When the Big One Hits Portland, Cargo Bikers Will Save You

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But then we had a child, and after her first birthday we enrolled her in daycare. As I flipped by means of the mum or dad handbook, skimming the tips on nut-free snacks and non secular holidays, my eye stopped on web page 19: emergency provides. The directions informed me to pack boxed drinks, diapers, an emergency blanket, a jar of high-protein meals, and a plastic poncho, all of which the faculty would retailer in a watertight container. The ultimate merchandise was {a photograph} of our household. “Add an encouraging note!” the handbook advised.

I gamely discovered a clean card in my submitting cupboard, printed out an image, and began writing. “Hi baby!” I started, then stopped. What do you say to your toddler in the aftermath of a disaster? My daughter’s lecturers have been going at hand her a photograph and a juice field, in the center of a metropolis in ruins, and inform her all the pieces was going to be OK? Yeah, no. I might inflate a dinghy with my very own lungs, I might paddle by means of flames, I might cross miles of smoking rubble to get to her.

Slowly, I began to make a plan. First, my husband and I had one other child, a son. We moved to a brand new home inside strolling distance of our children’ faculty. I purchased a 50-gallon water barrel. I pinged our neighborhood group chat to maintain tabs on who had an emergency generator and vegetable backyard. Then my husband—himself a little bit of a catastrophist—began to stress that I wasn’t quick sufficient on my human-powered bike and trailer to pull our two toddlers out of hurt’s method. So I purchased an electric cargo bike, a cheery yellow Tern GSD S00 that my daughter, then 5, named Popsicle.

I realized about the Disaster Relief Trials from a buddy earlier this yr. The race is designed to imitate 4 days of chaos after disaster hits. It has the format of an alleycat, a sort of unsanctioned avenue race that bike messengers trip in, with checkpoints throughout the metropolis and a laminated map on which race volunteers mark off duties after they’re accomplished. In the DRT, every of the duties takes the type of obstacles that folks volunteering reduction in a catastrophe would possibly encounter: tough terrain to traverse, rubble to clear, messages to ship, water to hold. As in an actual catastrophe, we gained’t know what the route is or what we have to do till we’re handed our maps an hour earlier than the begin.

After the Big One, bridges will collapse. Debris, broken roads, and a scarcity of gas will make it inconceivable for emergency autos to move. A motorcycle, although, can go nearly wherever. In the decade because it was based, the DRT has advanced from an occasion run principally by pedal punks to a coaching train for the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management. Neighborhood emergency response groups work the race to serve their volunteer hours. As I learn the web site, I spotted that I’d been getting ready for this for years. I had a motorbike; I used to be prepared. I signed up. It was solely after a half-dozen folks identified that I’d be carrying my very own physique weight in gear that I began to wonder if I actually might be the hero I assumed I used to be.


Mike Cobb, the founding father of the Disaster Relief Trials, is a former bike mechanic. He bought the concept for the race after watching footage of the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake. Bikes, he thought, may assist resolve a significant transportation drawback. After I signed up, I emailed Cobb with the frank admission that I had no concept the best way to load clunky gear onto my bike. He informed me to fulfill him the following Tuesday in Cully Park, the place the race begins and ends, at what he calls his weekly coffee klatch.

When I confirmed up on Popsicle, Cobb and a few former individuals have been standing round the picnic tables. He provided me a sizzling espresso and an assortment of about 12 various milks. Cobb has unruly darkish hair, a grizzled beard, and is lean in a sinewy, rubber-bandy biker method. His humorousness, I quickly be taught, is bone-dry. He refers to me, his face utterly deadpan, as “the embedded reporter.” 

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