Monday, July 30, 2012

The Vacation of Disappointment and Despair

My adult children attempted to bicycle across the corn field that is Iowa last week.  They were greatly disappointed in themselves when they could not complete the full route.  I was still proud of them.  They gave it the old college try.  They were not well equipped for long distance nor were they in the top physical conditioning needed for such a grueling trip, and the hot weather was literally a killer.  The good news is that I spent a lot of time with them and we had a lot of fun.  Though we were financed and equipped only for camping for the entire week, we managed to spend a couple of nights in air conditioned comfort.  We ate well and slept well and traveled well, though a dark pall of great disappointment shrouded the party despite brave attempts to cheer up when we drove away from the bike route in utter defeat.

Both of my kids have those incredible phones loaded with technology and GPS and access to the world wide web.  For most of the trip we instantly found what we needed to know.  There were so many thousands of people participating in the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) that almost no one's cell phone worked.  When we most needed to be able to communicate with each other, we could not.  All was not lost because the Iowa bike event was an experience unlike anything else. Thousands of people ride and party and enjoy themselves. Many groups arrive in old school buses refitted for hauling people and equipment. Most have named their buses, my favorite being "The Wasted Potential". 

Once it was clear that neither of my kids could continue the ride, an emergency alternate plan was formed.  We decided to visit the Omaha zoo and aquarium.  Though it was a great idea, the zoo held a major life disappointment and milestone for me.  My right knee is in such bad shape that I can no longer walk more than about a hundred yards without excruciating pain.  I have ignored this problem for as long as I can possibly ignore it.  Even a stubborn ass like myself must sometimes face reality.  Walking through the zoo would be physically impossible.  I either stayed at the motel or I rented a scooter.  So, the old Harley rider, the girl who could run 100 yards faster than any other girl on her high school track team, the woman who could dance all night, rented an electric scooter and joined the ranks of the partially disabled impairing America's general progress and interfering with the national chi.

In a word, it was terrible.  At first.  I was humiliated and ashamed to be riding a wimpy scooter like an old woman - like a lazy person - like a fool.  But after about ten minutes, it was fun because I was comfortable.  I had to be careful not to run into anyone, especially children who surged around the scooter, innocently oblivious to the possibility of being run over by a crazy woman.  My daughter hitched a ride on the arm several times even though the zoo official warned no one else was allowed to ride.  The zoo was worth the humiliation of the scooter.  We truly enjoyed the whole day.

My kids were great.  The path to the rhinoceros pens was very steep and I had been warned to not attempt riding the scooter into that area.  I was going to walk, leaving the scooter at the bottom of the hill but my kids insisted they could get the scooter up the hill.  One on either side, using the scooter's own power, they pushed it up the hill.  I limped along behind, hoping the battery did not fail, causing the heavy scooter to roll down the hill over me.  The care and concern my children showed to me that entire day was unprecedented and greatly appreciated.  It took the terrible sting out of renting the scooter... and paid me back for all of their teenaged years.  It was that wonderful.

On the final leg of the trip home, we stopped to eat at the Potawatomi casino - until we saw those prices on the menu!  We decided to play the penny slots instead.  I put $5 in my slot machine and promptly won $39.00!  Seated at the machine next to me, my son won almost $70.  My daughter won .90.  Not bad for twenty minutes work and a $15 investment.  It will help finance my knee replacement.

Our Transpotation

Rolling Out at Dawn Full of Hope

One of the Party Buses

The Agony of  Defeat

My Progeny


Li'l Ned said...

I've been waiting to hear about your kids' experience at RAGBRAI -- an event (in)famous among cyclists around the country. For most, it is considered to be a 'party' ride rather than a 'real' ride, though the distances and weather conditions always make it a tough one. Being surrounded by serious-to-hardcore cyclists as I am, and having done many week-long tours myself, I salute your kids for giving this one a go.

Personally, the thought of riding with that many other people gives me the willies. I can tolerate riding with one or two others, but even the small tours I have done (20-200 people) were challenging for me. And once I get into camp, I want peace and quiet and a chance to hang out among trees and (preferably) mountains, or alternatively, some amazing cultural/architectural wonders in a place far from home. So the party aspect isn't my bag. But obviously, thousands of people feel differently!

If it makes your kids feel any better, two of our friends also attempted this year's RAGBRAI and bailed out early in the tour. These are strong, fit riders accustomed to 60-100+ mile days, riding (expensive) lightweight bikes and wearing topnotch clothing, shoes, etc, as well as the camping in all weather part of such tours. The terrible heat defeated them, and they quit after only a couple of days and headed back home.

Tell your kids they did just great, and it's always a good learning experience, doing any degree of training for a big event like this. Your son, in particular, was really pushing the envelope with his gear and clothing! -- bravo to them both. I hope they will consider doing another tour sometime, in a more reasonable place -- who wants to look at cornfields for a week?! Yeah, I'm a bike tour snob -- but even at my old girl level I know how hard these rides can be, and I want maximum (scenic and otherwise) value for my sweat and sore muscles.

Send them out to my part of the world -- and come along yourself as part of the package. Congrats to the team. Glad you found some A/C relief along the way, and the lions, tigers and bears alternative. Honestly, I would probably have rather spent the entire week at the zoo, and never had gotten astride my bike in the first place.

Jackie said...

I agree - rubbing elbows with so many other human beings is not my personal choice, but for a week with my adult kids, I'll do anything! RAGBRAI was a big party. I have no idea how those people can drink and ride over 60 miles a day on bikes... A mystery. My son knew he was not equipped for the ride but went along to keep an eye on his sister. This is the bike he rides on the dirt trails along the lake where he lives. But, we saw a guy going the distance on one of those huge front wheel bikes from the 1800's, a guy on a UNICYCLE, and a guy roller blading the whole way. And one of the first RAGBRAI participants was an 80 year old guy wearing overalls and woolen underwear riding a woman's bike. So equipment does not always make the man, I guess!