Biking through Cancer

Cancer 1

I was on a business trip two years ago when I noticed a lump in my breast. Not being one to panic, I told myself, “It’s probably nothing, but you should get it checked out.” That led to a dizzying spiral of medical appointments and a diagnosis of breast cancer.

One day, between diagnosis and treatment I was making a grueling 4 mile climb on my cargo bike with my kids on the back. My mind was floating through various thoughts and questions about my cancer. “I feel powerful, stronger than I have ever been, yet within me are cells that can kill me, how can this be…why is this happening to me, I’m young, I’m healthy…what will chemotherapy do to me… how will I bare being apart from my bike…who will I be if I can’t ride my bike…will I ever feel this strong again…should I forgo chemo…” When I met with my oncologist 2 long weeks later she reassured me that many people are able to tolerate some level of physical activity throughout some or all of their cancer treatment. Remaining physically active during treatment can have several benefits for both your physical and mental health such as:

  1. Time to reflect on what you are going through and think though treatment options;
  2. Endorphins that elevate your mood;
  3. Promoting a sense of your own health and strength;
  4. Maintaining healthy habits and a healthy weight which have been shown to improve survival;
  5. Reducing fatigue and improving conditioning making your recovery easier;
  6. Helping you stay in touch with other active friends who may provide encouragement and support,

That year I took a lot of medications that helped my body rid itself of cancerous cells, but the best drug for my overall well-being was staying on my bike. Here are 10 things that helped me to keep biking through cancer:

Find a mentor

If you are an active person the advice that you get from your circle of support about how active you should be throughout cancer may not be in alignment with your own desires or abilities. The median age of breast cancer patients is 60, and breast cancer is highest in women over the age of 70 so the mainstream advice about physical activity is tailored for this population. In addition, many people don’t realize how far treatments for side effects such as nausea and pain have come. While my oncology team was supportive of my desire to stay physically active, other doctors and friends kept encouraging me to “take care of yourself,” “get plenty of rest,” “slow down.” This advice made me feel misunderstood.

I decided that I needed to seek out the advice of someone who had been through cancer treatment and could advise and inspire me. A friend suggested, Barb Grover, co-owner of Splendid Cycles. Mustering courage I visited her shop and introduced myself. At that moment I was worried about whether I was going to be able to pull off a bike camping trip that I had planned with friends. She had lots of good thoughts and strategies to share. After some tears I left feeling mostly confident that I could pull it off. Something about our conversation made me feel that she was willing to support me beyond this immediate crisis and I blurted out, “will you be me cancer mentor.” I was immediately overcome with embarrassment thinking “what is a chemo mentor, she is going to think you are a total weirdo?” This worry was needless, instead she hugged me and said, “sure, whatever your need.” It was a wonderful relationship, she was so positive and empowering and still a great source of friendship today.

Don’t limit yourself unnecessarily

Early on I wrestled with whether or not to take the advice about limiting my physical activity. In the end I decided I had been biking around with the cancer in my body for months, maybe even years, feeling wonderfully strong and healthy so why should a few cells growing out of control suddenly change that. I decided to take a trial and error approach. To my surprise, early on in my chemotherapy I was able to keep up almost all of biking as usual. Over time, I slowly became more fatigued and I made adjustments as necessary. I did have days that didn’t go as planned. One day I hopped on my bike to head up to the top of a large hill, for a work meeting. During the climb I felt great, when I sat down for my meeting it felt like my thoughts were swimming in a sea of cotton for about 30 minutes. I could not string together a coherent thought. It was really scary, mostly because I felt like my body was betraying me and behaving in a way that was foreign to me. In these early days I didn’t know what to expect, I wondered, is this the new normal, will I feel like this every day. Being able to check in with my mentor was reassuring. I came to learn that the side-effects of chemo are cyclical, getting worse for a few days and then improving. The day I made this challenging commute was the most sever day in the cycle. Through trial and error I learned I was able to make that commute on any other day of the cycle without these unwanted side effects.

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Set a goal

It is difficult to know what you are going to be capable of while going through your treatment. Everyone’s experience is unique. Your own experience will likely be impacted by your treatment, your body’s reaction to those treatments, and the level of physical activity you engaged in before cancer. You might have days were you feel pretty normal and days were you can barely function. For me the pretty normal days were more common than the barely functional days. Prior to my diagnosis biking had been a strong part of my identity, it brought me joy and a sense of community. It felt important to maintain all of these benefits. I wanted to set a goal that I knew would be achievable even with the uncertainty of treatment. After talking with my mentor, I got the idea to set the simple goal to get on my bike every day even if it was just to go around the block. Most days I was able to maintain my normal bike commuting and social rides. On the days I wasn’t feeling up to riding it made me smile just to hop on for a quick spin around the block. What mattered most was that my goal helped me maintain a sense of control and optimism about my health.

Have a backup plan

When you are beginning treatment or when you are transitioning from one treatment to another it may be hard for you to predict what your body is capably of or how you are going to feel. I found it comforting to think through a backup plan in case I was too fatigued, sick, or dizzy to get home. I lived in a city with good public transportation, so I would look at my routes and take note of where I would be close to public transportation along the way. The day that I had the cotton head incident after biking up to the top of the hill I decided to take the bus to my next destination. If the area where you live doesn’t have good public transportation think of friends you might call on for support, let them know that this might be a possibility. Knowing that you have a back-up plan will allow you to be more confident and open to testing your limits.

Make accommodations as necessary

Be open to the possibility that you may have to make accommodations. It is very likely that your treatment will involve surgery and the corresponding restrictions that follow. Ignoring these restrictions may further complicate your recovery and could lead to long-term complications. I had two surgeries, each requiring me to take a month off of biking. While I missed biking tremendously during that time, I adhered pretty strictly to the recommendations. You and your medical team can talk about what is best for you given how you are recovering. If you are going through chemotherapy or radiation you might feel more fatigued than usual, this is typically cumulative and may affect you more near the end of treatment than at the beginning. Before chemo I would commute on a cargo bike hauling my two kids and sometimes their bikes. This could be an intense workout when it involved long uphill climbs. I quickly learned that my most intense commute, a 16 mile round trip ride with a 3 mile sustained climb in either direction with both kids in tow was too much for me during chemo. Besides that modification I was able to continue commuting with my kids as normal for the first couple of months. After the 4th cycle of chemo I began to get a bit anemic and could no longer keep up with my husband with the kids on board. Going up one steep hill we actually slowed to the point that the bike tipped over. Don’t worry my passengers were scared but no one was injured. I had to admit that it was time to ask for support. My husband borrowed my cargo bike and took over the child hauling when I wasn’t feeling up to it. I would ride my daughter’s zippy Bike Friday folding bike which was much lighter. My mentor mentioned that she started using an e-assist bike. Any strategy that helps you stay on your bike is a good one.

Celebrate the good days

You’re going to have good days and bad days. Chemotherapy specifically has its ups and downs. Surgery too will require a break from your usual level of activity. These periods of involuntary separation from the activities I love only made my longing for them more intense. Making a plan to celebrate by indulging in a long or challenging ride when I was able to, or being flexible enough to seize the day when I was feeling good helped to elevate my mood and make living with cancer more bearable. I was lucky enough to have a lot of banked paid time off at work and not need much of it to deal with treatment. Instead, I used it to fit in long rides for my mental health on my good days. Once every couple of weeks on the best day of my cycle I would fit in a 30 mile ride. I would give myself permission to do whatever felt good. I would wear earbuds and blast my favorite music (while riding on a separated bike path: no nasty email from the safety police please!). I would stand up tip my face to the sun and lean into the wind as I whizzed downhill. I would bike in the pouring rain and head right for the center of the puddles sending fans of water spraying and giggle. It was about letting the joy back into my heart. Other times I would look for community rides so that I could connect with friends. On one memorable ride I rode with friends on a Saturday ride that stretched on for half of the day, we rode up and down two of the highest peaks in our city. I might have been the slowest bike of the bunch, but I felt gloriously triumphant at climbing these hills and taking in the spectacular views.

