The fighter is paralyzed, the mage unconscious. The rogue will be too, soon. And the undead monster is still attacking us! Desperate, the rogue seizes her herbalist’s kit. It’s not magic, but she can revive the mage. A few lucky dice rolls, the fighter is back in action and the monster vanquished.
I’m sitting on the floor of my room in Milbridge, laughing in relief with friends in Toronto and Seattle as we enjoy our weekly Dungeons and Dragons session. The story we’re telling together hangs between our own choices and the dice. Any one bad dice roll to attack or survive could have been the end, but I’d decided weeks earlier that I wanted an herbalist’s kit (much to everyone’s bemusement—rogues aren’t generally known for healing), and that choice was our saving grace.
Back at the end of winter, before the shadow of COVID-19 swept over the land, I thought I had the whole Bike Bus story mapped out. I was creating a youth-focused mobile bike repair shop. My job was to teach kids bike repair, get them riding safely, and improve bike resources in a county with a scenic bikeway and no bike shops.
It’s not an adventure if you know how everything will turn out.
I thought I’d made the big discovery: fun should be the core of everything we do! I knew what would happen from that point on. Sure, there was room for new ideas and learning, but the overall story arc? I knew where we were headed.
In D&D, the Dungeon Master has a pretty good idea of where the story will go. It will change and evolve, but there will always be a consistent core to carry it through to the end. Of course, the players don’t know that arc. Only by playing will they learn how it ends. And no one is above a roll of the dice.
But what do you do when your preconceived story comes crashing down? When life reminds you that you’re not the master of this dungeon and much of the narrative depends on fate? I never anticipated a global pandemic. How could I continue a community bike program reliant on classrooms and gatherings when schools are closed and gatherings working close together just aren’t safe? Was this bike story over?
For months I explored idea after idea, trying to see what could work. Again and again I found that I couldn’t make things move fast enough. I didn’t have enough hands to do what I’d dreamt up, didn’t have the funds to implement an idea, didn’t have the ability to connect enough students virtually. What was I doing?
As my frustration and self-doubt mounted, I needed an outlet and complained to a friend that I missed D&D. She had a simple solution: get together some friends and play virtually. So that’s what we did.
Battling monsters and working towards our campaign goals each week, I started to see the Bike Bus project as the adventure it is. The pandemic has taken a heavy toll, but I realized I had a version of that herbalist’s kit from D&D. I’d identified it months ago: fun. What fun is anything without a dose of challenge? Those dead-end ideas came flying back out, not as solutions anymore but as possibilities. Just because I couldn’t yet see where everything would lead didn’t mean I wasn’t on the right track.
It’s not an adventure if you know how everything will turn out. The goal all along was to have fun outside with bikes. To empower kids to be creative and gain new skills. To build community! Now I’m working out the individual pieces, the story cues for the community to enjoy and interact with. Every choice and twist of fate helps shape the narrative. What exactly will happen next? I don’t know. But there will still be bikes and fun, and it will be a grand adventure we have together.
Dylan McBride works with the Washington County Council of Governments and Women for Healthy Rural Living on the Bike Bus which provides free bicycling programs to improve health, build social and mechanical skills, introduce children to outdoor recreation in their community, and build interest in environmental stewardship.