I really love that our family has decided to make this bike ride. It is so seldom that you hear of individuals taking on an “epic” adventure. Remember reading about the explorers who discovered the West Indies, Antarctica, and of course, America? Ok, it’s a stretch to say that we are in the same category … BUT … we will leave all the comforts of home behind for over 4 months and venture into unknown circumstances in pursuit of a dream. And that takes a lot more than just a plan.
On an almost daily basis, my job has been to contact all the tracks we plan to visit and share our story with them. Some track responses have been amazing! We’ve been offered free camping and meals at their tracks, showers at members’ homes and special presentations to celebrate our arrival. I’ve talked with many tracks about how to capitalize on the publicity our ride to their track will bring; how and when to contact the media, etc. We’ve exchanged ideas about how to build up recognition for BMX, an under reported sport that deserves shared space on the sports pages of their local papers. Wouldn’t it be nice to see our kids’ BMX race finishes covered as much as the local baseball and football games? FYI, neither is an OLYMPIC sport! BMX is!
Since it was not only a rainy day here but one filled with thunderstorms and lightening, we did not ride today. We are committed to being safe and lightening looks cool but is quite dangerous, especially for bike riders. So, instead of 2 wheels, we went with 4 wheels today.
First, we drove to a local sign shop and ordered a www.ridethenation.org
sign for our bike trailer. We have a small space on either side that hopefully will keep fellow travellers in the loop about who we are … AND … our signs will be made on reflective aluminum, (similar to standard street signs) that will keep us visible. The sign maker gave us a reasonable cost and the signs should be ready in about a week.
Second, we drove to our local cell phone provider’s store and looked at upgrade options for my Blackberry phone. We’ve reached that magical date where I can get a free phone as long as I promise (and am contractually obligated) to maintain an additional 2 year contract. So, now I’m fumbling with the new phone and trying to get it to do what my old phone did. I think I might be getting old.
The Beast did not miss the opportunity to point out that her phone has been anything but good almost since the day we bought it. She’s such a good kid and has been so patient with our situation, that I asked if there was a reasonably priced phone with a good reputation that would hold up well during our ride. The sales woman pointed us to 2 phones and 1 of them happens to be the exact phone my other daughter, the Editor, has. And it has a $50 rebate right now, which puts it in the affordable range. Now the Beast can send pictures via text and email to her old friends in Hawaii and Jersey and Canada. She’s happy and offered to give me nightly foot rubs during the ride! Who says I don’t know how to work a good deal??
Fully soaked and clad with new phones to learn, we headed home. We had hoped the storm would subside and give us at least a few hours of late afternoon riding but no luck. There were still occasional lightning strikes that raised every hair on the maternal instinct of my neck!
Once home, Frankenbutt and I discussed a backup plan regarding our house. We had planned to rent it out or sell it as a lease/purchase prior to our ride launch. We have had limited response to our advertising and the ones we have had don’t meet the basic criteria we typically require. Rather than placing a questionable tenant in this investment house, we are considering holding on to it until we return in September. Of course, we won’t have the rental income in our budget, but we will make do. We always do.
If any of you have direct connections to Mother Nature, let her know we need some good weather to train in now and to ride in during the months ahead.
Remember, we’d still love to see pics of you (or your child) and your bike! We’ll post them on our “me ‘n my bike pics” page. We added our Route plan page now so you can see when we’ll be closest to where you are or where you are going. Feel free to ask your track’s webmaster to post a link to our website, too!
Thanks for reading and post a comment, if you like!
“Rainy days and Mondays always get me down…”
Not True! Since I became self-employed (and stopped “working for the man”), Mondays aren’t much different than any other day. Not to mention, that today is Wednesday.
All that said, we came home today from Jersey and noticed lots of puddling in the medians. Frankenbutt and I shot a look at one another as we rode along in silence. We woke up to overcast skies and threatening clouds. It looked like a storm was brewing. We weren’t sure if a storm had just happened or if one was about to break loose.
We went about our errands, which included unpacking luggage, doing laundry and a stop at the eye dr.’s office to pick up the Beast’s prescription sunglasses. As I drove along, I watched the skies darken. The wind was kicking up debris on the road side and the sun was nowhere to be found. It looked like the weather report would hold true. I raced through my errands to make it back home in time. I called ahead to Frankenbutt to make sure he was aware. He was.
This weather was exactly what we wanted. No, we’re not part time storm chasers and we don’t have gloomy “Eeyore” personalities that make us delight and wallow in rainy weather. We are a couple of crazy folks preparing for a long bike ride in the “Sunshine State”, where a rainy day is few and far between. We are well aware that there are rainy days ahead and we need to prepare. We need to get some training in on wet roads, and see how well we work together in such circumstance and if our gear is up for the challenge.
When I arrived home, Frankenbutt was in riding clothes and had pulled our bikes from the garage. I sent the Beast to change while I pulled our rain jackets and filled our water bottles. I could hardly contain my excitement as I checked the skies again. It hadn’t started raining yet … perfect! We need a “real life” situation in which it starts raining AFTER we’ve broken camp and BEFORE we’ve ridden the number of miles we need to in order to meet our goals.
We hopped on bikes and headed for the Suncoast Trail. As soon as we turned off of Route 41, we ran into a wall of headwinds. They were so strong that our speed dropped off by half. As we pedaled hard into the wind, Frankenbutt hollered: “these are Florida hills we’re training on.” At first, I didn’t get it. Then I realized that the wind resistance is good training for the uphill runs that are hard to find in Florida.
We rounded the entrance to the trail and again the shifting winds nailed us head on. We kept a steady pace while Frankenbutt explained “drafting”; that long distance cyclists ride tightly behind the rear wheel of the lead rider during headwinds to lessen the impact. Within seconds, the Beast was drafting off of Frankenbutt’s wheel.
