Category Archives: family biking

Life After GBS

Spring!

We arrived home from the hospital with Avery on April 5 (his situation is the former three posts on this blog) and I do believe I rode my bike everyday for nearly two weeks straight. There was so much to be done. Some days I put in 20miles of back and forth errands and school drop offs. Then once that was caught up, we had to focus on sports practices for the children and out patient therapies for Avery. The therapies and the location of practice, combined with the disorganization that has ensued with getting out of the house in the morning has us averaging 350miles on our van. We are a slave to the schedule of the children. We have even taken to driving a child to practice, dropping them there, going home to get dinner and take other children to practice and then driving back after tucking in a few children at bedtime to pick up the first child. It’s not transportation savvy, but it is temporary.

We signed the children up for sports this season because we felt they needed a little extra something to keep their minds and bodies occupied while a third to half of us were in Columbus. I won’t do it again. It has proven exceptionally difficult to juggle two kids in sports, one in therapy (who is now in a sport…as a part of therapy), three in school, and six who need to eat. You wouldn’t think that would be a challenge, but coming from a really light schedule of activities, it has been a shock to the structured system. Or maybe it is not that at all. Maybe we are all still healing.

Several people have commented that it seems things are going well since our return based on what they have seen on social media, and according to the information I have provided here/there, it is going well, but the truth is I can’t bare to repeat the chaos and frustrations after I experience them. I want to focus on the fun, the happy, the reasons to get out of bed, after having two months that have aged us all. Two months that added grey hair and wrinkles and extra weight. It’s been a stress filled year. It’s going to be a while before we find our balance again.

In the mean time, we get up and have breakfast. We ride our bikes if we can and we drive if the effort to leave 20minutes earlier isn’t working out. Brent just finished two academic years of only cycling to work, rain, snow or shine. I still bike my errands around town with Oliver and drive when we have to go to areas that are not “bike able” or are out of town (Avery’s therapy is a 45min drive one way, twice a week). The children do their thing all day, and I do mine. My volunteer efforts are not up to par, but everyone is understanding. My garden however, is getting greener ever so humbly.

{How is Avery? He’s doing well. Getting stronger ever so slowly. We had a day recently full of falls, feet numbness, and dizziness when he lays down. We don’t know what this means but we are staying the course. We are back in Columbus Tuesday for another EMG, where we hope to have more “answers” to his situation.}

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Kidical Mass Jingle Bell Ride Wrap Up

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There was so much energy in the air and on the streets of the South Side neighborhood last night. We left our house with an hour of daylight left planning to meet up with a handful of friends who said they’d ride with us for a Jingle Bells & Holiday Lights Kidical Mass. The RSVP numbers were in the mid teens, with another dozen maybes, yet, I didn’t expect them all to show up. I was bouncing out of my saddle when I pulled into the park. I saw several folks unloading bikes, pumping tires, adjusting helmets in the parking lot. As I approached the fountain, the numbers multiplied. Dozens of cyclists not only made an appearance, they decorated their bikes! One middle schooler was elfishly dressed, with gift wrapped saddle and helmet. There was tinsel. Bows. Lights. Bells. Ribbon. Hats. Presents. Ho ho ho pants. The whole tri-state was represented, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia residents.

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(photo credit: Dennis Blevins)

I wasn’t able to get a photo of everyone before the ride, and I wished I could have. It was their creativity, their presence that made last night so wonderful. So much joy. Brent did capture a lot of video, please take a look. He got up very early to put this together for you.

Kidical Mass December 2012 from Brent Patterson on Vimeo.

Our group of 42 stretched a block. I’d be at a stop sign in the front and see Brent at the tail, just crossing an intersection. The traffic was light, so while we didn’t roll a group through stop signs, it was often possible for large portions of us to cross or turn together. It is important to teach the children where the signs and lights are, how to read them, and what is an appropriate and safe action. Several parents helped us turn right onto a four lane, then left at the next light onto a side street. Keeping the children to our right side as much as possible and behind the lead rider (moi) and in front of the sweep (Brent). When crossing back to the park we had to be a bit more aggressive by corking the crosswalk so everyone could return safely.

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Another factor I wasn’t planning, but played very well for my jingle, were the bumpy brick streets. It was akin to mogul skiing. The brick was sometimes bumpy, but the dips and mounds were amusing. My bells rung gayly.

(photo credit: Dennis Blevins)
(Photo credit: Dennis Blevins)

Holiday music would have pushed the ride up to the top notch. As it was, it was fantastic, but a little holly jolly holiday tuneage would have made it twinkle. Then again, no one would have been able to hear me give directions and check in with the children about cold toeses and runny noses.

