This weekend we were in Tucson for the first anniversary of the mass shooting, and had the opportunity to be part of a special community event, Beyond Tucson. Beyond Tucson “commemorates the tragedy of January 8th, celebrates the spirit of togetherness we felt in the days and months afterward, and commits us to working together to build a stronger community through our actions every day.” Last January 8th, Jared Lee Loughner shot U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, members of her staff, and several bystanders in the crowd at a public event. Six people were killed, thirteen people were injured, and the community of Tucson was shaken by this violent attack.
Strangely enough, on the Beyond Tucson day, our morning actually started with us being awoken in our tent around 6:00 am to shouting and threats of violence right outside our tent. A family had parked in the tent site next to us in the middle of the night. We had heard the car and loud talking about 3:00 am, but had managed to fall back asleep and hope for the best. The voices turned from disgruntled to threatening and after the woman arguing with the man told him she would call the cops if she had a phone, we snuck out of our tent to call 911 on my cell phone. We sat on a bench near the campground entrance watching the sunrise and waiting for some sign that it was safe to return to our tent. An older man, visibly drunk, staggered by us muttering to himself. I recognized his voice as being the same as our angry threatening neighbor, so after he walked out of the campground we walked back and started breakfast. Soon, the police showed up and spoke to the woman in the car. I presume she explained that the man had left on his own and after the police officer drove away she rolled up her sleeping bag and drove off. We were relieved, but left with a lot of questions as to who these people were, if they were better off for our actions, and what options we had had to handle the situation.
After our stressful morning, we were grateful to head straight to the Fantasy Islands trails and meet up with Trips for Kids, who were hosting a mountain biking event as part of the community-wide Beyond Tucson event. Through Beyond Tucson there were more than 30 events going on all over the metropolitan area, all designed to bring Tucsonans together in an active healthy way. We saw firsthand how this sort of community building could reassure us about living in Tucson after having been concerned for our safety just hours before. We had a wonderful afternoon sitting in the sun and introducing Tucsonans to mountain biking.
With so many events going on for kids all over the city, we did not have very many attendees. Our first participants were actually two women who had come to check out the trails and realized that their hybrid bikes were not going to do well on the sand and wash crossings along this trail. I loaned my bike to one of the women, and another volunteer led them on the Bunny Loop so they could try out mountain biking for the first time. They came back grinnning from ear to ear and couldn’t wait to go out and buy some mountain bikes. They may not have technically been kids, but they sure felt like kids again and were also looking forward to going biking with their grandchildren.
Right when those two women were finishing their loop we had a Hispanic family with several adults and one child show up at the trails. I don’t know if they had heard this event was going on or just happened to come at the right time, but we were able to give them some helmets, loan bikes to two of the young adults, and then lead the whole group on a ride around the Bunny Loop. It was another first time mountain bike experience for three of the riders (one 11 year old girl and two young adults). I rode behind the young woman, Daniela and offered advice and encouragement. It was so awesome to see her learning a few basic mountain biking techniques and start riding longer and longer stretches without having to stop or scream. I was reminded of how far I have come in my own riding.
I didn’t think I was qualified to teach mountain biking, but now I realize that I am actually a valuable asset at this point since I am confident enough to teach the basics, but still new enough to remember what the challenges are for brand new riders. It was one of the most rewarding volunteer experiences I have had in awhile and I can’t wait to have an opportunity like that again.