On Friday afternoon my darling three year old woke up from her nap and announced that she wanted to go for a bike ride. A long bike ride. With Daddy. Since my wife had the day off and could pick up the last child from school we were good to go. It was a beautiful and sunny day here in western Washington, with temps in the 50s and wispy clouds…and no rain! But with cooler temps and living close to the water I put on some sweat pants and a light windbreaker over my long sleeve t-shirt. I would regret those decisions later on. I also neglected to bring a water bottle for our “long bike ride”. After digging my bike and the “third wheel” out of the garage and filling the tires with air we were ready to depart. And then we couldn’t find her helmet. Not entirely sure how her helmet just disappeared but it did. Being the fifth of six kids worked in her favor as there just happened to be another helmet on the shelf that fit her. Finally, we were ready to go. Just had to figure out where we were going.
The only complicating factor was that we live on the side of a hill that eventually leads down to the water of Puget Sound. The destination my wife suggested was Day Island. It’s a cute small island about two miles from our house. Down by the water. My daughter liked that idea so that became our destination. As we started I reminded her to tell me if she got chilly from biking so fast in the cool air and to hold on tightly. Her huge smile told me all I needed as we began to pedal. Going down the first big hill I could hear her squeals of delight in the crisp air. After obeying a stop sign (“Why did you stop, Daddy?”) and turning onto a leaf-covered bike lane my daughter thought it was neat how the leaves crunched under the bike tires. On we pedaled, turning at the lights near my son’s school (“I know where we are! We’re near C’s school!”) At that point (over a mile in) we were about to make the big descent to Day Island. Last chance to turn back and save myself from the hard ride back up the hill. But, no, my girl was all excited to go on with the rest of our long bike ride. So, on we went.
At 3 pm there was very little traffic on the road but we were staying carefully in the bike lane. Just before the bridge to Day Island the bike lane ended and we were fully on the road. The bridge is level but at the bottom of the final hill so we were going at a pretty good clip as we crossed it. It was while we were over the water that my girl exclaimed, in the exuberance and sincerity of her three year old self, “This is the best day ever!”. It reminded me to not stress about the long and hard ride that would face me to go back up the hill to get home later on. It reminded me to really live in the moment and appreciate the fun of right now. It reminded me again what it’s like to be a kid. Not a care in the world. A few minutes later we paused near the water and the look on her face was pure joy. We had just biked over two miles and she was loving every minute of it.
We talked about a house that was being built on the island and what it must be like to be way up high like that (there was a guy working on the roof). Then we began to pedal toward home. As we crossed the bridge again, she looked down at the water maybe 30 feet below and proclaimed that she wanted to go swimming there. Now. I’m glad that she was able to understand that the water was too chilly and that we didn’t wear our swimsuits. (Phew!) As I looked up from the bridge the hill ahead of us looked as big as Mt. Rainier to my tired legs. It’s one thing to be a fit biker pedaling yourself up hills. It’s quite another to be a slightly out of shape non-biking 41 year old dad towing (with minimal help but maximum enthusiasm) a 35 pound child.
I channelled my inner Little Blue Engine and started thinking, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” My daughter seemed to sense this and began to cheer me on and encourage my efforts. “Go Daddy!” I was trying to find landmarks to focus on so that I wouldn’t have to stop. But it was no use. I stopped about halfway up to take a break. I thought about calling my wife for a ride home in our large van. Didn’t call. Yet. Got back on the bike and started pedaling. “That’s my daddy! Go!” She was sure encouraging. Not a hint of sarcasm in her voice. Pure.
About 3/4 of the way up the hill I stopped again. This time the sweat was literally dripping from my face, which I’m sure was red as a tomato. Sure wish I had some water. Ugh. My girl was not to be discouraged. “Come on, Daddy. You can do it!” But I couldn’t. I called my wife. No answer. I texted her. (“Tell Mommy we’re tired of biking.”) No response. After a couple of minutes of rest I still hadn’t heard back from my wife. I walked with the bike the rest of the way up hill. The street leveled off a bit and I decided to give it a go. After just a few feet it became apparent that my weary old self was going to get us home. My daughter was ecstatic, proclaiming loudly, “That’s what I’m talking about. That’s my daddy! Oh yeah!”.
As we slowly passed my son’s school again and barely made the light before it turned yellow my daughter was happily singing to herself again. When we finally made it home she hopped off her bike and exclaimed, “My booty hurts!” (Mine too, kid. Mine too.) She ran in the house ahead of me to tell my wife all about our trip. A few minutes later I made it inside, feeling like I”d just run a marathon (not that I have, mind you). You know, that feeling where you think you might puke? Yeah, that was me, after a five mile bike ride. But it was all worth it. My girl loved the time with me and any amount of discomfort was worth it. Besides, biking is good for me and it only took about two bottles of water and cool shower before I started to feel normal again. My reward was knowing how my she enjoyed herself and hearing her tell her siblings all about our really long bike ride.