Long bike ride shows family togetherness
I know my family is a little less than normal, but once we rode bikes from Troy to Rhode Island, I saw that we were left of center.
My boys don't play video games. Both have long hair, and are OK with people thinking they are girls. We garden and keep chickens, which isn't that odd, except that some of the food we grow is grains, and we live in a city.
In terms of the bike ride, let me be honest about the "we." I only rode the first 42 miles, on the back of a tandem captained, as the lingo goes, by my 15-year-old son. My husband rode the rest of the way, four more days of 40 miles each. Our 10-year-old rode on his own bicycle.
I went home after the first night and nursed my sore knees and crippled back, joining them at Burlingame Campground after they'd made their journey.
This was no bike trail to bed-and-breakfast event. No van hauled gear, and everyone fixed their own flat tires. There was one other family on a tandem, pulling a trailer with their toddler.
Everyone was involved with Troy Bike Rescue, a collective bike shop with a bike-driven mission. A lot of kids and grownups take classes and earn bikes in the process. A lot of adults who are way into bikes repair abandoned bicycles and get them back in the ride stream. A few welders stack frames into scary-looking creations two bikes high or wide.
That first day, what I did felt brand-new. We rode roads I've driven, but riding on the shoulder in a scattered pack gave me a whole new perspective. Everything felt wide open, and in a way, it was. The sky was clear blue and dotted with clouds, as if the world had thought bubbles, and wanted us fill in the blanks. "This is stunning," is what I thought. "Everyone should do something like this."
Not everyone should ride and ride, but everyone should do something very out of the ordinary. Wander their neighborhood, whether it's rural or urban. Go on a trek of some sort, find another point of view. How many layers of experience are happening all in the same place might floor you.
This is what the ride looked like to me: We were going and going and going, and stopping and stopping for rests and snacks. Other riders snuggled my youngest, keeping him company. I kept making sure both boys ate enough and drank enough. I saw pretty early on that I didn't pack enough sandwiches, but everyone shared nuts, carrots and homemade energy balls.
The way my family's kookiness most pleases me is that the kids want to be with us.
They were excited to do this trip. They packed and planned. My 10-year-old only complained when he was tired — after 10 hours of riding. My teenager hauled his parents up hills. Big hills in the Taconics and Berkshires. He not only wanted to be with us, but he wanted to talk to us. When I was his age, I was escaping my family every day on my own bike, riding into the woods in Melrose and Valley Falls.
I remember sulking with my sisters on nature hikes. One hike I read a Mary Higgins Clark book, walking and reading the whole way, determined to show I wanted to be in my own world.
How my husband and I got boys who want to do things we like, I don't know. My parents were great parents, but we were average, baloney-filled adolescents. Many apologies to my siblings if you disagree.
I don't know how my mate and I differ from other parents. But I have a guess.
Jack and I are very engaged, both in our individual interests, and in stuff that interests the kids. We do the things we like to do, and a lot of times — especially in Jack's case — those things rivet our sons: clamming, bicycling, gardening. Doing math problems at the dinner table. While some members of the family are a little less obsessed with grain farming, mills and baking than I am, no one balks at the pancakes I am perfecting.
I think that some people forget themselves when they have kids. They get so mired in the daily demands of raising a family that they don't make time for what feeds them as individuals. This is dangerous.
The old saw goes that you can't take care of anyone else until you take care of yourself. For me, taking care means writing and baking and reading and riding my bike — usually alone.
Sure, I don't get to do everything I want. But I prioritize my passions because I think a certain amount of selfishness allows you to be kinder to everyone else.
Maybe next summer my kids might balk at the idea of the bike tour. Maybe they will prove my theory wrong in all kinds of ways. But to those people who ask how I got the kind of kids I did, I chalk it up to engagement. Keep your eyes on your own prizes and the kids will love life too.
Amy Halloran lives in Troy. The Gazette invites submissions on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.