Category Archives: family biking

When We Choose Not to Go

Last week had a couple good examples of giving up, or maybe it’s giving in.

Following Columbus Day, the littlest one, Oliver, and I hung around the house, stared at the overgrown raised beds behind the garage (made a plan of attack), cleaned the dishes, folded the laundry, then headed out to pick up Avery (6yo) at school to take him to an appointment. We were going from home to school to the children’s hospital on a route we had taken a couple times. Brent met us at school and accompanied us to the hospital. Front and center, covered parking, that was in use. A sweet sight.

When we choose not to go
The behind the garage look at my spring project. Where to start? Oy vey.
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Women and Children’s Hospital Bike parking.

To head home we opted for going around Delaware park, also a mostly familiar route. We stopped for playground and snack time, then carried on. We paused to take in the autumn scene over Hoyt Lake. Ok, we paused because after climbing up the hill and the spiral overpass, I needed it (also an e-assist).

MAP link from school, to hospital, to park, to home.

When we choose not to go
Unfortunately the path to the right doesn’t get me where I need to go. Buffalo has hills.
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Hoyt Lake at Delaware Park. AKA my rest break.

Once home I assembled my plan to attend an open house at one of the schools we are considering for Elliot (9yo) next year. We really want to make informed decisions and these open houses will help us complete his application. Brent works several nights a week, so it’s me, five kids, dinner duties, homework monitoring, and all the usual. I don’t mind not having the extra adult hands, but that night I also wanted to make this open house. Here were several of the options I had in mind and some of the thoughts on each:

  • Bike all the children to the open house (it’s only 3miles each way, but it would be dark on the way back, I haven’t ridden there before and I am not familiar with the neighborhoods or the streets, the children wouldn’t get their work done or their dinner before a reasonable bedtime)
  • Bike the youngest children only (the older ones could manage a dinner and homework, we’d only have to take one bike, could hope for snacks at the open house to hold over the younger children and feed them more when we return)
  • Take the bus with any combination of all or the littles (missed the first bus by the time I thought of this plan, second bus would get us there an hour late, other bus options would drop us off a bit further away and I don’t know the neighborhood well enough to know if we should be walking around it, I’d have to look around for cash/exact change or stop by ATM)
  • Reserve the car share, taking all or the littles (started to “worry” about where to park at the school, was paying for a car “worth” going to the open house?, how ridiculous does it feel to drive 3miles?, I am obviously having money/guilt/driving issues here)
  • Find a sitter and bike alone to the open house (the one lead on sitters didn’t call me back this week, as I had this in mind on Sunday, our exchange student isn’t up to the task of being responsible for four other children, the other adults in the neighborhood haven’t offered, but should I ask them? seems awkward, and very last minute, should I be biking alone places I haven’t been, after dark?)
When we choose not to go
Even with a full moon, it was dark.

Ultimately, what kept me from going was not being familiar with the route to the school, the children not wanting to go anywhere, and the impending darkness. I am not opposed to cycling in the dark, we do it often. I am leery of cycling with the children in the dark through unfamiliar neighborhoods. Sounds like an unsafe plan at this time. I’d like to be more trusting, but I’m feeling “blind” in a new city. Homework and food were my second concern. I can whip together a lunch box and keep the kids up later, for things I feel are justified, as long as they don’t happen often. I really don’t have an issue with paying for a car or the bus (because right now we have the means), but it was bothering me that the distance was very bikeable and it didn’t feel necessary to use transit or a car. Children not wanting to leave their engaging play, is often something I don’t want to break up either, but it stalls a lot of opportunities and outings.

I scrambled my brain for someone who could bike with me, then wondered how ridiculous I might sound pleading for an escort, but in hind sight, that’s what I really need. I need a tour guide, a bike buddy. I need someone who knows these neighborhoods and roads. I want other people to want to ride with us. I don’t want to beg, but I certainly have been. Where are you cycling families!? Where are you patience and understanding?

Another night last week there was a fundraising party at a location I was familiar with, but I was feeling overwhelmed. Brent was working, the kids were not wanting to go, and so the situation played out that I didn’t see the event as neccessary, and we stayed in.

So, I feel like I gave up on these situations. I convinced myself that the open house wasn’t essential, but it would have been nice to attend. I allowed our lifestyle choice to hinder my attendance. Had their been a car in the drive, would we have taken it? I don’t know. I am very good at talking myself out of going places with all the kids by myself. There is very little joy in their company when they don’t want to go, and they didn’t. This happens occasionally (probably more than I would like it). Several of the children are able to pedal their own vehicles, and if they set their minds not to go, I have to get more creative, or we don’t go. These days, after the year we have endured, my creativity is running low.

