Sunday, April 4, 2010


Just a couple of weeks before Jasper entered our lives, my childhood best friend Alana announced her engagement. When we met, her dad was the new Rabbi at Temple Beth El in Salinas, where we grew up. Just before my wedding, her folks made the exciting move from Salinas to Tacoma, where her dad became the new rabbi (also at Temple Beth El). This past weekend, her family invited us along with some other family and friends to celebrate their engagement, and the beginning of Passover, at their home.

Because we like bikes, and like adventure, and like making things complicated, we decided to do the trip as car-free as possible. We booked spots for ourselves and our bikes on Amtrak.  Learning from Totcycle's recent misadventures we decided not to attempt to bring the Yuba, and instead got in touch with Matt from the Tacoma Bike Ranch to borrow the bike trailer that he had previously used to transport his youngest, Tula, when she was still carseat-bound.

The biggest challenges of the trip, it turns out, were the logistics of getting ourselves together and to the stations.  After quite a lot of deliberation, we concluded that the best way to get the two of us, all of our bags, two non-kid-enabled bikes, a carseat, and the baby to the train station was by bus.  But a series of mishaps and catastrophes preceded our Friday departure, and eventually we were standing in the living room, crying mom, crying baby, too many bags, and the last bus that could even reasonably promise getting to the train had left.

Unwilling to give up, we threw our Hail Mary pass: Dave secured the carseat to his porteur rack with an NRS strap, put the large pack containing most of our clothes on his back, and rode off as fast as he could to pick up our tickets and discuss baggage arrangements at the train station.  I took the baby in a wrap, three other bags draped around me, and walked my bike to the nearest bus stop to catch the next bus that would get me somewhere near the train station.

I got off about five blocks from the station, the driver kindly took my bike down from the front rack (having watched the ridiculous mess of me getting it up there in the first place), and I ran.  It was drizzling.  Downtown's homeless folks called supportive, pitying things after me as I made my way.  As I got to the station, Dave was at the doors waving me onward.  They had just announced the last call for boarding.  Dave ran the bikes down to the baggage car, while I got a ride with our bags on the baggage cart.  I was still wearing Jasper, who'd fallen asleep on the bus ride.  We checked bags and bikes and carseat train-side and collapsed into our seats, incredulous that we'd somehow made it.  After a bit, we headed to the cafe car, sat down with our first real food of the day and a couple of beers, and chatted with a musician bound for his home in Seattle.

Upon reaching Tacoma, we met Matt, who helped us with bikes and bags and carseat.  We strapped our seat into his trailer, facing forward, and loaded all but our most crucial bags onto his Xtracycled Karate Monkey to deliver to our B&B, by coincidence conveniently located a few blocks from his house.

And then we found the hill.  We'd been warned about the hill, and shrugged it off.  "Bah!  The Yuba weighs a hundred pounds, and the trailer will be lighter than that!  I've climbed Mt. Tabor!  No hill can defeat me!"  So, the Tacoma Amtrak station is at sea level, and the part of town we needed to get to is at about 400'.  You gain that elevation in about a mile.  It's just straight up.  We walked most of it.  On the sidewalk.  Oy.

Conclusion 1: Matt, and his family, are hardcore.  Conclusion 2: If I lived here, I'd ride a bike with some sort of electric assist.

Due to a series of unexpected changes, and some overly optimistic planning at the outset, we were running late.  The hill made us more late.  Matt took us to Tacoma's only dedicated bike path, which would get us nearly all the way to the synagogue, about five miles.  I was exhausted.  The baby needed changing, then feeding.  The path felt safe and was pretty smooth, but still ran along a freeway and so was loud and exhaust-filled.  It was getting dark, and cold, and it was Jasper's bedtime, and as we pulled in along a sound wall to sit on a bench, nurse Jasper and regroup, I was feeling pretty burnt out.

"I'm so glad we're here, doing this," says Dave.  I look up at him.  He's smiling at me.  And I realize I feel the same.  It's hard, and silly and stressful and scary and overcomplicated.  And still, a good place to be.  We discuss our options, and decide that we'll get to the synagogue and then our friends' house for dinner by bike, and then beg a ride back to the B&B in somebody's car.  Which, after some more riding and a little bit of getting lost, ended up being what we did.  And it was fine.

