It felt so good to get back on a bike. I haven’t ridden in years – since before I got married at least. Callaway Gardens had these awesome tandems called trail-a-bikes for adults to ride with kids. Caroline and Sam had actual pedals, and it helped them gain confidence. It also gave them some much needed time apart, because they were at each other’s throats yesterday morning. We started out with Caroline on Scott’s bike and Sam on mine, then swapped in the middle.
The bikes were amazingly easy to ride. The tandem part was like a unicycle style trailer, so it had its own cornering ability, and I wasn’t having to be constantly aware of my vehicle’s length. My passengers, in addition to their helmets, had an actual seat belt of sorts, and very, very strong opinions about my speed. Sam wanted to go faster, and Caroline wanted to go slower until I really got moving.
“Go faster, Mama!” Sam would order me every third pedal or so. Which wasn’t so nice when I’d just hopped off the bike to push it up a particularly steep hill.
“You sound like one of those drill sergeants in aerobics, Mister!” I’d tell him. And he thought it was hilarious.
I really only had to push a couple of times, thanks to a well oiled gear system, and I mostly controlled my speed because I didn’t want to jackknife and tumble my passenger. Helmet or no, it wouldn’t feel good to land on the asphalt. Mostly, I pedaled up the hills, and I could feel the burn from my calves up through my thighs. It required some serious exertion. But oh the coasting down afterwards made it worthwhile.
Caroline started the first big coast with a wail of terror. “Slow dowwwn, Mommmmm!” that morphed into a shriek of delight “Heeyyyy, I’m happyyyyyy!” as she realized we weren’t going to crash. I could feel her relaxing into the pedals, instead of fighting me on them, and I knew I’d finally gotten through to her a concept I’ve been working on for months. Biking is much less scary when you pick up the pace.
I remember the summer I was twelve, riding my ten-speed like that. We lived in the middle of a sharp curve at the top of a hill. Ours was a busy road, a state route that connected US 50 and US 68, and it probably wasn’t safe for me ride on at all. My parents were always after me to go with the flow of traffic and stay as close to the side as possible. But even with mirrors, I felt like the cars could just creep up behind me, and the median was tiny. I hated that white line. I didn’t have the best coordination, and I’d gotten myself a number of skinned knees crashing the bike as I skidded off the road. And no, I didn’t even own a helmet. So I always crossed over and rode facing the traffic. Or, better still, planted myself close to the middle of the road, and stayed there, to my father’s consternation. (And in retrospect, I realize that if it could consternate my Dad, it was probably pretty alarming. I can’t imagine what I would do if I saw my kids doing that, today.)
But, I digress. By the end of the summer, I could pump to the top of all the hills in fifth gear, then coast to the bottom. I was an expert in fixing a popped chain, and the tips of my toes were alternately calloused and bloodied because I rode in flip-flops and they periodically scraped. It was the best feeling in the world. And yesterday, pedaling first with Sam, and later with Caroline, I felt that way again. I had given in and worn my hated athletic shoes, but the wind was still the same in my face, the burn still the same in my calves and thighs. I wanted to stay on that bike forever.
Getting off to try Geocaching was almost a let-down.
We had packed along our GPS and the coordinates of some supposedly easy-to-find caches. The first one was supposed to be practically right in the chapel, with a clue that made it sound like it might be in the organ. But there’s an organ concert on Sundays, so even after we’d combed the countryside, we couldn’t exactly check in the pipes. We spent nearly an hour on that hunt, and had no time for another, because the butterfly gardens awaited us, but we actually had a grand time doing it.
We’re getting a few new tools before we try again, though. Like an actual compass. And maybe one of those electronic Geocaching compasses that actually has the coordinates built in. Because our GPS absolutely did not help. It had crappy satellite reception, so we’d be standing still, and Samantha would still be running through a variety of tenths of degrees of latitude and longitude, trying to catch up to where we actually were. (Yes, our GPS has a name and gender. And when she’s feeling bitchy, she gives the directions in Afrikaans. Seriously.) And then, we’d return to a spot exactly where we’d stood before, and she’d have us at totally different coordinates. Or we’d head in one direction, and the degrees would drop instead of going up, so we’d spin around and go the opposite direction, and the numbers would continue to go down. It was maddening.
Scott and I spent a lot of time handing the GPS back and forth trying to use Sam and Caroline as human markers (you can imagine how that went) traipsing through the wilderness between two roads getting nasty little ticks in our hair. Even though we never did find anything, we all got a taste for the pirate’s adventure, and I think we’ve found a new family hobby. I also think that with more experience and a better system, we’ll start actually finding things.
Overall, it was the best Mother’s Day ever, even speaking as one who completely disdains the holiday. If I could reciprocate on Father’s Day, I’d do it by sending Scott off to enjoy a round of golf alone. But I know he won’t go. So I’ll have to start thinking now about what he would do, because he’s the one responsible for our whole family having such a glorious time today, and I’d really like to return the favor.