Back from the Palouse & April 23 Ride Report

Day’s Verse:
Jesus called loudly, “Father, I place my life in your hands!” Then he breathed his last.
Luke 23:46ish

They call ’em the Palouse Hills, and rightly so, as far southeastern Washington does have its share of impressive hills. But I’d like to suggest another name: The Palouse Wind Tunnel. More on that later; I’m jumping ahead.

Instead of telling a long-winded tale, let me give you the highlights — but only if highlights also includes low points, because unfortunately, this trip to Pomeroy had very little to recommend it. Check beneath the fold for “highlights” of the trip, in no particular order.

On Friday evening, after driving back from Dayton, I mowed the lawn and then went to Good Friday dinner with our journey community from church. It was nice to spend the evening with friends rather than by myself.

And a quick ride report. Today I rode 75 miles, extending the 55-mile RTS #5 ride by riding to and from Marymoor, which was the official starting point. The front riders took it easy today so I was able to keep up with them almost the entire way. The RTS rides are interesting in that there’s no regrouping, so if you fall behind at a stoplight or going up a hill, you either speed up to catch the group, or you stay behind alone forever. I hung on until maybe 10 miles from Marymoor, after which I slowly fell farther and farther behind. Even so, I averaged 17.4 mph to that point, and averaged 17.0 mph total, with an average heart rate of 148 (that means I was working pretty hard overall). Dad and I took a slightly hillier way back, avoiding the Sammamish River Trail, which slowed my average a bit. Why? Because today was the most gorgeous day we’ve had since last August, sunny and highs in the 60s, and everybody else went for a bike ride or a walk on the trail. I finished the ride in shorts and short sleeves. As a result, it also appears that I’ve managed to get my first sunburn of the year, including starting an excellent fingerless bicycle glove tan that I sport every summer.

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What I Take Away from Eatonville

Day’s Verse:
The one who loves money is never satisfied with money,
Nor the one who loves wealth with big profits. More smoke.

Ecclesiastes 5:10

You may think that I’m going to talk yet again about a bike class, and you’d have good reason. I did just spend the last three days in Eatonville focused on, yes, a bike class. But one of the advantages of my way of teaching is I get long periods when I’m waiting for students, who are independently working. My job is to monitor and make sure they’re on task and moving in the right direction. That leaves me with plenty of time to, say, peruse the classroom’s copy of the encyclopedia World Book 2000. Of course, I looked up the most most important thing first:

World Book: Velociraptor
VELOCIRAPTORS. Do they fear fire? Nothing definitive in the World Book.

Fortunately, Eatonville had no velociraptors that I saw. It also didn’t have any mills, even though I stayed at a place called the Mill Village Motel that had this mural on the back wall.
Mill Village Motel Mural
Despite the lack of a mill, Eatonville did have:

  • Two people named Van Eaton.
  • A gravel quarry practically downtown.
  • A cement plant actually in town.
  • A good-sized hill coming into town on 161, which I rode my bike up. Note to self: When a bike shop owner who lives within spitting distance of Mt. Rainier says “It’s not flat,” he means it.
  • Lots of cement trucks (see above) and logging trucks.
  • An improbable number of pickup trucks with humongous tires, and more regular Very Large Pickup Trucks. How do people out there pay $3.96/gallon and fill up their 25-gallon tanks every other day?
  • A blinking red light at a four-way stop, and a left-turn lane at that intersection. No stop light, though.
  • The original log cabin built by the Van Eaton who gave the town its name (and who, I assume, is related to the Van Eatons still living there).
  • And, in the 3-ring binder of information about the town that the motel owners so kindly provided, the following ad, which actually caused me laugh aloud.
    Top 7!
    If I owned a restaurant, I’d definitely boast about being the top seven in a town that couldn’t have had more than seven eateries total.

Weather-wise, I’d rate this as three frownies – 🙁 🙁 :(. Last week, as you may recall, I was totally drenched twice in one day, and everybody was miserable. That’s five frownies – 🙁 🙁 🙁 🙁 :(. This week is 🙁 🙁 🙁 because I got snowed on twice (in April!) and rained on a couple times, but didn’t ever get really wet. Laying out the course was not fun, with cold rain dripping down the back of my neck. However, the weather mostly cooperated for the drills, with only a few drizzles here and there, so students weren’t nearly as miserable this time as last week. And, finally, everybody came much better prepared this week; all the students had lots of layers and waterproof clothes, so going outside wasn’t so awful.

