My son is miserable but still pedalling. It is raining buckets, huge globs of water soaking us and splattering dirt from the road all over our legs and bikes. His rain cape, the $4 version I so foolishly thought would offer some measure of protection, is in tatters, a shredded, muddy banner flapping uselessly in the howling wind.
But he’s not complaining. And he’s definitely not yelling at his old man, telling him what a stupid idea a three-day bike trip was — especially with sketchy weather so clearly in the forecast. Nor is he blaming me for a few other logistical and planning errors that have made our journey more challenging than it needed to be.
My son got into cycling during the pandemic, much to my delight. Bored and restless, he asked to join me on one of my many sanity-saving rides and has stuck with it, racking up some decent mileage and getting fit in the process. Not satisfied to just enjoy this unexpected time with my kid, I proposed an epic three-day bike-packing trip through the countryside. He was wary but agreed.
Mistake No. 1: not reading the fine print. We rented a cabin at a lovely campground, but I stupidly missed the part where it said we had to bring our own bedding. The sun went down and we spent a cold, mostly sleepless night wearing every piece of clothing we brought. It wasn’t enough.
Still, we pushed on, right into mistake No. 2: a rainstorm. I could see it coming on the radar but hoped we’d get to our destination before the worst of it hit. We did not. A wrong turn sent us down a long stretch of bumpy dirt road, compounding my error. We endured most of an afternoon in some of the worst conditions I’ve ever experienced.
It wasn’t all bad. When it wasn’t raining, the countryside was lush and beautiful. We found some excellent places to stop and eat. There was hour upon hour of conversation from the silly to the mundane to the serious, making the miles go by that much easier.
And the people were wonderful. The campground was LGBTQ+ friendly — my son is a member of that particular community — and the hosts were charming, welcoming and funny as hell (no spare blankets, though.) Then our day two AIRBNB host saved us, taking in two soaking, freezing, filthy cyclists and doing everything in her power to get us warm and dry and comfortable again.
My son is 15 and just learning about the world. It’s easy to be fearful — the pandemic, the political climate, global warming, “stranger danger” — and certainly it’s good to be cautious. But most people are good and helpful and trying to make their way in this crazy world, just like you. I think he saw that first hand.
He also learned that things go wrong and still turn out OK — especially if you find the inner strength to power through it. Life isn’t all adversity and toughness, and neither is riding your bike, but they are good skills to have when the rain starts to fall and the mud starts flying.
On the final day of our trip, the sun was shining and the wind was at our backs. We stopped for ice cream, and as we sat in the shade and rested our tired legs, my son looked at our bikes, still caked in mud and smiled.
“Hey Dad, where should we go next?”