When you can’t bike get your fix in another way

If there are days when you can’t get on you bike due to surgery restrictions or fatigue find another way to stay connected to your love. I have several friends with cargo bikes who offered to pedal me around. I resisted the idea at first but after being separated from my bike for a few weeks I was desperate enough to give it a try. I had volunteered to lead a family ride before my diagnosis. I didn’t want to renege on my commitment so my husband offered to pedal me on my cargo bike. I got to sit backwards and keep an eye on all of the children. The joy and silliness of this experience opened me up to other friend’s offers and I was toted around town by my friends Madi from Family Ride and Chele. I think those were some of my favorite cancer memories. If you don’t have cargo biking friends get creative in other ways, a walk, a pedi cab ride, maybe even a motorcycle ride.

Harness the support of other bikey friends

Community is one of the benefits many people enjoy about biking, that instant connection you feel with someone else who enjoys the same things you do. This community can be a great source of support to you as you are going through treatment and trying to keep up your biking. I started a private Facebook group to keep my friends and family updated about what I was going through. I decided to add a few of my newer friends from my local biking community who I hoped would help encourage me to keep biking. At first it felt a little weird about sharing such personal information, but I figured they could opt out if it was too much for them. They turned out to be every bit as encouraging as I had hoped. One of these friends organized a Pink Mowhak Party for me when my hair started to fall out. Some people colored their hair pink, others wore colorful wigs, another friend brought a bunch of fake pink hair that the kids had a blast braiding it into their hair. I felt incredibly supported. There were times when biking was a real struggle, but my passion for it never resided. While others would question whether I was doing too much or advising me to take it easy, those in the biking community seemed to understand why this was important to me.

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Make plans for the future

Dreaming up future adventures was a helpful strategy for getting through the overwhelming and tiring days of cancer treatment too. One of my favorite recreational activities is bike camping. I planned a couple if fun trips with family and friends for the summer after my treatment. Having these activities to look forward to made it easier to cope with the day to day hassles of taking multiple medications, attending chemotherapy sessions, fatigue, making accommodations to my normal activities, and being made to feel like a cancer patient. When I was getting down I would remind myself that there would be an end to all of this and fun was in my future.

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I share all of this with the hope that those of you beginning treatment for cancer will have hope that you will be able to maintain the activities that you love to some extent. I also hope that this will help those of you supporting friends and family through treatment to understand the importance supporting your loved ones in maintaining the activities that bring them joy and health throughout their treatment.

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Visibly Fashionable

Fashion Controversy

Biking fashion might seem like a frivolous topic to some, and yet it overlays a chasm in safety philosophy that divides many in the biking community. At the heart of the divide is the question, who should bear the ultimate responsibility for the safety of people riding bicycles, should it be city planners who design the transportation infrastructure, or should it be the individuals riding their bikes? You might enjoy this cartoon by John Greenfield which captures the gist of the debate in this imaginary rap battle between two well known bicycle advocates on opposite sides.

Copenhagen

High Visibility Clothing

Evidence from multiple studies leaves little doubt that high visibility clothing does increase safety. During daylight, wearing florescent colors, as well as some non-florescent colors such as white, yellow, and red has been proven to increase drivers’ detection, recognition, and reaction (Kwan & Mapstone, 2002; Hagel et al., 2007). Nighttime detection, recognition, and reaction is improved by wearing light and reflective clothing (Kwan & Mapstone, 2002). High visibility clothing is also associated with fewer major crash related injuries (Thornley, Woodward, Langley, Ameratunga, & Rodgers, 2012).

Infrastructure

But is high visibility clothing it the best approach? I recently read a post on BikePortland.org that included this great illustration  of randomly photographed cyclists in Portland and Copenhagen. The Copenhagen cyclists look like normal people, not road construction workers. Notice no one is wearing helmets in these photos from Copenhagen either—wow! They must be terribly unsafe, right? Wrong. Copenhagen has very low traffic (motorist and cyclist) fatality rates. Research from Copenhagen indicates that as the number of kilometers traveled by bike increased by 40% from 1990 to 2000 the number of seriously injured bicyclists decreased by 50% (Jensen, 2002). Here in Portland, as the proportion of trips made by bike increased from 1.2% to 5.8% from 1990 to 2000 the total number of road fatalities decreases from an average of 60 per year to less than 35 (City of Portland Bureau of Transportation, 2009). It would seem that biking infrastructure and the sheer volume of cycling it encourages could have a greater impact on safety than factors like visibility and helmet use. Based on injury data different riding environments can be placed on a continuum of risk from lowest starting with cycle tracks, multi-use paths, low traffic local streets, high traffic streets with no parked cars and bike lanes, high traffic streets with parked cars and bike lanes, to the highest risk, high traffic streets with parked cars and no bike lanes (Teschke et al, 2012). From a public health perspective it makes sense to adopt better infrastructure rather than leaving safety up to individual discretion.

Balancing Ideals and Practicalities

Unfortunately, we still don’t compare to Copenhagen, with their 37% trips by bike. Often, especially in SW Portland/Beaverton I find myself walking or biking on streets where cars are moving at 40+ mph and there are no sidewalks or bike lanes. So, until we get some better infrastructure, and a higher percentage of trips are made by bike, it seems advisable to make visibility and helmet use a personal priority.

That being said, I remain torn, I like to wear regular clothes when biking for several reasons. First, when you’re on a bike you’re on display. I don’t always feel comfortable looking like a traffic cone; I want to look like me. Second, it is just easier have one set of clothes that takes me through the whole day. Like many of you I am balancing multiple roles (spouse, parent, employee, friend, volunteer) — who has time for multiple wardrobe changes.  The final reason is the most important to me. I want those who see me riding to identify with me and want to join in the fun.

Inspiration Strikes

I often get my best ideas while biking, there is a lot of space to reflect and ponder. One day I was mulling over this debate while biking and I got an idea. I decided to experiment with creating a garment that would be visible (both day and night) and blended into my office habitat. I wanted a pattern that would accommodate reflective piping in the neckline and waist where they could easily be seen. As well as the arms to help with visibility when using hand signals for turning.  I was taking a class at Modern Domestic to learn how to make pattern alterations. We were making the Dahlia, a dress pattern by Collette Patterns. It seemed to fit the bill and so a new project was born.

I began searching the internet for reflective piping. I would have loved to have found it in a variety of colors, but alas, silver was all I could find. I purchased mine through the internet from Seattle Fabrics.

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Next, I needed to choose the fabric. I wanted to choose a color that was proven to help with visibility but yet would be appropriate for the office, red seemed like a fitting choice. I chose a wool blend. Wool has several properties that make it desirable for cycling: it absorbs and releases moisture quickly, maintains warmth even when wet, and minimizes body odor. This fabric has some lighter fibers woven in that nicely tied in the silver piping.

