A few moms at soccer practice drop-off today were commiserating about the rebellious dawdling of our second-graders. I could relate to that complaint on a physically painful level.
When my son decides to be oppositional on the trail-a-bike, I can’t just throw up my hands and say “whatever.” We’ve got places to go, dammit, and I need some serious pedaling participation!
Today Lenny did not want to go to soccer practice. I incentivized the trip by offering to stop at a local bakery for a treat. Fueled by a molasses cookie he was slightly more willing to hop on the bike for our three mile ride to the town park. However, once we were rolling I realized that my physical reserves were low. Fuck this, I did not want to do this today. Right away I was thinking, “this is hard.” I didn’t remember it being this hard the last time I did it. I was shooting for 20 minutes of travel time (my PR or personal record) or better. The weather was pretty much perfect at 72 degrees and sunny. This summer the roads were freshly blacktopped, so I knew the ride would be smooth and relatively speaking, safe. I didn’t even have any particular aches or pains beleaguering me. I simply was not in the mood to do it; but do it we would. As I pedaled, my heart pumped from the hard work of dragging 70 pounds of weight behind me, in the shape of a non-compliant six-year-old (“I’m six and a half, mom!”) and my adrenaline surged, as it always does when we travel busier roads. My mind was also working hard with a stream of thoughts:
Inner dialogue: “This sucks. I hate this. Why are we doing this?”
Inner dialogue counter-argument: “if you keep doing this, you’re going to get so strong. In a few months you’ll be kicking this trip’s ass.”
Out-loud dialogue from non-pedaling spawn: “Dad would be up this hill already.”
Inner dialogue: “Shut up kid.”
Huffing and puffing mom to slacking son: “Pedal harder. PEDAL HARDER!!”
Leisurely pedaling blossom from my womb: “Stop yelling at me. I can hear you.”
Inner dialogue: “Then fucking pedal!”
The trip home had a similar flavor, though we had less hills to climb. The reverse trip is much easier. The main difference was that some of the inner dialogue accidentally made an out-loud appearance in a burst of total exhausted frustration. Lenny was nonplussed by my outburst of obscenities. He simply said, “I wish you were dad, we would be home already.”
How did I get here? About ten years ago I started participating in amateur triathlons. I was not good but I had discovered that my body had some powers that I never knew it had. “A middle-of-the-packer” I would always say about my racing ability. Prior to those events, I comfortably identified as not athletic, in part thanks to the discouraging words of my tenth grade PE teacher, Ms. Newton. She wrote on my report card, and I quote, “not the best athlete, but tries hard.” Oh, the power of those words; she confirmed my nascent paranoia that I stunk at sports and I locked it in for the next twenty years. When I rediscovered cycling, the one sport I had been remotely good at as a kid, at age thirty-three, I was filled with trepidation. I set a goal to participate in one of the AIDS rides of that era—a 300 mile / 4 day ride from Montreal to Portland, Maine. In order to do this, I had to make a commitment to train. I remember getting loads of expensively printed motivational literature filled with beauty shots of regular people like me looking like athletes; glistening, proud, and strong. One booklet stood out. It focused on how challenging it is to commit and how impossible a goal can seem when viewed from the starting line. The message was that you have to take it a day at a time and never waver from your training schedule, especially on the days when you most want to stay in bed. The not unexpected ending to this story is that I did the 300 mile ride and I was really proud of myself.
Frankly, I was completely amazed that my body could ride a bike for 300 miles. I set my next goal on participating in sprint triathlons. I kept that going until I turned forty, got injured from under-training, fell in love, and had a baby.
No excuses. Staying committed to our car free lifestyle means there is no room for excuses. Although we can easily catch a ride, and are so grateful that so many of our friends and neighbors offer us rides, we are committed. But it is hard. Sometimes it is really, really hard.
Sitting near the parking lot I observe eight children from one small town less than four miles away arrive in eight separate cars. Another mom points out the lunacy of this. Maybe something will change if they all have to keep passing us on the road. Maybe the screaming looks like fun.