We come back to this point often and we don’t seem to get far. Is it truly the children, the situation, the time of day, or our mood that is keeping us home, or is it the mode of transportation?

When we choose not to go
All seven of us went to dinner at a friends house on Sunday. No problems riding home in the dark through Delaware Park, altogether.

For example, I was meeting up with another family and commuter cyclist Friday night to discuss the launch of a Buffalo Kidical Mass. (Jesse also organizes the Buffalo Family Bicycling facebook page. Go join, then ride with me!) Brent was home, the kids weren’t wanting to leave, Eiki had a football game to go to, and it was drizzly and dark. Eiki took the train/bus and Jesse and I were meeting somewhere familiar, so I went, by myself. I left the house after bedtime, not that my kids were anywhere near sleeping, I think they were watching Back to the Future. I took the long way around a guerrilla bike path, because it’s not lit and it is rather boggy right now. We jabbered on till midnight, then I headed home, a different route, I wasn’t entirely familiar with, but knew enough about the neighborhood to feel comfortable. A kid free outing, the desire to go, a safe route all added up to choosing to ride my bike, alone. So maybe I didn’t give up on the other nights, but rather made a sound choice. Or maybe it’s all in the perspective.

MAP link home to coffee meet up to home, around the short cut, guerrilla path. Rode the sidewalks on Main Street.

When we choose not to go
It’s clear as the muddy ruts in this photo that we ride through here often. Thankfully several people have already secured funding for a paved and lit rails-to-trails pathway, coming…soon?
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Finding our Tribe

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Me (Stacy), Oliver and our new city. Looking south toward downtown Buffalo, NY.

Have we met? For some of you, upon meeting me, I was probably a bit enthusiastic, chatty, opinionated, scrambling my conversations, trying too hard to figure out who you might like to meet and what resources I might be able to connect you with. For others I might have asked too many questions. Sometimes I am quiet or cold and curt. I think we all wear many hats into many different arenas. Right now, in my strong desperation for building up connections in a new city, I am being a little forward. Maybe I do this without any excuse all the time, but right now it’s getting out of control.

Before we moved to Buffalo I did some research. I researched the usual stuff, like neighborhoods, houses, and schools. I looked endlessly at maps to find libraries, grocery stores, yarn shops, ice cream parlors, children’s venues, natural resource shops, and Canada. I checked meetup.com for interest groups. I looked for bloggers. I read a little of the local papers and magazines online. It all looked good enough.

What had my heart thumping was when I finally found a glimpse of a cargo bike and other cycling families. This was a needle in a haystack endeavor. Search engines were not providing me anything under the terms “cargo bike,” “bakfiets,” “longtail,” “longjohn,” “family cycling,” and many other variations to find families and children on bicycles in Buffalo. There was nothing except Urban Simplicity‘s blog (his son has graduated highschool) and a craigslisting for an Xtracycle. Them some slim pickings.

Then I saw a photo in the Buffalo News covering Play Streets. Or maybe it was on GOBike Buffalo‘s site of a Safe Routes to School event? Of course I can’t find the article or the photo now, because like I said, it was a needle, in an enormous haystack. In the photo, not prominently positioned, was a bakfiets. A bakfiets! This should have made headlines, but not here. Maybe this bicycle was so normal and families riding in boxes was so mundane it wasn’t note worthy. I could only hope.

With in days of arrival in Buffalo we went scouting for a bike map. Something that would illustrate the safest streets for cycling with children. We came home empty handed, however everyone we talked to at Rick and the GOBike workshop said we needed to get in touch with Justin Booth, as he had “this weird bike.” A couple weeks before we relocated, Joe George, with Urban Simplicity, said we ought to connect with Justin, because he had a cargo bike too. Ok, Justin, now we were on a man hunt. I sent him a message on facebook that went unreturned. All those who would drop his name said he was busy with a lot of volunteer work and his family. I respect this. I am this. I still wanted to find this elusive link to what could be a prosperous family bicycle connection.

A week into the school year where the boys attend I asked a man in the parking lot if he worked there, because I had seen him a few times and he was wearing a name tag, which most of the faculty were not doing. He introduced himself as a Say Yes coordinator at #54, our school, and then we talked about my bike where I was buckling Oliver, the three year old, into. Mr. Antoinetti (sp?) mentioned organizing the school’s bike to school day. You don’t say?! He also says he worked with one Mr. Justin Booth and we should meet. Alright, that’s it. Where ever you are Justin, I will find you.

