In the Overshiner house on Garden Street hangs a map of the United States with a red line that starts in Columbia and stretches farther and farther east along Interstate 70.
The line stalled in Indianapolis for a few weeks, as life in Columbia halted during one of Missouri’s coldest and snowiest winters, while Gina Overshiner and her two children, Max and Annarose, kept an anxious eye on the weather. They were eager to get back on their bikes and to push their red line eastward.
The line charts the mileage they bike each day. The project began on the first day of school last fall. The goal: put in enough miles — about 970 miles each — to reach New York City by the end of the school year in June.
The trip to school and back is five miles. Gina also records mileage for trips to visit friends, run errands or go to the movies. She relies on her 20-year knowledge of Columbia to estimate the distances; on the rare occasions she uses her car, she checks her guess against the odometer. By the time the snow and ice storm hit Columbia in January, Gina and the children had each biked 400 miles, putting them 20 miles east of Indianapolis on their virtual trip. By March, after the weather eased, the red line pushed another 120 miles to the east side of Dayton, Ohio.
Nine-year-old Max is eager to make the trip for real.
“I wanna ride by bike all the way to New York City or all the way from California to Maine,” he says.
“We’ll go someday, sweetie,” his mother says. “When you get older.”
The line on the Overshiners’ map might be bright red, but everything else about the family’s lifestyle is defined by their desire to live “green.” At home they avoid waste, recycling as much as possible. Gina and her husband, Tim, have started their own remodeling business, with sustainability at its heart; they salvage material from other buildings, save surplus for other projects and donate what they don’t use. A shelf outside their home is stacked with paint buckets, construction tools and boxes full of shingles.
And the kids are fully invested in the ethic — they bike wherever they go and make their own toys out of others’ discards.
Gina says there is nothing they miss about having a more “convenient” life.
“It’s almost like a game, looking for new ways to reduce our impact on the environment,” Gina says. “Once you start thinking about it, you realize it’s really not that difficult to find lots of small ways to live a little greener.”
Gina grew up in Jefferson City. Her love of cycling was born on family bike rides and weekend trips to Columbia with her parents, who would participate in group rides.
Gina met Tim Overshiner in 1991 when they were working at Ernie’s on Walnut Street. Tim had just completed his enlistment with the Navy, and Gina was studying psychology and anthropology at MU. They married eight weeks later.
In 1997 they moved to St. Louis, where Tim worked harvesting tissue for Mid-America Transplant Services. Gina worked as a forensic anthropologist for the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Surrounded by traffic in the city, Gina rediscovered cycling — this time as a form of transportation rather than a hobby. She joined Critical Mass, a worldwide association of people who celebrate cycling and lobby for the rights of cyclists on the road.
Max and Annarose both were born in St. Louis. When Max was a toddler, Gina would strap him into a bike cart attached to her bike.
After Annarose was born, Max switched to a tag-along — a child’s bike attached to Gina’s bike — freeing up space in the cart for the baby. The kids grew up accustomed to the speed and sound of bike travel.
“There was a time, when Max was about 3 or 4, when I got a lot of ‘I hate the bike,’ and ‘Why can’t we take the car?’” Gina says. “And I was just ‘I guess you were just born in the wrong family, and you’re gonna get on the bike, so get on the bike.’”
“Yeah, and I cried,” Annarose, now 6, pipes up.
Gina shifts her story: “When Annarose was a tiny, tiny baby, if you’d put her in the car, she would scream and cry. But she would be totally quiet in the bike. A two-hour bike ride — she would be happy.”
“You (Max) were OK. You just had a phase there,” Gina comforts him.
The Overshiners moved back to Columbia soon after Annarose was born. They wanted the children to grow up closer to nature. Tim joined the Columbia Fire Department as a fireman, and Gina was a stay-at-home mom.
