Thursday, July 16, 2009

Kids Grow Up

This has been a different year for me. My twins are now six. Taught them to ride bicycle in the matter of a day. Well ok, maybe it wasn't quite that quickly but bending up the training wheels and telling my daughter that she's really only riding when the rattle of the outriggers goes away certainly helped.

When you have children its no constraint to put their needs and wants above your own. To be there with them and your wife as the family you are. They know that we are more important to each other than any inanimate object. Just as important a lesson for me as for them. It grounds us.

Wacky weather here in the northern midwest has made it a little easier, no doubt. Not to say that there haven't been days when I would have liked to have been on the bike, but as things change you tend to appreciate each of those little gems in life a bit more. The kids, my best friend and of course the rides.

Which brings me to an interesting change in my riding habits.

When I had what I thought was more time, I took more rides but they were shorter. Now that I seem to be more aware of who needs what and to what degree, the rides have gotten considerably longer. Breathing more deeply.

Its something of a return to my very old ways. When I was younger I earned the nickname Marathon Harv. One story from those single carefree (but not better just different) days began with a late Friday night get together of a group of riding buddies. We met at karl's house in Waukesha county WI and they agreed that I should lead.

Now this was long before GPS. Maps still folded out into impossibly large sheets of squiggly lines. Rivers and state parks were often the main feature. Squiggly lines without reference to road construction but detailed enough to help the sojourner find a lonely motel somewhere between here and there.

We met at Karl's with steaks, hamburger meat and bratwursts stuffed into our riding jackets. The grill was fired up while friends and girlfriends trickled in off Davidson Road. Once the sun dipped below the horizon the sky's sparkle began to shine with countless stars. It had a depth. You know how it is when you look up there on a clear night and it seems like some things are closer than others? How the Milky Way seems closer than other stars and clusters of stars? That's how that night was. The moon was clear and bright. I recall so many of those nights.

We talked about the direction we'd like to head. The pace and the types of roads we wanted to be on this night. For some reason only beknownst to the heavens they decided to let me lead. Someone handed me a map while eyes peered over my shoulders. Someone made the joke "Go west young man!" and wordlessly we all agreed. I chose a back door route past the quiet city streets of Waukesha and said, "From there I'm playing it by ear".

Time seemed to slip away. Roads bathed in the high beams of UJM's (universal Japanese motorcycles) flooded open fields on every bend, exiting millions of fireflies to their eery green yellow glow. If you haven't ridden southeastern Wisconsin on a hot summer night its one of those things you don't appreciate until you see it. It looks like waves of tiny Christmas lights blinking across grey black fields. I don't know how else to describe it.

The serenity of the ride, the peaceful hum of the bikes behind me just kept me rolling forward. I had no idea to where or how far I was taking us. We stopped at an all night gas station but no one questioned the time. At least no one said anything to me. So we kept going.

Signs annoucing towns who inhabitants numbered in the low hundreds. Unencorporated.

Weather beaten barns and horses resting in the fields. The sheen of dew glinting from every surface.

Go west young man.

I don't recall any sign telling me we were anywhere near Madison. But we passed the city at some point. And so we came to a river. And we stopped at the bridge crossing the river. A hush was over us. The mood was peaceful. Satisfied. We parked the bikes, opened our sodas and lit our smokes. Scotty broke the silence with a question.

"What the hell river is this?"

He walked up the bridge to a sign on the far side. From the distance we heard the exclamation.

"The Mississippi?? The freakin Mississippi?? He took us to... You took us all the way to the freakin' Mississippi!!!"

I opened my mouth but could only repeat "I... I... " I shrugged and held my hands up.

Someone hollered to Scott that it sure didn't take us that long to get there. He stopped, looked up at the moon and just shook his head.

"Next time..." Said Scotty upon return, his index finger making his point to all of us, "Next time Marathon Harv here, leads us, make sure we have a place we're actually going to. Someplace to arrive or else god only knows where we'll end up."

And you know, I've wondered that a few times this summer...