I never envisioned this. How did I get here? Why are there kids on my bike?
Here’s me circa 1993, I think, at a place called Kelly Canyon, a second-rate ski area in Idaho. Mediocre skiing. Excellent mountain biking:
That was my life for a while. Tearing up the environment.
And these days I am embarrassed to admit that I used to load my bike onto the roof of my VW Golf and drive 30 miles in order to go for a ride. I did this three or four times a week.
Why am I embarrassed to say this? It’s the same feeling I get when I make an impromptu stop at the Kiva to pick up some groceries and realize that I forgot my canvas grocery bag. The cashier pulls out a paper sack — and I start apologizing. The mores of society change, I guess. Or else I’m coming down with eco-anxiety.
But back in those mountain bike days, I was riding my bike nearly every day, a couple hundred miles a week — sometimes on a road bike, sometimes on a mountain bike. On most summer weekends I loaded up and drove to a race somewhere.
But I didn’t think of myself a bicycle-as-lifestyle person. Even when I spent one evening — while my roommate and I watched Monday Night Football — putting a couple hundred wood screws into an old pair of mountain bike tires to make studded snow tires.
I wish I had a photo of that. It was like something out of “Mad Max.” They worked great on ice and snow.
This was in the days before there was a widespread urban cycling “movement” — and before there was a disdain brewing for bicycle commuters. A guy riding his bike to work in the snow was regarded as eccentric — not subversive.
And there wasn’t any ideology to my doing this. Gas was cheap. Global warming was off the radar. I was just a 20-something kid looking for something ridiculous to do. And I liked bikes.
Things are different now. Without trying, I have become part of a movement. I don’t race bikes anymore. I don’t even own a proper mountain bike. And things like this happen when I’m out and about:
Are you sleeping?! There’s no sleeping in cycling!
Yes, I think I qualify as an urban cyclist. A family cyclist. A bicycle-as-lifestyle kind of person. Not because I feel some duty to be so. Mostly it is still simply because I like bikes. And at this point in my life, it’s what works.
And here I am.
Whereas I used to fret over what to eat the night before a race, now I worry that I’ve bought too many groceries to get home on the bike.
I took the 5-year-old to Fred Meyer a couple of weeks ago. We rolled the cart outside and sized up the situation:
“Dadda,” says the sweet and innocent child. “It’s not possible.”
I worried she was right, but damned it I was going to admit that. So I start blurting out the sort of aphorisms that my own father peppered me with. (Probably the same ones his father told him.) Tried and true Horatio Alger stuff:
- “America is a place where all things are possible, my child,” I say.
- “You can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it,” I say.
- “Thomas Edison once said: ‘Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration,'” I say, not quite sure how this is relevant. But it’s OK, because the 5-year-old does not know what “perspiration” is. Besides, Edison invented the incandescent light bulb, which we all know is KILLING THE PLANET!!
- “Stop talking, and start loadin’,” I say.
So, having put fatherhood itself on the line, I have no choice but to buy into these cliches myself. And it is true that packing the panniers of an Xtracycle is like packing a suitcase. If you try hard enough, there’s always room to squeeze in one more pair of underwear.
I tell this inspirational nugget to the child as well.
- If you try hard enough, there is always room for one … more … beer bottle …
We were pushing the limits this day. Perhaps the tires were not
Even though the tires were up to pressure, I could feel the rim hit the ground on even the slightest bump. But we made it.
Indeed, America is the land of possibility, especially when there is beer to be transported home. And the child learned an invaluable lesson about persistence. And the institution of fatherhood was safe, at least for one more day.