We reached our turn around point and still not a drop of rain. Darn! Now with the headwinds behind us, we started moving along at a pretty fast clip. Frankenbutt yelled that he felt a drop of rain. Then, I felt a few drops. As planned, we all stopped and passed our cell phones to Frankenbutt to put in his waterproof handle bar bag. We pulled out our rain jackets and as we zipped them, the rain started falling faster. With our bright colored jackets on, we got right back into our cadence.
The driving rain and sleet slowed us substantially. We watched branches break off trees and scatter their debris across the path. The wind swirled and changed up so that the rain pelted us from every direction. At one point, the rain gusted so strongly that it pushed all of us to the edge of the path.
It was exactly what we wanted.
We now negotiated our way through the branches and became hyper aware of any branch crackling noises. We got lucky and no branches broke near us. There was a rather large downed tree, it’s trunk measuring about 8” in diameter. It was broken in two, leaving a 5-6” gap through the middle of it. I rode off the trail and into the grass to avoid it. Frankenbutt and the Beast rode through the gap, yelling “woo hoo’s” as they cleared the narrow opening.
As we approached a crossing, I yelled that I had limited sight and didn’t feel comfortable riding ahead and signaling them for the crossing, as we usually did. We agreed to stop at the crossing and walk across if need be. We continued to ride in the rain, wiping it from our eyes and keeping our heads down.
As we came to our turn off point, we yelled reminders to one another to stay in formation and stay close to one another, knowing we are more visible as a group. Frankenbutt turned on the flashing light on the back of his helmet, as well. We had purchased flashing mountable tail lights during our road trip north but haven’t had a chance to mount them yet. Today’s ride reminded us to get that task done before our next ride.
I was a bit more nervous on the road side than the trail in the nasty weather but it all worked about the same as it does on sunny days. I did keep a closer eye on my sideview mirror, which stayed pretty declare despite the shifting rains. Drivers respected our lane side riding as they usually do and thankfully none of them blew their horns! That can be pretty startling and give you a greater sense of impending danger.
It was nice to see our road and we all turned down it and slowed as we rode through the mushy dirt and swerved around the puddles. At our driveway, we turned in and road up the ramp and onto the porch with our bikes. When we got off, we checked out all the dirt that our non-fendered wheels kicked up on our bikes and ourselves. There was dirt on our shoes, up our legs and up our rumps to about the middle of our backs.
After taking a few pictures, we left our shoes outside and we all pulled off wet clothes, leaving piles in the living room, bathroom and kitchen. I called “dibs” on the shower and enjoyed the nicest hot massage of water, reinforcing my belief that “trying times” give you a better appreciation for the simple pleasures in life.
To B(MX) or Not to B(MX) ...
When my family discovered BMX, we were initially confused by the structure of the sport. We were used to the mandatory list of practice schedules and race dates that were handed to us as our older children tried out for soccer, gymnastics, swimming and whatever was the “in vogue” sport of the day.
My first marriage ended after 5 tumultuous years and I found myself sharing custody of my then 4 year old son and 2 year old daughter with a less than cooperative ex-spouse. He fought against being involved in any organized sport’s demands that infringed upon the weekend hours they spent at his home. I understood that and tried to respect that their time with him was under his control but it made it near impossible for Captain Oblivious (my now 22 year old son) and the Editor (my now 20 year old daughter) to join any sports teams who practiced on weekdays and often had games on Saturdays.
I remember many unsuccessful pleas with coaches in which I asked for leniency in their “miss 2 games and you’re off the team” rules. Considering the divorce rate in our country, I was surprised that there were so many rigid rules that didn’t accommodate anyone other than the “ideal” family. Frustrated with the antiquated rules of the school and community sports teams, I sought activities and extracurricular lessons for them that I could pay for; that gave me more control as a consumer.
My son took drum lessons and my daughter took horseback riding lessons; they tried karate, art, cooking and more. I usually entered into these arrangements reminding the new instructor that I will pay for a lesson, even if my kid misses it because of a trip to their dad’s or for our own family vacations. I got assurance up front that my children would not be “kicked off” just because they were the product of two parents who were not meant to be together.
The Beast first “tried” BMX (not “tried out for”) on a Sunday morning at the old Mullica Hill, NJ track while her older brother and sister spent the weekend at their dad’s home. I remember asking for the practice schedule and Josie DeMola said they practiced Wednesday evenings and raced on Sundays. I asked “what if we miss a practice?” and she said, “Yeah?” I asked how many practices or races the Beast could miss before she wasn’t allowed to race. She looked puzzled. She said, “I don’t care if she comes to practice or the race. That’s up to you and her.”
I didn’t get it. So, I asked her again, phrasing the question differently at least 3 more times. She looked confused, as I explained that we run our own event business and sometimes my husband and I have to cover an event at the last minute and we’re not sure we can make every scheduled practice night. She said, “OK. Well, you can practice any time you want at the Egg Harbor, NJ track. That track is in a public park and open to the public 7 days a week.” Eventually, I gave up the conversation with her, figuring she just didn’t get what I was asking.
Little did I know, I was the one who “just didn’t get it.” In fact, it was a good month before I finally got it. BMX is a sport where you and/or your child chooses how much they want to participate and you have virtually total control over your child’s sports career. In fact, if you don’t particularly like the atmosphere at a track, drive a bit in either direction and you can likely find another track where you feel more comfortable. Can’t afford to travel to distant races and/or compete at the National level? No problem, there are plenty of race opportunities at your local tracks and there are trophies and awards for racing and reaching milestones at your local track. Prefer to race in another state because you live closer to the track across the border? No problem, you can join any state’s championship series regardless of what state you call home. Love the sport and want to race and practice as much as you possibly can? No problem, there are races year round throughout the country. Like being on a team? Hate being on a team? No problem: join a team or do it on your own. You keep control and you have choices like no other sport.
