commute to and fro, 40+ miles in trail time in a couple of days with kids, camp, swim, and generally love summer vacation.  Updates to follow.

Bikes Not Bombs in Roanoke?

Bikes Not Bombs  (<-cool youtube video) promotes bicycle technology as a concrete alternative to war and environmental destruction. For 25 years, BNB has been a nexus of bike recycling and community empowerment both in lower income neighborhoods of Boston and in the nations of the Global South. BNB’s programs involve young people and adults in mutually respectful leadership development and environmental stewardship, while recycling thousands of bicycles.  From Website Bikes Not

I was impressed with the Xtracycle company for many reasons, but one was that they created the cargo utility bike after doing service work in Senegal, Nicaragua and other countries with Bikes Not Bombs, “which promotes bikes as an alternative to war and environmental destruction”, helping people get to work and back and carry out basic functions of day-to-day living.  Our country is under stress in numerous ways, and the people hardest hit are always the ones with fewer means.  The people who rely on mass transit, walking, and proximity to shopping are the ones who could benefit from a “Bikes Not Bombs” style bicycle drive.

Today, Randolph Walker of Clarke Avenue made an excellent point in today’s Roanoke Times Letters section.  He asks, why are the folks who walk from their apartments everyday in his neighborhood, who take the bus to work and to the store everyday, not the ones who are covered in the news for being green, for sacrificing something, for doing something brave.  I agree.  These are forgotten soldiers, average folks who plan their days without the benefit of a car sitting in the parking lot, who have to scrounge the $3 to make it to work and back and in time to pick up children from daycare.  These are people who have it way harder than I have it, and they are the ones who deserve the attention for persevering, for making ends meet, and for being way ahead of the green trend by sheer fact of finance.  I agree, more should be done to celebrate these folks who, without choice,  lessen their footprint on the resources of our world every day.  I want to find a way to give them a bike.  If communities in cities like Boston and Phoenix can get Bikes Not Bombs local grassroots efforts off the ground to help young people and adults in low economic neighborhoods, maybe we can here too.  I’m especially attracted to the Girls In Action effort, teaching young girls bike safety, bike handling, and comradery.  Let me know your ideas.

In the news…  Thank you Beth Macy and Eric Brady for revealing my antics to Roanoke!  This is a photo album of the governor’s ride yesterday.  In the first photo you can see me (red t-shirt) and Elsa (blue tie-dye and pink helmeted blond kid).  It is with sadness and irony that this too is in the news.  Woman hit by truck, killed on bike.  She was here visiting from Portland, Oregon, the biking capital of the US.  She was killed in Blacksburg, our bike-friendly neighbor to the south.  My condolences for her family are extended, and with sorrow and frustration do I wonder how this happened.

One mom takes up a ‘car less’ challenge with kids on bike

Chris Howell followed the lead of River Laker and ditched her car, but she’s doing it with some additional cargo.

By Beth Macy

Ivy Howell, 4, smiles after her mom puts on her bike helmet. Ivy said her mom  

Ivy Howell, 4, smiles after her mom puts on her bike helmet. Ivy said her mom “makes everything fun.” 

Chris Howell says the experiment is teaching her daughters Ivy (left) and Elsa (right), that it is possible for everyone to do their part to make a difference.ERIC BRADY The Roanoke Times

Chris Howell says the experiment is teaching her daughters Ivy (left) and Elsa (right), that it is possible for everyone to do their part to make a difference. 

“Shy, awkward girl rides bikes with kids in tow.”

That’s how the English teacher and mom of two announced her plan a few weeks ago. She was accepting the challenge of that gregarious, cycling librarian-turned-carbon-emissions activist, River Laker, who’d made his six-month experiment as the “Car Less Brit” a Roanoke cause celebre.

But Chris Howell raised him one when she started blogging last month about her own six-month experiment to give up her car in favor of two-wheeling it instead.

Howell, 40, isn’t just grocery shopping and generally running a household from the back of her bike. She’s also pulling along her daughters, 4-year-old Ivy and 6-year-old Elsa.

She’s reducing the family’s carbon footprint, meeting neighbors and getting into shape.

“This is different because I’m a normal mom with two kids, not some elite cyclist,” said Howell, who also rides intermittently to work at Northside Middle School. “People have said, ‘You’re endangering your children.’ But if you ride in a car, you’re endangering your children. … And the girls are getting so much more out of it, which outweighs the risk in my opinion.”