ACE riders! (photo credit: Dennis Blevins)

The weather was amazing, and I do think that much of the success of the ride was because of the uncontrollable. We saw 50Fs during the day and they began to dip with sunset. I’d say it was still upper 40s when we arrived with a smidgen of light left and only lower 40s or high 30s when we embarked for home. The roads were dry, all the snow and ice from Friday nights Critical Mass having melted away. The winds dissipated and we rolled merrily along.

Every ride around the world has their own take on a Kidical Mass to meet the needs of their community. If you are inspired to plan your own Kidical Mass ride, and you have my full encouragement, please check out these links.

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iPhone panoramic view A of our Gino’s Pizza, post ride, dinner group. We filled the house!
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iPhone panoramic feature. One point of view of the dinner group. A group of ACE members joined us for the ride, sans children, which made their appearance even more special. I love that everyone felt comfortable and welcome to join us.
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We parked in the lot at Ginos Pizza after the ride, where more than half the riders joined us for dinner! I forgot to flip my Kidical Mass sign down for the ride (and press!) but did so for this photo (taken through the shop window).
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Musical bikes. Avery (6yo) rode with Oliver and I for the ride and with Brent for the to and from home portion. We packed extra everything. Good thing too, as Avery dunked his gloved hands into the icy fountain at the park.
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Oliver (3yo), bundled up in the PeanutShell on the Yuba. He insisted on the scarf, which doubled as a hand muff, as he wouldn’t wear his gloves. The windbreaker jacket, tied on backward around the seat, covered his pajama pants, which were a base layer under his daytime pants which he removed earlier. We choose our battles.

For more takes on this Jingle Bell ride, check out the gallery and article in the Herald Dispatch today.

Leaving the Flock

The Scene
We had a big birthday party after school on Thursday. Avery was celebrating turning six. We had an uncountable number of children in the house at any given time between 3:30 and 7:00pm. There were neighbors, school friends of various grades, siblings, myself and another mother and her newborn. There was also the forgotten violin lesson for London (10yo) at 4:45pm and my husband was at work.

Plan A was to have London stay home. It was her last lesson of the semester. I had forgotten about it, being focused on the party, and not having moved the appointment on my calendar from Tuesday to Thursday.

Plan B was to send her and Elliot (8yo) on their bikes together. Elliot would wait out the lesson with a book and they would return home together. It would be a 1 mile ride, each way. They’d have to cross Hal Greer Boulevard, a busy five lane (one turn lane in the middle) that recently changed their posting from No Turn on Red to No Turn on Red between 7&8am and 2&3pm. Every morning for months, when school returns to session there is a police car with his lights on at the corner across from the school. More often than not, there is car debris in the middle of the road from a recent accident. Everyone was turning right on red there anyway, so I guess they thought that it might be easier to just change the sign than to enforce the law? That corner sees most of their car and walking traffic during those hours, so part of me understands. The part of me that wants my children to be able to get safely across that street at anytime doesn’t.

When the children are on their own bikes, we use the cross walk. Riding up onto the side walk at the entry to the gas station also on that corner, and pushing the button. When the walk signal comes, it posts a red light to all directions of traffic and gives a walk signal to all directions of traffic. When drivers are permitted to turn right on red, their heads are often turned left to see if traffic is coming, not looking right to see if anyone is cross the street. I have issues with this, as you can read, but we choose to use the cross walk with our children at this intersection, and we are not the only ones. When we have the children on our cargo bikes, or we are riding solo, we use the traffic lane.

Milestone
That aside, Plan C is what took place. Elliot refused to leave the party, and I couldn’t blame him. Despite me explaining my needs for him to be with his sister for safety, that I would have to ask his friends to leave the party, that he may not have friends over during the weekend, or any other “trick” I could pull out, he wasn’t going to leave the house. Having the option of independent transportation can lead to one not transporting themselves. London needed to get to her lesson. I couldn’t leave the party, despite Elliot trying his best to convince ME that I would only be gone 20 minutes and that HE could keep an eye on a dozen plus children.

Having the power of independent transportation can lead one to transporting themselves. London went to her violin lesson, on her own bike, under her own power, all by herself. She carried her violin on her back, in its case with the strap. She had a second bag with her notebook and my cell phone, which Brent insisted I have her take along (I have opinions on this for another time). She said she didn’t want to go alone, at first. Then she said she couldn’t decide and that I should decide for her. Then she just went. She was down the driveway before I could get to the front door to see her off and make sure all her lights were on, that I reminded her to look left and right often, to signal only if she felt safe to lift her hand from the bars, to use the cross walk at Hal Greer, and all those other “worrisome reminders” that parents often recite as their children go out in to the world alone.

