Middle School Students Examine the Impact of Car Culture on the Environment, People, and Society

How can cities overcome the challenges of making it more bike friendly? How do we develop, protect, and enhance the Tahoe/Truckee bike experience through trail stewardship, advocacy, collaboration, and education?

In early October 2019, TEA MS/HS Teacher Beth Vallarino, TEA Adventure Director Jack Benter, and an 11th-Grade Student Leader took a group of 7th and 8th-Grade students to Bend, Oregon to examine these very questions. Along the way, TEA Students would meet some of their peers from Bend’s Summit High School and Rob Thilo and Woody Keen from Central Oregon Trail Association. Their goal was to better understand the impact of car culture on people, the environment, and society.

Prior to their departure, the students experienced mountain biking on three different trails right here in Truckee, racking up over 30 miles in order to prepare for biking on the trails in Bend. On the 8+ hour drive to Bend from Truckee students listened to podcasts in order to learn about Oregon’s history as well as various perspectives on cycling.

Over the course of their 5 day/4 night field study, students saw the Deschutes River, new species of trees, and wide bike paths of different colors and surfaces. They encountered courteous drivers, they heard squeaky brakes, tires on pavement, bike chains, and the creak of their bikes going over dirt and rock gardens. They experienced sore butts, tired muscles, and Bend’s incredible system of mountain bike and urban cycling trails.

Through this field study, students grew mentally and physically stronger, ultimately becoming more confident in attacking trails, more confident in speaking to people, and feeling more open to trying things outside of their comfort zone.

students with bikes on a deschutes river bridge
students with bikes on a deschutes river bridge
students sitting in the lodge hotel
kids sitting around a campfire at night

On the trip home, two groups of students wrote letters to home. We'd like to share those with you here! We hope you enjoy their perspective of the field study!

Letter #1

Dear Parents,

How are you doing? We hope you missed us because we sure missed you! We are currently driving back from Oregon. Here is a play by play of our trip.

We went to Bend, Oregon to study bike culture and to improve bike culture in the Tahoe/Truckee area.

On Monday we left a cold and rainy Truckee school campus and started our 8-hour drive. The weather was all over the place it was sunny and then it was snowing and then it was raining. After our long 8 hour haul, we arrived at our riverside campsite in Bend, Oregon. It was colder than Tailor expected and warmer than everyone else expected. We set up camp and prepared our tacos and burritos filled with beans, rice, sour cream, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, peppers, and cheese. Meanwhile, the film groups were working on their films. We ate our dinner by the fire and planned our next adventure into the wild.

On Tuesday we had a luxuriously late wake up at 8:00 am. We had oatmeal, yogurt, cereal, hot cocoa, and apple cider to wake us up. We then drove to downtown Bend and did some urban biking around town. We stopped at bike shops and found our own experts to interview about bike culture. We noticed that there were so many bike shops in such a small area. Urban biking in Bend was great! There were actual bike lanes on the roads and the drivers were super courteous. We realized that there were a lot of places that had bike racks. On the path, we saw people river surfing on the rapids. After that, we stopped at Drakes park and have a nice sandwich buffet lunch. Unfortunately, we forgot our knives so we used bike tools to spread the peanut butter. After lunch, we drove to the Deschutes river trail where we biked 8 miles along the river. Then Jace’s bike got a flat and Kaya’s bike needed repairing. While we waited for Kaya’s bike, we did some academics in Starbucks while having a warm drink. Once we picked up Kaya’s bile, we headed back to camp to make a zucchini, spinach and pasta filled dinner. Tailor says we had really gourmet meals while camping! When it comes to food we don’t mess around. We sat by the fire that night saying goodbye to our sick friend, Jace.

On Wednesday, we woke up early at 6:30 am. We ate our usual morning meal and prepared for the day by packing our lunches. We left camp and drove to the lodge hotel to meet our biking experts Woody and Rob. They represented COTA central Oregon trail alliance. We learned it took about 5 years to get a trail government approved. Also, it takes a lot of collaboration with different organizations to build a trail. One more thing is it takes $1,000,000 per mile to build an asphalt trail and it is significantly cheaper to build a dirt trail. We had a shuttle booked but sadly we had to unexpectedly change our plans. Nina wasn’t feeling so hot so we said our goodbyes to her too. The boys were doing time trials on a half-mile skills trail. We also played many games of foot down.

After we had a sandwich lunch and rode 4 miles to summit high school. Biking there was nice because the bike lanes were wide, and the drivers were very polite. At the high school, we interviewed some students who bike to and from school. We got out of our comfort zone by interviewing intimidating teenagers. A local high school student said that about 10-25% of the students at that school ride there bike every day.

On the way back from Summit High, we rode at Phil’s Trail, doing the pump track a little bit. Jackson gave a lesson on appropriate pump track behavior. We had a lot of fun doing jumps and hanging out there. After the pump track, we took a trail called Marvin’s gardens back to the lodge hotel. There were some challenging downhill sections and fun rolling terrain. The bend trail system is awesome because we could take a trail somewhere and take a completely different route back and not see a single car. We headed to another campsite to take showers but it was closed. After we realized that, we went to another coffee shop to do more academics and change clothes.