I had never experienced such a flexible and accommodating sport or organization in my entire life! I could not wait to introduce my two older children, now 12 and 14, to a sport that didn’t exclude them just because their parents were divorced. The Beast had her own plan, too, and beat me to the draw. She demanded that her big brother and big sister come ride their bikes with her over the big hills and curves of the BMX track. Even then, she was tenacious and very persuasive.
Within weeks, we had upgraded to a bike rack that could carry all three kids’ bikes PLUS Frankenbutt’s. I was the only one who didn’t sign on, declaring I’d spent all our money on their bikes and there was no money left to buy me one. I know it’s a lame excuse but it worked … well, kinda. After buying a raffle ticket at the track to support a local bike team’s fund raising, I found myself the winner of a cruiser.
Without an excuse, I also tried the sport, a bit scared and reluctant. After my first few laps, Josie DeMola, the track director’s wife, reminded me that this was a family sport and cursing was not allowed on the track. I must admit that the starting hill and a few other features of the track intimidated me but also gave me respect for what my kids were doing. My track career was short lived as was my son’s. Although we both found the sport exciting to watch, it wasn’t for us. My husband and 2 daughters all raced while I happily scored at the finish line. My son occasionally joined us at the track but as he grew older, he had other interests. We respected him enough to understand that he was growing up and shaping his own life to his likes.
As the Editor grew older, she wanted to join us on the weekend RV trips we took to regional and national races. She, too, is quite persuasive and used her command of words to convince her dad to let her take some weekends off her visitation schedule in order to join us on BMX road trips. She was not one of the highest ranked racers in her class but she enjoyed the off the track socializing and often came with us just for that. It was nice to have her with us and we often missed Captain Oblivious on those trips.
I truly believe that there are families in our communities with similar lifestyles who would find a home in our sport. I don’t know how everyone else found out about BMX but I know we didn’t find out about it through our school system, as we did with so many other organized sports and activities.
I often feel like we are in an exclusive under advertised sport that flies under the radar of local and national news reporting. Sometimes, it feels like someone whispered in our ear about this little known opportunity and we quickly found ourselves in the “vortex” of BMX. It’s a sport that can be all encompassing or something you toy with for years; something you leave and return to and it always feels like resuming a conversation with a really, good old friend. With all the rules and regulations that work places, houses of worship, home owner associations, etc. put on us, isn’t it nice to have choices and control within our sport choice?
Driving to and from my mom's this past weekend reminded me of my own childhood trips to her mom's home. Most of my summer vacations were spent riding in a station wagon with my 2 sisters, my brother and sometimes our dog, too. When I was a kid, we made an annual road trip from our home in South Jersey to my mom's family farm in Bowling Green, Kentucky. When we left was dictated by the factory "shutdown" they did for 2 weeks to clean and re-tool machinery at my mom's work place.
We didn't have much money so we usually drove "straight through" without taking a hotel room. My mom finished work at midnight on a Friday evening, and we hit the road soon after my mom got home, took a bath and changed her clothes. Earlier in the day, after my dad finished his job around 4pm, he and I usually packed the car and tied the luggage down on the roof while my sisters made dinner. I wasn't much interested in cooking and it was fun climbing onto the roof of the car and looping ropes through the luggage rack runners.
After we ate and did dishes, my dad retreated to the bedroom and tried to nap before the long drive. We played outside and said goodbyes to neighborhood friends during the long hours of summer daylight. Although my sisters and I tried to stay awake until my mom got home, we all inevitably fell asleep. I always had butterflies in my stomach as our vacation got closer, hoping my parents would stop at Kings Island Amusement Park along the way or take us to Big Bend waterpark once we got to Kentucky.
When it was time to roll, my parents woke us up and we all piled into the station wagon. Because I was the youngest, I often sat up front and laid my head on my mom's lap while she snoozed against the window and my dad drove. He drove and drove until daylight and then we always ate breakfast at a truck stop where they served enormous pancakes and made eggs and bacon, just the way my dad liked them.
After sleeping all night, my siblings and I inevitably started "our shenanigans". There were fights over who had to sit in the middle, blame on whoever left crumbs on the seat after eating crackers, etc, etc. After our hardy truck stop breakfast, my mom usually insisted on driving so my dad could sleep a bit. While my dad snored and my mom tried to resolve the back seat disputes, she almost always ended up getting lost. She'd continue driving and fret for a while about telling my dad before she finally nudged him awake. Overtired and never understanding "why women can't follow a map", my father yelled a bit and then took over the wheel again.
Eventually, we made it to my Grandmaw's (pronounced exactly how it's spelled) and spent 2 hot weeks in an older one story masonry block home without air conditioning. For the first few days, my sisters and I complained about the lack of TV, no one else to play with and missing friends and would be boyfriends. My brother usually read sci fi novels and looked at comic books, seemingly unaware that we'd even changed environments.
Within a day or two of arriving, the magic began. Without TV to distract us, we explored the simple pleasures of life in the country. We walked around barefoot most of the time, enjoying the cool linoleum that covered the floor in every room and we also skimmed our feet over the soft grass of their enormous front yard. My brother and I climbed trees while my sisters sunbathed in a far corner of the yard, where my grandmaw couldn't see them in their swimsuits (she didn't think it was right for a girl or woman to bare even their shoulders).
