Every week, I look forward to meeting with a group of Brook Haven Middle School students who are interested in alternative transportation and the environment. We call our club "Teens Go Green." The club was created last year as a part of the city of Sebastopol and the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition's Safe Routes to School program, which seeks to get more kids walking and biking to school safely.
Last month, we planned a Saturday "Bike Ride to the Movies." We planned to meet in Sebastopol and ride out to Santa Rosa via the Joe Rodota Trail. I want these preteens to know that they can ride their bike to get places, and that the bicycle is a viable form of transportation.
I awoke early on that Saturday morning, peeked out the window, and was relieved to see only fog, no rain. The weather forecast, which I'd been obsessively checking all week, called for "partly cloudy and some showers." To me, it looked like a fine day for a bike ride. I packed up a couple of ziplock bags of homemade ginger cookies (always bring survival rations when you are riding with a group of teenagers), a first-aid kit, an extra helmet, all the tools I need to change a flat and hopped on my bike.
I arrived at the West County Revolution Bike Shop and was enthusiastically greeted by three of the teens. A little bit later, a few more kids and parents showed up. By the time the West County Revolution bike mechanics had rectified a derailleur problem, armed me with an extra lock and tube and I had given a talk on bike safety and bike-path etiquette, we were ready to go.
We rode together in a loose-knit group, loudly calling out "Passing on your left" when going by a pedestrian. Some of us rode side by side when we saw that the path was clear, and we chatted about how much rain we've had, the croaking frogs, the blossoming mustard in the Laguna, and how lucky we were that it was not raining then.
We stopped before every road crossing, and waited for the group to come back together before starting off again. One of the kids told me he was tired and I told him to pedal slowly, that we'd take a break soon. Just after I said that, one of the bikes got a flat, and the whole group pulled over. Everyone got a very practical lesson in changing a flat, the tired kids got a little rest, we ate a bunch of cookies and headed off feeling very refreshed. Who would have thought that a flat tire could be a good thing!
We arrived at the Roxy theater in Santa Rosa, parked our bikes in the parking garage, and went to check out the movies. The Tooth Fairy was the movie of choice, and we headed in carrying our helmets, water bottles and saddle bags, and settled into the comfortable movie seats. My favorite part of the movie was when the Rock's character finally learned how to use his wings. He was giving his girlfriend's son a ride to a talent show, and as they were flying over traffic, the Rock said, "Who needs cars?" I leaned over to the kids and said, "That's like us. Who needs cars when you've got bikes!" They all laughed and agreed.
Our ride back to Sebastopol was lovely. The kids got in a nice pedaling rhythm, and we made it back with no major incidents. Everyone was talkative and happy and proud of themselves for completing the 14 miles on a bicycle!
When we got back to the shop, we hung out talking about the ride, and I taught a couple of the lingerers how to find a hole in a tube and patch it. By then, the sun was shining, and when I got back in the saddle to ride home, I was already planning our next bike ride. Relying on your own body and strength to get somewhere is incredibly empowering and I really want these kids—and all kids—to have as many opportunities as possible to experience this.
Sarah Hadler works for the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition in the Safe Routes to School program; she loves both educating children and teens about bicycle safety and the joys of bicycle riding.
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