But one Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School student has been cycling almost daily since August.
Andy Mitchell, 10, a fourth grader at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School, has cycled from home to school and back almost every day this school year. And that includes the freezing winter months that typically end cycling for the year in South Dakota.
âI started last year, because I just loved riding a bike,â Mitchell told Mitchell Republic in a recent interview. “I decided to do it last year but I didn’t do it completely, so I tried again this year and I’m getting better.”
Mitchell has walked the 0.4 miles from his home to his school more than 100 times since making the trip with his family for the first time to National bike day to school, which is observed on Wednesday May 5 of this year. At the time, he made the trip with his mom and dad, Carrie and Ryan, and older brother, Miles. They made the trip together and handed out stickers in honor of the day.
Since then, it has been difficult not to ride a bicycle.
âWe’ve done a lot of cycling with the kids since they were little kids,â said Carrie Mitchell. â(National School Bike Day) was the driver. We have volunteered for the event in the past so we were going to hand out stickers. It got us involved and the kids got involved in horseback riding to get to school.
When Andy expressed interest in cycling to school every day, his parents were on board, if they weren’t careful enough. Even in the best winter conditions, the roads and sidewalks can be slippery, the winds can be freezing, and the overall experience of biking in the snow can be miserable.
But Andy was determined and his family were ready to support him with advice, planning lessons and improved materials.
âMy dad bought me a pair of studded tires that I used. It took a while to get used to it, but I got used to it. If it was snowing and no one was cleaning the sidewalk in the morning, I had to ride a bike in the snow and the spikes got stuck in the snow, âAndy said.
Carrie said the family monitored the weather daily and, based on the forecast, made a plan for their bike ride. Clear skies and dry conditions were easier to prepare for than windy days. The hotter it was, the less he would have to bundle up.
âThe weather in South Dakota can be so unpredictable. We had a few days this winter that were really cold, and I’m like – I don’t know if that was smart, âCarrie laughed. âBut we bought him more diapers, and one thing we got him were studded tires for his bike, so he’s safer that way. And we explain a lot of things to him, like today it’s a little colder. We had to watch the conditions, and if we report them to him, he now knows what to do in this situation.
And whatever the weather, they urged him to be prepared for the unexpected.
âI think it gave him a good sense of independence. There were times when his chain came off and people stopped to help him, or he had a flat tire and he had to cycle home. Maybe that street was closed, so he had to take another lane, âCarrie said. âIt’s cool to see the problem-solving skills and independence that come with responsibility. “
In winter, weather conditions determine the departure time. He doesn’t want to be late.
âIt depends on the weather. If it snows it would take me 10 to 15 minutes, but without snow on the ground it would take me maybe five minutes,â said Andy.
The round trip between Gertie Belle Rogers and her home is just under a mile, and with constant determination, the total number of miles driven continues to increase.
âI found out that on day 100 I had run 80 miles and on the last day of school I would have run 144 miles,â said Andy.
The rare times he couldn’t make it to and from school, it had nothing to do with his willingness or determination to do so. He had to be absent for a few days for family trips and occasional sick days.
Jan Jerke, guidance counselor at Gertie Belle Rogers, said the amount of planning and thought required for a daily bike ride through multiple seasons of South Dakota is important, especially for a fourth-grader. She was impressed with his determination to stick to her goals.
âIt’s so much discipline for a young child. As an adult we have to be disciplined and the days just melt into each other, but he does when he’s a kid, and that’s really great, âJerke said. “He is also a goalkeeper for our hockey program, so he doesn’t just cycle. His legs have to be cut down after being a goalie and he always gets up on Mondays (and goes to school on his bike).
Andy plans to continue the challenge of cycling to school every day. While he may have narrowly missed in recent years, he already has his eyes set on next school year. In the case of a family trip, he hopes to bring his bike with him so that he can record the equivalent distance of the trip to and from school wherever he is.
And he also plans to attempt the same feat when he moves to Mitchell Middle School, which is about twice the distance from his house, as is Gertie Belle Rogers.
But for now, it’s keeping an eye on the price and looking to improve its performance. He said he’s proud of what he’s accomplished so far, but at the end of the day it’s really about having fun riding a bike.
âI kind of appreciate it,â Andy said.