In the evenings, we carried worn metal pails down past the chicken coop, the barn and the pond until we came upon several neat rows of bush beans, potatoes, carrots and more in Grandmaw's vegetable patch. We shrieked at bugs as we filled our pails with whatever grandmaw told us to pick. We returned to the house and we all sat on the front porch stringing and snapping beans that would be on the dinner table the next day. We also chased fireflies and put them in old jars with lids that Grandpaw punched holes in.
When the sun went down and the biting bugs came out, we retreated to the living room, where we all sat quietly as grandpaw read the bible, a lifelong nightly ritual in their home. After the scripture, we all knelt down as grandpaw prayed aloud and we kids sneaked glances at one another to see who didn't have their eyes closed, and later threatened to tell on one another.
Afterwards, my 2 sisters and I raced to the back bedroom, fighting to be the first one to dive into the middle of the freshly fluffed mound of a featherbed. Drifting downward, as the sides came up, is as close as I can imagine to actually floating on a cloud. In the morning, we awoke to the smell of bacon cooking and the clink of an old milk glass cutting homemade biscuits on my grandmaw's porcelain clad sink top. There was always a selection of homemade jams that my grandmaw canned herself from the berries she grew out back. We drank the best tasting milk that we poured from a glass pitcher. I once asked my mom why Grandmaw didn't have a milk jug and she explained that Grandpaw milked the cows himself each morning, pouring his take from his milk pail into the pitcher. I would be in my teens before I stupidly questioned aloud whether we should be drinking milk that hasn't been homogenized and pasteurized.
Sometimes, my grandfather walked with us, down to the pasture and let us pet his mule, Ole Red. He didn't have a saddle for him but we convinced him to let us sit on his back and take pictures to show our friends.
After lunch, we cleared the table and scraped the plates into the slop bucket outside the back door. It was gross and a little smelly but Grandpaw insisted that's how the pigs like it. When we whined that we were bored, my Grandmaw pulled out tubs of wooden thread spools and we challenged one another to build the tallest tower, adding to it until one toppled and spools rolled every direction.
We also ventured out the mile long dirt lane to pick up the mail; along the way, we broke off leafy branches and held them over the barbed wire fence that surrounded the pig pen, watching them climb over one another to reach the treat. Some evenings, my grandpaw would pull out his crank style ice cream maker and let us pour salt over the ice as we took turns cranking the handle. On those hot summer nights, we enjoyed the best ice cold, slightly mushy vanilla ice cream, huddled around the back porch.
While we stayed at our grandparents, my mom’s sister, Aunt Lily, visited and usually sewed one or all 3 of us girls a dress or skirt. She and my mom laughed and joked and talked about gray hairs, my Aunt Lily insisting that she just “gets a little ole rinse” on her hair to cover her few grays. Sometimes, her sons, my cousins Rick and Tommy, also visited in their latest vehicles. Rick always had muscle cars and Tommy had a motorcycle with a sissy bar which he took us for rides on down the dirt lane.
We also packed up fried chicken and potato salad lunch baskets and visited my grandparents’ elderly brothers and sisters, our great aunts and uncles, who lived in small homes in the country side. I remember my dad pressing the accelerator down as he ran our car up each hill and then let his foot off so that our bellies flip flopped as we ran down the back side of each hill. It was nice to see my rather stern, disciplinarian dad relaxed, having a good time.
Time to return home always came too quickly. My grandmaw wrapped up pieces of cake and pie for us to eat in the long ride, gave my mom a handmade quilt or two and bid us a tearful farewell at the end of the lane. My grandpaw told us to be good to our parents and be careful; he also shook my father’s hand. My dad always teared up and put his sunglasses on as he hugged my grandmaw and said, “see you next year, Mama”. It made me wonder if in that moment, he thought about and missed his own mom who passed away when he was only 12 years old. My mom and grandmaw wiped tears from each other’s faces and hugged each other several times before my mom got in the car and rode quietly wiping her eyes and nose for several miles.
Now it is my turn to hug my mom goodbye and wipe tears from one another’s face before I drive for a day and a half home. My husband always hugs my mom and promises her “we’ll see you again soon, Ma.” My daughter, the Beast, wrapped her arms around my mom’s waist and thanked her Grammy for the homemade cookies and for taking the time to dye Easter eggs with her.
I know my children’s trips to their grandparents are not the same as those of my childhood. We ride pretty comfortably and often combine a trip to my mom’s with a side trip to a BMX track, dinner with old friends and stops at our favorite old places. Instead of disconnecting from the electronic world, my daughter enjoys Grammy’s on demand TV and stays in touch with all of her friends via text messaging.
But I also know that when she puts down the cell phone, turns off the TV and joins my mom for cookie making, egg dying or whatever Grammy has dreamed up to do, she and my mom talk and laugh with a familiar warmth in their voices. It’s the kind of generational connection you just can’t get without a visit. It was nice to visit family again, the ones who’ve always known us AND our BMX family.
On Saturday, March 26th, Frankenbutt, the Beast and I went to the 17th annual Jack Frost Classic BMX race held at Egg Harbor Township, NJ. Unlike last year’s balmy 65 degrees, it was more like 35-40 degrees although the sunshine certainly helped. For those of us who’ve made the Jack Frost an annual pilgrimage, we weren’t surprised by the bone chilling weather or that the race started almost 2 hours late; both are a tradition, I think.
It was great to see a full parking lot, bikes everywhere, people laughing and yukking it up. I took the opportunity to share the story of our upcoming ride with a captive audience: the registration line. I briefed them and then asked each one to give their email address and an estimate of how many miles they think we’ll pedal on our journey. They all seemed to have wisdom for us: From Rich Farside: “I think you’ll make a ¼ mile” and From Big Lenny Hicks: “You know it’s all uphill after you leave Florida, right?” I’ll SEE both of you at the Grands! And then there was a guy who said, “it’s all mental. It’s not about your weight, your size, your training. It’s what you have in your head when you’re riding.” I think he’s right.
