Craig Hill: Tacoma students set to bike from Seattle to Portland thanks to new cycling program

Answers to important questions nobody has asked me yet:

Q: What happens when you ask a bunch of kids if they want to suit up in spandex and ride a bike from Seattle to Portland?

A: When the 206-mile Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic gets underway July 11, 17 kids from Lincoln High and Stewart Middle schools will be among the 10,000 participants.

Accompanying them will be seven volunteers, who help run the Major Taylor Project at the schools.

The Seattle-based Cascade Bicycle Club launched the Major Taylor Project to introduce recreational cycling to youth from diverse communities. The program is named for Marshall “Major” Taylor, the 1899 1-mile world champion.

This year the program operated in eight schools, including two in Tacoma. T.J. Purdy, Lincoln High’s instructional coach, is an avid cyclist who oversees the program for the Tacoma schools.

“The kids really enjoy it,” Purdy said. “(On training rides) they get to see the city in a new way. Many have not spent time downtown, so they are seeing new areas of the community.”

The Cascade club donated 21 bikes for the schools to use, but the project proved more popular than expected right from the start. When the Major Taylor Project was announced, 74 students at the schools turned in permission slips.

To accommodate all the cyclists, the group held rides three days per week starting with short rides and working their way up to a hilly tour of Vashon Island.

Before one ride, Purdy and the volunteers distributed spandex shorts and jerseys, gifts from the club. The kids weren’t too sure what to think of the clothes that are decidedly uncool anywhere except on a bike.

“They thought it was pretty goofy,” Purdy said. “But we explained to them it was like a uniform. They’d be more comfortable with the padding and without loose clothes flapping against them all day.”

When it came time to ride, all but one kid spandexed up.

The kids also received helmets and an abundance of instruction on safety and technique from volunteers such as Cascade staff member and ride leader Leon Ettelson.

The participants get free entry into any Cascade bike ride. The 17 who chose the STP, will bike from Seattle to Centralia on July 11, then continue on to Portland the next morning.

Purdy says the schools plan to continue the Major Taylor Project next school year.

Q: What should I do with my retired running shoes?

A: Four South Sound junior high boys had the misfortune of having me as their coach last weekend at Spokane’s Hoopfest. Temperatures cleared 100 degrees, and one news report claimed it was 125 on the asphalt.

The day before the mighty Hoop Stains (that’s what happens when you let 13-year-old boys pick the team name) took the court, I ducked into the shade and ran into Jessica Reasy.

She asked me if she could have my shoes.

“I kinda need them this weekend and they probably don’t smell so great,” I said. “What are you doing with people’s shoes?”

Reasy is the executive director for Redeeming Soles, a Seattle-based nonprofit that collects new and used shoes, cleans and sorts them then distributes them to homeless and underprivileged people in the Puget Sound area.

She said the organization often sets up collections sites at events such as Hoopfest, because athletes’ feet are sometimes so sore after a day of running or playing basketball they want little more than to ditch their shoes. In exchange, she hands them a pair of Redeeming Soles flip-flops.

She collects all kinds of shoes, however. Dress shoes and work boots are particularly helpful for people looking to find work. Reasy said the organization places a priority on returning the shoes to the communities from which they were collected. She said all of the shoes collected at Hoopfest would be cleaned and distributed in Spokane.

Redeeming Soles is active in the South Sound area, too, she said, although her website ( redeemingsoles.org) lists the closest donation site as Road Runner Sports in Kent.

There are other organizations doing similar work with used shoes. The Delaware-based Modular Organic Regenerative Environments Foundation distributes the shoes in Africa. It has donation sites at Fleet Feet Sports in Tacoma and Bonney Lake, Route 16 Running and Walking in Gig Harbor, and South Sound Running in Olympia, Puyallup and Tacoma.

Q: How does Thurston County roll?

A: The Thurston County Bicycle Commuter Contest prize hoopla was June 27, where organizers announced a record-breaking year for the bike month (May) event.

Intercity Transit announced 1,736 people registered for the competition this year, a 17 percent increase from 2014. Only 61.2 percent returned their mileage logs, but those 1,063 people averaged more than 100 miles in May.

Those riders combined to log 13,661 round-trip commutes by bike. Intercity Transit says this prevented 50 tons of carbon dioxide.