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Human Powered Parade to roll through Bristol

BRISTOL — For bike advocate and youth leader Melanie Kessler using human-powered transportation is all about joy.
To celebrate that exuberance and to empower others to create their own human power, the 38-year-old Bristol resident is organizing the first annual Human Powered Parade and Celebration, which will be held May 20 in Bristol.
Kessler describes it as a “possibility parade for all things that roll petroleum free.”
Donations raised during the celebration will go toward Addison County’s Safe Routes to Schools programs and toward the work of the Addison County Walk-Bike Council.
“Biking brings me a lot of joy. It’s like a paradigm shifter. It’s not a lack of freedom, it’s a different type of freedom,” she said.
“And it also generates positivity. When you’re biking there’s fresh air, you’re connected to your surroundings, your confidence builds, your health builds. And there’s a kind of meditative break between experiences, which is not what I get from listening to music in a car.”
The event will begin at 10 a.m. with bike and bike helmet decorating, music and a skateboard and BMX bike show at the Bristol Skate Park (for the non-rad among us, BMX bikes are used for racing and stunt riding and look like old-style 1970s Schwinn Stingrays).
At 11 a.m. the parade — floats, bikes, skateboards, strollers, anything on human-powered wheels — will set off and travel along the town’s streets, stopping at intersections along the way for dance parties, interactive art and other “zany” community-building events.
The parade will be followed by a “Human Powered Party,” with vendors selling local food and bike-powered gadgets, and bike advocates putting out the word about public transit, safety, fitness and biking infrastructure — all to the beat of local bands.
LONG-TIME BIKE ADVOCATE
For the past 17 years, Kessler has been a leader and pioneer nationwide in promoting human-powered transportation.
After graduating from Wesleyan University in 2000, she went west to Eugene, Ore., and started working at the Center for Appropriate Transportation, where she launched Eugene’s first Walk to School Day. From there, she relocated to Northern California and founded a Safe Routes to Schools Teen Program in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, and then launched a Safe Routes to Schools program for Alameda County (just across the bay). Under Kessler’s leadership the Alameda County program grew from just one school to more than 70 and provided a model emulated nationwide.
Kessler moved back East in around 2011 to be closer to family. She continued the youth advocacy part of her work by getting certified as an elementary school teacher and gaining a Master’s in Elementary Education. She’s worked as a youth leader, specializing in youth empowerment and activism for schools, congregations, summer camps and for nonprofits.
Locally she’s offering a series of biking workshops this spring as part of an afterschool program at Bristol Elementary and through the Bristol Recreation Department (see story at right).
Kessler’s commitment to a human-powered lifestyle is sincere: The mother of two boys, ages two and four, she regularly bikes them up the mountain from Bristol to the Cooperative Preschool in Lincoln.
She’s just switched from a conventional bike to a Yuba electric-assist cargo bike to see how far she can take a car-free lifestyle in the Green Mountain State. Kessler carefully plans jobs, errands and outings so that she can use public transportation or carpool rather drive a car solo.
Kessler didn’t even own a car until she was 33 years old. And she admits that trying to go car free in a rural state like Vermont provides its own challenges (compared to urban areas’ many public transportation options).
Plus there is the complication of being the mother of two preschoolers.
But Kessler is anything but dour or dogmatic in her car-free/car-minimizing lifestyle. Her outlook is both fearless and celebratory.
For her, the positive aspects of bike-powered transportation are legion.
“I’m an athlete; I love using my body,” Kessler said. “I love being connected to the seasons and the weather. I love feeling wind, rain. It just makes me feel connected. I see the neighborhood completely differently. It reframes my entire concept of hills, space, distance. I can eat as much as I want.
“I like the words ‘energizing our humanity.’ There’s something that’s more human about getting around that way. It just makes me feel more like I’m part of a community and a culture. I’m not in my little trapped-in box.”
“It’s like a regenerating experience every time. It really gives me hope. I don’t know how people actually can survive without being on a bicycle because it’s so joyful.”
Many busy parents of preschoolers will also appreciate her observation that a bike-fueled lifestyle slows things down.
“It naturally balances how much you can do. The speed of life is balanced through your own capacity and your own energy.”
For Kessler, part of rejecting cars as much as possible is also rejecting fossil fuels.
“I dislike my dependency on oil,” she said. “I feel it drives a lot of violence in the world, violence to the earth and then also violence in the Middle East. I really feel like it’s bloody. I know that my money directly supports that, and I don’t want my money to support that.
“The use of cars creates climate change, which I’m trying to affect positively.”
Kessler said it also feels weird to move her body with 2,000 or 3,000 pounds of metal in a car. She described a poster showing the miniscule amount of space taken up on a street by 80 walking people and 80 people on bicycles vs. 80 people in cars, which stretches beyond a complete block.
“If you have that visual (you see) how much infrastructure we use for our parking lots, our roads, the ecosystem,” she said. “How much road kill.
“Every time I bike, I stop and I move two or three animals off the road. Is it right that just because I want to get somewhere I’m causing violence to other life?”
PARADE PLANNING
Planning for the Human Powered Parade has been under way for months. Kessler has partnered with Local Motion, the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, Addison County Walk-Bike Council, Middlebury Underground and Bristol Police Department in creating the event.
She and other parade organizers are soliciting sponsors, vendors and anyone who wants to join the parade by creating floats or kinetic sculptures or by just joining along and riding their bikes (or other human-powered wheeled conveyances).
Kessler is also tapping into an underused powerhouse of ingenuity. She’s reached out to Mount Abraham middle schoolers to enlist their creativity and exuberance in planning the event.
Kessler wanted to connect with middle schoolers, especially, because of the way bikes can give them freedom to be their own transport and because of their natural yearning to find and embrace their own “human power” and push the envelope.
Also, said Kessler, they know and will tell you — without hesitation — where the line is between “rad” and “cheesy.”
“It has to be rad,” said Kessler.
Ultimately, though, Kessler feels that the Human Powered Parade and Celebration isn’t just about biking, it’s about being human powered and all that that suggests.
“It celebrates our capacity to energize our positivity toward a better world.”
For more information, go to livingtreealliance.com/humanpoweredparade/ or to http://bristolrec.org/programs/, email [email protected], or call 385-1039.
Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].

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