Tour Divide AK command center at The Bicycle Shop, Anchorage, AK. At the moment, Lael is pushing to the border at Antelope Wells, NM. She hasn’t stopped pedaling since Sunday morning and should finish before noon, Mountain Time.
She called several miles out of Silver City. I’m holding the saddle rails of a donated 12″ wheel Magna, recently unpacked and assembled by a 13 year old and a three year old on the front lawn. Joshua has been ripping around on a 12″ Specialized Hotwalk since last summer, a pedal-less walking bike designed to instill the basic mechanics of velocipeding. The chance donation of a pedal bike by another family, who never found use for it, is well timed. As soon as we set the training wheel height and the saddle, we set out to ride. Even before I arrive, he is calling it a mountain bike.
Pedaling is hard. The motion is challenging. The leg strength is not there, or at least not the coordination, and the combination of plastic pedals and cowboy boots is not ideal. The bike only steers to the right as Joshua looks all around shouting orders to everyone. “I’m in charge. Let’s go the ‘kishla Park.” We follow, and I assist from the left end of the handlebar to keep course. In time, small realizations lead to riding. Within the hour we are riding around an asphalt ice rink. Jada piles feathery cottonwood droppings, instructing Josh to aim his tires at them. He does, and the moment of focus is a victory. He’s riding a bike, and is in control.
Lael immediately tells me, like a kid caught with her hand in the cookie jar, or in trouble with the principal. “I fell.”
She landed on her knee and shoulder. It was stupid, less than 100 ft from the pavement coming down off a technical section of the CDT. It was getting dark and she didn’t see some rocks in the road. She’s mad, embarrassed, aching. She doesn’t want to see anybody. It’s not serious. I can understand her feeling, but I don’t share the emotion exactly. The thing that she is doing is deeply real for her, chasing miles down dirt roads into the night. Falling is disappointing, yet it also shakes her brain into a sense of hyper reality. She’s talking like it doesn’t matter any more. Who cares about this thing. I agree, but I remind her that she’s chased this thing since June 12 in Banff, since May 15 in Anchorage, and since the HLC in Israel. It all started with that three day solo ride from Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat on the Israel Bike Trail, a manicured backcountry singletrack route across the Negev Desrt. If that ride went well, she would race the HLC. If the HLC went well, and she enjoyed it, she would race the Divide. After her three day ride to Eilat she was flying high. She hasn’t descended since then, and my fear that she has been flying too close to the sun grows more real. Her spirits are back on the ground, covered in blood and dust.
Joshua continues his never-ending right hand turn, bumping into the boards of the Scotty Gomez neighborhood ice rink. The first time we sat him on a pedal bike at The Bicycle Shop last summer, he said, “I can’t do this”, which no one in the family had ever heard from him before. We decided on a walking bike, but not the pink one to which he was so attached. There were tears, everyone had a different idea of how to herd this opinionated two year old, and we left the store. But I selected a red Hotwalk and we took it home along with Jada’s XS Specialized Myka. The next day, the red bike was his favorite color, he decided. He began walking from the saddle that day.
While tightening the axle nuts on the Magna this evening, sitting in the grass out front of the house, Joshua asks me, “Do you miss Aunt Lael?”
“Me too” he says.
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