Next week I think I’m going to Goldendale. Don’t worry, I had to look it up, too.

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Auburn Class Recap

Day’s Verse:
I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor — it is the gift of God.
Ecclesiastes 3:12-13

How do you teach PE teachers — or anybody — traffic principles without resorting to excruciating PowerPoint slides full of confusing pictures? Since I don’t teach it with too many words, here’s the visual explanation. Remember the practice intersection I made?
Practice Intersection

Here is it in action (yes, that’s me with the idiotic expression on my face in every single one of the pictures). Combined with some little bikes, a Playmobil car, and some imaginary bike scenarios, we have a pretty effective way of letting people explore traffic principles themselves.
Traffic Principles Game 2

Traffic Principles Game 1

Traffic Principles Game 3

Overall, the Auburn class went pretty well. Click below the fold for more thoughts on the class.

On a slightly different note, did you notice my clothing choice in the pictures? I always wear a long-sleeved bike shirt and jeans to the trainings. Very casual, very practical for all the moving around and bicycling I have to do during the trainings. Today a guy I was talking with told me that he thought what you wore to work reflected your work ethic and indicated the quality of your work. He, by the way, was wearing slacks and a button-down shirt. I was in bike clothes. I said, “So when I wear PJs when I’m working from home, my work isn’t as good?” He replied with a tangential comment about younger people (my age) and their standards of dress. That made me think, though. When I wear PJs while working at home, that’s one thing. But should I dress more professionally for these trainings? The PE teachers typically show up in sweat pants and T-shirts, but since I’m putting on the training, should I have a higher standard? Do the participants, all of whom are 15 or more years older than me, see a young and inexperienced trainer because of my clothing choice? Or, I guess I should say, do I make myself seem even younger or less experienced than I am by my clothing choice? I already struggle with looking youthful thanks in part to the oily, acne-prone skin I inherited from my parents; should I use clothing choice to somewhat counteract that? Something to think about.

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Another Week, Another Training (Auburn)

Day’s Verse:
What advantage does man have in all his work
Which he does under the sun?
A generation goes and a generation comes,
But the earth remains forever.

Ecclesiastes 1:3-4

Cue week three of one training a week. This week it’s Auburn, and paid for by the Bicycle Alliance’s CPPW grant. Oh, yes, didn’t I mention that the Bike Alliance has two grants where we teach the same thing? CPPW is Communities Putting Prevention to Work, stimulus money that’s aimed at reducing obesity and smoking. It comes through the Federal government to the King County Department of Health to the Bicycle Alliance to me. Your tax dollars at work! The Bicycle Alliance’s CPPW grant is run by John Vander Sluis, a great guy and, more importantly for me, an organized guy. (Seth Schromen-Warwin, who does the OSPI grant, is also an organized guy. I have to give him credit for doing a truly amazing job. Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled blog post.) The Bike Alliance’s CPPW grant is much more than just these two classes, but this is my part in it, and it’s essentially the same thing as the OSPI class.

The difference is that, as a compromise with Cascade Bicycle Club, I have a Cascade LCI co-teaching with me, and another observer from Cascade who’s helping a bit as an LCI, too. Frankly, I’m grateful for that. First of all, teaching with Ellen Aagaard is always a delight; and second of all, I cannot begin to imagine what it’s going to be like next week in Eatonville when I have to try to do the LCI work all by myself. Fortunately, Future Katie is taking care of it, and Present Katie is getting ready for another early day driving down to Auburn to ride a bike slowly in the rain.

In the meantime, I’m overall quite pleased with how the class today went. Many of the rockier bits from last week smoothed out nicely, and not surprisingly a few new rocks cropped up. The class is engaged, sometimes a bit too chatty, but overall positive and eager, and most of all, good sports about all the biking out in drenching rain and gusting wind.

Tomorrow is the easier day, but even so, I’ll be glad to see the end of it. I’m enjoying the experience, but it’s sure exhausting.

