Friday, February 17, 2012

Bicycling in the Blood

Roy Russell was the clerk of court in Chouteau County, Montana, early in the 20th century. He had no use for automobiles. He got around by bicycle, including one trip from Glacier Park to Yellowstone Park, over 400 miles of rugged roads.

There are clues to explain Roy's distaste for cars. He was a prohibitionist and in those days cars in Montana ran on alcohol. I imagine he associated obnoxious, noisy machines that hogged the road with loud drunkards who disrespected the law.

I suspect there's more to it than that. I knew Roy's son, Edward (my beloved Great Uncle Ted), who was a machinist with deep appreciation for elegant design. I expect that family trait informs Roy's love of bicycles. The efficiency of a bicycle can be awe inspiring.

Here is a later picture of Roy Russell with his safety bike and a classic trike. That baby was either his granddaughter, Meg Lewis, born in 1921, or her sister. Thirty-four years later Meg became my mother. She also loved bicycling.

At 59, Mom joined one of the first groups to include American cyclists on a tour of Communist China. Her bicycling diplomacy also included a trip across strife torn Sri Lanka. She rode through many exciting places, but I more often remember Mom cycling around our home town, her baskets full of whatever.

So I guess I inherited cycling as well as peace making. I've come to believe that the bicycle is the appropriate transitional tool for our times. It will keep people moving without using oil and we'll all be better for it.

My antipathy for cars does not come directly from my great-grandfather, however. I earned that. I was a professional driver and used to train CDL students on the LA freeways. As a first responder, I got to see close up what happens to a human body that's hit by a car. A car is a deadly weapon, even when that's not the intention.

I remember writing to my mother that "more people are killed on US roads every year than the total number of US soldiers who died in Vietnam. We were in the streets against the war. Where are the protests against the car?" The main reason I avoid driving is the same reason I don't run around randomly firing a shotgun. I don't want to injure or kill anyone. Bicycling is more peaceful behavior.

I'm passing on my love of cycling to others. Bike4Peace and the CBC are my main outlets lately. I'm most proud of my little girl. Lucy grew up on the back of my tandem and at 27 she's still bicycling today.

Last time I rode across Montana, I stopped at the Chouteau County Courthouse and called up Grandpa Roy. Since I got this ticket on my bike, I've been dwelling on his spirit. His memory strengthens me. I guess that's the value of ancestors.