I posted some casual witty remark in a Buffalo Family Bicycling group on Facebook (It has tribe potential, but I’m getting blank stares right now. A lot of helpful insight, but no family riding buddies. Yet.), and I got a reply, from the man himself. We made arrangements to meet up for coffee last week. I dragged my husband with me because I thought, this could be it. We have found our people.

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Coffee with Justin Booth. A significant piece of the people puzzle.

To get to Spot Coffee on the corner of Delaware and Chippewa, you have to go where you have never gone by bike before, and trust that you will arrive safely, and on time. It worked. Here’s how we got from home, in the University Heights, to school on Main, to drop off the boys, then to downtown, on our dual-Yuba morning:


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We used the sidewalk on Main Street, having to walk over the curbs at Humboldt Parkway because there were no curb cut, and slowing down along Forest Cemetery because the asphalt side walk was torn up by tree roots. Then it was groovy. Lafayette Avenue was quiet at 9AM ish, the two directional bike lanes and single directional traffic on Linwood Avenue was sweet. The lack of street signs going south needs some improvement but being met by a bike light at the end made up for the annoyance of craning my head around mid intersection to make sure I didn’t pass my turn. We jogged from Linwood to North Street to Delaware Avenue to catch the new bike lane. Downtown was alive, but not overwhelming with vehicles or people, making Brent feel more at ease having Oliver on my deck as we ventured into new territories.

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Bike traffic lights!
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New bike lane on Delaware Avenue, the southern portion. Striped this summer.
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Bikes, everywhere. About five on the rack in the back and a few on the rack we were locking to.

It’s clear I didn’t do my research well. I was looking for a bakfiets, not a face. Sorry Justin. I was just a little too enthusiastic and hopeful that what would roll up to Spot Coffee was a box full of little children. It’s was also not my expectation that the family man I was seeking out would be the executive director of GOBike Buffalo. Surprise! No one mentioned this to me. Or I wasn’t listening. That’s probably the right answer. We didn’t find our tribe, we found the tribal leader.

We I jabbered on for over an hour, comparing notes on cycling advocacy progress in Buffalo and the work I was involved with in Huntington. We wrapped things up with an open ended “how can I help you?” and “what do you want to do to help?” Then Justin took us on the short tour of the lower west side neighborhood, setting us out on a calm path to Buffalo State to bring Brent to work. It was a joyful and inspiring morning. The stalking sleuthing paid off in dividends.

We still need to reconnect about tossing all my children into his box bike and chugging them upslope for miles on end.

The full day in map view:

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Bikeway that passes under the interstate, close to the lake.
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Still on the bikeway, passing a high school mural wall.
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More of the bikeway where it goes through the Japanese Garden.
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We made it to Buffalo State!
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After a walkabout campus, and lunch, Oliver and I went home, via Delaware Park, stopping for a peace filled moment on Hoyt Lake.

 

Buffalo Museum of Science

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Humboldt Parkway, going south. Freeway over the fence, driving lane, biking lane, painted barrier, parking lane.

It took a while, but 8 days after the start of the school year, London, our 11yo, was finally placed and situated with her peers at Olmsted at Kensington High School. There was a lot of misunderstanding, misstating of information from the school registration employees, lack of returned calls and emails, and some good old fashion “take it to the top” maneuvering, but we got her enrolled in a school we hope will be the best fit between instructional methods and learning style. With everyone that needed to be, at a school and work during the day, I felt a little lighter to travel about the city. Less kids on my bike, fewer kids beside me on their bikes, and no one to argue with about which streets were best, and where to ride. It was me, Oliver, the 3.5yo, and Google maps, taking on our day.

Tuesday we ventured to meet up with someone from the Buffalo Mommies group at the Buffalo Museum of Science. Brent biked the boys to school so Oliver and I hung around home, packed our lunches and bundled up for the ride. It was brisk; maybe in the 60Fs when we departed. We followed the route to the boys’ school, taking Parker Avenue south, turning down the side walk on Main Street and then navigating the cross walk to Humboldt Parkway’s bike lanes. The pedestrian light is still not working. I will need to call that in.


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The bike lane is sandwiched between parked cars on the right and a single direction of low volume traffic on the left with on and off ramps to the expressway. For city streets, this one is calm, freshly paved and level. We cruised through, made a left at our light and blink, we were there.

