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Bike riding as solidarity

Back around 1980 I used to ride my bike with some consistency. I rode to work and in addition did a century ride, several metric centuries and rode around Lake Winnebago.

I unfortunately have not ridden nearly as much in the ensuing years as I should have. There were a lot of reasons for this life of slackary: my general laziness, not having enough time, too great a distance to travel, too much traffic and too many texting drivers. All valid but now I have time to ride, a need to work exercise into my daily schedule, 5 buck gas, most of my destinations are within 3 miles of my house, global warming is a thing and I have greater opportunity to fit what we need to do into a very open schedule.

The Good Neighbor Team got bikes from Active Bikes and Fitness and from church members (and my neighbor) to provide our refugee family with transportation other than walking. That, coupled with all the reasons listed earlier, got me thinking what life would be like if I didn’t have two vehicles at my disposal.

I undertook an experiment to see what only having a bike for transportation would feel like and to try to understand what getting through tasks of daily living would be like in providing for a family of 8 people. I decided to use only my bike for travel for a week. A very tiny sample size and didn’t involve great distances or any serious appointments but still enlightening and very different from my normal bourgeois existence.

I ended up not driving for 9 days and biked to the following; grocery store 3 times, YMCA 5 times (the irony of driving my truck to a place to exercise was not lost on me), the Home Depot 3 times, the Restore a couple of times, twice to Habitat job sites, to church to worship and church to make a repair, to the refugee house to make a repair, to a breakfast meeting. All of them fairly close (about 45 miles total) and none really time or appearance sensitive.

I had planned for this for some time so I built a crude bike trailer for hauling groceries or a small number of tools as necessary and my bike has an ET style basket on the front so I was able to transport what I needed. (We built a trailer for the refugees as well). The experience got very real when I rode home from a job in a driving rain and when I hauled lumber for a deck handrail project for one of my neighbors.

So, what did I learn? I always had other transportation available and could delay big shopping trips or errands that required hauling large items until the week was over so I could choose what battles to fight with my bike. I had a warm house to go home to when I was soaked and cold from the rain. I was hauling groceries for two people, not 8. I didn’t have children to transport to doctor’s appointments or to school. This little foray into understanding would be much different in the next few weeks of heat and humidity or when there is ice on the streets.

In the end, it made me realize how rich we are. The resources we have at our disposal that we can choose to use or not use, the reliable utilities, fresh water and sewage treatment, food beyond comprehension. Why did God see fit that we were born into families, a place and a society that allows us this freedom from want? I wish I knew but I’m pretty sure that He wants us to share the bounty with others.

There is no way that any of us can truly understand what this family went through in Afghanistan or on the journey here. I think I did get, on a very superficial level, a peek into the battle they fight daily to provide for their family.

I think I will continue to bike, maybe not on the compulsive level but more than before this experiment. I felt, strangely, less rushed. The world seemed to move slower, more intentionally and more connected on a bike than in my truck, and as I bike I will think about our sponsored family and all the others in the world who bike because they have to not because they want to.

One other opportunity I had during this week was to participate in a Zoom call that trained us on how to use the Valley Transit bus system. I had in the back of my mind that the refugees could utilize that system to get to the grocery store and their doctor’s appointments. That assumption is partially true but I found out during the training that anything that a person carries onto a city bus has to remain in their control at all times. So a person can carry on two bags of groceries or a bag and a child but no more. If a cart or stroller is taken on the bus it must be collapsed and stowed off its wheels so it doesn’t become a projectile if there is an accident.

We questioned that policy during the call because it severely limits the ability of anyone to grocery shop using the bus. The young lady who was training us said that the best thing we can do to get that policy changed is to contact Valley Transit and advocate for that change to be made. So, we as individuals, as a congregation and as a synod need to lobby Valley Transit (920.832.5800) and advocate that they modify their buses, if necessary, and change the policy to allow people to use this public system to transport items needed to provide for these families. I have ridden “chicken buses” in Haiti and Guatemala and I am not suggesting that level of chaos but certainly there could be some expansion of policy to allow transportation of reasonable amounts of groceries on their buses.

Jim Weyers

Lay School class of 2003 and a Tool

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