Although it’s only been a year since I’d been to EHT track, I had to do a double take when I saw a brand new building with INDOOR bathrooms, a storage room and a new concession stand. If you’re going to be at a track all day, a BMX mom really appreciates an indoor bathroom with sinks, too! Especially when it’s cold out! Nice job, EHT!
Once the gate started dropping (they had an issue with the piston evidently), riders took to the track, volunteers staged, verified and scored the races. There were 78 motos, (plus a few A,B,C,D, motos inserted between the #s) and the track opted to switch to a 2 moto transfer system with daylight waning.
I was asked to score the second round and the main event. After the semis, the motos were being printed in the office and a gentleman came up to the office. Although I was standing about 10 feet away, I could see there was some kind of issue and heard some of the Howell, NJ track staff asking where his son was. Soon a young boy of about 10 with sparkling blue eyes, came up to the race officials and explained what his father was saying and then in sign language told his father what the race officials had said.
Jose Laza is a BMX racer with a hearing impairment that doesn’t usually stop him from performing as well as any of the other riders in his class. He is a regular at the Howell track and they have embraced him as a member of their community, making sure he gets what he needs in order to participate in the sport. The Corner Marshalls all use highly visible flags to indicate an issue on the track, instead of just the standard clipboard. In addition to shouting out to riders when they are coming up on a down rider, they also give a visual cue by waving the flags. They also don’t put the responsibility on his young son of informing Jose when his moto is coming up, they work together to be sure Jose is informed. In fact, since he missed his semi (and ultimately his main) at the Jack Frost, one race official asked if he was returning on Sunday for the Bob Warnicke Scholarship race and he nodded that he was. The official guaranteed him that he would write the racer’s motos on the palm of his hand and hold the race if he wasn’t in the gate. I was glad to see that some effort was being made to avoid the same mistake.
The sport of BMX is an excellent choice for most special needs members of our community. The BMX family is the most accepting and accommodating group I have ever been involved with. They don’t make excuses or quote liability issues or just plain ignore you. They embrace you, they make changes, they make you at home doing what you love. All that said, we, as a community, need to be prepared to fulfill the desire to do that. We need to communicate with riders and find out what they need. Adding flags to the Corner officials’ positions is an easy fix and probably benefitted more than just one hearing impaired rider. Having a visual cue, when you are wearing a helmet that covers your ears, during a large (and loud) race is a help to most any rider. A simple electronic display with the moto # of the current riders on the track would be helpful, too.
I’ve been emailing Gary Aragon, the NBL CEO, about involving Special Needs members of our community in our arrivals at the 25 tracks we plan to visit during our 4+ month ride ahead. We are still working on details but I hope to be able to share what the plan is in the blogs ahead. Stay tuned.
I can’t end today’s blog without mentioning my friend, Justin Knapper. He’s a 14 year old expert and is currently ranked #2 in the country. During a fluke incident, he broke his ankle and leg in 5 places and is currently using a wheelchair to stay mobile. He was not injured on the BMX track but rather while manualing his bike on the sidewalk: an accident that will keep him away from his beloved sport for at least 6-8 weeks. Justin is an amazing rider who was at the top of his game before this injury and whom I expect will be so again within months. Justin, our thoughts are with you and your parents as you recuperate. I’ll SEE you in Pottstown the last weekend of May for the National. If you are well enough to ride with us from Pottstown to the New Paltz, NY track, we’d be thrilled to have you join us! If not, I’ll be standing next to your mom and shouting as loudly for you at the Grands. You make us all proud to be BMX moms.
Today on yahoo.com
news, the Beast was looking at an article titled: "10 Places Every Kids Should See" (check it out: http://m.yahoo.com/w/ygo-frontpage/lp/story/us/78238/coke.bp%3B_ylt=A0LEV78yJY1N5mAABAsp89w4%3B_ylu=X3oDMTFxMzJxb2o0BGNwb3MDMgRjc2VjA21vYmlsZS10ZARpbnRsA3VzBHBrZwNpZC03ODIzOARwb3MDMQRzbGsDdGh1bWI-?ref_w=frontdoors&view=today&.tsrc=yahoo&.intl=us&.lang=en
). Wow, that's a long web address but I swear that's it.
The 10 places included the Grand Canyon, The National Mall (D.C.), Redwood National Park, Ellis Island, Niagara Falls, Yellowstone National Park, Colonial Williamsburg, Craters of the Moon National Park (Idaho), Independence Hall, and Alcatraz Island. The Beast, Frankenbutt and I saw most all of those places because of BMX. Captain Oblivious and the Editor saw about 1/2 of the list during the Beast's early BMX years, too.
FYI, there are no BMX races at those locations ... But think about it. Wouldn't a BMX race at the Grand Canyon be amazing??
We saw 9 out of the 10 of those places either en route to or on the way home from a BMX race. We always tried to combine either a historical stop or a natural wonders visit amongst our BMX travels. We absolutely love the national park system and the Beast earned several Junior Ranger badges during our stops. Even when there wasn't much of a budget for travel, like in Hawaii, we made it priority to stash away the park entrance fees and visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park 3 times during our stay there. We walked through lava tubes and across spongey recent lava flows. We star gazed on Mauna Kea and we also visited Pearl Harbor.
