By Jennifer Ann Gordon
Mele Echiburu and the Cycling Lifestyle
In the 2016-2017 school year, Emerson Junior High School teacher Mele Echiburu cycled to and from work 179 out of 180 days…rain or shine. And the only reason she missed one day of cycling was that it was her turn to drive on a field trip. This school year, she’s shooting for a perfect record. One of her co-teachers, Jenn Wolfe, took on the challenge, as well, to bike to school every day regardless of weather and other factors. “We egg each other on,” said Mele.
Now in her 24th year of teaching, Mele exemplifies the healthy, cycling lifestyle. Davis is an ideal place for commuting à la bicyclette. Mele said that driving to work takes 9 minutes; cycling takes 11 minutes. Sure, there are “little challenges,” when it gets hot or it’s raining, but she has a system. And, she said, “Cycling is a nice way to debrief after work.”
Growing up near Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa, Mele mountain-biked as a kid. In 1986, when Mele was in eleventh grade, she formed a bike club. “It was a big deal,” she said, “our motto was ‘Canada or Bust.’” The club was planning to ride to the World Expo in Canada, but the members dwindled down to 2 people, Mele and her friend Sean Parsons. She and Sean had planned everything, including the route, miles per day, food and rest stops. But with just two of them, Melanie’s dad stepped in and offered to ride with them. They rode 70-100 miles per day and camped out at night. “Riding my bicycle from one country to another was amazing.”
After years of being a triathlete and snowboarder, Mele began to ride her bicycle in earnest. At the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, she invited her students to join her in the challenge to commute every day that year to school. Now, cycling to school is growing.
Mele is all geared up for the rain. She wears a poncho with big boots and lots of lights. “Riding in the rain is flat-out fun,” she said. She has a few hard-earned tips for rain-riding: wait to put on mascara until once you arrive; get a really good poncho (she used to wear her backpack underneath her poncho until her husband, Lautaro, got her a fluorescent waterproof zip bag); and get some serious rain boots.
What else does Mele advise? Do everything you can to make your cycling experience better. Get a bicycle that’s comfortable for you. And, let your kids choose their bikes.
To put it in perspective, Mele said, “A good bike costs around $600. That seemed like a lot until I realized that I pay $600 without blinking an eye to get my car fixed.” She added, “Always wear your helmet and don’t worry about your hair. Lock up your bike. And, understand that, here in Davis, a bike is often faster and easier than a car. “
Mele’s joy, commitment and unwavering enthusiasm are contagious. “I just hope that people realize how easy the cycling lifestyle is, especially in Davis.”
Some of Emerson’s 7th Graders who have joined the EVERY-SINGLE-DAY Biking Challenge