Sewing in piping is trickier than I anticipated. In class, my instructor recommended that I used a piping foot. At home I didn’t have a piping foot, but I thought I could get by using a zipper foot which allowed me to get closer to the piping than the standard foot. I quickly noticed the advantage of the piping foot. It has a grove on the bottom which insures that the seam is at a consistent distance from the outer edge of the piping giving it a very professional appearance. Try as I might to control my stich with the zipper foot, the results were noticeably inferior. I decided to rip out all that hard work and start again. I invested a couple of dollars in a piping foot, it was well worth it! If you are curious you can check out this YouTube video.

I chose to combine the top of one dress with the bottom of the other. I wanted a dress that would be warm enough for spring and fall riding, thus the top with sleeves, yet offer room for movement when pedaling, thus the fuller skirt.

Another lesson that I learned was that adding piping adds bulk to the seams making it nearly impossible to zip up the invisible zipper. I ended up having to rip out my first attempt and make a few adjustments. In order to facilitate the invisible zipper I clipped out the cord from the inside of the piping a little bit past the seam allowance. In addition, when sewing in the zipper I adjusted the needle position in the area of the garment where the piping added bulk so that the zipper has a little more room to get by. This seemed to do the trick–its smooth zipping now.

Here is the final result, one that is visible when I’m on the bike, doesn’t look like a traffic cone, and blends in, in the office.

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Our Bikey Seattle Spring Break

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Family Biking Community

One of the best parts about being a family that gets around by bike is the sense of community. Here in Portland you can get connected through Kidical Mass PDX or the PDX Cargo Bike Gang on Facebook. These communities are an excellent source of advice about family biking fun and family biking how to. Trust me, your joy in experiencing childhood through the lens of a parent is not complete until you’ve experienced a Kidical Mass ride. It is a parade of cuteness, comradery, empowerment, and fun.

It was through a PDX Cargo Bike Gang dinner meet up that I met Madi, from FamilyRide.com, and started following her blog. Seattle biking comes to life on her blog, and I was inspired to bring the family and check it out. After purchasing our tickets I decided to message her and ask if she had any advice about neighborhoods, routes, or destinations. Madi is an amazing ambassador for Seattle family biking, not only did she give me some helpful pointers, she hooked me up with the Seattle Family Biking group on Facebook, offered to go on a few rides with us, and organized a Seattle Kidical Mass ride during our trip so we could meet even more Seattle biking families. My kids felt super special (I felt pretty special too). My daughter drew this little card for Madi when she learned about the Kidical Mass ride. Between Madi and the Seattle Family Biking group we had all the information we needed to plan a fabulous family biking adventure.

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Day 1

Bolt Bus

We started our adventure on the Bolt Bus. The Bolt Bus is one of the few forms of mass transportation I know of that will allow you to transport a fully assembled cargo bike, thus making it the ideal mode for our trip. While I had seen pictures of Madi’s bike on the Bolt Bus, I was a little nervous about this going off without a hitch.  I actually called Bolt Bus twice to confirm the policy. I called once before booking our tickets. I was told that loading the cargo bike into the cargo bay, unboxed, would not be a problem. The second time I called about another issue, but inquired about the cargo bike again, just to be on the safe side, that time I was told it had to be put in a bike box. As is my style, I decided to go with the answer I wanted to hear, but be prepared with a back-up plan. I am pretty comfortable with a degree of uncertainty and openness to adventure.

Upon stepping off the bus the driver immediately spotted my enormous bike and approached us. “What do you think you are going to do with that?” he asked in a challenging tone.

“I was told it would fit in the bay below,” I offered in as pleasant a tone as I could muster.

He was still giving me the skeptical raised eyebrow.

Having recently spent 6 months evaluating a workplace violence prevention program which focused on de-escalation I reflected quickly on those tools. What applies here…think,  quickly think…ah ha, a common motivation to resolve our difference—getting on the road on time. “I could disassemble the bike a bit—it would take about 15 minutes,” I offered helpfully. We both knew he only had 15 minutes to get on the road.

“Oh, just try fitting it in here,” he offered, opening up an empty bay.

“Yes!” my inner voice celebrated, doing an imaginary happy dance.

It fit with room to spare. We were even able to stack my daughter’s bike on top of mine before sliding it in. I had contemplated taking the Utubes and Hoopties off, but I just ran out of time that morning. They actually made it much easier to slide the bike into and out of the bay.

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Piroshki

Spring break Seattle 075We arrived at noon and we were hungry! I had a very dear friend from graduate school who grew up in Russia. She introduced me to Piroshky on our first trip to Seattle together. If you’ve never had piroshkies they are a treat, hand pies, each one handmade to look a bit different  and filled with either savory or sweet ingredients. Since she moved across the country I miss her a lot. By way of tribute, every time I visit Seattle I stop in at Piroshki. Many may know of their location at Pikes Place, but they also have a store on 3rd where you can sit down. They also have delicious Borscht, a Russian soup made of beets and other veggies. This seemed like the perfect lunch stop for us, the service is fast, the piroshkies are already made and hand pies are naturally a child friendly food.

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Downtown Seattle

After lunch we make our way through downtown Seattle. My daughter rode very confidently, on her own bike, through the busy downtown streets— this is after all her typical habitat. She was quite proud of her family bicycle advocacy when she overheard a woman on the sidewalk comment, “they really need to make a bike lane on this street so kids can ride safely.” She told this story to almost everyone we met.

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Pacific Science Center

Even though it was raining, the kids enjoyed running around and exploring outside at the Seattle Center before heading into the Pacific Science Center. There were many interesting things to explore in the Pacific Science Center, some of their favorites were the actives to experiment with levers and fulcrums, the butterfly arboretum, and a station of brain puzzles that we had to practically drag them way from.

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Riding to Ballard

Spring break Seattle 086After closing down the Pacific Science Center, we decided to head to our rental near NW 28th Ave & 83rd St via the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop. This route was a bit unexpected to me as it seemed like we were riding through a long parking that continue for almost a mile. Not sure if we missed the trail, but we were watching the other bikers and they all seemed to be riding through the parking lot too. I spent most of this section mulling over the logic of routing bikes through a parking lot—sure it was low traffic, but so many opportunities for a car to back out inexpertly into a bike—still perplexed by what that is all about? We crossed the Fremont Bridge and then got on to the Burke Gilman Trail. Love these paved multi-use trails, they make getting around with kids so much more carefree. The last leg of our trip involved climbing up 24th, a 5-6% grade for about a mile. Our daughter hooked up to my husband’s bike using the Follow Me Tandem. Phew, pulling our little people up that hill was a workout!

 

Cafe Munir

After that long ride we opted for something close to our rental for dinner, we chose Cafe Munir. This was my favorite food destinations—I love Lebanese food. I ordered three veggie dishes to share (fire roaster cauliflower, green beans, and asparagus)—I had a feeling the rest of our trip would be severely lacking in that food group. All the veggies came over a tahini and garlic sauce that was mouth wateringly delicious. My husband ordered lamb kabobs which he said were quite good as well.

Seattle day 1

Day 2

Besides exploring Seattle by bike, the other objective of this trip was to test ride the Haul-a-Day. Sadly, Portland does not have a Bike Friday Dealer. I discovered that G&O Family Cyclery carried the Haul-a-Day and offered test rides. As it turned out Madi was picking up a bike from G&O Family Cyclery so we decided to meet up there.