The next day, we hitched a ride back to our friends' by car, and returned to the B&B by bike.  It was a Saturday afternoon, there was very little traffic in the city, and while some of the bike facilities we encountered were a bit scary (hello, door-zone bike lane!) others were just downright pleasant (N 11th Ave is one of the nicest bike boulevards I've ever ridden on).

We stopped on the way at a Walgreens for some necessities we'd forgotten, and finding no bike parking decided that I'd hang out in the parking lot with the bikes, trailer, and baby, and Dave would run in.  Waiting there, I got the whole gamut of responses to our rig: everything from the angry woman muttering under her breath about irresponsible parenting to the minivan full of kids who jumped out shouting "Cool!"  Mostly, it was notable to *be* notable, where in Portland this setup would hardly draw a second glance.

Sunday we were meeting Matt and his wife Sara to ride over for some beers and food at The Hub, an adorable bike-themed restaurant affiliated with the Harmon Brewery.  The ride there was lovely, but while we were inside it turned quickly and radically wet, and we rode home in the sort of thunderstorm downpour that is virtually unheard of here in the PNW.

First it was cold and gross, and then, as the rain escalated and the thunder roared, it became amazing.  We could barely see.  There were almost no cars on the roads.  The water was pouring down the hills in sheets.  My shoes were filled with water.  Dave was roaring with laughter.  Jasper was shouting, I suspect not in distress but just to join all the noise around him.  The ride passed in a flash, so absorbing was the effort of moving through the overwhelming wet.  And then they were gone, and our clothes were in the dryer, and Jasper was napping, and we were so, so glad to have come.  Met new friends.  Decided to go by bike.

That evening, we walked over to the Tacoma Bike Ranch (i. e. Matt's Place) to see the stable in person.  We got to meet the kids and dogs of the household, and see their delightful Madsen rain cover.  It was good to be with our family biking brethren, and to get a small preview of what our tiniest cyclist has to look forward to.  The kids of the Bike Ranch were funny and articulate and whip-smart, all traits attributable to good parenting and, I think we can all agree, lots of fresh air and time on two wheels.

Monday, the bikes sat idle in anticipation of a long day's seder preparation and a late night of celebration and wine.  We had a wonderful day, and not riding was without question the right call.

Tuesday, we had more logistical wrangling.  Matt's schedule wouldn't let him join us to get to the station, so we dropped the trailer off at his house and then met Alana at the B&B to load her car with the carseat, the baby, and the luggage, and then planned to meet her at the station.  We had the wrong directions, and then, it turned out we'd mis-remembered the time of our train (and had therefore already missed it by several hours.)  But you know what?  It was all fine.  We got re-booked.  We made it work.  We were rained on getting to the bus to take us home, and people were mean to me about having the baby out in the wrap in the rain, and we were all ok in the end.

Would this trip have been easier if we hadn't taken the bikes?  Probably.  Would it have been as stressful?  Probably not.  But it wouldn't have been as interesting, either.  We know more now: about travelling with bikes, and with the kiddo, and about what it's like to bike in Tacoma, and about carrying the baby in a trailer (the subject of another post).  And while I may not make the same choices again, I'm glad we did it this way, this time.


Anonymous said...

You guys knock me out! I am so pleased to know you, to be related to you, to somehow have had a part in making you who you are...Wow.
PS. Thanks for sharing the bad stuff as well as the good. Keeps it all in perspective.

Sox said...

It was an adventure. Life is very dull without adventures!

sara said...

I admire that you took this all on!Oh, and I so love that you connected with Matt & got to check out Tacoma Bike Ranch in person.

centrallyisolated said...

That hill sounds like our place to campus, which I am still not hardcore enough to do on a regular basis. I aspire to move somewhere flat :)

The adventure sounds complicated in a fun way, but what really strikes me about this post is HOW F%*! JUDGY random strangers are about you, doing your thing, raising your kid. I'm sure that other people think many aspects of my life are snide comment worthy, but I can't really remember that last time I've had one actually uttered within hearing range. So, sigh to all those people who don't think kids belong on bikes or in rainstorms, and may there be a special circle of hell (maybe filled with freeways and traffic jams) for those who feel like they have the right to comment.

Kitty said...

hey Miss Katie,

the words "young" and "strong" come to mind.

BTW, do you know about this org in Northampton, MA?
We've seen em biking STUFF wid our very own eyes.