Why We Drive
February 2, 2010
Julian / Totcycle in Fiasco

It was, in retrospect, an ill-conceived plan.

At one point, it did make a bit more sense. I'm always looking for an excuse to spend a weekend in Portland, and their first ever Tweed Ride seemed as good an excuse as any. Our kids in tweed - little street urchins?  Chimney sweeps? Girls at high tea? How cute would that be? Plus the chance to meet up with some other online bikey family friends.

I planned for us to leave on Friday and return Sunday, taking a city bike and the Madsen bucket bike, and going down on Amtrak, because, well, I love the train ride down to PDX, and I thought the kids would be dazzled.

Melissa (my twin-in-law) and Kevin were going to come down too, with Drew's cousins Maddie and Lola. But then they didn't. And Kim and I offered to bring the cousins anyway, because they love Kidical Mass and other bike rides with us. And because we're clinically insane.

Then the Friday departure fell apart, and we already had tickets. But there was a Sat 7:30am train arriving just in time for the Tweed Ride. Why not? Luc gets us up early, what's an hour earlier? Apparently that hour is the difference between our typical fuzzy muddling though life and a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

We left at pre-dawn in a drizzle. We'd added the bike trailer to Kim's bike for more weather protection and kid separation. I'd budgeted an hour for the ride to the station, through the Locks, the railyards, and along the lovely Elliott Bay Trail. Except the Locks open at 7am. Leaving us with the Ballard Bridge. With its precarious, all-too-narrow sidewalk. The Madsen might have worked, but not the trailer. We took a lane, side by side, lit up like the dickens. So sketchy - a 4 lane arterial bridge, short but with a stretch of metal grating at the drawbridge part. Kim said she wasn't nervous, as she trusted me. Mistake. I was freaked out.

Survived the bridge (traffic was light, we were careful on the slippery part), but then ... Kim bonked on the Elliott Bay trail. I hadn't planned for her to be pulling a trailer with child. And she hadn't had much to eat or drink in the hectic, behind schedule departure. And I don't consider myself in great physical shape, but I apparently have "cargo legs".

It could have been worse, relationship-trauma-wise and how-to-make-your-spouse-hate-bikes-wise. We had banana bread and water, blocks from the station. And an arrival 10 minutes before the train left, but not early enough to finesse the Madsen issue. DENIED. With extreme prejudice. We'd have to take a later train. And leave the Madsen behind. FIASCO! And not unpredictably so.

In my defense, Amtrak is inconsistent with large bikes. Technically, they need to hang from their vertical bike racks, or fit in a bike box. In real life, I've heard of xtracycles and other longtails making it. My Dutch bike didn't fit on their rack, and they allowed me to secure it to a rail in the baggage car (with grumbling).  But the baggage supervisor at the Seattle station refused to even consider the Madsen. Even with sturdy centerstand to keep it upright. Even though the baggage car has had plentiful room behind the bike racks every time I've looked. "Yadda yadda 'our policy' yadda yadda 'liability' yadda yadda 'since 9/11' yadda yadda". 9/11?? This bike is not a pipe bomb.

Obligatory Album Cover ShotTo anyone but a bike geek I sound like an entitled idiot, expecting Amtrak to bend their official policy of "no unusual bikes". Perhaps I thought having 4 urchins in tow would tip the scales? Not so much. Anyway, Kevin and I had discussed the possibility of Madsen denial, so he had his helmet. He left his car, and rode the Madsen home. And we got to sit around the station for 3 hours. At which point Kim stated that if we'd taken Melissa's minivan, we'd be there now. In a coping, but pining for automobility sort of way.

The kids and I wandered around Pioneer Square at dawn, posing with statues, as we do. The children fought in public, but that's par for the course down there.

The train ride itself was not as fabulous as I envisioned it. I think that I have a very selective memory when it comes to travel with children. As in, I only remember what it's like to travel without children. On the positive side, they weren't strapped down for 3 hours, and got to move around, swap seats, visit the bistro, and nap on the floor. On the negative side, they weren't strapped down. And we had an audience of non-plussed fellow passengers. It could have been worse, though. They could have been stuck with the drunken bachelor party in the next car.