Coyle’s Bake Shop

My daughter’s one request for our vacation was that we eat pastries. When I mentioned this to the Seattle Family Biking group it unleashed a flood of suggestions, apparently Seattle is brimming with delicious pastry destinations. One of the recommendations, Coyles Bake Shop, was right by G&O Family Cyclery so we made a morning of it. Madi met us there, my kids were bubbling with excited to meet her for the first time. I wasn’t going to indulge in any pastries myself…well maybe just a nibble of whatever my husband and kids chose. But, they were not sharing for nothing. My husband assured me that it would be worth the indulgence and ordered me three different pastries. The sour cream scone with dates was what I went for first, flakey on the outside, soft on the inside, a noticeable sour cream flavor, and just the right amount of sweetness, yum! I wouldn’t have chosen the mango passion fruit tart but since it was in front of me… It was surprisingly wonderful, an intense flavor, equal measure tartness and fruity sweetness. I don’t even recall the third, I am pretty sure it was consumed before I could get to it.

G&O Family Cyclery

I was excited the checkout G&O Family Cyclery, a small bike shop selling family bikes that is a hub of the family bike scene in Seattle. We got to meet Tyler Gillies, one of the owners, who was very welcoming. He saw my daughter admiring a silver child’s Soma Bart with drop handle bars and pulled it out of the window and encouraged her to take it for a test ride. I envy the child who gets to take that beauty home! Donald was one of most approachable and helpful mechanics I have interacted with. And that’s saying a lot because we have some pretty wonderful bike mechanics back in Portland too. He took the time to explain the numerous ways the Hual-a-Day could be adjusted to fit both myself and my husband. He talked to us about how the bike could be customized. My rear brake on the Big Dummy was almost useless and he fit us in for a repair while we were doing a test ride. If a Haul-a-Day is in my future, I will defiantly look into the possibility of ordering here, I ❤ G&O Family Cyclery!

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Did I describe G&O Family Cyclery as the hub of the family bike scene, well it must be so because, not only did we met Madi there, I also ran into Brad Hawkins, who I grew up with in a small town in Eastern Oregon. He is now a cyclist and a musician who bikes around town with his cello. After catching up a little, I noted to myself that, in retrospect it makes sense that anyone self-assured enough to brave the stigma of playing the French horn in marching band as a kid is bound to develop into a really engaging and interesting person in adulthood. It was such a happy surprise to bump into him in a bike store of all places.

 Haul-a-Day Test Ride

I have been considering switching my Big Dummy out for a Haul-a-Day for quite some time. It offers a few advantages over the Big Dummy that are attractive to me:

  1. It has a lower deck, putting the weight of my wiggling children down lower, where they are less likely to cause the bike to topple over;
  2. It is highly adjustable and could fit both me and my husband;
  3. The frame can be shortened enough to fit on the front of a bus or Amtrak bike rack, allowing our car free family more options for multi-modal transportation;
  4. It is light enough that I could lift it on and off the bus or train racks without a struggle.

I have read several reviews of the Haul-a-Day. More than one commented that they are less stable than a more traditional diamond type frame, and that the smaller wheels can make the steering a bit squirrely. These reviews concerned me but, I wanted to experience it myself, and decide if these issues were mild enough to be overshadowed by the benefits mentioned above.

By Madi Carlson
By Madi Carlson

At my suggestion, Madi lead us on a test ride to Green Lake, which has a multi-use path around the shore of the lake. It was a lovely sunny day. We came across a vendor giving out free samples of frozen treats and stopped to enjoy them on the lake shore. Then we continued on around letting the children stop and play at the playground for a few minutes.

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If the Haul-a-Day was less stable or squirrely, I couldn’t tell. To the contrary, the lower deck made it feel more stable to me. It had a front mounted basket that was a little hard for me to get used to. The basket was large (deep, not wide) and covered my view of the front wheel. For some reason not being able to see my wheel respond when I turned the handle bars threw me off when getting started. Still, having the basket mounted to the frame meant that I could put my heavy backpack in the basket without impacting the steering, yay! Once I was moving I got the swing of it. The final verdict, I loved it!

Carkeek Park

Next we wanted to do some hiking and check out a beach so we headed to Carkeek Park. The descent down to the park was a bit steep and winding which made for a thrilling ride, but I couldn’t help but wonder if this would be the only way out. Curse the Google Map app for iPhones, it still doesn’t provide the change in elevation! Well, too late, might as well enjoy ourselves now and face the consequences later. We parked our bikes at the information center and hikes down to the beach. The weather was warm and sunny and the kids stripped off every article of clothing we would allow them to and ran for the water. On our way back to the bikes we saw a sign indicating that they were feeding the salmon fry. We wandered up the path and found the park ranger. He was packing up, but kindly walked my children back up the path and let them feed the salmon fry. He talked with them at length about salmon eggs and how salmon migrate and return to spawn. They were eating it up. Then we hurried back to our bikes to conquer that steep and winding climb up Carkeek Park Rd, which has no bike lane, before dark.

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Pestle Rock

We had intended to stay in the Ballard Neighborhood so we could partake of some of the great restaurants, but as it turned out we were out exploring so much that we didn’t take in much of that scene. We did make it a point to head back to Ballard this night and enjoyed some Thai food at Pestle Rock. This wasn’t your typical Thai food, there were lot of fish and salad options. I had the yum kao tod, a crispy curried rice dish which was seasoned with fresh Ginger, and other herbs. The lettuce that it came with it was a nice cool and crisp accompaniment to the dish’s intense flavor and spice. My son and husband raved about the Muu Pha Lo which was a pork that had been stewed in spices and herbs and was reportedly also very flavorful and succulent.

Seattle day 2

(Note: the path to Green Lake shown below was what Google suggested, Madi’s route was though a neighborhood greenway. I didn’t pay enough attention to street names to map it though.)

Day 3

Ballard Locks

On day 3 we headed down to the Ballard Locks. We were delighted to come across friends from Portland arriving there at the same time. This being a Friday there were lots of boats coming through the locks. We were able to see boats come through both the small and large locks. In addition we were able to see the Fremont bridge raise up to let a sail boat through. The kids found all of this very interesting. The deck of the Big Dummy made a great platform for viewing the action.

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Elliot Bay Trail

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Madi met up with us as we were leaving the locks to ride take us for a ride on the Elliot Bay Trail down to the Seattle Aquarium. The Elliot Bay Trail was by far my favorite ride of the whole trip. In fact, if there is a lovelier urban biking trail, I haven’t experienced it. Early on the trail you are riding alongside train tracks. We got to see several Boeing airplanes being shipped by train, wings removed, which was pretty exciting for our little train enthusiast. Then you reach a stretch that is very park like bordering the Puget Sound.  As you are biking along the city scape becomes visible on the horizon. Unlike the Portland water front, pedestrians and bikes have separate spaces making it less chaotic. There was also considerably less traffic making it considerably more enjoyable. We even felt safe giving our littlest rider, who just learned to pedal a few months ago, an opportunity to experience some independent riding.

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Seattle Aquarium

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The aquarium was as good as any we have visited, however, the “parking squid” turned out to be the real attraction for my kids. Madi explained to us that the squid was not only a piece of art—It was also intended to be used as a bike rack. Unlike many artistic bike racks this one was actually quite well suited for the purpose. And, it was a wonderful climbing structure which kept my kids engaged for almost an hour.

