Gertie Belle Rogers student is a fan of cycling to school – Mitchell Republic

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With temperatures rising and the sun getting more and more present, residents of Mitchell are leaving their homes to work in their gardens, go for a walk or ride their bikes.

But a student at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School has been cycling almost daily since August.

Andy Mitchell, 10, a fourth-grade student 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 cold spell of the winter months that usually ends cycling for the year in South Dakota.

“I started last year, because I just liked to ride a bike,” Mitchell told the Mitchell Republic in a recent interview. “I decided to do it last year but didn’t do it completely, so I tried again this year, and I’m better.”

Mitchell has cycled the 0.4 miles from his home to his school more than 100 times since he first made the trip with his family for National Bike-to-School Day, which is celebrated on Wednesday 5 May of this year. At the time, he was making the trip with his mom and dad, Carrie and Ryan, and older brother, Miles. They traveled together and handed out stickers in honor of the day.

It’s been hard to keep off a bike ever since.

“We’ve cycled a lot with the kids since they were little,” said Carrie Mitchell. “(National School Bike Day) was the driver. We’ve volunteered for the event in the past, so we would hand out stickers. It got us and the kids involved in riding to school.

When Andy expressed interest in biking to school every day, his parents were on board, if not cautious enough. Even in the best of winter conditions, roads and sidewalks can be slippery, winds can be freezing, and the overall experience of biking in the snow can be miserable.

But Andy was determined and his family was ready to support him with advice, planning lessons and improved equipment.

“My dad bought me a pair of studded tires which I used. It took some getting used to, but I got used to it. If it was snowing and no one was cleaning the sidewalk in the morning, I had to ride my bike in the snow and the cleats would get stuck with the snow,” Andy said.

Carrie said the family monitors the weather every day and, based on the forecast, makes a plan for their bike ride. Clear skies and dry conditions were easier to prepare for than windy days. The warmer it was, the less he would have to bundle up.

“The weather in South Dakota can be so unpredictable. We’ve had a few days this winter that have been really cold, and I’m like – I don’t know if that was smart,” Carrie laughed. “But we gave him more diapers, and one thing we got him was 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 monitor the conditions, and if we report them to him, now he knows what to do in this situation.

And whatever the weather, they urged him to prepare for the unexpected.

“I think it gave him a good sense of independence. There were times when his chain came loose 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 a different route,” Carrie said. “It was cool to see the problem-solving skills and independence that come with being in charge.”

In winter, the weather conditions determine the departure time. He doesn’t want to be late.

“It depends on the weather. If there’s snow it would take me 10-15 minutes, but with no snow on the ground it would take me maybe five minutes,” Andy said.

The round trip from Gertie Belle Rogers to home is just under a mile, and with steady determination, her mileage total continues to rise.

“I found out that on my 100th day I had walked 80 miles and on the last day of school I would have walked 144 miles,” Andy said.

The few times he couldn’t cycle to school had nothing to do with his will or determination to do so. He had to take a few days off for family trips and the occasional sick day.

Jan Jerke, guidance counselor at Gertie Belle Rogers, said the amount of planning and thought that goes into a daily multi-season bike ride of South Dakota is significant, especially for a fourth grader. She was impressed by his determination to stick to his goals.

“It’s so much discipline for a young child. As an adult we have to be disciplined and the days just blend into each other, but he does that when he’s a kid, and that’s really great,” Jerke said. “He’s also a goaltender for our hockey program, so he’s not just cycling. His legs have to be shot after being a goalkeeper and he always gets up on Monday (and rides his bike to school).

Andy plans to take on the challenge of cycling to school every day. Although he may have narrowly missed the past two years, he already has his sights set on next school year. In the case of a family trip, he hopes to bring his bike with him so he can ride the equivalent distance 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 home, just like Gertie Belle Rogers.

But for now, he’s keeping an eye on the price and looking to improve his performance. He said he’s proud of what he’s achieved so far, but at the end of the day, it’s really been a pleasure to ride the bike.

“I like it,” Andy said.

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