Sunday, May 12, 2013

Bikes, Bites, Books...and BEYOND

When we learned about National Bike to School Day, it sounded like a perfect occasion for Resources for Health to reach out to homeschoolers.  In our experience, the term "homeschooler" is really a misnomer for students who learn primarily outside the school setting, but quite often someplace other than home.  In fact, it's not uncommon to hear talk of "car-schooling" from parents who manage lessons while taxiing kids to park days, music lessons, friends' houses, museums, sports, and so on.  So while the reasons for homeschoolers to bike (or walk) are the same as those for schoolchildren, there are so many more route options when the world is your classroom!
Being the first year and all, attendance included just the seven of us. We launched nonetheless from Evergreen Park, decked out for high visibility on the road. I'm not quite sure how seven cyclists could not be highly visible, but in addition to safety, the vests work like beacons to raise awareness of bikes as transportation options...for every family member or even the whole family all together.

While everyone cooperated for photos, a school bus conveniently passed in perfect juxtaposition for the shot at left (also providing an impromptu learning opportunity to discuss the meaning of the word juxtaposition.)  Wonder what those kids on the bus were thinking when they saw us? 
We changed the route a little from what was advertised and traveled to the library first, four miles from our starting point.  The public library has always been our primary resource for homeschool learning, not to mention community events, children's programs, and social and volunteer opportunities.
Hillsboro Main Library has the added advantage of accessibility via multi-use path through Dawson Creek Park, allowing us to travel the last half mile adjacent honking geese instead of honking cars.

Look how everyone stays in formation to share the path!  This single file requires more advanced coordination than a typical classroom line ...and it's lots more fun.   
Speaking of fun, allow me to point out just how thrilled we all are to have Dad bringing up the rear here.  A few short years ago, he was barely able to limp from handicap parking space to  nearby building to watch the kids perform in a homeschool play, let alone join us on a field trip - even traveling by minivan!  Of course  surgery played a role along with physical therapy and alternative pain management, but the bike has been his most effective tool for rehabilitation.  We're still saving for a recumbent trike to accommodate remaining physical limitations, but special adaptive handlebars from Hillsboro Bike Company are working as a great alternative in the meantime.

Next stop: fuel.  After exiting Dawson Creek, we rode about another mile to reach New Seasons Market at Orenco Station.  If you follow us on Facebook, you might recognize this location showing our bucket panniers or trailer brimming with veggies.  If we haven't met our needs at Sunday farmers' markets, we typically find the most local and best quality produce in town here to feed seven hungry (almost) vegans (except for honey from Dairy Creek Farm).

After a brief respite, re-hydration, and re-stocking of food-fuel supplies, we set out toward home with a side trip past the community garden.  Second only to the library, the garden is our next most important learning resource.  Coincidentally, this learning zone begins right about where an elementary school zone ends.  I really can't say enough about garden-based learning, so will simply include this one link for your further reading pleasure and enlightenment.
For the next section of our journey, we avoid traffic again by back-dooring it out the dead end road onto a path that leads to a back road that leads to another dead end road that connects to a multi-use path through the park to the next low-speed, low-traffic road.  Yes, indeed, this is why they dubbed us Suburban Bike Ninjas!  Here in the 'burbs it sometimes takes some extra planning, pedaling, and off roading to avoid high-speed, high-traffic streets for the benefit of everyone's comfort as well as safety.  Maybe you can understand how it's unsettling for a 50 pound kid to share the road next to a 5,000 pound vehicle traveling 50 miles per hour?  Not to mention buses, 18-wheelers, and distracted drivers.
We take one last break at Orchard Park along a short segment of Rock Creek Trail.  And indeed, Orchard Park also serves as one of our natural "classrooms," where we've applied science and math concepts to civic engagement.
At right, Mikal finishes locking up after the 8.7 mile round trip. Everyone else has already run inside to make food. 

It's always encouraging to see a crowd at the bike rack.  Still, ours won't be there for long, because after lunch comes recess.  It's a little over 3.5 miles to Pirate Park to meet friends, and the route is trail for almost the entire distance.

There were other bikes at the park besides ours, and ironically we arrived faster than our friends traveling by car who ran into construction and traffic delays on the road.  Just goes to show that biking can be a faster, more convenient choice as well as a healthier, more enjoyable one. 
Now to bring this long story to a close: we played at the park for two hours, with four kids and Mom (Dad and Viv opted out of this trip) rounding out just over 16 miles to that point. 

Still not finished, Mom, Viv, and Jacob rode 4 more miles that evening to and from Community Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.) training.  Ending the day on a symbolic note, our simulation exercise involved using wooden blocks and levers to lift a car pinning an imaginary victim beneath. It took good leadership, teamwork, and a lot of muscle for a successful rescue.  It may take the same type of community response to unpin humanity from beneath car culture.  But these victims aren't imaginary and we all need to take part in our own rescue.