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Red Mill Burgers

On the way home we stopped at Red Mill Totem House. This is one of two Red Mill Burger joints in Seattle. This place got rave reviews from folks in the Seattle Family Biking group. We were told by others that Oprah rated their burgers among the 20 best burgers you must try before you die. With endorsements like that we had to check it out. We indulged in burgers (veggie for some of us), fries, AND milkshakes. It was everything you fantasize that burger joint food should taste like. We left to face our mile long climb very full and satisfied.

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Day 4

Kidical Mass

The Kidical Mass ride was the highlight of the trip for my kids. They were so excited to meet all the Seattle biking family kids. My daughter felt pretty special that her request for pastries had inspired the “Dessert-filled Kidical Mass” ride. To illustrate her gratitude, she drew a picture featuring Madi’s “Momma Bike” for the back of our bike. It was great weather for the ride and we had a nice turn out. The ride began at the Ballard Library so we arrived early and read books for about an hour. Then we headed across the street to play at the Ballard Commons Park where the kids enjoyed watching the skateboarders preform tricks in the skate bowl. After going through the rules, Madi started the ride. We headed down the Ballard Greenway. There was a pack of young riders, including my daughter and Madi’s boys that tried to take the lead, but Madi was able to reign them in, wow, props to her, she’s got skills! Our pastry destination was Café Besalu. After eating way too many pastries we headed to headed to Adams Elementary School playground were most families hung out while the kids played for another hour or more.

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Fremont Troll

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We wanted to fit in one last destination and we decided on the Fremont Troll. Madi offered to lead us there, which I was very grateful for because upon seeing the approach, I think it would have been very tricky to get there with nothing but Google Maps as a guide. My son was feeling a little left out as all the other kids had their own bikes. We had strategically decided to leave one child bike at home so that the kids could trade off when they got fatigued—a plan that had worked brilliantly until that moment. Madi saved the day by letting him ride on the Momma Bike. I did feel a little guilty when Madi had to climb the steep hill to the troll with him on back while I was luxuriously child free, THANKS MADI!!! As soon as they set eyes on the troll they ran for it and began climbing. Before I knew it my daughter was on top of his head. When they digressed to rock throwing my husband directed them all back to the bikes.

Blue C Sushi 

We were all starving by that point, and Madi offered that there was a conveyor belt sushi place nearby—we were in. Conveyor belt sushi is a brilliant option for dining with children for a variety of reasons: the entertainment of the sushi coming around on the track; the opportunity for the kids to make their own choices; and the instantaneousness of getting the food in front of them. It was about as stress free and enjoyable as any dining out experience with four kids could be.

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(Again, this probably not totally accurate for the parts Madi was leading us, but it gives you’re the gestalt.)

Day 5

Golden Gardens Park

Our final day was spent hanging out with Madi and Sara and their families at Golden Gardens Park. Golden Gardens Drive was another fast, windy and joyful decent,  especially since we knew we didn’t have to climb back up it. The park had a great playground with a large climbing structure. The kids also enjoyed combing the beach for shells and beach glass. When it was time for us to head toward downtown to catch the Bolt bus the whole crew decided to ride with us along the Burke Gilman Trail back to the Ballard Locks. This was another lovely stretch of trail, almost totally flat. One of my favorite parts of riding with other families is the mixing of kids and bikes. I got Sara’s daughter and Madi squeezed Bryant between her boys. Hearing the whimsical role play conversations that happened on the back of my bike between this pair was delightful. We stopped at the locks so say a quick good bye. I was worried that we were cutting it a bit close. Our previous driver had recommended that we arrive 30 minutes early so we could be sure to catch the return driver before he/she started loading and let him/her know we had bikes. Unfortunately, we screeched in exactly 15 minutes before departure and the bus was mostly loaded. Luckily, they hadn’t even opened one of the bays and we are able to get our bikes no problem.

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Photo by Sara Daum Fowle
Photo by Sara Daum Fowle
Photo by Sara Daum Fowle
Photo by Sara Daum Fowle
Photo by Sara Daum Fowle
Photo by Sara Daum Fowle
Photo by Sara Daum Fowle
Photo by Sara Daum Fowle

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Thank You Seattle Family Biking Community!

What an amazing trip! Thanks to everyone from the Seattle Family Biking group who made recommendations and joined us for the Dessert Filled Kidical Mass Ride. We didn’t get to experience all of the recommendations—something to look forward to for our next bikey Seattle adventure. The kids are already begging to go back. Huge thanks to Madi who is the best family biking ambassador that any city could have, and to Sara who shared her family with us. Our trip wouldn’t have been half as fun without you all riding with us! Hope I can pay it forward and ride with some of you in Portland sometime.

Do you have a recommendation for another city that is fun to explore by bike? I would love to hear your suggestions below.

Toward a More Self-Regulated Child

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At this stage parenting is 40% snuggles and adorableness, and 60% battleground. We are using all the traditional parenting strategies. They are using all out guerilla warfare. It’s hard to tell from moment to moment who has the upper hand. New strategies are always needed. Here is one that has been helping keep the peace in our family lately…

Discovering Audiobooks

My oldest has never been drawn to toys. As a toddler her favorite activity was being read to. We quickly learned that our public library allowed us to check out 150 books. Both my husband and I often had our accounts maxed out. We would keep renewing as long as they would let us. Friends would joke that we should be classified as a library annex. One benefit of all this reading was that our daughter practically began speaking in full sentences. Both she and her brother have great vocabularies, it was entertaining to hear preschoolers use words like dissipate and cacophony. However, I am not a big fan of reading and became very weary of this over time.

A few years ago, when I was signing the kids up for the summer reading program at the library, I noticed that audiobooks counted as a reading activity. I discovered the library’s audiobook app. My daughter loved it. She soon developed an enthusiasm for a few series: The Box Car Children, Nancy Drew, and How to Train your Dragon, to name a few. There was typically a waiting list for the books she wanted. Hoping to find a better selection I discovered the Audible app and we began accumulating a mass of audiobooks to match our library annex.

Books on Bikes: a Perfect Solution

We get around by bike. While two kids on the back of a longtail make an adorable image, the reality can sometimes be quite different. It is not uncommon for our commutes to take 45 minutes plus. Long trips can equal boredom, and boredom quickly deteriorates into tickling, pinching, poking, pushing, and other antics to excite a reaction from the other sibling. Besides the screaming that this elicits, the shifts in weights can get downright dangerous, especially when going slowly up hill in a narrow bike lane. This is where audiobooks come in handy. An iPod, headphone splitters, and a good story are the perfect recipe for tranquility.

When Good Things Go Bad

If the audiobooks had stayed on the bike we would never have had a problem. However, my kids, especially my daughter started asking to listen to audiobooks at other times. Not realizing where this was going at first, I obliged her. But before long I started noticing that when I asked her to turn the iPod off and engage in a different task she ignored me. When I turned it off, after warning her that I was going to if she couldn’t do it herself, she would become irate and hostile. I became more selective about when I would let her listen and tried to establish clearer boundaries about when it was appropriate and when it was not. When I refused she would whine, beg, and question, “whyyyyyyy not?” It was as if audiobooks were the soundtrack to her life and she couldn’t function without them. What once had been a wonderful thing had become yet another battleground.

Chances are if you are a parent you’ve faced a similar situation. With my kids its audiobooks, with others it might be TV, or video games. Even reading can preoccupy some kids to the point that it is interfering with other worthwhile activities. The point is, we want our kids to be well rounded and learn how to manage their own time better. But how can we help them move toward that?