Oh, no word yet on whether I actually have a job teaching OSPI trainings. I’m waiting with bated breath, let me assure you.

Get Out Your Tiny Violin

Day’s Verse:
Don’t brashly announce what you’re going to do tomorrow; you don’t know the first thing about tomorrow.
Proverbs 27:1

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: My Bicycle Alliance teaching job may be going away very soon. Bluntly put, I may be losing my teaching job because of some federal requirements for major construction projects.

Now the explanation, which is exceptionally convoluted, so bear with me. The funding for the OSPI grant I’m doing for the Bicycle Alliance comes from the federal government, the US Department of Transportation. It’s the same money that pays for major capital improvements — big road projects. Our project doesn’t involve building roads, of course, but it’s transportation money nonetheless. That means all the rules that apply to those major road projects also apply to our little $250,000 bicycle grant. Specifically, one rule says that essentially all steel used in the project must be American-made steel; the rule says that of $1,000,000 spent, only $2,500 can go to non-American steel.

In our grant, we do use some of the money to purchase things that are metal: Bikes and trailers to move and store the bikes in. Any parts of those bikes and trailers that are steel therefore must be American steel. There is a Washington trailer maker who can certify all their steel as 100% American, so that’s OK, although we can’t actually recommend just that trailer company, since federal rules also require putting the project out to bid. Of course, that trailer company is the only one that meets all the criteria, so it’s an easy choice.

Unfortunately, there’s no such easy choice for the bikes. We’re recommending aluminum bikes (made in China, probably, since American-made bikes are too expensive), but even aluminum-frame bikes have steel components like derailleurs and chains (Worksman Bicycles is 100% American, but their bikes weigh 70 lbs and are intended for industrial use, certainly not for 5th through 8th grade kids). It’s literally impossible to obtain bicycles under $400 or bicycle parts like that that are made in the US; it just isn’t done. Unfortunately, those parts add up to well over $2,500 for all the bikes that we’re talking about buying. The grant specifies 25 bicycles each for at least 25 school districts, but many districts are purchasing 30 or 35 bikes because of larger class sizes. That’s a minimum of 625 bicycles, and if each bike had $50 worth of non-American steel parts, we’re looking at $31,250 in chains, derailleurs, etc. that are non-American steel.

The bottom line is that we cannot obtain bikes with 100% American-made steel parts. Because of this, there is a hold on all bicycle purchases for this grant. No school districts who signed on with this grant are getting bikes any time soon. There is the possibility of obtaining a waiver from the Federal Highway Administration, but it takes anywhere from 90 days to years to obtain the waiver.

And that means that none of the teachers in those districts need training until the bike situation is sorted out. No point in training teachers now if they won’t be getting bikes for 3 months — or for years down the road. And that means that I, as trainer, am looking mighty superfluous right about now. The higher-up people are meeting on Wednesday to hash out possible solutions, ways to find other money sources, or who knows what. I’m already starting to think about what I might do when that doesn’t work out and our grant gets bogged down in Bureaucracy Land, waiting for approval on the waiver.

I think I hear that $4,750 of AmeriCorps educational stipend whispering to me. Bike touring through Europe is educational, right?

Safe Routes to School Training #1: Done!

Day’s Verse:
It’s better to be wise than strong;
intelligence outranks muscle any day.

Proverbs 24:5

All right, this isn’t the world’s shortest or most creative title, but it does get the job done, and it has the added bonus of giving you a taste of what the rest of this post is going to be like: Long and workmanlike. That said, let’s dive into it.

…I started to write a post describing what happened during the training, but that’s just not compelling to me right now. Instead, here are some things that stuck out to me.

1. Running the training even with helpers is very draining (I’m letting Future Katie worry about the trainings she’s teaching by herself). The elementary and middle school PE teachers seem an awfully lot like the students they teach, probably not by coincidence, so they tended to do well with the hands-on interactive parts of the training and very quickly started getting bored and distracted during PowerPoint presentations. For example, when I told them, “It’s important to have a slight bend in your knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke,” they looked bored. When I had them stand up and try walking around squatting as if their knees weren’t extended while pedaling, they got it. But that kind of interaction takes serious effort and tires me out. Also, I started going into people overload by the end of the first day of training, and I needed time by myself to recharge.