Our arrival was followed by a woman on a bike, whom I inquired with about how to get back home. Since this bike lane is one direction, and the other side of the express way, which is the other direction of Humboldt Parkway ends half way to Main, I wasn’t sure what to do. The last visit to the science museum we took Fillmore Avenue. It was a straight shot from the museum to Parker & Main, which could take us to pick up the boys at school, or carry us on home. However, Fillmore is in a rough neighborhood. The sidewalks are broken, covered in glass and often serving their duty to strollers, walkers and store patrons. The street isn’t much better. It widens to four lanes in places and then shrinks back to two with curbside parking. Feeling safe is important. Me, my preschooler, my bike, in a new, large city. We need that feeling of security. The cyclist suggested we head further west and catch Main, which added miles, but might be a good choice, although we’d be on the sidewalk there. Main is a wide through way with faster traffic. It’s a designated bike route, but not a very safe and practical one for children, or me.

We met up with Nicole and her preschooler from the mom’s group. I chatted up another four child family and one of the museum staff members. I was certainly in “desperate for adult conversation” mode. We explored spaces we enjoyed last time, nibbled some lunch and toured some exhibits that were new to us. Before anyone realized, three hours had whisked away and it was time to pick up the boys from school.

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We loaded up the Yuba and made a choice of route. We opted to take Humboldt Parkway half way, then skip over to Fillmore and finish our journey. When we crossed over the highway the diagonal groove in the bridge was deep enough to bounce my cell phone out of it’s basket pocket and into the basket and my water bottle onto the bridge. I left the bottle behind (sorry!) and kept moving with traffic. That was the most unintentional of littering and I will pay penance with a neighborhood clean up effort this weekend. Promise.

The ride to school was quick and easy, although not the best of neighborhoods, or the best of timing. There were dozens of school buses dropping off large groups of students at many intersections. I felt I wasn’t welcome on the sidewalks or the streets. A little awkward, but manageable.

With the boys obtained, the bikes loaded, and helmets adjusted, we headed for home. There was a stop for groceries and some chit chatting about the highs and lows of everyone’s days. The weather warmed enough to break a sweat, and in time for the sun to dip low enough to cool off quickly once again.

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St. Joseph’s lit up at night, under a full moon, on Main Street.

We did those after school things, then gathered our coats once again for a post dinner neighborhood meeting at the local community center. The email I received mentioned a collaboration between the association and the city to pave and light a rails to trails path near our home. I didn’t want to miss that conversation, but I did. We arrived a few minutes late and the packed room was moving on to personal accounts of the drunken mob/zombie scenes that occur frequently in the University Heights area. My boys were very unnerved by the descriptions given and to be truthful, I was very surprised to hear our neighborhood described in this way. Apparently we live on a “quiet” street. I hope all their issues can be resolved peacefully, and we get our bike path.

Five Weeks of Buffalo

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Why do people keep calling us minimalists? Maybe *I* am, but those other five are clearly not.
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LtoR: Oliver, Elliot, Avery, Brent, Eiki, London. Welcome to Buffalo.

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We sold our only vehicle the weekend before we left West Virginia. It was a financial decision, but none less one we knew we can handle after two years of choosing to ride our bicycles and making efforts to live more locally. My dad came down from Ohio to help us with the move, so we packed five of us in his two door Civic and two rode in the cab of the moving truck with the crated cats. The short story goes like this….the children and I arrived, then a couple days later the truck, my dad, Brent and the cats arrived. The same afternoon we were unloading the truck, we picked up our Japanese exchange student, Eiki. We spent a few days unpacking, then we started to slowly get out and explore.

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Biked to the car share. We took the train home after returning the van.
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We were invited to pick blueberries.
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Pedestrian/cycling ramps that bridge over the highway.
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All day bus/train passes.
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A single line subway/train from our neighborhood to downtown.

We have, since that day, used the car share a few times, taken a day to go downtown on the train and buses, spent a full day going downtown on bikes, and have managed trips to the zoo, science museum, grocery, bike shops and workshops, parks, schools, farmers markets, food coop, suburban shopping plaza, tool library, bookstores, and Brent’s office, all with our bicycles. The weather has been amazing. The rental house is serving us well. The distances aren’t ideal, although manageable. The terrain is mostly level with inclines here and there, that still have me yearning for an e-assist. Diversity of language, race, religion, age, and income is plentiful. Many things cost more and taxes are higher. C’est la vie.

