How did you get into cycling?
I always loved to ride my bike as a kid, but never owned anything fancy. I had my older sister’s hand-me-down banana seat bike with retro hot pink flower designs and tassels, no gears or hand brakes – you had to peddle backwards to stop! I don’t recall exactly when or why I stopped riding, but it felt like a lifetime later that I got back into it…
In 2012 my cousin died of germ cell cancer. It was very sudden, only 7 months between his diagnosis and when he passed. He left his wife and 10 year old son – he was only 40 years old. His death really had a huge impact on me, and when his wife started a riding team in his honor, “Carl’s Crusaders” as part of the Closer to Free charity ride for Smilow Cancer Center – where he had been treated, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I bought myself a bike for the express purpose of riding the CTF event in 2015. I have participated as a rider every year since.
Was it always important for you to get your kids into cycling?
Growing up I lived in a safe and quiet neighborhood where you could ride your bike and not worry about getting hit by a car. Where I live today I have a steep gravel driveway and live on a busy, windy road that is really unsafe for bike riding. I consequently didn’t start my kids riding until very late. My son got a bike because he wanted to join me for the Closer to Free ride last year (he is 12). My daughter JUST learned how to ride a bike without training wheels this March (she is 10). I think they were interested because they saw me riding – but it is a very different experience from when I was a kid.
It’s both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s nice for kids to ride just for fun without “training” towards some big goal, and I’m sometimes sad that they don’t have that opportunity. BUT, I think it’s pretty great that they get to try these cool trails and that we have that bonding time together which I never had with my own parents.
How do you plan family rides? Where do you go? How far usually?
Planning rides with my kids has really been directly related to their skill level. While teaching my daughter to ride this spring, we went to a local park that’s got a 1 mile crushed gravel loop. There’s a couple of smaller hills and she had a few wipe outs slipping on the gravel. I wanted to get her comfortable in a smaller setting before I started taking her on a trail ride or doing longer milage. Once we had done about three 10 mile rides at the local park, we “graduated” up to the Farmington Canal Trail. Because that trail is paved and relatively flat, we started working more on milage, and riding etiquette (i.e.: how to pass, calling it out, crossing intersections, etc.) As she got more confident we started going longer distances, 10, then 15, then even a 20 mile ride. It has really become a mother/daughter bonding for us and over our week off as a “staycation” this summer, we did a day trip to Block Island just the two of us for a self guided bike tour. We had an amazing time and I hope a fond memory she’ll never forget!
My son on the other hand gets bored with the Farmington Canal. I’ve taken him on the Airline Trail which I think is more challenging as it’s got a slow incline heading back to East Hampton. It’s also not paved which I thing adds to the level of difficulty – but he really enjoys the scenery and the “woodsy” feeling. We rode that trail for 25 miles last Sept for our “virtual” Closer to Free Ride together.
How did you get nominated to lead the cycling events for the Scouts?
Ha! I did not get nominated. I ended up volunteering… My son was interested in earning the Cycling Merit Badge and we could not find a local counselor who was registered to lead. I asked about 3-4 other dads in the Troop if they would do this (one dad who has even rode centuries in past years). None of them were interested, most didn’t even respond!
I am currently a Cub Scout leader for the Pack (that includes grades K – 5) so I am already trained from that aspect – but the requirements for this merit badge were definitely out of my comfort zone – specifically around bike maintenance. I was getting really frustrated that no one would “step up” at the Troop level (grades 6 – 12). My husband told me “If you want something done you’ve got to do it yourself”. So, I decided to get registered as the merit badge counselor and teach myself what I needed to know in order to teach the Scouts. It was intimidating, but I’m so glad I made that decision. So far it’s been a huge success.
What have you taught them so far?
The requirements are pretty involved for the Cycling Merit Badge. I gave an hour long presentation about the anatomy of a bike, hazards of the road, first aid, what to pack/wear, traffic laws, and signaling. I then hosted a 2+ hour bike clinic where I taught the Scouts how to clean/lube their bike, and change a flat tire. We proceeded to change 12 tires at that bike clinic! It took forever, but well worth it. Now we are completing the milage portion of the requirements (two 10 miles rides, two 15 mile rides, two 25 mile rides, and one 50 mile ride to be completed within 8 hours). So far all of the group rides have been on the Farmington Canal to practice riding together, calling out, etc. but when we start the 25 mile rides we’ll do real “road rides” in traffic, and learning how to ride safety over railroad tracks, next to parked cars, and turning safely, etc.
How have you changed being able to teach the Scouts? What have you learned?
Although initially I wasn’t thrilled to take on this responsibility, I am really glad that the Scouts are learning about cycling from a woman. It’s such a male dominated sport, I’m glad that they can see that women are good at this, too. Boy Scouts of America just started letting girls join their program a few years ago and I’m glad my daughter has been able to take part in this along with my son and my husband – it’s really a family activity we do together. I expect to run the program again next year for my daughter when she ranks up to the Troop.
I honestly have learned so much since volunteering to lead this merit badge – not just how to change a tire and adjust my brakes, etc. but to have more confidence in myself. Honestly, I don’t think anyone loves a lecture either, and I keep it real with my Scouts. I think it’s good for them to know that when you’re trying to fix something and it doesn’t work the first time, it’s ok to try and try again. Very often our bikes break down at the most inopportune time! Showing the kids how to make adjustments on the fly with a multitool I is sometimes more helpful then on a bike rack under perfect conditions. I admit I’m not an expert and often we’ll be saying “lets try this again”. I think that makes me more approachable as a leader for the kids to ask questions where as otherwise they might feel embarrassed.
Tell us one fact about you that we may not know by looking at your social media.
I think on social media everyone wants to look completely put together like they have everything figured out. We don’t usually share the struggles or hard work it took leading up to the achievement we’re posting about. I’m trying to be better at sharing that part. I may have a confident smile in the photo, but there are often insecurities behind it which I’m pushing through the best I can! At the end of the day I’m proud of my kiddos, and my Scouts, and even myself for how far we’ve come and I think that’s worth celebrating even when something doesn’t work out as planned. We’ve had a few disastrous rides as well, but you’ve gotta be proud of powering through it and embracing the “learning opportunity” to be better prepared in future.