Each of us have felt emotional connections to the places we've visited. While visiting Pearl Harbor, the Editor asked a Park Ranger about the names engraved on the wall of the memorial. He told us they were the names of all the military members who died aboard the U.S.S. Arizona. Then the Editor inquired about a separate block of names with recent dates next to them. The Ranger explained that they had survived the Pearl Harbor attack, lived long lives and chose to return to Pearl Harbor and be buried with their mates at the memorial site. I was so moved by that, I found myself and my daughter in tears.
While visiting Arches National Park in Utah, the Beast was walking through the "fins" that have been carved by the wind and sand for many years and suddenly sank to the ground. We were concerned when we noticed tears coming down her cheeks. We asked what was wrong and she said "nothing. It's just that I realized THIS is what I want to be when I grow up". That might not quite make sense to most people but it did to Frankenbutt and me. The Beast had found her connection.
Captain Oblivious made a different connection during our trip to Williamsburg, VA. While visiting one of the historical buildings, a silver smith's shop I believe, the historical actor told him to hurry up and close the door so as not to let the a/c out. Without missing a beat, Captain Oblivious said, "I thought they were supposed to stay in character. That must be the little known colonial air conditioning we didn't learn about in history class." Frankenbutt chuckled and the two of them pointed out each and every "violation" of authenticity throughout the day, making up advertisements and jokes for each one. Even the Editor got into it when she told a couple of the mud brick demo guys to wrap up their conversations, put their cell phones away and "get stomping" on the mud and straw.
During our visit to the Grand Canyon, Frankenbutt decided to go off on a walk by himself. He left a trail of popcorn so he could find his way back and also took some beans and franks in a flashlight, in case he got hungry. WAIT! That wasn't us! That was an episode of the Brady Bunch. GOTCHA!
Honestly, Frankenbutt did something almost as crazy. He convinced the Beast and the Editor to scare the life out of me. While I was on the cell phone with a client, he set up his plan. As I was hanging up, I turned to see the girls jumping off the ledge, into what I thought was the canyon itself. As I gasped and started to scream, they poked their heads up and called me over to show me the landing with the guard rail around it that I couldn't see from where I stood. Frankenbutt stopped laughing when he realized all of the blood drained from my face. MEN!!
My friend, Zoe, took her son, Zach, to the Johnstown Flood museum following a Pennsylvania State race and told me how much they learned that they'd never known before. From that point on, I researched small, lesser known places to visit, too. During a trip back from one of the Virginia races, I found a small plantation site online (Admiral Byrd's plantation, I believe) and decided to add it to our itinerary. What I didn't realize was that you practically needed a bush whacking tank to make it back to there. AND... Once you started down the winding dirt road in a 36' foot RV, there was nowhere to turn around. Frankenbutt had to do an Austin Powers style turn around, reversing and driving forward inches at a time while he turned the wheel side to side. Don't worry, he thanked me again and again for that experience.
FYI, if you're going to the Grands, you might want to check out Mammoth Caves National Park in Kentucky. Besides the fact that the caves are a constant cool temperature, over the years they've served as a church and as an experimental hospital at times, for tuburculosis patuents. There are lantern tours each day and if you arrive at dusk, you'll see an incredible number of bats who make their home there.
We also visited Woodward Cave in Pennsylvania during a regional BMX championship and saw awesome calcite formations that resembled bacon and bagels ... YUM!
I like all the places and paths BMX has taken us to and I can't wait to discover the new places we'll visit during our bike ride. So far, on our agenda is a visit to Gettysburg National Park. We plan to ride our bikes over the same terrain that the soldiers of the Civil War marched over. Although we may not hit 88 mph, I am still looking forward to a ride back through time.
Right now I’m typing this blog as I sit in our hotel room for the night in Dillon, SC. We’ve driven about ½ the way to Jersey after getting a later than usual start this morning. We obliged the Beast and checked the post office to see if her Amazon order arrived. It had and she immediately started reading the next book in her Emma series. It’s always been a challenge to keep all 3 of my kids in reading materials over the years. Frankenbutt downloaded some books to the e-reader a few days ago so that the Beast could read during the long car ride. She finished them before we ever left the house. I can’t complain … there are worse things she could do.
We also stopped at Frankenbutt’s work place to place a quick order for a front pannier rack. During our last fully loaded ride, it became obvious that Frankenbutt has too much of the load. He has Coco (20 lbs) in her trailer (20 lbs) and the Beast’s race bike (20 lbs) on the rack he made especially for towing it. He also had two of the larger pannier bags on his rear rack. Unfortunately, he can’t have 2 of the smaller, lighter panniers because their required positioning ends up being in the path of his pedals. The better made, larger Jandd panniers have cutaways at the bottom of each pannier to accommodate for even large clipped in feet. The problem lies in that those larger panniers naturally are more loaded and heavier than our smaller personal panniers. So, we’ll see if we can correct that by shifting the larger panniers to my rear bike rack and adding 2 kitchen/food panniers to the new rack we plan to put on the front of my bike. More about that later.
After filling with diesel fuel, setting the GPS for my mom’s address, we finally got moving down the road. We all fell into our usual positions. Frankenbutt was driving, I was on the Blackberry checking emails, the Beast was in the back seat reading and Coco was snuggled up next to her. I didn’t realize that within seconds, the tone for today’s road trip would be set.
I heard Coco snortle and then she bounded over the front bench seat and settled in next to me. About the same time, I heard the Beast whisper, “excuse me”. I went about checking emails when it hit me. About that same time, Frankenbutt and I looked at each other in horror and dove for the down buttons on our windows. We both leaned out into the wind gasping for fresh air. The Beast continued to read murmuring “Sorry” every few seconds.
I shouldn’t be surprised; it runs in the family. When Captain Oblivious (my oldest child) was around 10 years old, he developed an ungodly gas problem! We are a family that deals with most everything in our world with humor. We harassed him for his ability to clear a room, we issued toxic cloud warnings, and we demanded that he warn us immediately while putting the window down whenever he had his own toxic meltdown.