Gina soon joined community groups involved in cycling advocacy. She served on the Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission and became involved with “Bike, Walk and Wheel Week,” organized by PedNet, a grass-roots coalition that promotes walking and cycling as alternatives to motorized transportation.
In October, Gina and the children participated in PedNet’s Low-Car Diet Challenge, an attempt at going car-free for a month. Annarose handed out her homemade posters that read: “I don’t give much respect to people in cars” to participants at the event’s closing reception.
Giving up the car did not come without costs for the family. The Overshiners went the entire month without visiting their cabin in Boonville and canceled a visit to their grandmother there. They biked and walked through the cold and rain in mid-October and had to fight “drop-out” temptations. One morning, Gina had to scrape frost off her bicycle seat before she could head out on her errands.
But, she wrote in a blog on the PedNet site, the kids learned “that it doesn’t matter how many times you fall down — what’s important is how often and how well you get back up.”
One of the biggest challenges was posed by Max’s baseball schedule. Practices were held well into the evenings at Daniel Boone Little League Park off Scott Boulevard. That meant a commute through heavy street traffic, often after dark.
The family considered three solutions, which Gina explained in her PedNet blog: “1) Go in a car with Daddy or friends. 2) Ride on the trail-a-bike with Mommy. This will still be rather dangerous with the crummy busy traffic conditions and the darkness, but at least Max will be attached to my bike. 3) Tell the coach you are done for the season and start up again in the spring.”
Max immediately ruled out No. 1 as an option.
Tim Overshiner then suggested that he could follow Gina and Max to the park in his work truck, turning on his flashers to alert other drivers.
But by Oct. 4, Max decided to quit the team rather than give up on the Low-Car Diet Challenge.
“We don’t normally let the kids quit activities without finishing them,” Gina blogged. “We made an exception in this situation. So no more baseball conundrum. It would have been fun to try Tim’s solution, but I am actually glad that we didn’t have to try riding that section of Scott Blvd.”
It is 3:30 in the afternoon, and Gina arrives at Lee Elementary School, pedaling there straight from work. Her khaki pants are splattered with paint; her blonde braids are tucked under a fishing hat with a Mickey Mouse pin on the front. She is a motivated woman who goes jogging at 6 a.m. so she can be back in time to bike with the kids to school. She bikes to her errands at all hours and sometimes rides a street twice just to feel the breeze. She jumps at a chance to bike in the cold, popping on pink goggles against the wind.
As students break through the doors of the elementary school, most hop into their parent’s car. The Overshiner kids have a different ritual: they put on their helmets, Gina fixes Annarose’s tag-along to her own bike, and they discuss which route to take home. Max leads the way.
He uses proper hand signals when turning left or right. They all watch car lights to anticipate what a driver might do, know which streets demand extra care and which are “OK-to-try-your-tricks streets.”
Perched on the tag-along, Annarose can stop pedaling any time she wants. On quieter streets, she sometimes folds one of her legs up on her bike seat and looks around. This is no casual scenery gazing; Annarose is looking for “treasures” — discards she and Max can make into toys.
For example, Annarose uses old glass bottles as aquariums, placing them in a large bowl filled with water, where her stuffed animals can take a swim. She uses smaller bottles to hold her homemade potions; her favorite is the blue potion because it’s supposed to make people happy. She “unlocks” her cardboard treasure chests with keys she made from container tops.
Late February provided an especially rich trove. A pile of snow plowed from the streets had been dumped behind Walgreen’s on East Broadway. Wandering over the black snow, the kids are on an expedition, searching for things the plows gathered. Annarose finds a Jefferson City sign and wants to take it home.
“It’s too big, sweetie, and really dirty,” Gina says.
Annarose resumes her search and returns with a big screw covered in mud; Gina wipes it clean on the side of her work pants and drops it inside the big fluorescent orange and green bag she and Annarose made. On previous searches, Annarose scavenged several empty CD cases, which she used to build a robot she calls “10 6 thousand.” The day before, at the same spot, Max found a star-shaped piece of metal that he fashioned into armor for a teddy bear.
