Posted by Cathy Hastie (Lifestyle Columnist) on May 10th, 2014 at 3:25 pm
I have never met anyone as dedicated to her bicycle-fueled independence as my 15-year old daughter.
It makes me proud to see Katie venture out on a stormy, miserable night to get herself to her martial arts class, the library, then back home again. And yet I am also a little confused by the fierceness of her commitment.
What makes her protect her cycling habit like a mama lion while my other teenage daughter slouches contentedly in the upholstered bucket seat of our family sedan, tapping texts and basking in the warmth of the car heater? They both have the same avidly bike-commuting parents. They both received the same encouragement to ride when possible as a means to cut back on exhaust, save money and gas, and multi-task travel with exercise. Both have been offered decent bikes with the important Portland-area accessories (fenders, lights, helmet). But now that the girls, close in age, have exited puberty, their perspectives on what a bicycle is good for are as different as chocolate and vanilla.
Katie’s stubbornness out-stonewalls even my own when it comes to using a bicycle instead of catching a ride in a car. The object of her dedication isn’t an obvious match with her otherwise book-wormy persona. She isn’t athletically inclined. She hates to compete. She doesn’t participate in bike races or events. Her bike is two sizes too small. Her knees practically crash into her chest with every rapid upstroke, but she refuses to get a new one. She isn’t generally a risk taker or an adventure maker.
What is it about riding that overpowers the cold, the rain, the sleet, the dark and the potentially crazy drivers out there? While other young people take full advantage of their parents’ willingness to cater to their every transportation need, my eldest daughter makes a point not to set foot in a car unless her destination is over 10 miles from home. She’s apathetic when it comes to learning how to drive.
Is she an idealist? A conservationist? Is hers the face of the future of transportation?
Being her mother, and this being Mother’s Day weekend, I forced her to give me an interview.
I hoped to glean a kernel of wisdom from this young weather warrior and non-conformist. Perhaps she has a philosophy or a mantra that makes riding her crappy bike in the blustery snow exponentially more rewarding than I find riding my decent commuter bike in a simple rainstorm.
Being my teenaged daughter, she held her secrets close. Here’s what I could squeeze out of her:
1) She bikes about 5 times a week, to school, kickboxing, her volunteer job, her internship and the pet store, where she buys mice to feed to her snake (she carries them home in a Chinese take-out container, the wire handle dangling from her fingers as she shifts gears).
2) The furthest she has biked by herself is 18 miles along the Springwater Corridor. She got lost at one point where the trail isn’t marked well, but she just kept going and eventually the trail appeared again.
“Even if I don’t know where I am, I can figure out how to get back,” she claims, a worthy boast for a 15 year old.
3) Her weekly trip to OHSU involves a long twisty ride, avoiding the convenient but frighteningly narrow Ross Island Bridge, and ending at the South Waterfront Tram station, where her bus pass gets her up the hill for free.
“Why do you ride?” I ask her.
She rolls her eyes and sighs exasperatedly. “It gets me places.”
Parents ask such dumb questions.
To make it easier on me, she explains,”I can’t drive, I don’t like the bus and walking is slow.”
“Do you like your bike?” I ask.
“It’s old and messed up, especially the brakes,” she responds. “One time I went to the bike shop and Corey tightened them up for free…”
(“Probably because he was horrified and didn’t want you to kill yourself on the road”, I silently added…)
“They recommend replacing them, but I think they are perfectly fine until they get bad again,” she opined.
(Note to self – take Katie’s’ bike to the Seven Corners ASAP, when she isn’t looking.)
“Have you had any close calls on your bike?” I ask, hoping she will realize that working brakes might be a good idea after all.
Katie told me about a car that turned in front of her. “He told me to get batteries for my light.” (Noted.)
Another time, she was biking down a busy street and the light changed. Since her brakes were not working, she had to keep going. I raised my eyebrow, trying to keep my mouth shut and let her convince herself. Heaven knows if her mother were to suggest going to the cycle shop for a new light and a tune up, she would have nothing to do with it.
After what I hoped was a moment used for reflection on how to stay alive on your bike, I moved on.
“So, how do you deal with the winter weather?” I said. “I don’t see you wearing lots of warm clothes when you leave the house.”
“It hasn’t rained hard for a year,” she retorted.
“One last question, Katie,” I said. “If you had any advice to other young people, what would it be?”
Katie answered quickly, without any feigned sense of profundity: “If you can bike there, do it. Why not? It’s stupid to drive.”
My daughter’s Mother’s Day gift to me: a sense of youthful righteousness, carried out every day in her approach to living, regardless of the consensus of self-absorbed indifference that permeates the teenage world in which she lives. My darling rebel, on two wheels.
The torch has been handed off. My work here is done. (Except for that tune up.)
—Read Cathy’s earlier columns here.