During one road trip to Williamsburg, VA, we offered to pick up my mom up from her sister’s house in Richmond, VA and save her a train trip back to Philly. After her goodbyes to Aunt Lucy, she climbed into our Astro van and sat next to her first born grandson, while the Editor sat on the rear bench. Since we had recently cleared the air of Captain Oblivious’ gas weapon, we warned “Grammy” that she was in a danger zone. We made all our regular barbs and Captain Oblivious giggled right along with us but Grammy didn’t like us “picking on” her grandbaby. She put her arm around him and told him how she knew that we were being unfair; that her sweet boy couldn’t do anything like we had all described in flowery detail. As we rode down the road, we heard Captain Oblivious give the warning and we all dove for our window cranks … all except Grammy, who was telling funny stories about her sister.
She stopped mid-sentence and gasped. “Oh dear Lord! What in the world is that smell?” We could barely hear her over all the air rushing in through every possible opening of the van. Frankenbutt calmly said, “that’s Captain Oblivious, your sweet grandson.” By now, my mom was frantically waving her hand in the air, desperately trying to clear the toxic green cloud that attacked her sinuses. In her heaviest southern accent, she said to him, “what is wrong with you? Are you sick? Do you need Papa to pull over?” Captain Oblivious looked a bit embaressed and was snickering at the same time. When he didn’t respond with a reasonable answer, my mom then turned to me and said, “Dear God, you’ve got to get this boy to a DOCTOR! I think something has crawled up inside of him and DIED!”
As those words flew from her mouth, so did Frankenbutt’s coffee from his own mouth. We laughed so hard, we could barely speak for 5 minutes. Then my mom suggested we all pray about the situation … which honestly, made us laugh again. Not to be disrespectful of my mother’s southern Baptist upbringing, but I seriously couldn’t imagine God hearing that prayer and rushing to solve it before he solved world hunger!
So, today’s road trip brought back funny and smelly memories. We giggled about several other situations en route and took turns snoozing, snacking and cruising the radio stations. By the time we stopped for dinner, we were all pretty tired of sitting in the car. Although Zaxby’s wasn’t our first choice for dinner, it was there and we were hungry. Frankenbutt walked the dog and checked the straps holding the VW onto the UHaul tow dolly while the Beast and I ordered our meals.
They gave us our drink cups and the Beast started filling hers while I gathered condiments, straws and napkins. Frankenbutt joined us at the fountain area in time to catch the Beast’s drink cup incident. After filling it, she attempted to set it on the counter top at the same time as she reached for the lid. The bottom edge of the cup caught the top edge of the counter and soda flew across the counter top. Our first impulse was to giggle … all 3 of us. The Beast was blushing and apologizing (and trying not to giggle) and the restaurant attendant assured her it was fine and assisted her with the clean up.
We made our way to a booth and started to eat dinner and discuss all kinds of stuff, much of it peppered with loopy comments. As we finished up, we sorted who was keeping their drink and refilling it and who was tossing the trash. As the Beast stood up, her elbow hooked her newly filled drink cup and made an EPIC spill! This time soda flew across the table and at least a 5’ swath of the floor beside our table. The Beast looked terrified and we laughed. She looked a little less scared and apologized profusely as the folks at the next table announced, “clean up, aisle 5”.
The Beast said, “what do we do?” I calmly said, “We’ve caused enough trouble here. We need to get out of here. NOW!” Frankenbutt agreed, dumped our trash, and alerted the staff to the spill as we all hurried for the door. We laughed out loud outside and hassled the Beast about her graceful nature. Her only response: a stinker! Luckily, it was before we got into the confined cab of the truck!
Today’s thought: During a bike road trip, at least the air clears quickly and you can ride away from whatever invades your space.
With less than a month until we leave home, all the little details of life keep sucking up all my extra time. The other day, I started packing down some of our lesser needed household items. I decided to wash our winter comforters now that we are sleeping under our cotton knit summer blankets. I started up the washing machine and decided to put dishes away while the washtub loaded with water. When I returned from the kitchen, there was barely an inch of water in the washing machine and there was no water pouring in.
I checked to see if I might have accidentally shut it off and found I hadn’t. I checked the water at the kitchen faucet and found it, too, didn’t have water flowing. Shoot! This is not my area! I called Frankenbutt who said to check the breakers. I did and there was one flipped. OK, I can handle this. I flipped the breaker back, restarted the washing machine and started to head to the living room when I heard the water stop again. I went back to the breaker box and re-flipped the breaker. Before I could get out of ear shot, I heard the breaker flip back off.
OK. Now, this is definitely not my area! I texted Frankenbutt an update who surmised that maybe the breaker has gone bad; he figured he’d replace it when he got home from work. I wrote down the info on the existing breaker and decided to run to Lowe’s so Frankenbutt could just install it as soon as he arrived home, even with daylight waning.
Realizing there’d be no laundry, no toilet flushing, no dish washing until we had water again, I pondered where to redirect my energies. About that time, the Beast’s phone rang and her buddy, Jacob, invited her to play laser tag while he’s on spring break. With household chores at a halt, getting out seemed like a good idea. The Beast and I hopped in the truck and headed to Tampa to meet up with Jacob and his mom.
Once the kids met up and started playing, I asked Jacob’s mom if she minded if I ran some errands; she said she didn’t mind at all. First, I got the oil changed on the truck. Then I ran to the local grocery store to buy our trip’s re-stock items. Since we don’t want to carry 4 months of food, vitamins, toiletries, etc on our bikes, I’ve decided to make up a re-stock box. I’ll be leaving that box in the VW when we drop it off in NJ this weekend. When the Editor (the oldest daughter) is home from college and connects with us in Pottstown, PA during the Memorial Day weekend national race, we’ll refill our panniers with the basics.
