Preparing for our first journey into the heart of one of the largest, most densely populated cities in the world was a little nerve-racking to say the least. After only a few days on the road, it became strikingly obvious (intentional use of the word strikingly) that our “show” (12’ tall, 24’ RV plus 14’ enclosed trailer) did not travel easily into tight spaces. We frequently annihilate low hanging branches and protruding road signs despite our increasingly cautious approach into new territory. On top of that, our 15,000 lbs combined weight groans up hills pushing our little diesel Sprinter engine to its limits.
With San Francisco's reputation for narrow streets and steep hills, Jannine was fearing the worst and my typical blind optimism was starting to fade into scenes of our jack knifed trailer jamming up some vertical intersection while delivery truck drivers lean on their horns and yell at us in a foreign language. All while our 8-year-old son swarms around asking when we’d go to the bike park - over and over. Good times!
Of course our fears were overblown and it all worked out fine thanks to Google maps and a little Irish luck. We crossed over the Golden Gate Bridge and navigated easily to the Playland at 43rd to help support the annual Walk and Roll to School Day celebration. Easy that is, until we had to build our draw bridge… more on that in a bit.
First, The People
“You guys are tenacious networkers!” were some of the first words out of Nancy Buffum when we finally met her in person last week at Playland at 43rd. Nancy is The Family and Schools Program Manager for the San Francisco Bike Coalition and our connection to this cool event.
You see, planning the Raise Riders Tour has been like an elaborate treasure hunt. But instead of hunting for gold doubloons or ancient art, we’re hunting for inspiring people to learn from and meaningful events to plug into. And yes, we have been tenacious about the hunt!
Thanks to a string of email introductions and more than a little bit of research on the San Fran bike advocacy scene, we connected with three family wellness champions who are truly making a difference through their day to day efforts! Like most bike advocates, they’re also a ton of fun to be around.
Left to Right: Nancy Buffum, Matt Dove, Susan Ryan, Jannine Fitzgerald, Scott Fitzgerald
In her work with the SF Bike Coalition, Nancy Buffum pulled together another impressive bike and walk to school day in partnership with Walk SF. When the dust settled, about 14,000 students attending close to 100 schools rode their bikes and walked to school! Amazing!
Susan Ryan is the Program Manager at The Playland at 43rd and puts an incredible amount of energy into activating this very unique neighborhood park so families can connect with each other and their local community. Susan was our fabulous hostess for this event and a true gift to the neighborhood surrounding the park.
And then there’s Matt Dove, Director of Bicycle Programs for the YMCA Presidio. Whether Matt is leading the charge on the Smoothie Bike or planning out another Learn to Ride event, I’m pretty sure he always leads with his infectious smile and positive energy.
With the help of Nancy, Susan, and Matt, our Treasure Hunt landed us at Playland at 43rd on October 10th, 2018. When we first learned about this space we knew we had to visit it and set up a Buddy Pegs Bicycle Playground!
As part of the San Francisco Pavement to Parks initiative, this Outer Sunset Neighborhood “park” is really a reclaimed parking lot adjacent to an out-of-commission elementary school. As soon as we arrived it was obvious that Playland at 43rd is a treasure to the local residents who enjoy the community garden, “lose parts” play area, playground, and skateboard park.
Super cool! In the interest of time, here’s a cut and paste from the Pavement to Parks website that really sums up the public laboratory perfectly:
This project at the heart of the Outer Sunset neighborhood seeks to reuse this underutilized site as a community resource for recreation. The project is a partnership between the Friends of Playland at 43rd Avenue, San Francisco Parks Alliance, SFUSD and Pavement to Parks, a City and County of San Francisco inter-agency program that seeks to test the possibilities of underused areas of land by quickly and inexpensively converting them into new public spaces for communities citywide.
For the San Francisco Walk and Roll To School afterparty, Nancy wanted to bring some attention to this great play space and to the SF Bike Coalition’s efforts to activate more walking and biking to school. We were so happy to add our Buddy Pegs Bicycle Playground, Decorate Your Own Number Plate station, and woom demo bikes to the Y-Bike Smoothie Bike which was of course a huge hit!
Throughout the afternoon met with 20 or so families and helped the little ones, and not so little ones, polish their skills on two wheels. One of our big takeaways was the realization that a lot of older kids living in the city don’t have the basics of bike riding figured out. After getting used to helping 3 and 4 year old’s learn to pedal on two wheels, I had to learn quick how to contain the big kid energy and focus it on the fundamentals of balance and control. Luckily only one boy crashed into our RV 😉
versus this age :)
Urban kids lack of bike skills totally makes sense now considering the environment and it was a great learning experience for us. That’s what this trip is all about right?
The highlight of the afternoon was meeting 10-year old Oliver and helping him learn to ride. But it was more than checking a box and accomplishing a new skill that got me fired up. What made it so special was watching the look of determination, turned excitement, turned pride that swept over Oliver’s face as he took lap after lap around the Bicycle Playground - first on a bike with the pedals removed so he could dial in his balance.
His parents stood on the edge of the space watching with their own pride as their son focused on his challenge and got better with each stride. It clearly didn’t matter to them, or to Oliver, if the pedals were put on or not. But I had a hunch…
After checking with his parents, I casually asked Oliver if he’d like me to put pedals on the woom 4 he was riding like a balance bike. At first, he didn’t think we was ready. But after a little convincing and “Fitzy optimism”, the pedals were on and I was guiding Oliver around the Bicycle Playground with my hand on his back for balance. After the second lap, my hand pulled slowly away and Oliver was turning over the pedals beaming with excitement! And his parents? Well they did what parents do during “The Moment” they take pictures!
After another 30 minutes of pedaling around (long past when we were supposed to break down), Oliver propped the bike up on the kickstand and lifted off his woom helmet to let his soaking wet head start to cool off.
I don’t really know Oliver’s story and maybe this wasn’t all that big of a deal to him. But, it felt like we made a difference that day. And that just maybe, Oliver’s parents will want to keep seeing their son’s smiling, sweaty face framed by a bike helmet and connecting that sense of accomplishment, resilience, and freedom to the development of long-term happiness for him… and them!
Sometimes the smile was interrupted by the tongue in the cheek ;)
Oh, and here’s my favorite Plato quote again, “what is celebrated in a community is cultivated there.” Well it was time to celebrate Oliver’s big accomplishment in the hopes we can help this family, and others, cultivate more outdoor adventure together. So the Pedaler Hall of Fame was born! To the back of our Raise Riders trailer we went where Oliver signed the “Hall of Fame” as our first inductee.
Little Moments, Big Memories. Ride on Oliver!
Yeah, so what about the draw bridge? Well, our adventure into the heart of San Fran seemed like a breeze until we got to Playland at 43rd and saw the storm drain chasm separating the street (and our RV/Trailer show) from the parking area we needed to get into. For anyone not familiar with trailer driving, let me explain. When you drive into a deep depression, the trailer and towing vehicle hinge down drilling the bottom of the trailer into the ground – bringing your whole show to a halt! The deeper the ditch, the more the damage and this ditch was significant. Luckily, Playland at 43rd’s lose parts play space is loaded with helpful bridge building supplies like railroad ties and sections of old walkways.
No big deal! Jannine and I schlepped some scrap wood to the street, built up our draw bridge and eased Loop-D-Loop (our RV) over the moat and into the Playland. Given everything that goes on in a city, it was fun to create our own little performance art complete with the sounds of splintering wood, scraping trailer post, and revving diesel engine. Steep adventure!