A Borrowed Idea

Just about that time a Facebook friend, Jared Anderson, posted a picture some “Spending Time” cards he had made for his kids. I asked Jared about the cards and this is what he told me:

“My motivation in making the Spending Time cards is I wanted to give a sense of proportion rather than playing into the task-reward dichotomy. So screen time isn’t something you “earn”, making that the reward and other activities the “work”. Instead, the time cards can give children a healthy sense of what kind of balance daily activities should have.”

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I could see the wisdom in Jared’s idea. We have used rewards/incentives in our household, and they can be effective, but they do have their downsides. For one, the child’s motivations is external rather than internal, if the reward is removed, they are no longer motivated. And, over time rewards tend to lose their appeal. For example a child who’s parents use video games as a reward for doing his/her homework may suddenly decide that he/she no longer desires to play video games if it means having to do homework first. I have witnessed this first hand and I want to avoid that pitfall when possible.

The thought occurred to me that something similar Jared’s Spending Time cards could help my kids begin to learn to manage their time on their own and reduce my conflicts with them.

Designing the Time Use System

When designing the cards for my kids I wanted a theme that they would enjoy. One of the biggest interests right now is our foster kitties. For the last 9 plus month we have been taking care of two kitties while their regular family is in Europe. My kids adore these cats. Their owners will be returning soon, so I thought it would be neat to make the cards a tribute to them. I tried to incorporate a bit of their personalities in the illustrations. They were a big hit. My kids giggled when they first saw them and spent a good deal of time admiring and playing with them.

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(Card activities in order: art center; homework; audiobook; physical activity; playing a game, chores; making bed; playing with toys)

Next, I needed a way for them to keep track which cards had been spent. After considering several ideas I decided on a flannel board. This way they could see all of their options and move them around into the order they prefer. I divided the flannel board into a “To Do” side and a “Done” side. I thought it might be satisfying for them to move things from one side to the other. In addition, if something is displayed on the “Done” side it is a good reminder to choose a different option. Before leaving for work I typically put out the cards I think we will have time for when we get home. I let them organize them in the order they want to do them. On weekends we start with all of the options on the board. If we make it all the way though, they start over. I added some pockets on the bottom to store the cards we weren’t using.

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So far they seem to be enjoying it and it and conflict around the audiobooks has diminished.

Now we are off to enjoy our 60 minutes of physical activity…

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Share Your Thoughts

If you have any thoughts about our Spending Time system, ideas for promoting harmony on family rides, or helping your children to become more self-regulating I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

G.I. Vivian

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The Mission

It all started when Vivian marched in and stated in a commanding voice, “Brigadier General Hanson, you have a mission.”

“A mission,” I asked?

“You say, yes Sir!”

“Yes, sir! What is the mission Major General Sir?”

“I need a combat dress!”

“A combat dress?”

“You say, yes Sir!”

“Yes, Sir!”

“I’ll make a sketch for you.”

“Yes, Sir!”

“Oh boy,” I thought, “what is this all about?” I followed my typical strategy…I played it off and hoped it was a passing fancy. Ninty-nine percent of her schemes are forgotten as soon as they are mentioned. But she kept perseverating on the design, drawing pictures and writing me notes about it. Turns out she and some friends at school had been playing army.

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Strategizing

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What’s a mom supposed to do…I relented. We started by searching the internet for a pattern that would meet her specifications. She chose this Kwik Sew pattern. Next we took a trip to Joanne’s to pick our the fabric. She chose this camo couture, foiled satin camouflage, an olive green cotton, and some delicate cream lace. I wanted to give the lace a little more structure so I added a matching cotton fabric to go underneath it. She may want to look like a princess, but she plays like a marine.

A Tailored Plan

camo dress 081 The pattern she chose has fitted sleeves. I knew it would need altered, like her momma, she’s got some impressive guns. I knew she would need to have sleeves a couple of sizes bigger than the bodice. I recently took a sewing class from Modern Domestic where I learned to use Swedish Tracing Paper to redraw the pattern pieces to blend from one size to another. I was able to blend a medium bodice with a XL sleeve; worked like a charm.

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A glass table top and a flash light are very handy when transferring pattern markings for pockets, collars, etc.

 

Technology, I Love You!

camo dress 103Up until recently I was using a manual, bottom of line Brother sewing machine that my mom got me for my high school graduation. Every time I wanted to sew a button hole I had to pull out the manual. It took me about 20 minutes to follow all the steps for a single button hole; it was PAINFUL! That machine finally gave up the ghost and my husband got me a new Brother SE400 sewing and embroidery machine. At first I was totally intimidated by its electronic features. But when I finally pulled out the manual and figured out how to use the LCD screen it was so simple! Sewing a button hole is as simple as pushing a button, and look at this overcast stich; a thing of beauty. I love this machine! YouTube has made sewing so much simpler too. When I read an instruction for a pattern I don’t understand, I simply watch a YouTube video, or two, and it all becomes clear. Sewing is so much easier than when I first learned.

Project Oversight

This year we have become foster parents to two cats while their parents are in Europe. They love it when I bring out a sewing project. They play in the fabric and sit on the table and watch me sew. I have to be really careful of their little paws. It is pretty cute to observe their curiosity, even if they are a bit of a nuisance sometimes.

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Accessorizing

While working on the dress Vivian started asking if I could make a matching headband too. I had some extra fabric so decided to make some shabby chic roses. If you want to learn how to make these yourself check out this YouTube video. We had so much fun making these that we ended up making enough for a broche for me too. I used one of the hundreds of freebie buttons that Bryant has managed to collect. Shhhhh, this is top secret; I would be in some major trouble if this were to get out!

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The Mission Was a Success!

It was a lovely, spring-like February day, so we biked to church in our matchy, matchy. Afterwards we visited a business courtyard in our downtown neighborhood, which doubles as our backyard. The kids rode their scooters. Their dad and I chased them around on the bike. We got some cute pictures. I think she makes a pretty adorable Major General. What do you think?

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Tree Farm Ride

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We have often passed by Christmas tree farms in the summer on our way to some of our favorite hiking spots. Oregon grows more Christmas trees than any other state in the country, and the NW is the heart of the industry. I have always thought it would be fun to visit one of these farms and cut our own tree. This year there was some discussion on PDX Cargo Bike Gang Facebook page about which farms were most accessible by bike. We learned that the Holscher’s tree farm, 16530 SE Foster Road, was only 14 miles from downtown Portland. Almost the entire ride is on the Springwater Corridor Trial. I couldn’t resist giving it a try.

Ornaments from Bikecraft

Before heading out to the tree farm, we stopped by Bike Farm to check out Bikecraft. Bikecraft is a small annual holiday gift fair with handmade and locally produced gifts for bike lovers. My favorite vender was Velco Gioielli where each of the kids picked out a new ornament to commemorate our first ride to the tree farm. My birthday is in December so I picked out a one of a kind necklace made out of bicycle chain and ornamented with topaz.