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Science museum. Meandered 7miles to get there and 5miles to get home.
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1 of 4 neighborhood grocery stores within a mile.
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Back to school picnic day. We were the only cyclist, and have been the only cyclists, however, there is a small bike rack. That’s something.
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Children’s area at the Elmwood Arts Festival.
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Our first dinner out, a tourist destination five blocks away from home.
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Avery’s new yoga studio, 7minute bike ride through the ‘hood.
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GOBike racks are offered up for free if you own a business. They even install. These were at the entrance to the zoo. We took the last spot and filled it up with five bikes for 8 people.
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Canalside harbor and locks area has ships, markets, festivals, monuments, music and more. It’s also clear on the otherside of town. We took the train this day, but it would likely be an 8 mile ride, if I ever get up to doing it.
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Allentown “bubble window.”
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GOBike workshop in an old station building, 2miles from home! Used parts, free help, bikey people. Although we were still “outsiders.” Cargo bikes are not common. Our two Yubas make the total Yuba population a whopping 3 in the city. I have seen one Xtracycle and a couple tandems. We have yet to see any cycling families outside the park/recreation trail.

I haven’t been tracking expenses as closely this past year, but I did start tracking transportation costs after selling the van. Since our arrival, we spent $98.50 in August, not including Eiki’s personal transportation, for which he is responsible, and $126.00 thus far into September. We have been using the bus and train more often this month (and I have sometimes been overpaying when I am not paying attention), and we had one taxi ride ($30). I suppose that number could be about $50 more if you include the new locks we bought for the bikes. I should think about how I want to track these numbers.

Enrolling the children in school was a saga, for which I have a lot a confidence will bring about a positive and rewarding outcome. Or so I keep telling myself. Eiki will be going to private school 10 miles south of our home, but using bikes and public transit (passes provided by the school). The school was arranged before his arrival. He has already been selected for the varsity soccer team and utilizes this combo of travel almost daily for practices. We had no shortage of bicycles for his use. Oliver will be staying home another year, and the boys are going to a public preK-4 school about 2 miles from home. We biked to school for about a week, then the weather got a little wet and we let them ride the bus. London was accepted into a gift and talented public high school that serves 5-12th grades after a week of delays and “navigation” of the system. The school is 2.5-3.5 miles from home depending on how you want to get there. We test rode it and were not pleased, so she’s likely taking the big yellow school bus most days until we find a route we feel is safer.

As moves go, this one has been uneventful. There are still a lot of boxes in the children’s room to unpack. I am waiting to put together their shelving.  There is a stack of art in the sunroom, where we set up our office, and a stack in the garage.  I am forward with people walking down our street, introducing ourselves as new and asking too many questions, seeking opinions and ideas. It seems we have joined every business and organization that has a membership as some effort to get to know the neighborhood and save some money on entertainment. It was less expensive to pay $60 for science museum memberships than to visit twice with seven people. The tool library was a $10 annual fee, but we would have spent significantly more on a cultivator, grass shears and an electric voltage meter. Going there to check out rubber mallets and crow bars has been better than finding a toy store for the children. Interestingly, we haven’t joined GOBike Buffalo yet. We need to. They have a workshop close by and they have bike lockers at the nearest train station.

Although we haven’t found any bicycling families yet, we hear lore of them being in other downtown neighborhoods. It’s just a matter of time. And when I do find them, I think it will be time for Buffalo to have a Kidical Mass.

Breakfast & Bicycle Benefit Recap

It’s June 2013. June. This entire year has been lost to a void and yet filled to the brim with many-many experiences. At some point we need to stop blogging about Avery’s GBS, but it has consumed us. Everything we do all week long is in some way related to his recovery. Every time I leave my house, it is for him. The conversations turn from every angle, back to Avery. There is nothing on our calendar for the remainder of the summer that isn’t for Avery. Therapy, baseball, appointments. It’s not that we aren’t doing anything else, but all other doings are happening organically, as they arise.

Yesterday we were treated to breakfast and a community bike ride that raised more than $2200 for Avery’s expenses. It was intense. We were greeted by so many well wishes and by the time I finished saying thank you and catching up with a few tables, I missed several others who finished mopping their syrupy plates and were on their way off for the weekend. We caught back up to some during the ride, where children corralled around Erick, our neighborhood ice cream tricyclists. The energy was incredibly positive. Laughter, that perfect weather we have been able to enjoy this late into spring, a community of strong leaders, proud riders, and friends.

There were several people behind the scenes making yesterday’s benefit events possible. Thank you Cara and Thomas, Stacy and Matt, Byron and Lynn, Linda and her kitchen posse, John, Jaye, Tom and Bill, Joel, and anyone else I didn’t know about, but deserve a lot of extra credit. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

To those who joined in the festivities, it was the best party I have every attended. Neighbors and friends. Colleagues and crew. School family and acquaintances. All  dining or riding around town together. He-yah!

Speaking of parties, my 33 and 3/3rds birthday is approaching. We simply must celebrate. Hugs and high-fives for everyone!

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