After that Beth and Jack took us to a burrito/taco dinner to make up for the shower situation. The food was amazing! Colby had a fettuccine Alfredo pasta burrito with tofu. He said it was delicious. We got to the campground pretty late and went to bed within a half-hour of getting there.

On Thursday, we woke up and packed up camp to head back to the lodge hotel. When we arrived we were late for the shuttle we were planning on getting on so we had to wait an extra hour which was definitely okay. While we were waiting for the next shuttle we chilled in the hotel cafe and filled our faces with delicious pastries and warm drinks to load up on energy for the long bike ride ahead.

The shuttle ended up arriving a few minutes early so we loaded our bikes and drove towards Mt. Bachelor. When we arrived we unloaded everything and did a quick warm-up on the pump track to prepare for our 20-mile ride. We first started with a nice flowing trail and then we hit a 30 min uphill. It was so worth it for the downhill! The downhill trail was filled with turns and berms and bumps and jumps and whoopty doos!

Jackson said it was his favorite ride ever, and everyone agreed. Everyone was heartbroken when the downhill was over but we got over it pretty fast because there was a fun cross country trail that took us all the way back to the lodge. By getting into different trails it spit us right back to the lodge (literally). And figuratively. We had an hour to take a nice silky smooth shower with shampoo drizzling down our backs.

After the showers, we did some academics and reflected on our trip while sitting in the lobby. After that, we had pizza delivered to celibate our successful trip. After dinner, we had s’mores and appreciated our leaders. We went back to our rooms to change into our bathing suits. We spent a nice hour in the hot tub and a freezing cold pool. After that, we went to our rooms to chill and go to bed early because we had a 5:00 am wake up.

Friday we had a brutal 5:00 am wake up with Beth banging loudly on our doors. We quickly loaded our bags and groggily got into the cars. And that brings to the end of our trip. We can’t wait to see you guys and tell you even more great stories from our bend journey.

Since the first day of this intensive, we have all improved our riding skills and we feel that we have gotten a lot more confident on all kinds of bike trails. On the first day of the intensive, a lot of us walked up the uphills, but on yesterday’s ride, all of us rode as much as possible and charged rock gardens, even if we don’t make it all the way. We have learned to adapt to challenging situations and keep having fun throughout them.

Bend has so much to offer in the biking world. We got inspired us to add things to Tahoe/Truckee to make or community similar to bend. We want to build more bike lanes and create more trail systems so we can bike as much as we can.

Signing off,
Colby, Kaya, Tailor, Ty

kids on their bikes in front of a roadway sign

Letter #2

Dear Parents,

We hope you have enjoyed this week without us. We had a great time and learned a lot in Bend, Oregon. We traveled to bend to gain knowledge on their urban and trail infrastructure to apply it to our local Tahoe Truckee area. We met with various experts and experienced the biking infrastructure for ourselves.

On Monday, we arrived at the big river campground at 5:30pm after 8 hours on the road. We set up camp and had a closing circle around the fire and talked about the next day’s activities.

The next day, we headed into the city and bike urban streets and bike paths. Along the way, we stopped at three different bike shops. At one of the bike shops we talk to a mechanic that said that “For every bike sold in Oregon 15 dollars is donated to help build dirt trails and bike paths throughout the area.” After our city ride, we went for an evening bike on the Deschutes river trail.

On Wednesday, we met at the Loge with some COTA experts Woody and Rob. COTA is an organization that tends to the soft surface trails. Do to some complications we had to use a growth mindset to adjust to our new plans. We first went to Summit High School. There we learned that ten to twenty-five percent of the students bike to school. Then we went to Phil’s trailhead and checked out the bike park.

After jumping around we did Marvin’s Garden(a super fun trail) back to the Loge. We went back to the campsite and spent our last night in our sleeping bags. The next day we took a shuttle up to the top of a mountain. We had a little bit of an uphill but most of us thought that it was the best downhill they’ve ever done. At the hotel and took well-deserved showers and had s’mores. The next day we woke up early and headed out on the road.

Some of the many things that stuck with us from this incredible trip are the pricing and time it takes to build a trail, for one mile of paved bike path costs one million dollars and about five years’ time. Also, more people have died in car crashes than in both world wars combined. This was surprising as it was heartbreaking, but we have hope for a better, bicycle-oriented future.

On the last day, while sitting around the campfire, many of the students expressed that they had improved a lot on their biking and that their mindset had changed for the better. The first time we went biking, we would get off our bikes and walk as soon as we saw a hill. Now, on the last ride, everyone peddled up the whole thing without complaint. We have been attacking the uphills, downhills and the overall Expedition.

This has been an incredible journey and we are glad we got to share it with you.

This is Summer, Aidan, Ozzie and Ender signing off.

kids sitting next to the deschutes river
kids biking off-trail
students posing with their bikes beside a trail
kids with their bikes checking a trailhead map
students posing with their bikes beside a trail
students eating lunch at a table
students talk with their peer riding his bike
students pose for a picture
kids sitting around a fire at night