2. Lynden is flat, but makes up for it by having constant, steady, strong wind. (I hear Holland is like that. Must’ve felt homey to the Dutch people who originally settled Lynden.)

3. You can tell people to bring a lunch and have their bikes checked out before the class, and they’ll all still come on Wal-Mart specials they borrowed from a friend’s garage that morning. One guy’s pedal fell off during the road ride. The ABC Quick Check doesn’t cover that! Only one of the participants rode a bike with any frequency, and many of them couldn’t remember the last time they’d been on a bike. That’s a very, very different demographic than the groups I’ve taught with Cascade for their Urban Cycling Techniques class. However, they were much more engaged and willing to participate than I expected, and overall the tone of the class felt upbeat. The students were laughing and joking, at least, and that’s always a good thing.

4. PowerPoint is boring, but good for showing pictures. Is there some other way to teach principles of traffic law besides lecturing, in the short time we have? I hope so, because I’m no lecturer and on Tuesday I’m teaching a group in Sedro-Woolley. Plus I don’t have a laptop, which makes using PowerPoint difficult.

5. Eileen did most of the teaching about the kids’ curriculum side of things, which is what the teachers were really interested in. I’m questioning whether trying to push through all the Traffic Skills 101 need-to-knows is worth it for teachers, who keep wanting to know how it relates to what they’re teaching their students. Throughout the class, we kept having to try to distinguish “This is only for adults” versus “This is something you’ll teach your kids.” It felt cumbersome, and I kind of wonder if it’s (a) worth teaching all of TS101; and (b) wise to have TS101 and the kids’ material so integrated with each other. Future Katie is going to worry about teaching teachers something she’s never actually taught to kids herself. But as somebody reminded me today: The teachers don’t know any better, right? So whatever I tell them is what they’re getting. They don’t know I don’t have 30 years of experience teaching, the way Eileen does (OK, obviously since I’m not 30 years old yet I can’t have taught for that long, but you get the point).

6. PE teachers are exceptionally good at coming up with ideas for games.

7. MORE HANDS-ON LEARNING.

8. PE teachers are also coaches, and coaches have athletic events that they have to leave for early in the afternoon. That means training scheduled to end at, say, 4:00 pm will have very few people actually still there at 4:00 pm. We had 3 of 7 people leave early the first day, and it would’ve been the same on the second day except we finished early. We’ll have to dramatically revamp the afternoon sessions so that people who have to leave early don’t miss stuff they can’t pick up later or by themselves. That’s going to be very difficult.

9. It’s impossible to remember participants’ behavior on the bike detailed enough to do an accurate assessment on the TS101 road ride rubric. So we just try to think of any egregious mistakes they made and say everything else was good. Everybody passed. In fact, we had two people who were firm “ride facing traffic” advocates to start with, and by the end they did the road ride with all the same good vehicular cycling behavior you’d hope for. It was really encouraging to see. At the very end, after everybody else left, the organizer told us something amazing: Some of the participants hadn’t talked to each other that civilly in years. The positive vibe we got during the training — that was new. One teacher had actually switched schools because of the conflict. Wow! Not only did they learn a bunch about bicycling (and pedestrian stuff too); not only did they get this kick-ass curriculum in a gorgeous shiny binder; but they also got a great positive team-building experience, too. I’m deeply grateful that the organizer told us that. It made the whole thing feel worth it.

10. I’m hungry and I have a super intense, hilly ride tomorrow. Time to eat, and then eat some more for good measure. Oh, real quick, I’ll add that I had a PT appointment focused on therapeutic massage for my back. My PT guy has a student, which is cool, but it’s a little weird to have them talking about me…while I’m laying there on the table. Reminds me of a time when I was getting fitted for my back brace and the doctor actually called his student into the room from elsewhere. He said “Wow, look at this amazing classic [whatever]! You never see this!” Also, although I’m sure they used English words it was still a completely different vocabulary, which made me feel a bit more like a specimen and less like a person. The massage was very light because anything else was fairly tender. Maybe next time will go better.

