Cary Huggins, Trips for Kids MidCoast Maine chapter leader, shares how she’s seen bicycling bring people together in communities around the world
by guest writer, Sarah Packard
If you thought “groovy” was a word of the past, you haven’t met Cary Huggins, Trips for Kids MidCoast Maine chapter leader. She and her husband Joe raised their children in some unique settings including a painted school bus affectionately called the “Hippie Bus”. The flower power theme started when they migrated from New England to El Paso expecting their now 21 year old son. In this border city, they first saw how these colorful duds connected them in community when language and culture might have hindered. That’s only the beginning of their unique story.
Community has always been important to Cary and Joe, so when they moved back to Maine, they linked up with H.O.M.E. Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for low-income and homeless families. The nurse/teacher and jack of all trades called H.O.M.E. their own home for the next four years. They would live in the Hippie Bus volunteering in a number of capacities, including birthing “Pedalin’ HOME, with a focus on bicycling for youth development and green transportation. It was at H.O.M.E. that Cary founded the Trips for Kids MidCoast Maine chapter, after discovering her personal passion for biking -- and a calling to share this passion with others. Through community outreach, Cary was able to procure several donated bicycles and introduce mountain biking to the children at H.O.M.E. Over time, Cary developed her cycling abilities, participating in fundraising rides. The “Trek” Across Maine became a ten time annual fundraising team event with kids on a tandem and others volunteering. She and Joe came community SPOKES through the Bicycle Coalition of Maine and Cary earned a certification as a road biking instructor. They engaged kids in healthy activity and relationship building-- all while taking her own children along for the ride.
As time went on and their children grew older, Cary and Joe embarked on a series of international volunteer trips, traveling to Thailand, Vietnam, Morocco, India, Indonesia and most recently, Tanzania. With each trip, they fully immersed themselves in the local culture while pitching in wherever needed, from teaching English to cooking and cleaning. One of Cary’s fondest memories was blowing up punchball balloons and using them to start a random volleyball game with the local non English speaking children. She swears by the power of fun and a big smile.
Throughout it all, Cary continued the cycling work she had begun in the U.S., supporting adults with bicycle maintenance and introducing safe bicycling to the local children, while fostering an appreciation for the world around them. One of the greatest rewards was seeing kids mentor others and share their love of bike riding.
“Biking is more functional in developing nations than in the U.S.,” said Cary. “People use bikes to get where they need to go and to make a living. It’s particularly satisfying helping people with bicycling, because if they don’t have a bike, they don’t make a living or get to school.” Cary and Joe sat in awe of all the children riding by a local coffee shop in Cambodia on bikes to school often more than an hour away.
Back home, Cary and Joe are renting out the Hippie Bus through Airbnb. Cary says interest in the Hippie Bus is greater than ever as families lean toward safe, unique, fun “staycations,” and biking continues to be a part of that experience. While Cary’s looking forward to coming home to the MidCoast Maine Trips for Kids chapter, she’s enjoying the slower pace and deeper connection she’s experiencing internationally. “In the U.S., people often experience a ‘time is money’ culture,” said Cary. “But in these developing countries, life is more intentional, and people are much more engaged and interdependent.” Cary says her next mission will be to inspire people to use their bikes in a more instrumental way back home. She will go back to work as a bicycle educational instructor through local schools as Covid will allow. She wants to continue to help girls especially see the value of cycling on health, wellbeing and environment.
“It’s all about making a connection, even without sharing a language,” Cary says. “I never hesitate to build relationship with people I meet even if there is a language barrier. A smile and eye contact can speak volumes. “Because we can find commonalities and inspire fun, purpose and connection with the simplest of things -- from a balloon to a bicycle.”