I put out a Pan-pan to my bike tweeps, and both Clever Cycles and Allan Folz offered long-bike help. In fact, Allan was our savior that day, meeting us on a bakfiets at the station, with a Brompton for himself in the box. We got to borrow his lovely red bakfiets with raincover for the weekend, and met him back at the train station the next day. I felt really bad about that because it was a busman's holiday for Allan; he provides bike concierge and van support to Oregon bike tourists with his business, Portland Sag Wagon. We love Allan.

Our Dapper Hero!

High Tea TimesAs for the Tweed Ride? Yeah, we pretty much missed it. Most of the bikey families had already peeled off by the time we met the ride at the finish. But we did have the pleasure of meeting Jasper and his Yuba-Mundo-hacking parents at A Most Civilized Conveyance. Not that we could talk much. Have I mentioned that Kim and I were completely freaking outnumbered by children? 2:1 child to adult ratio does not make for grownup conversation. It makes for circular endless discussions about wanting what you don't have. Raising a toddler has been described as "like living with a drunken dwarf". Well, we were traveling with 4. And 2 separate strangers yelled "get an SUV" at us in 5 minutes. In Portland Bikeytown USA. A sign?

And then (the indignity!) I was denied discount beer by the saucy wench (not misogynist, just period dialect, mind you) at the Backspace counter, who said I had to be wearing tweed. Well what would you call this focacta bowler hat, bowtie, tuxedo pants and smoking jacket getup that I carried all the way from Seattle by bike and train?!? Not tweed, apparently. I was going for a dapper waiter to the girls' Madsen tea party look. But without the Madsen, and without the girls, I apparently just looked like an imbecile. It was a low point.

Hotel movie and pizza? We're not proud.Off to the hotel. Ah, the hotel. Embassy Suites at a killer online rate. Every room a suite. And whether from pity or a desire to keep our escaped-from-the-zoo menagerie away from other patrons, we were up high in a huge corner suite. Bliss. Ponyo (great movie) for the girls. Old Town Pizza delivered by bakfiets! A two-hour bedtime calamity, and then Kim and I huddled in the dark with our light sleeper, drinking room service hooch.

A bonanza breakfast buffet and lots of pool & hot tub time the next morning was another highlight for the girls. We weren't left with much time, so we rode bikes around the Pearl cruising for parks and playgrounds, and wound up here, favored by sunshine and a delicious lunch, with Voodoo Doughnuts.

A Rare Peaceful Moment (The Calm Before the Hair Grab)

I'd hoped to make it to Clever to get a thank you gift for Allan, but I thought I'd spare my entourage and the shop from each other that day. We did arrange a gift certificate, thinking his son might like some spiffy grips and fold-out footpegs for the bakfiets stoker seat. And then a ride home on Amtrak again, where this time to our outrage we were not able to check the children as baggage. But three of our crew fell into a coma, and Maddie, Luc, and I had a train bistro date over Mac 'n Cheese. 

Amtrak Coma

Kim drove the cousins home in their car, and I rode Kim's bike home with Drew and Luc, who fell fast asleep in the snuggly trailer while Drew and I discussed how one might deal with "bad guys", and that poking their eyes might not be the best choice. Especially when Drew thinks that any social slight makes you a "bad guy". Even if you're her baby brother.

When we got home, Kim threatened to post a "Why We Drive" ode-to-driving response to our "Why We Ride" slideshow. And I can't say I disagree. Even as the "Slightly Lower Impact Man" in our relationship, I concede we should have borrowed the minivan and rented bikes from Clever Cycles when we got there. Here is my penance:

What have we (I) learned from this cautionary tale?

How about you, hopefully wiser parents out there? Any cautionary tales or bike/train fiascos of your own?

Article originally appeared on Totcycle (http://totcycle.com/).
See website for complete article licensing information.