Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Car-Free Spring Break or Eating My First Bug of the Year

Friends went to Seattle, California, Arizona, and Greece for Spring Break. Since we are a two school district family (husband and kids have one spring break, I have another), differing calendars means staying home. I not only stayed home, but also narrowed my geographical reach by not using, or even getting into, a motorized vehicle for the week. I traveled only where my muscles took me.

I bicycled to Spanish class at the community college across town (14 miles round trip), pedaled downtown on errands (6 miles), took kids to appointments on the tandem bike (4 miles), and walked to the grocery store. It was glorious.

I’m a proud contributor to the just-released statistic that Washington state residents have cut back to 1966 car use rates, the equivalent of each driver parking their car for 5 weeks a year. Even so, going car-free rather than just car-light gets me further out of the motorized metal box. The exercise is good for my body, the slowing down and planning ahead required is good for all of me, and the pollution skipped is good for the environment.

Bicycling also moves you through the world in a way that connects you to it. You hear the birds chatting with one another, the wind moving the trees, catch the roofer singing along to his radio. You smell the flowering trees, someone's bar-b-que dinner, the prelude to rain. And with no windshield up front to keep the world out of your eyes and your teeth, you get bugs. So I ate my first bug of the year. I’m thinking there will be more bugs in my stomach's future, since I plan on a lot more bicycling.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Sliding Scale of Weird

“You’re leaving the country to live in Mexico for a semester,” someone disbelievingly repeats, “wow.” The head tilts and the eyebrows lift as the person considers our two-adult two-kid family packing up, renting our house, shelving our American work and school obligations, landing somewhere completely new, and studying Spanish. Outside of a circle of friends who have traveled, I can read between the head tilt and the eyebrow raise a very definite “that’s weird.” Then I add that we’re thinking of bicycling to Mexico, some 1300 miles. If someone didn’t think we were weird before, they tend to slide in that direction.

If you don’t know many adventuring families, what we’re doing seems weird. But weird of course is relative, and I have come across many families who have done more and bigger adventures than we’re planning. There’s Elisa Bernick who writes about family sabbaticals and with her husband & kids went international for 18 months, and the Vogels, who head out this June to spend 2 1/2 years bicycling the Pan-American highway from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina with their twin 10-year-olds. Then there’s our English friends who are encouraging adventurous families through their Family Adventure Project. If there’s a sliding scale of weird, many families are further left of our plans. But we’re happily tilting the scale and headed their way.

To us, pedaling to Mexico and staying to learn as much Spanish as we can in a semester seems like a next logical direction. We bicycle around town as a matter of course, and have done multi-day bicycle trips with the kids every summer except the ones in which they were born. Summer 2006 we pedaled two tandem bicycles (the kids were ages 8 and 10 then) for a month in Europe and loved our Canals, Croissants & Castles 5-country camping-all-the-way bicycle tour. Finishing in the Netherlands on a North Sea beach, we looked at each other and discussed how we would all be happy to just keep pedaling.

Learning another language has been a goal since before having kids, when my husband and I signed up for Spanish classes at the local community college and thought we would go to language school in Guatemala that summer. Instead we went to India with my Hindi/Urdu speaking brothers-in-law. How could we pass up their invitation? We lived with Afroz’ friends and family members for 5 weeks as we traveled to the places where he grew up - Kasganj and Aligarh in the state of Uttar Pradesh - and took side trips into the Himalaya and Rajasthan. If we lived nearer, I’d happily enroll myself in Afroz’ language classes at the University of North Carolina and learn Hindi/Urdu. (They are the same language spoken, but written in different scripts.)

So you blend the language fascination with our bicycling selves and you get what doesn’t seem weird to us. In fact, we think of it as perfect.