Monday, October 24, 2011

Major Taylor Biking at Global Connections

Meeting with Global Connections principal Rick Harwood and students before the ride

It's true what they say: You never forget how to ride a bike. After 20 years without riding, three years ago I went into Bicycles West in Burien and thought I would just try a bike. And just like that, I was riding again. That one decision has helped me begin the road back to health and fitness. Biking is so much fun - it gives you independence and a new perspective. It's a workout that doesn't wear your joints out. And you can do it at any age.

Fortunately, I had just enough bike riding in my background to pick it up easily as an adult. I remember learning to ride a bike when I was probably five years old. My parents were working at a home for children without parents, and there was a private driveway that my dad accompanied me down as I rode with my training wheels. I rode around our large apartment complex when I was older - I remember one particular wipe out on loose gravel - and graduated to the vaunted "10 speed" bike. But then I got busy with school and extracurricular activities, such as band and baseball. I don't remember stopping my bike riding, but at some point that old Raleigh bike sat idle and began to rust. I don't know whatever happened to it.

But what if I had never started? There would have been no "it's like riding a bike" moment for me three years ago. I'm almost certain I wouldn't have gotten a bike as an adult, along with my wife. I would have missed out on the freedom and the exercise. This summer I worked up to 25 miles, and biking has become one of the few hobbies I've developed as an adult. But as you might imagine, some of our students in Highline haven't had the opportunity to ride. And that, at long last, is a segue to the topic at hand...

Cascade Bicycle Club staff review safe riding practices
The Major Taylor Project at Global Connections H.S.

Last week, I spent a glorious afternoon with ten students from Global Connections High School on the Tyee campus. The occasion was a bike ride. Global is one of five sites for the Cascade Bicycle Club's Major Taylor Project, which provides loaner bikes and safe riding instruction to students in the Seattle area. Forty Global Connections students participate in the program, riding once a week after school during the fall and spring. A group of 25 students take it one step further, riding in the Seattle to Portland (STP) event in July. For many, this two-day trip is the first time they'll camp under the stars, and for a few it's their first time away from Seattle in Washington State.

Bikes at the Des Moines Beach Park
We met after school at the former Tyee woodshop facility. I was greeted by principal Rick Harwood, himself an avid cyclist, and math teacher A.J. Campanelli, who told me he sometimes bikes to work when the weather cooperates. Staff from the Cascade Bicycle Club provided some basic safety instructions and away we went. The destination was the beautiful Des Moines Creek Trail, which runs from 200th, just south of the airport, to the Des Moines waterfront. The ride going to Des Moines was easy, flat or downhill the whole way. All 4.2 miles were delightful on this next to last day of summerlike weather in Seattle.

Adults and students alike enjoyed the ride!
The reward of the ride was a half-hour break at Des Moines Beach Park. Students led activities while we were there, including a spontaneous game of hacky sack and a chance to share our favorite moment biking. The latter was especially fun, as people shared their experiences learning, riding the STP, passing a bus uphill, and learning to get around without a car. I shared getting to ride with my sons.

Soon, we were back on our way. The Des Moines Creek Trail is gorgeous (and bikers, they recently finished paving under the bridge!), but the northbound ride is entirely up hill. It's a gradual climb, and Cascade staff Ed and David advised the students on how to keep an easy cadence in a low gear. We all made it in good shape, only to find a much steeper hill when we left the trail. "There's no shame in walking," we were told. They didn't have to tell me twice.

With CBC deputy director Kathy McCabe
Finally, we were back at school. I thanked everybody for the ride, particularly Kathy McCabe, deputy director of the Cascade Bicycle Club (and former director of the Highline Schools Foundation for Excellence). You may not know this, but the Cascade Bicycle Club is a force in the region. Their membership has doubled in recent years to over 14,000 members. Thanks to their generosity, and "paying it forward", they may have 40 more members in the future, the students of Global Connections H.S.

Why have I devoted nearly 1,000 words to an after school bike club? Recently I've been reflecting on the opportunity for Highline students to become the leaders of the 21st Century. I really believe that opportunity is there. The country is getting more diverse. The world is becoming smaller. Students in Highline have a leg up - the Global Connections bike group looks like a mini-United Nations - but they need to develop their leadership and expand their reach. Our students need solid academic skills, but even more they need the experiences that will broaden their horizons and change their lives.

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