Following a last bathroom break at the laser tag, the Beast and I headed for home with the breaker and the restock items. As I drove, I could hear my Blackberry dinging, indicating there were emails. When we were stopped in a line of traffic, I quickly checked them and found there were about 10 responses to my Craigs List ad for our house rental. When I returned home, I opened each response and was disappointed at the number of “scam” emails but found there was one that sounded good. I replied with all the information requested and I hope to be showing the property middle of next week.
I spent the next hour reviewing our BMX track contacts and realized that we still don’t have firm plans with the first two tracks on the national circuit: Sarasota and West Palm Beach, FL. I re-emailed them both and replied to other tracks’ emails regarding our arrival. I took a moment to review how many emails I’ve sent to media, sponsors, tracks, friends and family and realized I’ve sent over 300 emails in the last 2 months. I can’t imagine how many I’ll have sent by the time we arrive in Louisville.
When Frankenbutt arrived home, the Beast and he worked together to switch out the breaker. I was impressed how quickly they got the job done. I immediately started up the washing machine and started making Frankenbutt a bologna sandwich (I’ve mentioned I can’t cook, right?) While I was in the kitchen, I noticed the distinct lack of washing machine sounds. I checked the kitchen faucet: no water. I hollered to Frankenbutt who said, “I know.” After a few minutes, he said, “It must not be the breaker; it’s got to be a short in the electric line itself.”
He ran to Lowe’s, bought a 100’ roll of outdoor underground electrical wire: $82. I held the light while Frankenbutt removed the prior circuit breaker’s wire from its connections and screwed down the newly stripped ends of wire into place. He repeated the same process at the water pump housing. Within a minute, the water was working and we were back in business!
I finally got the laundry started and noticed it was now 10 at night. Where did the day go? I didn’t make a dent in the packing, the laundry wasn’t done and all I had to show for the day was a box with soap, shampoo, qtips, dog food and toothpaste. Well, at least I got that done.
Today, we rode our short route so we could get a few more of life’s details out of the way. The Beast and I had eye exams and we ordered prescription sunglasses for her since the contact lens training didn’t go easily. She gave it a good effort but couldn’t manage to get or keep even one lens in her eye. Meanwhile, the eye dr. brought me up to speed about contact lenses that now are “multi-focal”, meaning that not only will I be able to see distance well … but NOW, I can read without reading glasses! I’m experimenting with a pair for the next 5 or 6 days and hope to order a 6 month supply next week.
When I returned home, we ran out again and picked up the rental tow dolly so we can transport our VW to Jersey for less than it would have cost us in gas … PLUS … I can work on emails and phone calls about our bike ride while Frankenbutt drives. We made it back home in time to switch vehicles and head to Tampa BMX track for Wednesday night practice.
It’s almost 10 pm again and I feel again like I haven’t accomplished enough towards packing down the house and getting us closer to leaving for the bike ride. Although this run to Jersey is necessary, I feel like I need every bit of time left to do so many of the necessary things. I guess day to day life isn’t going to stop so that we can go have our dream. I’m really looking forward to the days ahead when there will be no house repairs to make, no appointments to keep … just us and the bikes and a route plan.
Butterball needed a day off so she persuaded me to write my first blog. Unfortunately for you, I don’t think I’m a good writer. Reading I can do, but my writing never lives up to what I’d hoped for; probably because I’d love to write like Hemingway. He’s my favorite writer and when I finish one of his books, I find myself feeling a combination of contentment, sorrow and awe. Contentment from the story, Sorrow because it’s over and Awe because someone could write that well.
When I have conversations with others about books and writers and I inevitably mention Hemingway, more often than not I get a look of confusion. Apparently, there’s a lot of people out there who don’t share my admiration for his work. Everyone knows he was a great writer, but many try to read his stories and don’t understand the hype.
I’ve been getting that same look recently when I tell them about the ride. “It sounds like one hell of an adventure … but WHY?” I understand people’s misgivings on both accounts.
For me, riding long distances on my bike is a lot like reading a Hemingway novel. When I first start, it feels a little disjointed. The sentences are short and choppy. My pedaling feels unnatural and unsmooth. My hands can’t find a comfortable place on the bars and the story doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Page after page and my butt still hurts and I have to think about how hard I am pedaling. Am I at the right cadence or should I be spin a little faster? Every hill becomes something I need to conquer and it’s back side my reward.
I stop looking down at my bars, my tire, my speedometer and begin focusing on the road in front of me. I no longer focus on my pedals and instead the path before me. I can no longer feel where my hands end and the bike begins. I forget about the helmet on my head and don’t feel my tires rolling over small pebbles. The pavement in front of me disappears and only the terrain is left; the same terrain that’s been there for thousands of years.
I spot an Osprey perched in a tree at the same time he spots me. We stare into each other’s eyes and I wonder if he feels the same connection I do. The glare of the sun has become a warming hand on my back. The breeze feels more like something I’m a part of than something that’s pushing against me. And then the chapter ends.
I’ve just ridden 30 miles in what seemed like moments. We’ve stopped for a snack, or a bathroom, or because our ride for the day is over. Although the break was needed, I hate it for taking me out of the place I was in. All I want to do is jump on my bike and pedal my way back. But it’s a new chapter with its own start and its own end.
I often wonder how I’ll feel when the book finally ends. Will I feel contentment or sorrow or awe? I kind of hope it’s none of the above, but rather a new feeling, one that couldn’t have been imagined at the start of the ride. I have always been a sucker for surprise endings.