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Strategies for Making the Longish Ride Enjoyable for the Kids

I am learning to balance my love of long rides with my children’s threshold for being on the bike. They bore of beautiful scenery and the exhilaration of physical activity much sooner than I do. Once those thrills are over, they have little tolerance for the tediousness of the ride. If you have been on a long ride then you know that your saddle starts to get sore after a while. We adults soldier on, not the kiddos, the moment discomfort sets in we hear about it over, and over, and over until we do something about it. Here are some strategies that have helped us insure that the ride stays fun for everyone:

  • Use public transportation to cut down on riding time: There are a few cargo bikes that will fit on the front of a bus like the Kinn Cascade Flier and the Haul-a-Day. My Big Dummy won’t fit, so I am relegated to the MAX. I have figured out that I can stand it upright, balancing on the Hooptie and fit pretty reasonably into the designated bike area on the MAX. I have to keep a hand on it for stability. Not sure if it is technically okay with TriMet policy to have the Big Dummy on MAX since it is still too tall to hang from the hook they provide. As it turned out, the Trimet security officers stood right next to me for part of this trip and never questioned it, so I felt reasonably legit. Since Bike Farm is near the Convention Center MAX Station, we cut out some of the ride by taking the Green Line to Lent’s Town Center MAX Station. That allowed us to take the 205 Multi-use Path to the Springwater Corridor Trail. By doing this, a 14 mile trip to the farm was cut to a 4 mile trip, boo ya!

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  • Plan to be flexible: In the week prior to the ride I checked out different routes. Safety, and keeping the kids off busy roads without protected bike paths or lanes is the ultimate goal, however this is not always possible. We were hoping to bike all the way home, but developed a backup plan where my husband and the kids could bike back to the Lent’s Town Square Max Station if the weather took a turn for the worse, or they had, had as much fun as they could stand.
  • Pack entertainment: My kids love audio books so much that we have a subscription to Audible. Having these audio books handy on the iPod has been a miracle worker for us on long bike trips. It keeps their mind occupied and prevents them from complaining or getting rowdy on the back of the bike. Since this was a Christmas activity, I downloaded a few new audio books, the Magic Tree House Christmas in Camelot, and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. The iPod was also loaded with Christmas music, and I brought our little Pebble waterproof bluetooth speaker so we could all listen together.
  • Pack snacks: I always pack a few snacks, this allows us the freedom to take breaks when the children need them, or take advantage of a spontaneous stop without being worried about when the hangries are going to set in. For these cold days having a thermos of hot coco can help too. I like to bring Dixie cups; these little shots of happiness can be a quick pick me up when the murmuring starts to set in. Yet they are small enough you can spread the happiness out over the course of a long ride without putting everyone into a sugar coma.

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  • Plan fun stops: Planning funs stops gives the kids something to look forward to and gives them a chance to get off the bike and let their saddle recover a bit. On the way home we made a stop at Piece of Cake and enjoyed some delicious cupcakes. The shop is packed full of strange and fun antiques and collectibles. The kids had a great time playing I Spy.

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Park of an old Portland amusement park ride, "The Tunnel of Love." I thought it looked like a sleigh.
Part of an old Portland amusement park ride, “The Tunnel of Love.” I thought it looked like a sleigh.

One Hiccup

One word of Caution, the last ¼ of the ride was up Foster Road. There was no bike lane and cars were traveling about 45 mph. This was not a comfortable situation for family biking. As we waited at the intersection a woman walking her dog looked on in distress. “The bike lane is that way” she offered helpfully. “We came from that direction, we are headed this way” my husband said. As we pulled onto Foster she began yelling in panic, “WHERE IS THE BIKE LANE…THERE IS NO BIKE LANE…WHERE IS THE BIKE LANE…THERE IS NO BIKE LANE…” until we were out of earshot. I don’t know which frayed my nerves more the traffic or her heckling. As it turned out the directions for Google weren’t great for getting us the last bit of the route. We had hoped to follow signs but it turns out there were a cluster of Christmas tree farms in that area and signs were pointing in every which direction. Given our discomfort with riding on Foster, we just pulled into the first one we came upon which turned out to be Couturier Christmas Tree Farm. It was a lovely farm, and the family was super nice and helpful. That night as my husband and I lay in bed reflecting over the fun of the day I asked, “Do you think that lady that was yelling at us was crazy?” Then we began to chuckle realizing that she is probably thought the same thing about us!

A Wonderful Day

Foster aside, it was a lovely ride. The weather was perfect, no rain, and 50+ degrees. The farm was cute and festive, and the kids had a great time playing among the trees. We experienced many fun surprises along the Springwater Corridor which added to the children’s enjoyment. We stopped and talked to some horse riders. The biggest thrill for my son was biking right alongside the Polar Express all lit up. What a magnificent sight for our little train enthusiast. The kids enjoyed themselves almost the entire trip. We were able to bike all 14 miles back, making our round trip 18 miles. We all agreed that it was a good time and something we would do again.

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The SP&S 700 was decked out as the Polar Express. This train is massive. The wheels are almost as tall as I am. It looked very dramatic all lit up.
The SP&S 700 was decked out as the Polar Express. This train is massive. The wheels are almost as tall as I am. It looked very dramatic all lit up.

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Happy Holidays to you all!

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. I would especially love to hear your tips for successful family biking and/or planning safe routes.

Going Car Free

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We are finally doing it—we are selling our only car. To some this may seem like a radical thing to do. My mother tells us that it is “un-American” to not own a car. Some may wonder if we have succumbed to some radical Portland counter culture. I assure you that this is a well thought out and reasonable choice. Here are a few of the factors that have lead us to make this decision: we have lots of other transportation options, owning a car is an inconvenience to our lifestyle, we can use the money on things we value more, and it’s a healthier alternative.

Many Transportation Options

Getting to Know Public Transportation         

We were introduced to using public transportation in Portland by necessity. At the time, I was going to graduate school at Portland State University and working up on Marquam Hill at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). Parking is scarce in both locations. In fact, there was a waiting list to get parking at OHSU. I was on that list for about 4 years and I never made it to the top. OHSU did offer highly subsidized Tri-Met passes, which was a wonderful employee perk. That is how this small town girl was introduced public transportation. I very quickly began to prefer it over driving. At the time we lived in Beaverton and it was a long commute in heavy traffic. Taking public transportation offered the opportunity to recaptured time that would otherwise be squandered in traffic and looking for parking. This came in handy while I was working and cramming for comprehensive exams for my PhD. I also enjoyed the sense of community that formed among those of us who regularly commuted on this route. Later we moved downtown because it made for a very easy commute to OHSU allowing us to bank even more of that precious commodity–time. When I was offered a better paying job I had to think very hard about losing that Tri-Met pass because by then it had become so valuable to me. After crunching the numbers, I realized that it did make financial sense to take the new position. In addition, I would practically have door-to-door service on the MAX, Portland’s light rail, another reason to love our downtown location.

Falling in Love with Bicycling

Ironically, parenthood and the work-life juggle was what first motivated me to take up biking. While some might think biking would be terribly inconvenient for a working mother of two, it was the solution to a puzzle I was trying to solve. As a child-free adult, I loved working out. It was a nice way to decompress from the day, and it felt great to be strong and healthy. With each child it became increasingly more challenging to find the time and energy to get to the gym. I study health and work-life integration, and yet it felt like I was floundering at it personally. I knew I would feel better physically and mentally if I could find a way to fit some exercise back into my routine, but how? The workplace wellness programs I was reading about as part of my research suggested that busy employees find a way to fit fitness into their lifestyle (e.g., walk, run, or bike to work, have walking meetings or lunch breaks). Portland has an amazing biking infrastructure. I saw bikes everywhere, but I didn’t identify with them, I thought of them as a spandex wearing, bike racing, exotic sub-culture. Nothing, and no one, could ever convince me to put on one of those spandex bike jerseys! Besides, how could I get my two kids to and from childcare, and would it be safe? Then a good friend of mine started talking about purchasing a cargo bike. I had my reservations. Then one day she showed up with her kids on the bike, it only took seeing how happy they looked to realize that this could be a solution to the puzzle.

