Tales of a Small Town: Bellingham, WA

There are a few, usually sunny, days a year when the famously laid-back ‘city of subdued excitement’ puts on its party pants.

The biggest is the annual Ski to Sea Race in May. Participants strap on boots, sneakers, helmets, and life jackets (not all at once, of course) to ski, run, bike, canoe, and kayak from the glorious slopes of Mount Baker to picturesque Bellingham Bay.

Just a few weeks before the big race, however, when the super-human ‘Hamsters are pushing themselves to new feats of strength in preparation for their race events, the rest of us average work-out-five-days-a-week-for-two-hours folks are looking to swell our ranks.

Yes, Bellingham, despite its reputation for hippy-like slothfulness in the winter, is a competitive, active community when the sun comes out. After all, we have to keep up with our big sisters, Portland and Seattle, who are consistently ranked in the top most active cities in the U.S.

And so, when the sunshine of spring seems like it’s going to push away our ever-looming rain clouds, us averagely-active ‘Hamsters initiate our modus operandi numero uno: Bike to Work and School Day.

We say this well publicized event, plastered on the back of every passing bus, is about saving the environment from carbon emissions. But we all know it’s really about broadcasting one message to the entire town: Get Active or Move Out. Maybe the neighboring county towns of Lynden and Ferndale will accept you with your ten pounds of holiday weight, but we won’t!

Today happened to be Bike to Work and School Day, and, as I was driving my husband to work through the streets of downtown, I couldn’t help but smile at how unique our little community is.

There was bike shop number one with a tent, a healthy display of bikes, and a yeti cut-out on the corner next to Starbucks where the mentally-ill homeless are usually yelling greetings at passersby.

Down the road, bike shop number two was appealing to the younger crowd in handing out free stickers and juice boxes. Ambitious moms were checking the strength of helmets and corralling youngsters whose wheels ranged from tricycles to training pedals.

I saw a gaggle of pimply teenagers swarming the local police station, where bicycle cops were handing out free donuts and wishes for a good day at school.

The local triathlon club even had a tent, and was sending out siren calls to any muscley man or woman walking by.

And the streets were filled with bikes. Everyone from the jaguar-like sleek-body road bikers, to the hulky mountain bikers whose calves look like chiseled arrowheads, to the free-flowing long haired beauty on the beach cruiser, to the family of four with the little ones stuffed in bike trailers. They all came out en masse to celebrate this community event.

As I looked around, my healthy dose of shame at having driven to work on Bike to Work and School Day was trumped by a swelling sense of pride in our small community. And laughing to myself, I silently agreed with bumper sticker on the car in front of me: Welcome to Bellingham. Now Get a Bike! 

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