Monday, April 03, 2006

Cycling Merit Badge

Last Saturday my son, Michael, and I participated in a minor bike-hike as part of Michael's quest for the elusive Cycling Merit Badge. He has already gone on a 10 mile bike hike followed by overnight campout, and this event was to be a 15 mile bike hike followed by overnight campout, but the Athens Marathon was scheduled to run on the bike trail on Sunday morning, so the overnight part of the outing was cancelled. There will be another 15 mile trek in a month or so, followed by a 50 miler (!). Since I love cycling--and have the buttocks to prove it--I expect I will accompany the troop on all of these outings.

This particular outing was not at all bad, considering the time of year. The weather here is relatively warm this time of year, and although the skies were threatening all day it never rained, and the cloud cover kept things cool for those of us who were pedalling hard.

Not everyone was pedalling hard. My own preference, since I am someone who uses cycling as exercise, is to cruise at about 18-20 mph; these kids seemed to prefer something between 8 and 13 mph. The explanation lies in the manner in which they ride. For me, riding is an exhilarating dash through the beautiful countryside of Athens county; for them, it is like performing in a circus. Many of the boys were riding trick cycles, with axle posts and tiny little wheels that required them to pedal about 50 revolutions just to move forward ten feet. But they could accomplish this while standing on the seat of the cycle, or while flying through the air turning their bikes around through 360 degrees. Many of them were riding off-road cycles, and it was clear that they didn't want to leave anyone with the impression that they didn't know what kind of bike they were riding, since they took them off the trail as often as possible. It was not long before some of them were carrying a greater weight in the form of mud on their tires than they had in their backpacks. On those rare occasions when they actually were on the trail, that mud would dry and come flying off into the faces of those following too closely behind.

When we were about 12 miles out from Athens we stopped to climb one of the many ridges that comprise the piedmont of this beautiful region. According to our handy-dandy Scout-approved topographical maps, the top of the ridge was 264 feet above the level of the bike trail. That doesn't sound like much and, indeed, it didn't really look like all that much either, but I'm not exaggerating when I say that it was a climb virtually straight up into the air. Old farts with big thigh muscles may not have much trouble keeping up on a bike, since kids, for all their youth, simply don't have the muscle mass to drive a chain for very long. But when it comes to climbing up a hill, where short bursts of extreme strength are required, well, let's just say that I was not the first one up the ridge. At one point I was reduced to literally pulling myself up the hill with the aid of an old tree that had fallen in such a way as to lie straight up the incline. I used it like a kind of handrail, though the slope was such that it seemed more like rappelling than climbing.

Having said all that, I must say that in the end the exertion was well worth it, because the view was absolutely spectacular. Because the trees have not yet sprouted their new growth you could see out through the foliage to the Hocking River valley below, and the view extended for what looked like about 8 miles down the course of the river.

Although I had been one of the last ones up the ridge, I was the first one back to the parking lot after the ride home: kids these days just don't have the stamina. Or maybe they burn up all their potential stamina by wrestling with each other on every rest stop. Or by standing on their hands while they ride their bikes. Whatever the explanation, I was not the only exhausted biker sprawling in the living room that evening: Michael went to bed earlier than me for the first time in months.

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