I went for two rides yesterday; one was uneventful and the other I hope to remember for the rest of my life. Every Sunday, after dropping my son off at Hebrew school, I hop on my bike, lay down a 32-mile loop and generally screech into the parking lot just as class is letting out. It’s a lovely loop, actually, full of rollers throughout the foothills of the Catskill Mountains in and around the town of Woodstock, NY. Today, however, rather than throw the bike in the car and head back home; Eli and I had planned the inaugural ride in his new endurance cycling challenge.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, we recently learned of a new endurance cycling challenge designed for kids aged 9-20 sponsored by a group named Team Get Outdoors (TGO) located in (where else?) Boulder, CO. Eli was all over it from the beginning. With the weather making a turn for the better, we decided to dust the cobwebs off his bike and ride for 10 ten miles along the beautiful Ashokan Reservoir on Sunday afternoon. The day was warm and sunny, with temps in the mid-50s, which stands in stark contrast to the weather we’ve been experiencing the past few months. We could not have asked for a nicer day to begin our journey.
The Ashokan Reservoir is an engineering marvel started in 1915 to supply fresh mountain water to New York City faucets. It contains over 122.9 billion gallons of water, is 190 feet deep at the deepest point, spans 8,300 acres and covers at least six former towns that were drowned or relocated so that New Yorkers could drink fresh water. Along the banks, there is a short bike trail and a closed-off service road that together stretch about 2.5 miles providing unobstructed views of the high Catskill peaks. It’s “mud season” now, yet there is still snow on the hilltops.
In the driveway this morning, after pulling Eli’s bike out of the shed, we raised the seat, oiled the chain and inflated the tires. We were set to go. After classes let out and we picked up a quick bite to eat and a warm coffee for dad, we unloaded our bikes at the reservoir parking area and took off along the paved bikeway. I was impressed from the beginning how much stronger my son is on the bike this season. Gone are the tiny legs and whiny complaints. As we pedaled along at speeds that ranged from 10-18 miles per hour, I could see the cycling peer inside him beginning to emerge.
As on most long rides, our conversation jumped from cycling to family to all sorts of other random things. At one point, Eli observed that cycling is so great because it is three things in one:
1. Energy-efficient transportation
2. Great exercise
The Ashokan Reservoir is also a Bald Eagle nesting area. In 44 years, I’ve never seen a Bald Eagle that wasn’t in a zoo, a TV commercial or on some form of currency. This day was going to be different. As Eli and I climbed a short grade among a tall stand of pines, we saw a small group of people looking skyward. We glanced up to see a majestic adult eagle looking out across the water from the top of a tall dead tree. It took our breath away.
After seeing the eagle, Eli added a fourth reason to his list:
4. Biking is an amazing way to see the world around you.
In all, we did two laps of the bikeway totaling 11 miles. We rested a few times, watched the eagle on three of our passes and dined on Clif bars and water. Children in the 9-11 year age group, like Eli, need to log rides of at least 10 miles to qualify. Older children must ride longer. When we got home, Eli was relentless in his desire to complete the TGO registration forms and submit today’s mileage.
As Eli and I talked about the exciting rides that lie ahead, my 12-year old daughter Izzy popped her head into the room to announce that, “EVERYTHING THAT HAS ANYTHING TO DO WITH A BICYCLE IS STUPID. I CAN’T BELIEVE HE HAS YOU BRAINWASHED!” Oh well, one out of two ain’t bad. She has her own countless gifts. They just don’t involve bicycles.
Next time we’ll shoot for 20 miles. In addition, we’re working on handling skills like holding a line and braking quickly so we can take this activity onto the open roads. I’ll always remember the look in Eli’s eyes as he looked over to me and said out of the blue, “I’m so lucky I’m your son. You can teach me how to bike like a pro.” Whether or not the last part is true, he sure set the bar high for me as I hope the bike challenge has for him.