By Megan Conklin
When my youngest children want to go bike riding, they are satisfied to ride on the sidewalk in front of our house. And if that isn’t thrilling enough for them, we can always hit parks like Friendly Grove , Kettle Falls, or Rainier Vista to ride the safe, paved loops. But, my older kids who just turned eleven and nine, need more adventurous and exciting bike ride options. They need a destination. When I quizzed my friends who live in various spots around Thurston County about their favorite places to ride with big kids, the answers surprised me in their simplicity.
The store, the library, school, and a friend’s house were the most popular ideas mentioned by kids and parents alike. As children get older, they start to realize that bikes are a very handy means of getting from here to there – by themselves! And most kids would rather bike to a nearby destination than drive, which is good for both their bodies and the environment.
I visited Lizzie Mithrandir, owner of the newly opened Deschutes River Cyclery in downtown Olympia, (the Tumwater location has been around for over 20 years) to learn more about fun bike rides for older elementary kids. Her answers confirmed what my friends had been telling me. “Kids like riding to places,” she affirmed. “My son’s favorite place to ride is Lattin’s Cider Mill.” She also offered me a free map of Thurston County bike riding trails – a handy resource that one can grab from either of their locations.
The jury has spoken: it is time to throw a little free range into your parenting and teach your kids the road safety tips they need to ride to humble, but exciting destinations in their own neck of the woods.
The following is a list of basic and enjoyable destination rides in Thurston County that most 9 – 12 year old kids can handle if accompanied by an adult, or even on their own.
Ride to the Farmer’s Market
We have so many farmers markets in Thurston County and there is bound to be one within riding distance from your home. When my family lived in the South Capital neighborhood we would ride to the downtown Olympia Farmer’s Market regularly. We would always be sure to buy a few gingerbread cookies from the San Francisco Street Bakery’s stand to stash away in our backpacks to use as motivation for the uphill journey home. If you live on the west side of Olympia, the West Olympia Farmer’s Market, which is open on Tuesdays from 4:00 – 7:00 p.m., might be an after school bike ride destination.
The Tumwater Farmer’s Market is celebrating its 10th birthday this season, and a bike ride to sample some of Tumwater’s famous berries and veggies might be a perfect way to celebrate. Just be sure to bring a backpack or bike basket for toting goodies home. The Yelm Farmers Market is located on Nisqually Springs Farm right off of Yelm Highway and is the first full farmers market in Washington State to be located on a private farm. The wonderful thing about all farmers markets is that they are full of food – and that is just the sort of destination that hungry young bike riders need to stay energized and motivated.
Ride to the Library
I will give you this: books are heavy. However, a less is more philosophy can make a destination bike ride to the library both realistic and fun. Additionally, my friend Lisa likes to ride with her kids to the multitude of summer reading activities offered by the Lacey, Olympia, Tenino, Tumwater, and Yelm public libraries. Visit the library websites to check out the offerings, or pick up a flyer at your closest library. All branches have tons of family friendly entertainment throughout the summer.
Ride to School
For many, this is a no brainer. Some people bike to school daily. And then there are people (like me) who cannot seem to get up early enough in the morning to make a family bike ride to school ensue. It just won’t happen for us – ever. However, I have recently realized that my 5th and 3rd graders are delighted to get up early if it means they can ride to school by themselves. This little bit of independence is appealing to them. Depending on where you live in relation to your school, this might be feasible. And there is safety in numbers. Additionally, my friend Barb pointed out that while she, too, cannot manage a family bike ride to school on a weekday morning, they can manage one on a Saturday, when they just ride to school in order to play on the deserted playground.
Ride to the Store
When my oldest child, Annie, turned ten, we bought her a beach cruiser. The first place she wanted to ride was to Spud’s Produce Market (with her neighbor friend and without any parents –independence again). Spud’s is less than a mile from our house and, because we had ridden bikes as a family to the store many times, we felt she had more than enough skill and street riding know-how to make the journey with just her buddy. Bike riding to the store as a family is not just fun, it is useful. I now regularly send my oldest one or two kids to the store on their bikes to pick up an onion and some fruit and save myself loading everyone into the car for a major grocery store run.
My friend Janet Hubbard lives out in the Woodard Bay area- seemingly far from any stores reachable via bike. Yet, she and her girls, aged 11 and 9, have discovered that they can load up their bikes in the car and head to the nearest trailhead and hop on the Chehalis Western Trail with their bikes. While the country roads adjacent to their home have no shoulder for riding and feel too unsafe for the kids, the trail brings them all the way into Lacey, right behind Target. From there, they are able to carefully navigate busy streets and stop at area coffee shops, parks, and grocery stores.
Everyone has his or her own level of comfort when it comes to bike riding with kids. What I have learned, as my kids get older, is that they love to use their bicycles not just as toys, but as the vehicles they actually are. My kids are going places on their bikes – are yours?
Thrifty Thurston highlights inexpensive family fun in Thurston County. The weekly series focuses on family-friendly activities throughout our community. If you have a suggestion for a post, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more events and to learn what’s happening in Olympia and the surrounding area, click here.