Wow. What an enormous milestone. She’s walked a couple blocks away by her self in the past. This time, she was riding in traffic, on her own vehicle, with the power of her own body, a mile from home. There were no bike lanes, no sharrows, no paths. Besides using that crosswalk light, there were no sidewalks. She immediately returns to the lane when the light permits her to cross. There was no one there to remind her what the yellow lines mean, or stop at the signs, or keep an eye on cars backing from driveways. All those behaviors we had been modeling for the past year, all those instructions we had been calling out, were being utilized.

She called when she arrived at lessons. Brent stopped by on his way home from work, with party pizzas, to escort her back in the dark. One mile was a huge accomplishment for her (although she really is nonplussed by the whole event), but a really great test of our own strength to let her go. Maybe you can imagine that Brent and I have different ideas of what our children should be able to do, or what we should allow them to experience. We do. We just come at this parenting thing from different childhoods of our own. We have different fears.

Imagine all of that one more time. Our 10 year old has the means and the ability to travel on the streets without an adult, along side and between vehicles driven by adults (and teenagers). Elliot could have been out there with her. He’s actually the far more responsible, aware and capable one of the two. An 8 year old on the road, on a vehicle that has every legal right to that space as a driver, but does not operate in the same capacity.

Advocating
It was with these ideas meditating that I read Chicargobike’s recent post that reminds the powers that be, that we must be thinking about complete streets and bike lanes with the intention of having 8-80 year olds get from where they are, to where they need to be, safely and efficiently.

My attitude that Huntington, WV is a bicycle friendly community, remains. However, as we watch our children grow and begin to consider all methods of transportation, we see so much need for improvement. Taking notice of these needs, I spend time writing down my thoughts and expressing my concerns to the agencies that can implement those changes. I encourage you to do the same, where ever you are. It’s one thing to wish things were different, and another thing to let someone know who can do something about it.

Before riding bicycles, we were happy enough to let others make decisions on our behalf. Hurray for a representative democracy! After riding (this could be a BB, before bicycles, and AB, after bicycles thing) we realized “our theys” were not making fully informed decisions. Most of those involved with the planning and  implementation of laws and infrastructure are not riding bikes, walking, in wheel chairs, etc. I am grateful for their attention to the matters, and deeply in love with those who are riding and who are making decisions and creating action, but they are not the majority. They are also experiencing something unique, and so are we.

Encouragement
The thought of asking London and Elliot to go to lessons on their own had been rolling around for a while. I felt like all I was doing was escorting her to practice and coming home. I wasn’t transporting her. She didn’t need me. Brent always met her for the pick up. Other than crossing Hal Greer, the rest of the trip was side streets that may not have had sidewalks and all but one of them didn’t even have paint lines. Very slow, casual roads, where you often found joggers and dog walkers sharing the road with you. The courage to finally send her on her own came from her violin instructor. It had nothing to do with violin. Their family is car-lite too. They ride bikes for transportation to school and work, but do other errands with their van. Hannah mentioned to me that they have been encouraging their 8 and 10year old to ride to school unaccompanied, and they have handled the 1.25mile commute very well, on sidewalks, their preferred riding style. Knowing someone else was out their doing what we wanted to do gave me some confidence to try it.

Does that sound familiar? I started cloth diapering after being around some parents who did so. We began composting after seeing a few friends incorporate this into their lives. We, as people everywhere, often want to see the actions we desire reflected in those around us. We also want to see what we are doing being reflected back. This is why we have social circles and social media. This is why some people move, choose certain schools, wear styles of clothing, practice their faith. We are trying to align ourselves and feel comfortable in our choices. Had Hannah not told me what they were doing, I might not have had London attempt this quite yet. She’s capable, but I don’t know that I was ready, socially, to let her go. While certainly, not everything I do, has to have been done before, or being acted out by others around me (ahem…cargo biking?!?), oftentimes, when it is, it serves as great encouragement.

The Hat Tip
The title of this post is a reference to Travis Wittwer’s Transportland post, Empty Nest. He discusses the discretion made to transition a child from the cargo bike to their own independent wheels. I am not sure where Travis is on having his children ride without an escort. I do know that this is not the start of regular independent child commuting for us, only a foundation.

Where are you in your family bicycling journey?

Two Much of a Good Thing

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What to say, what to say. Do you recognize that beautiful machine above? Looks like our Yuba Mundo. Rides just like it too. Trekking bars. GoGetter bags. Clipless pedals. Rim brakes. Clean.

This is certainly not our cargo bike.
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Brent picked up our friend Mike’s Yuba this afternoon. He and his son enjoyed the bike this spring but circumstances arose that prevent them from cycling at this time. He knew we were shopping for a second bike. While I have my mind set on an electric assist, this scenario will give us more flexibility in our schedules and more time in our days immediately. It is the average American equivalent of having two cars.