What I’m Up To

Day’s Verse:
Give yourselves to disciplined instruction;
open your ears to tested knowledge.

Proverbs 23:12

I feel that my recent work with the Bicycle Alliance needs a little bit of explaining. It’s not the kind of work I can summarize quickly in a word or phrase. Ian can say, “I’m a software engineer,” or “I’m a programmer,” and people have some idea of what he spends his days doing. My current employment situation isn’t so easy to succinctly describe. So here goes.

Before my AmeriCorps internship ended, the Bicycle Alliance started applying for grants to teach bike classes. Not just to anybody, though. With these grants, they teach bike classes based on Traffic Skills 101 to PE teachers — either elementary or middle school — as part of the Safe Routes to School program. The PE teachers would then take their new knowledge about bicycling and use it to teach a bike unit in their PE classes. This isn’t a new idea; the Bicycle Alliance did a pilot program along these lines with just a few school districts, and these grants really build on that experience.

The Bicycle Alliance received three grants along those lines, with some variations (one is for college-level instructors). After my internship ended, the Bicycle Alliance hired me and another LCI — Eileen Hyatt, the gal who originally did the pilot program — as contractors. We’ve spent from January to now working with Feet First, a pedestrian advocacy organization, to:

  • Figure out exactly what we’re going to do in this 2-day seminar — essentially create an agenda based loosely on Traffic Skills 101 that also serves as our curriculum. It’s much bigger than TS101, though; it’s TS101 plus pedestrian information plus training on how to teach the kids’ curriculum. We have 15 hours total to teach this huge volume of information to PE teachers.
  • Modify the kids’ PE curriculum to include pedestrian lessons.
  • Work with the Bicycle Alliance’s coordinators (they have 2 staff people coordinating the details of 2 of the grants. One we call the OSPI grant, the other the CPPW grant) to get details for the classes in place.

That’s what I’ve been doing so far. Now we move into the next phase, which is actually teaching the classes. This involves driving to remote areas — Lynden and Sedro-Wooley are my first two — and:

  • Scouting out around the area to find a road ride route that meets the Traffic Skills 101 requirements.
  • Marking (with paint, chalk, sponges, or 1/2 tennis balls) a bike handling skills course on the ground in the parking lot provided to us.
  • Teaching the class: 8 am to 4 pm two days in a row; Feet First is there on the first day, and then I’m on my own the second day.
  • Doing a bunch of paperwork after the class.

Since Lynden is our first-ever class, we’re going to have an abundance of teachers: Two people from Feet First, me, Eileen, and an LCI from near Lynden who we’re hoping to bring in to help teach these classes. Eileen drove all the way from Spokane for this. She’s staying with us two nights on either end of the class, and we’re staying with the LCI in Lynden tonight and tomorrow night. I think we’re all somewhat nervous; I know I am.

I have to try to learn all the stuff that relates to classroom management of elementary/middle school kids with bikes and all those detail things about actually running the class. Eileen, who was a teacher before she “retired,” has that stuff down cold. She’s been working on this program for 20 years. I, on the other hand, just came into this in September and I’ve never laid out the kids’ course, managed a class of 30 squirrely 6th graders, or tried to wrangle parent volunteers. I have a lot to learn before I can confidently go teach teachers how to do some of these things. And I have to learn it fast, because next Tuesday and Wednesday I’m teaching this same class in Sedro-Wooley, except by myself.

Between now and mid-April, I teach one class per week — each one takes 3 or 4 days, depending on the location — with one week off. For the OSPI grant alone, which runs through 2012 (assuming the world doesn’t end), the Bicycle Alliance is teaching 29 school districts throughout Washington State. We’re going to be very busy.

In addition to the LCI teaching work, the Bicycle Alliance also hired me to help co-manage the OSPI grant. That’s a fairly new addition to my plate, and I’m not 100% sure what that will pan out to look like.

So that’s what I’ve been doing and what I will be doing for the next year or so. Now I have to finish getting my supplies together for the trip to Lynden. I won’t have access to a computer between today and Thursday night (gasp!) so if you need me, please call or text my cell phone. I’ll be available evenings. Wish me luck — I sure hope it goes well!