We had a short sunny ride today; it offered such a poor “ride time to prep time” ratio that normally I would have made my excuses and passed on it. You know, more time to kit up and get the bikes loaded and to the start than we would actually spend riding. I usually eschew these things; if I’m going ride then I want it to ‘mean something’, I want to burn some time, and some fat too. Making a short ride into a long event, it’s not normally my thing.
So last week when my wife asked if I’d help her herd a gaggle of 3rd through 6th graders on a 15 mile rail trail ride from Tenino to Yelm I groaned as if I had been asked to carry a king sized mattress up a spiral stair case while wearing roller blades. I didn’t actually groan out loud (I don’t think) but it is likely that my facial contortions were so severely exaggerated as to distort the time space continuum such as to generate a sub-audible fingernails-on-chalkboard screech.
I had plans, multiple, competing plans actually, for what appears to be the last sunny and 75° Saturday of the year 2011. So many possibilities, and so many responsibilities, and so many opportunities. The menu was extensive and the options ranged from selfish indulgence to noble sacrifice and then ……….this.
This is not an easy spot to wriggle out of, even for those of us deft enough to make ‘flakey’ sound at least plausible if not downright believable. My wife rarely asks for this sort of help, she knows my predisposition, and too given that it is the cusp of the season she knows that like most selfish bicycle bloggers I see these days as the canvass for my next epic creation.
So when she asked, I knew that it would mean a lot if I helped out. I also knew that it would probably mean a lot if I didn’t. Rather than plead and whine and carry on like a sullen spoiled adolescent I sucked it up, earned huge man-points and said something like: “Sure honey, I’d love spend all day on a fifteen mile ride, with eight little kids who can’t ride a straight line, and haul the kids and the bikes to and from the multiuse path. Well, I may have sounded just slightly less enthusiastic, but the bottom line is, I said yes and I meant it.
Amazingly, most of the kids and the parents arrived at the church abut on time. There was less confusion about who would ride in which car, and where the cars would be staged after the kids were dropped at the start. I actually could not see it before we started, there were too many permutations , with a snack break/sag wagon opportunity planned for mid-ride in the little town of Rainier. I just put my faith in the Lord and waited for the adults to tell me who was going with me and where I was to drive.
This may seem like casting your little popsicle stick boat on the rapids but silent and supportive is a strategy that can pay dividends. I drew the long straw as it were. My ‘job’ was to drive to the start in Tenino, help unload all the bikes, pump the tires and get the caravan rolling, and then Alan and I got to ferry a couple rigs (my truck and a Suburban 15 miles up the road to Yelm (the end of the ride) and then we got to ride back down the trail to meet up with the kids and the other adults. This was shaping up to be more like a ride and less like what, me having to do something for someone else?
Mother Nature delivered the goods: It was cool in the morning and then clear and sunny, warm but not hot. One of those fall days that lays before you all of the goodness it has to give, you just have to ride through it. Alan and I made quick work of the deserted MUP back to the group, he on his Specialized Hard Rock, I on the Rivendell of simplicity. He wondered why I had taken all the gears off the bike, I explained that it came that way but really didn’t try to explain single or fixed gear mind, no need for that kind of classism on such a fine day.
And then we were hooked up with the herd. Peloton does not describe it, pack implies more order than was evident, herd is about right. OK, you had your fun, now it’s time to be ‘dutiful’. There were of course two flights, the faster bigger kids and the littler kids. I figured I was all in any way so wen to the back to ride weep behind the littlest ones with Mrs. Dr. C. I let them role by, giving them a little distance, watching the little kids grow even littler as they weaved up the trail in the shade of the overhanging trees. I rolled out and was surprised to see how well the little ones were doing, I went along side to compliment the riding skills as well as the awesome speed and the white and purple and lavender bike color scheme. And this little face looked up at me, pedaling along furiously with a big grin and said “Your bike looks nice too.” And in that quick glance, those shiny little eyes, that big grin on that little pumpkin face peeking out from under the helmet I recognized, unmistakable the joy of a kid riding a bike.
We rode along and talked, she said she doesn’t get to ride her bike much because there is no place she can ride. I knew what she meant. 50 years ago when I was her age, kids rode bikes on the streets of the neighborhood, or rode to the park to play ball, or even to the cornershop for a Snickers or a Dixie cup. But that is pretty much out now, too much traffic, too much risk, too much “danger”. But here, for this brief few hours on this paved rail trail with half a dozen adults floating back and forth as cover between the dozen or so kids it was OK. A little girl could spin her legs, grin and squeal, careen from one side of the trail to the other and actually ride the whole 15 miles from one town to another with no fear at all.
As I drifted up and back between the kids strung out on the trail I saw that look again And again: kids, out on bikes riding along on a sunny day with not a care in the world, just being kids, and experiencing a little more freedom than they are usually allowed.
Shortly we were rolling into the park in Yelm. We loaded the bikes into the pickups and the trailer, had a little impromptu picnic lunch and then it was over: The ride was over, summer was over, that brief, shared joy; the experience of spinning the wheels, shifting the gears, stopping and starting again at the crossings. All of that was now memory, and I hope, safely stored on the hard drive. Perhaps 50 years in the future, when these kids are the ‘adult supervision’ they will ride along with a new herd, and hear about how there are no places to ride and feel good that they are able to help provide, if only for a few hours, the opportunity for these shiny smiling faces to get out and experience the joy of a kid on a bicycle. Perhaps they will remember this ride.
I am so glad I passed on the epic ride, the yard work, or the special end of summer Koi shop sale. I’m so glad I wasn’t whinier, more selfish, and more skilled at getting out of helping out. This was good for me, and I think it was good for these kids too.
PS: This post would have been great with a few pics, but you know ... I had low expectations, shame on me!