Brent can transport the children to school and continue straight to work with all his personal gear thrown in the mix. I will be able go about my errands and know that in a pinch or during illness, Brent can do pickups, significant grocery runs, pizza take out, or anything else I demand of his day. And I demand a lot.

Brent is elated to be on even footing with me. He feels chauvinistic riding solo with the rest of the party on the Yuba. We are balancing our family dynamic. In the name of gender equality, uh, right?

The Private Life of a Family Cyclist

Do you love how you pull your bike out of the garage, haul a heavy tot into their seat, get them all buckled in, arrange the helmet, load your bags, throw up the kickstand and sail down the drive, only to realize the neighbors were on their front steps watching, more like a befuddled stare. Then you start clicking through gears trying to find the right one to climb up the hill without seeing the gears at your thumb because the toddler brought along his large stuffed dog. You are weaving up the street as you search and because of all the potholes and broken asphalt, and you are slow, you swerve, a lot. Of course there is a very quiet Prius coming up behind you and you wonder exactly how long they had been watching this scene and decide they don’t look like the type to report you for reckless riding.

After you ascend a couple of hills and you have found your gear changing groove the toddler begins to cry, just as you pass the group of parents waiting on the school bus drop off, some idling in their vehicles, windows down. He’s not feeling well, fever of about 101 and you just woke him up from a nap to make it to the school on time. The whole neighborhood can hear him wailing about you going too fast, yes, he said too fast, as we jiggle our way up those hills. It’s a nice early fall day, so you try to point out the colors on the leaves, but you also notice everyone has their windows open. Great, more cries, more tears, a bit of thrashing around as more cars pass you. They make it look so easy, with their foot on the accelerator purring up and onward. Did they look back in their mirror to see what sort of torture you were inflicting on your son?

You notice they did. Was it really all that crying or was it the sort of cyclist-image you were trying to pull off? Was it the other 26″ bicycle you had stuffed into the side bag? Or the other three helmets and diaper bag strapped opposite the bike? Couldn’t be the helmet you are wearing that everyone always thinks is a “great hat.” Or that one pants leg is rolled over your knee and a camera is slung around your neck. Beet red face, sweat dripping, sloppy pony tail. Naw, you don’t look like a circus on two wheels. That’s how you look when you are returning home with the other three children.

The fourth child is crying about how much she hates that you towed her bicycle up to the school and not her brother’s bike-it’s so unfair. Her baskets are off balance so she dismounts and thinks walking the bike would be easier. A circus-on-wheels-look happens when she throws the bike on the ground, resigning to never bike again and you ask if she knows how to get home because you are leaving with her three brothers, all their gear and trying to stay ahead of the weather. Go ahead and do it with a smile because every teacher and parent is pulling out of the school right now too. The bright orange bike, the fire engine red bags and lime green seat do nothing to let everyone else know you are not a mobile clown unit.

Riding up hills with all that weight and a very concentrated look on your face because you are risking everyone’s life to go up the wrong side of the sidewalk that butts up against a lot of traffic. You love your commute, you love your family and you love your bicycle, but right now you feel like showing up unannounced at city hall and tossing the planning director on your deck and toting him back up this hill and see how good he feels and find out exactly where he might be concerned about cyclist safety. You want to give him an ear-full of the benefits of providing safe routes to schools and better access to cycling and pedestrian routes and discuss traffic calming, while huffing and puffing and maneuvering through the areas where trash bins were left out and cars and trucks take up parking on the sidewalk that is your preferred safe spot for this portion of your ride.

Then you see a little happy. Yes, happy. Two bicycles are rounding the bend toward you, on the street you don’t feel safe to pedal with your children, and one of them has their toddler in a rear seat. They wave profusely at you and your crew and you remember that the life of a cyclist is a private one. No driver could possibly know what is going on on those two little wheels of yours. They haven’t a clue why your contraption looks the way it does or why your children are behaving the way they are. You can’t really see any of the drivers anyway thanks to the sun and constant glare on their front windshield. They try to wave you through at four way stops but you can’t make eye contact to know what’s going on. Those cyclists know, because they are huge part of your private life. They see you and your trials and tribulations. They have had their own. You see them and are encouraged.

**This was a combination of days rolled into one story to illustrate how exposed we are and how some days just compound themselves, but it’s all worth it. There are a lot of people out there that understand us and what we are doing, but sometimes we feel so incredibly isolated and private in our way of life. “Risking my life” is an exaggeration, though there are days when I do feel it is dangerous. Even on those days, I do feel I am making a good choice as explained in this post: Despite the Dangers of Norway.

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