Friday, August 3, 2007

Coming of Age

Art by Hai Bo, available at Max Protetch.

2 kids, 6 days, 435 miles, 3 bicycles, and me

The photograph above (click on this and most of our photos for higher resolution) is copyright by the wonderful artist Hai Bo, part of his The Northern series, on display at Max Protetch in New York. Recommended.

From when my children were born I've talked to them, told them there would come a day, a day when they would stop being children and become, if not adults, at least not children. This week to come is the coming of age for my youngest child, David, fourteen.

The summer of their fourteenth year each of my children has gone on a long bicycle ride with Dad. (Kyle went the summer of her fifteenth year as I was on disability the year before from a car accident. ) The ride is normally 425-450 miles and takes 6 days. Avian and I only went 300 miles just the two of us and carried all our gear. Never again. We now go on supported rides with others and let big trucks carry our gear.

The point of the long ride is for the child to learn she or he can do the hard thing. The task which takes months of training, practice, discipline, going way, truly way past the physical limits one thinks one has, and doing what one says one will do no matter what. Learning to look out for one's partner -- even when Dad is bonking because I failed to eat enough the night before, or puking up swallowed flying bugs. Keeping one's word. Getting off your dead ass and going to train because it's time to train for the fourth day in the row even when it's the last thing in the world you want to do plus it's freaking raining. Figuring out how it is Dad who weighs literally twice what you weigh manages to climb up 8-10% grades and he has to oxygenate all that extra weight, plus he's old; what is the secret that keeps him going? (You'll figure it out when you're raising children, son. *smiles*)

In short, I spend 4-6 months 3-5 days a week training with my child and in the process we get close. By the end of their long ride they've become a full-blown teenager who is seriously tight with Dad. And knows bone-deep starting ninth grade they can do any damn thing.

Being tight with Dad has proven to pay off over and over. My girls talked to me through high school about everything. In direct proportion to how deeply their long ride got in, that's how well my girls stayed connected to me when life got tricky. Avian, my oldest (20), not so much and I'm having big problems with her now. Chelsea (19), much more and she was just accepted to one of the top schools in the country plus she's doing great at her job (working at a bike shop. Heh.) Kyle (17) is perhaps the most sane person in our entire family as I've said before. And David we shall see of course but his ride is absolutely getting in deep.

The ride is put on by the Cascade Bicycle Club, the largest bike club in Puget Sound. Only 200 riders each year on RAW (Ride Around Washington). This year we're riding from the mouth of the Columbia River upstream, crossing over into Oregon for a day, then back to Washington. We end near the middle of Washington State. About 15,000 vertical feet, yes! I love climbing. Around 70 miles a day for the first five with a full century (100 miles) on the last day just when your legs really hurt. *grins*

We're told this year is a nice, fun ride, but they lie. They always lie. The RAW organizers are notorious for lying with open faces and easy guile about how effortless the ride is:

"Yeah, just turn here then go over the easy 2 mile uphill, a simple downhill, then turn left to camp..." which really means, "Take a right through the cow pasture looking out for stray bulls and other moving objects trying to kill you such as coming around the final turn at 40 mph and OH MY GOD THERE'S A CATTLE GRATE", then Chelsea and you climb six miles of 10-12 % grade in 95 degree no shade with stretches of 13% all of which would be HC +++ on the Tour and is so freaking steep some people actually walk while cars blow up and roll backwards, it will take you three hours and you'll likely have to stop every 100-150 feet to rest, then take two to three attempts to start 'cause it's mountain climber steep.

If somehow you do make it over the top without ropes and an axe, then attempt to descend the other side down the 16-18% grade (radically steeper) with the ridge falling away to both sides as the setting sun directly in your face blinds you. If your brakes overheat and stop working you'll fall half a mile to your death. Don't forget to have Chelsea and you stop every 3/4 mile to literally unclench your cramped hands from around the brakes and stop shaking from the descent which is nothing at all like the beauty of the Tour...well, it really is but with the desperately trying not to die the beauty kind of goes by the wayside, and it's the whole staying away from the wayside which is the point and with your vision blurring from the high-speed descent at least it's hard to see the rocks down at the bottom of the cliffs on both sides of the increasingly narrow ridge. Eventually, a long time later, perhaps either several years or 30 minutes, you reach the bottom, make a left turn, and start the last easy four mile ride towards camp, just as the RAW organizers promised.

But this -- the above actual description of Day 5 -- the freaking CATTLE GRATE (seriously, they took us down a hill at 40 mph and around a corner straight into a cattle grate), followed by a three hour six mile climb, a 30 minute descent, and only then a nice easy ride into camp next to the Grand Coulee Dam (which we rode across the next morning), takes me back to those innocent days when I trusted ride organizers. Now I know they are spanned in hell, all of them. And while the first 65 miles of Day 5 were downhill at 1-2% as promised, the above was the last 15 miles on Day 5 of the 2002 RAW "The Forgotten Corner" with my then 14 year old daughter Chelsea...

So let me say I'm just a tad skeptical of the lying bastards, er, I mean the gracious RAW route planners whom I appreciate putting on such an welcoming and well-managed ride. Did I mention the 16-17 even 20% grade the RAW organizers had Kyle and I ride up on her long ride two years ago? No? I really don't remember it well. What with the brain damage. This year it's David's turn. With big sister Chelsea riding along to torment him for fun.

After all, what could possibly go wrong?

I'm out of here; going biking with Chelsea and David. See everyone on Monday August 13. Hugs to all!