A Trip South: The power of the bicycle

Riding a bicycle is a special wonder. The natural cooperation between body and bike creates a coasting, carefree sensation. For some, the experience evokes fond childhood memories. For my traveling friends and I, riding a bike has provided an opportunity to explore the Americas. Our journey south brought us to the coastal town of Waldport, Ore. There, we found that riding a bicycle has taken on a much deeper meaning.


Across from the drive-thru coffee shop, in the center of Waldport, stands the Green Bike Co-op. As a converted gas station, the building’s roof is lined with welcoming green bikes. We were drawn to check out the place before starting the day’s bike ride. Upon entering, we met Rick, a volunteer who ran the shop. He explained how the co-op operates.

One hundred donated and rescued junkyard bikes were fixed up and painted green. The bikes were then left all around town. The idea is that if you need to get from point “A” to point “B,” there is probably a bike around that you could use. You don’t have to pay; you don’t even have to leave the bike in a specific place. Just take a bike and leave it out when you are done. Dedicated volunteers, like Rick, ensure that the bikes stay in working condition. In addition, students from the local high school can come in and learn the details of bicycle maintenance. Wanting to learn more and seeing that there was much to be done, we were quick to offer our services for the day.

With our large group we got to know the shop quickly. Here, no part is thrown-out. Salvaged items from bearings to spokes are neatly organized in tubs along the back wall. Fully equipped work stations allow anyone to bring in a bike to rebuild, or just to make quick adjustments. It was decided that we would spend the day getting a junk bike fixed up for a rider in need. Already elevated on a stand, the bike was ready, so we set to work. New shifter cables were threaded, the front derailleur was replaced. As ratchets turned and replacement parts were located, a slow but continual flow of visitors exposed the many layers of the co-op.

Through the open door came characters of all sorts, each with their own story. A woman, who makes her living collecting bottles and cans off of her bike, stopped in for a tune-up. We handed out a patch kit to two young kids with a flat tire. A high-school student set to work taking apart his cruiser bike in preparation for a new paint job. The former mayor of the town even swung in just to get the latest news from the good people at the co-op. Next, we were introduced to a woman who instantly captivated and inspired us. Her name was Sentillia, and she is regarded as the Saint of Waldport.

Sentillia grew up in Tonga. She was raised in a thatched roof hut and lived a self-described “simpler way of life”. Upon falling in love with her future husband, she abruptly relocated her life to the quaint town of Waldport and the Oregon coast. From that point on she has fully dedicated herself to helping those less fortunate in the community. In the early 90s she established the Seashore Family Literacy program, which aims to empower others by meeting basic needs and teaching a multitude of relevant skills. From her humble upbringings, Sentillia provides a unique insight into community well-being.

She describes America as a plentiful place. The fact that there are many people who are without a home and are in dire need of help does not make much sense to her. She spoke to us with glowing optimism.

“Everything I see has potential,” she said. “I see old buildings and I see potential. I see that every human being has potential.”

Sentillia has a smile that could uproot a teenager from the sofa in order to volunteer in a soup kitchen. It is with this smile and an unrelenting exuberance that she has been so successful in matching resources and volunteers with families and individuals. The family literacy program has blossomed. In addition to structuring reading and writing courses for the community, Sentillia now delivers food and clothing to homeless groups and helps young people to pass the GED. Working with the Green Bike Co-op, the program has been able to give the experience of riding a bike to the many people in need of a reliable means of transportation.

The bicycle is simple. It is this simplicity that draws us to it. In this internet age, the bicycle gives us something real to connect with. Within its maintenance are lessons in not only physics and engineering, but also in patience and responsibility.

The co-op in Waldport, Ore. provides a comfortable place where advice can be given and plans can be formed. Guided by selfless people, like Rick and Sentillia, the shop will undoubtedly continue to positively influence the many who walk through the door.

As she left, Sentillia offered one last thought, “I encourage everyone I meet to sacrifice and dedicate time to others, because eventually you will realize that you are not sacrificing anything at all.”

For more information about the Green Bike Co-op, Seashore Family Literacy and updates from our journey please visit www.atripsouth.com.

• Chris Hinkley is a lifelong Juneau resident and a member of A Trip South. Look for monthly columns from the group in the Juneau Empire Outdoors section.


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