After they exhaust the small neighborhood streets, there is no longer a way to get home without crossing Broadway. As they wait for cars to pass, the kids yell “One!” each time a car with a solo occupant drives by.
Once home, they leave their bikes parked in front of the house. “No one will steal a bike,” Max says. “Only a car.”
Cars do have a place in their lives. They both have collected old hubcaps to hang on the walls of their rooms, turning art into another way of recycling. Annarose draws faces on hers.
The snow has finally begun to melt and the sun is breaking the dense and cold air of winter. Gina Overshiner climbs a ladder to reach the cornice of a blue and pink house off University Avenue. A raccoon was using a hole in the soffit to get in and out of the house.
“We blocked him out now,” says Tim Overshiner, noting the plywood patch.
Gina caulks around the newly embedded nails to protect the wood from moisture and rot. She takes her time, carefully patting the caulk into place after each filling.
Tim and Gina started Overshiner Remodeling & Renovation about a year ago, and Tim left his job as a fireman. Over the years, Tim had worked in different aspects of construction — painting, roofing, framing, drywall, plumbing and flooring — sometimes as his main job, at other times as a sideline. Gina would often help when an extra hand was needed. Having done several remodeling jobs for themselves and friends, they realized that they both enjoyed the challenge and fulfillment of the work, so last spring they decided to start their business.
The family has a pickup that they use for hauling big tools. And they have a family car, a Subaru Impreza, for long trips, vacations, hauling things too big or heavy for the bike cart and getting around in bad weather, which for the Overshiners constitutes “very cold, heavy rain, snow and ice.”
They’re purposeful about all their work decisions. They use recycled and salvaged materials as much as possible in their business and offer using these materials as an option to their customers. They recycle shingles and gutters and reuse cabinets, counter tops, windows and doors. Once, when they weren’t able to remove cabinets intact because they had been glued in, they salvaged the door knobs, hinges, countertops and drawer runners.
They don’t do new construction. “The biggest environmental footprint that most people make in their lives is a new home,” Gina says. “You’re tearing down trees and spending money on lumber and materials, where if you take an old home and fix it the way that you want it, you are maintaining something.”
By using salvaged work materials, they also save money, Gina says.
Although they haven’t made their practice an official company policy yet, Gina says she plans to soon put a green statement on their business’s Web site.
“These are little things, but they add up — the salvaging stuff,” she says. “When people learn what we are doing, they are happy that it’s not just being thrown away.”
What the Overshiners can’t use, they store in boxes to give to someone who can, or they donate recyclable building materials to Habitat for Humanity or Freecycle.
Besides recycling and reusing, the Overshiners try to use environmentally friendly materials when they can — for example, cooking oil instead of mineral spirits to clean up after painting.
Their own house is a work in progress, with the Overshiners waiting for the day they have time to paint the exterior in bright colors. “We were thinking of orange and blue,” Gina says.
Meanwhile, they are focusing their efforts to make the home more energy efficient. Tim is considering replacing the windows in their home with Energy Star-rated windows in an effort to make the home more energy efficient. Energy Star is a government program that rates many home improvement items for energy efficiency. Items are available and well marked at hardware stores and home improvement centers.
“That’s one thing you can do in your house that doesn’t involve coming in and installing solar panels or changing heating and cooling systems, which is very expensive,” he says. “Just more efficient windows.”
He also plans to switch to an on-demand water heater, which provides hot water only as needed and doesn’t create a constant energy demand; the up-front cost would be higher than the cost of a standard water heater but would result in savings in cost and energy over time.
At some point, they plan to add solar panels to their home to convert some of their energy usage to renewable sources. But Tim is still learning about this method of energy conservation.
As for their children, Gina is aware that when they grow up, they might be tempted by the fast and convenient world of cars. But for now they’re pedaling, putting as many miles on their map as they can.