Last Sunday I took my 9-year-old nephew, Kevin, bike riding with me at the Bikes & Barbecue Livestrong Ride 10-miler. There was also a 22 and 34 mile ride for cyclists older than 9. When I first floated the idea past Kevin the weekend before I said, “Ten miles won’t be a problem for you since we already ride eight miles when we go to Burger King.”
“But we take a long break in the middle, and eat lunch.”
“Sure. See what I mean? You won’t have trouble at all.”
I could tell he was skeptical of my reasoning, but he is surprisingly game for most of my wacky ideas. He agreed to give it a try. “Can we take breaks if I get tired?”
As the time drew closer, the weather forecast looked exceedingly windy and I told Kevin we wouldn’t ride if the wind was too bad. Sunday morning when we went to early church where I play in the orchestra, we both agreed the slight breeze was manageable and gave each other the Gentlemen’s Head Nod of Commitment. We were in.
By the time we’d loaded the bikes on my pickup, dressed for the ride, aired up our tires, and driven out to the Scharbauer Sports Complex, the wind had picked up a bit. After paying the fees and grabbing our packets, we walked back to unload the bikes and noticed the wind had now increased significantly. Still, Kevin was game for riding. He wasn’t really worried about the wind as much as interested in the free bottles of energy drink and hand sanitizer. I’ve never understood why kids who get everything they have for free are so captured by giveaways.
When the ride started, Kevin bolted to the front on his 20” Mongoose bike, very happy to be passing so many other riders. In fact, I didn’t catch up to him until after the 158 underpass where the course turned west down Highway 191, directly into the howling wind, exactly the sort of wind I had been hoping to avoid. Kevin got quite frustrated that so many cyclists were passing us. “Kevin, they are grownups. They have stronger legs that you do, and bigger hearts and lungs, and faster bikes.” It didn’t help much until I pointed out that no other 9-year-old had passed us yet. “I think you are the First Kid.”
It was brutal. I’ve ridden on Highway 191 many times on very windy days, but this was worse. Of course I could gear my bike way down so that it wasn’t much effort at all, but Kevin’s little single-speed bike couldn’t compensate. WeatherBug said the wind was 10 mph with gusts up to 36 mph, but on 191 we weren’t getting any of the 10 mph stuff. All we had were the gusts. We were constantly battling 20-30 mph headwinds. It was worse than I could possibly have anticipated when we made the commitment to ride. In fact, it was worse than all my worst-case scenarios I’d fretted about the preceding week. I didn’t want the day to be so bad he would never ride with me again.
But, there we were, on the road, in the wind. Kevin kept fighting it, so we set up a pattern of riding to the next billboard and stopping for rest and water. At every break Kevin would look behind us to make sure we weren’t in last place. For some reason that was very important to him.
Eventually we’d ridden far enough down the road that Kevin could recognize the big brown Mid-Cities Church building, our turnaround marker. I was worried that he might think it was too far away and get discouraged, but instead it made him happy to know the turnaround really existed and wasn’t another one of my ploys to get him to ride further. “Kevin, you only have to suffer as far as that big brown church. Then you’ll get to fly.”
It took us a long time. Riding no more than 5-7 mph between breaks. Kevin could barely ride a straight line. But we made it, finally.
As we rode through the underpass at Mid-Cities, I was planning to give Kevin another break so he could catch his breath, but once he caught the tailwind, he was off. We rode all the way back, all five miles, without a break. (Actually, we stopped once so he could remove his cap (he wore it under his helmet, for some reason), but he said, “Uncle Berry, I don’t think that should count as a break.”
And we were flying. I looked down to notice we were riding 17 mph, a decent cruising speed for me, but a scary risky speed for a 9-year-old on a Mongoose. I’ll admit I felt a little irresponsible for letting him go so fast, and hoped I wouldn’t have to explain to his mother why he was busted up from crashing on the highway, but I figured he’d earned it. After all his suffering he had a right to know what it feels like to fly.
At one point on the easterly stretch of Deauville Boulevard, very near the finish, where the road was smooth and flat and gravel-free, I encouraged him to pick it up and see what he could do. We topped out at 19 mph, his legs pumping like a sewing machine. He said, “That’s a new high score for me.”
It was a successful day. Together we rode straight down the XFD column. Kevin did something completely over his head and did not quit. It was a chest-pounding moon-howling moment … one of those times when all the manly boys step to the front of the line. From now on we’ll stand a tip-toe when this day is named.
Afterward, as we racked our bikes, it occurred to me that we all have people we want to live up to, someone who’s approval matters most. Someone for whom we’ll push beyond our limits, and maybe even risk crashing, to hear a “well done.”
I remember when I first started teaching adult Bible study class at my church, Helen Spinks would stop her wheelchair in the hallway outside our room blocking my path. She’d look me in the eye and say, “Berry, I have heard great things about your class; I am so proud of you.” Another teaching mentor, Gerry, said, “I was so proud of you I almost busted the buttons off my shirt.”
Both of those comments were made over twenty years ago, but both keep me teaching even today. The people I wanted most to live up to were proud of me, and I have never forgotten it. I hope Kevin never forgets flying down Highway 191.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
To learn about Berry’s books, “Running With God,” go to www.runningwithgodonline.com , or “Retreating With God,” go to www.retreatingwithgod.com ,… Follow Berry on Twitter at @berrysimpson or on Facebook … Contact Berry directly: firstname.lastname@example.org … To post a comment or subscribe to this free journal: www.journalentries.org