The girls are learning that people can get around without using resources, that “it’s good to care and in some small way try and make things a little better,” she said.

They’re learning, too, that sometimes it’s best to plunge into a project rather than wait for the perfect gear and equipment — and weather — to present themselves.

It also helps, as Howell has learned, to have an in-the-know friend on call.

For that, she turns not to the “Car Less Brit” but to someone who’s been bike-commuting to work even longer than Laker. And to his son’s school. And even to the tennis lessons he gives at Roanoke-area parks — with ball hoppers sticking out of his panniers.

Howell calls Rob Issem her “bike guru.” He’s the one she called when things weren’t rolling along smoothly with her initial ride — a $300 used tandem, with a pull-along trailer for daughter No. 2 attached to the back.

Early in the experiment, the handlebars on the tandem came loose not far from their house in Old Southwest, causing a near-miss with an oncoming car.

They walked the rest of the way. Issem suggested they buy an Xtracycle, a safer contraption that better suited their needs: It has room for two children, with the little one seated in a regular child’s bike seat and the older one in front of her, holding onto Mom for support.

Issem has been commuting to work on his bike for 12 years — even when he lived on Bent Mountain, though the distance now from his Oak Grove area home to his job in Southwest Roanoke is just three miles.

“I love what Chris is doing,” he said. “For my son and the future of the Roanoke area, projects like hers really stand to raise awareness that families like ours really are interested in this, and when they’re building roads or creating legislation, we should be considered.”

Roanoke’s cycling culture may not be as ingrained as it is in bike-friendlier cities like Portland, Ore., but support is picking up, advocates say.

Howell has even inspired her lawyer-husband and former Roanoke Times reporter, Isak Howell, to ride to work at his downtown law office — in a business suit. “I look ridiculous probably,” he said.

He wraps a reflective band around the legs of his dress pants to keep them from snagging in the chain.

He worries for his family about inattentive drivers but added that he and his wife spend evenings mapping out low-traffic routes she can take. She’s also careful to keep most trips within a mile- or two-mile radius of their home.

“It’s been great to put biking back into our lives,” he said. “And I think the kids are going to have great memories of it.”

Judging from a recent outing to the Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op, they will. The only complication the threesome had on the 15-minute ride was when Elsa dropped Esmerelda, her yard sale doll and boon companion (a tagalong reporter was dispatched to pick her up).

Halfway there, the trio stopped to talk to Tiffani Reynolds, who also recently committed to a car-free existence, though this time she was pushing her two small children in a stroller, not on a bike.

River Laker, now in his second six-month stint as the “Car Less Brit,” said he’s been heartened by the response to his community challenge. When he asked his Facebook friends and blog followers to join him in giving up their cars last month, Howell was the first to respond. Since then, he’s learned of at least two other families participating, including Reynolds’.

“Chris is strong-willed in a very good way,” said Laker, whose experiment has garnered media attention from as far away as Prague.

“The core thing is that it’s fun,” he said. “We’re doing this for the right reasons, but we’re not trying to do it with the dry and preachy tone that some green people have.”

No cycling snobbery allowed, either, he said, referring to hard-core cyclists who insist on Lycra everything and top-of-the-line gear.

While Laker broke down and finally bought a pair of padded Lycra bike shorts, he was too embarrassed to wear them.

“I think it looks stupid and immodest,” he said. “We want to show people that you really don’t need all this gear or knowledge to get out there and do the right thing.”

For her part, Howell prefers regular shorts, T-shirts and Keen sandals — and has been known to sport a skirt on the Xtracycle.

Besides their helmets and copious amounts of sunscreen, the girls wear whatever they want — lots of pink and purple, sparkly Tinkerbell sunglasses.

“I love riding to the science museum,” Elsa said.

“I love Mommy,” Ivy said. “She makes everything fun.”

They’re making more friends in the neighborhood, their mom said.

“This has really connected us to people. I’m fairly shy, but now I find myself stopping to talk to people more and visiting, all the things you don’t do when you’re driving,” she said.

(Just so you know, the two mile radius is often greater and many days is several times a day.  We live in Old Southwest, chose it purposefully for local urban living, and can get downtown easily as well as to the Grandin area.  But kids are active, and trips often involve going here, then there, then back home, then back later.  I also have a 16 mile round trip commute to work, so I plan to get in great shape very soon! 🙂 )