Gertie Belle Rogers student a bike-to-school devotee
Andy Mitchell aims to ride to school every day
With temperatures on the rise and the sun peeking out more frequently, Mitchell residents are emerging from their homes to work in their gardens, take walks or ride their bicycles.
But one Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School student has been riding his bike on an almost daily basis since August.
Andy Mitchell, 10, a fourth-grader at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School, has been riding his bike from home to school and back nearly every day this school year. And that includes the bitter-cold stretch of winter months that usually bring an end to cycling for the year in South Dakota.
“I started last year, because I just enjoyed biking,” Mitchell told the Mitchell Republic in a recent interview. “I decided to do it last year but I didn’t do it fully, so I tried again this year, and I’m doing better.”
Mitchell has traversed 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 being observed on Wednesday, May 5 this year. At the time, he made the trip with his mom and dad, Carrie and Ryan, and older brother, Miles. They made the journey together and handed out stickers in honor of the day.
He’s been difficult to keep off a bike ever since.
“We’ve biked a lot with the kids since they were very little,” said Carrie Mitchell. “(National Bike to School Day) was the driver. We volunteered for the event in the past, so we would go and hand out stickers. It got us involved in it and got the kids involved in riding to school.”
When Andy expressed an interest in riding his bike to school every day, his parents were on board, if not appropriately cautious. Even in the best winter conditions, roads and sidewalks can be slippery, winds can be bitter cold and the general experience of riding a bike in the snow can be miserable.
But Andy was determined and his family was ready to support him with advice, planning lessons and some upgraded equipment.
“My dad bought me a pair of studded tires that I used. That took some getting used to, but I got used to them. If it snowed and nobody cleaned the sidewalk in the morning, I had to bike through the snow and the studs would get stuck with snow,” Andy said.
Carrie said the family watched the weather every day, and depending on the forecast, prepared a plan for his bike ride. Clear skies and dry conditions were easier to prepare for than blustery days. The warmer it was, the less he’d have to bundle up.
"My dad bought me a pair of studded tires that I used. That took some getting used to, but I got used to them. If it snowed and nobody cleaned the sidewalk in the morning, I had to bike through the snow and the studs would get stuck with snow."
— Andy Mitchell
“South Dakota weather can be so unpredictable. We had a couple of days this winter that were really cold, and I’m like — I’m not sure if this was smart,” Carrie chuckled. “But we got him more layers, and one thing we did get him was studded tires for his bike, so he is safer in that manner. And we walk him through a lot of the stuff, like today is a little icier. We’ve had to watch the conditions, and if we point them out to him, now he knows what to do in that situation.”
And regardless of the weather, they urged him to be prepared for the unexpected.
“I think it’s given him a good sense of independence. There have been times when his chain has come off and people have stopped to help him, or he’d have a flat tire and he had to walk his bike home. Maybe that street was closed, so he had to go a different way,” Carrie said. “It’s been cool to see the problem-solving skills and independence that comes with being responsible.”
In the winter, weather conditions determine departure time. He doesn’t want to be late.
“It depends on the weather. If it's snowy it would take me 10 to 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 and home is just under a mile, and with steady determination, his total miles ridden continues to rise.
“I found out that on my 100th day I had ridden 80 miles, and by the last day of school I would have ridden 144 miles,” Andy said.
The few times he has been unable to ride to and from school, it had nothing to do with his willingness or determination to do so. He’s had to miss a few days for family trips and the occasional sick day.
Jan Jerke, a guidance counselor at Gertie Belle Rogers, said the amount of planning and thought that goes into a daily bike ride across multiple South Dakota seasons is significant, especially for a fourth-grader. She has been 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 kind of meld into each other, but he’s doing that as a child, and that’s really awesome,” Jerke said. “He’s also a goaltender for our hockey program , so he’s not just biking. His legs have to be shot after goaltending and he still gets up Monday (and bikes to school).”
Andy plans to continue the challenge of biking to school every day. While he may have come up just short the last couple of years, he already has his eyes set on next school year. In the event of a family trip, he hopes to bring his bike with him so he can log the equivalent distance of riding to and from school wherever he may be.
And he is also considering attempting the same feat when he moves up to Mitchell Middle School, which is about twice the distance from his house as is Gertie Belle Rogers.
But for now, he is keeping his eye on the prize and looking to improve his performance. He said he is proud of what he has accomplished so far, but in the end it’s really about an enjoyment of riding his bike.
“I kind of enjoy it,” Andy said.