Cargo bikes are not cheap but they are a good value, both financially and personally. It took a little work to convince my husband of the economics. Some simple calculations indicated that I could gain back the cost of a used cargo bike if I were to commute on it every day for a year. I committed to my husband that I would do this, and so the challenge was born. It was hard at first. I had really gotten out of shape. My children at 3 and 5, who have always rocked the growth charts, were not light cargo. However, in retrospect it seems inevitable that I would fall in love with family biking. My commute to pick them up was often quicker than riding the MAX or getting stuck in downtown traffic. Biking got easier with time, and it was exhilarating and empowering to think, “I got myself and my children here under my own power.” Pedaling my precious cargo up the hilly Portland terrain is a labor of love and service that bonded me to them even more deeply. In addition, commuting together in close proximity offered us the opportunity for great conversations and physical connectedness. After 2+ years I am fully converted to bicycle commuting and look for any excuse to get on my bike. No lifestyle change has brought me greater joy.

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Taxis and Car Shares

For those trips in the metro area when public transportation and biking are inconvenient there are lots of other good options. There is always that old stand-by the taxi. However, car shares are often less expensive and more convenient. Zipcar and Car2Go have many cars located near where we live and work. In a matter of minutes we can go on-line and reserve a Zipcar close to us. We simply use our card to unlock the door, gas and insurance are included in the cost of the ride, and we always have a guaranteed parking spot. Car2Go is bit different, you pay by the minute and the car can be parked anywhere in the “home area.” It’s good for short trips, when you might be out of the car for a long period of time and don’t want to pay for it to be sitting in a parking lot somewhere. Then there are peer-to-peer car shares, like Getaround and Relayrides, that allow us to rent a car directly from another car owner wanting to earn a little income from their unused car. We are confident these options will help fill any transportation gaps that public transportation and biking cannot fill.

Planes, Trains, and Rental Cars

Distant friends and family have no fear—we have heard your concerns. We assure you that we value spending time with you too. We will not let the lack of a car keep us away from you. Several of you are accessible by train. Given our youngest’s deep interest in trains we have had a lot of exposure to Amtrak and it has become our favorite way to travel as a family. The seats are roomy compared to an airplane and the children are free to roam and explore. In some cases we can even bring our bikes aboard and we are excited about the possibility of exploring your cities by bike. There are always rental cars and airplanes to visit those of you not accessible by train.

The Inconvenience of Car Ownership

Our downtown condo does not include a parking space. Parking in downtown Portland costs over $160 a month and that is a luxury we choose not to splurge on. We have always managed some sort of work around. For several years Jim had a job outside of downtown, this meant that we only had to pay for an hour or two of parking in the evenings. When that job ended we would park the car at my work which was located on the MAX line and I would drive it home only when we needed it. After we started commuting by bike, we found that we used the car less and less. It got to the point that we only used the car to get to church in Beaverton on Sundays. The bike commute to church is a little more grueling than most family member are willing to take on. So instead, every Saturday night my husband would take the MAX out to my work and retrieve the car. Then Sunday evening we would have to find a time to take it back out there. We were carpooling with another downtown family so the inconvenience seemed somewhat justified. However, at some point it became clear this really was the only weekly use we had for our car. In that light, the hassle just didn’t seem worth it. We decided that getting to church by bus would be more practical.

The Expense of Car Ownership

Car ownership costs are the second largest expense for most households according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. We started to think about what we were spending on to this car (the one we hardly used) and realized this was money that could be put to better use, paying off school loans, our children’s education, retirement, or vacations. We didn’t have car payments, and we were consuming very little gas, so we were already realizing a lot of savings in comparison to the average household. Still, our insurance was about $1,800 a year and then there were car repairs and maintenance. After looking up the Bluebook value we realized that over the 7 years we owned the car, it lost $13,000 in value.  That is over $1,800 per year.  Using car share options, we do not have to absorb the total cost of depreciation ourselves.

In addition there were the parking tickets. Even being extra vigilant, and my husband is about as vigilant as they come, parking tickets are a way of life when you live downtown. And it’s not just the expense, parking tickets are psychologically traumatizing. Every time we would get a ticket I would feel sick thinking about where could have spent that money. When I see a parking monitor, even if our car is nowhere in sight, I go into fight or flight mode, “did I forget to pay for parking, is my meter expired, is the parking ticket on the right side of the car…” Its like urban warfare out there…okay maybe an exaggeration, but you get my point. While contemplating selling the car my husband and I began to fantasize about a time when there would be no more parking tickets, or threats of parking tickets, and we were practically giddy.

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Identifying with a Healthier Lifestyle

As we transitioned from a dual car family, to a family with lighter and lighter car use we recognized a lot benefits for our physical and mental health. All of that time that we used to spend behind the wheel of a car is now an opportunity for physical activity. We walk or bike most places. Biking offers many mental health benefits too. It is a great way to unwind and transition from one role to another. There is an experience of living in the moment that you just don’t experience in a car, being out in the elements, taking in the season changes, slowing down, and taking notice of the scenery and people. In addition, there is the sense of accomplishment when you make it to the top of a big, steep hill. Best of all is the sheer joy of racing downhill. I can’t help but smile when I’m on my bike, it makes me happy.

Our children are participating in these active modes of transportation too. Our daughter has been riding her own bike since last spring. We have a Follow Me Tandem, which allows us to easily couple and uncouple her bike to ours depending on her energy level and the safety of the area we are biking in. Our son just recently learned how to ride his own bike too. When we initially talked to them about our plans to sell the car my son had a few reservations; he is still young and prioritizes his comfort above any other consideration. After listening to his concerns my daughter said to him, “well, we are a biking family, that’s just what we are.” My son nodded his head, “yup, we’re a biking family.” At that moment, I knew it was going to be okay. We are a biking family, and this is just what we do.

Saying Good Bye to the Big Red Car

While it makes sense to sell our car at this time, it is not an easy decision to make, we have grown attached to our “Big Red Car.” This was our first new car purchase. We bought this car as we entered into parenthood. We imagined that it would be a good way to chauffer our children around. We picked this small Toyota RAV4 because we wanted a car that would be a good compromise between fuel efficiency and person carrying capacity. It was the smallest SUV with three rows of seating. We imagined carpooling with our kids and their friends to church activities and sporting events. For seven years this car has served us well. It was the car that we took our babies home from the hospital in. As an aside, both of our babies screamed bloody murder anytime they rode in it, perhaps it was during these painful moments we first began to hatch our escape plan. It has taken us on long trips to see distant relatives. It has allowed us to form valued friendships as we carpooled to church and other social events with other downtown families. As our kids grew into toddlers one of their favorite songs was the Wiggles, “Toot, Toot, Chugga, Chugga, Big Red Car.” We would blast it whenever it came on and sing at the top of our lungs, it was kind of our car’s anthem. As we said good bye to the Big Red Car this Sunday we cruised around downtown blasting the Wiggles one last time.

Will we miss it–sure we will. Is it the American way to grown up being shuttled round in a big car–it was for me. Do I regret exposing my children to another alternative—not a bit. I can’t imagine that they will not have just as many happy memories of our car free adventures together. There will be plenty of time for them to ride in a car later if that is what they choose to do. For now, we are excited to try something different, it feels a little lighter, one less expense, one less possession to have to care for. I hope you will wish us luck as we head off on this new chapter.