The last week has been a bit of a whirlwind. We covered a lot of ground, thanks to a support vehicle service offered by Grandpa that enabled us to bike unencumbered uphill for five days. We rode the distance of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and enjoyed seeing seemingly untouched parts of countryside (with the exception of the rail trail, of course).
We were continually in awe of the physical labor that must have been required to dig out or build up the rail grade, in the middle of such rugged terrain at a time with so little technological assistance. The GAP is still well-traveled by other cyclists this far into October, and it was heartening to be around others who “get” us and what we are doing. While the days’ riding durations were long, the nights cold, and the daylight hours diminishing, there were a lot of family moments I want to be sure to remember:
- A few days prior to reaching the GAP we were riding on another rail trail in perfect weather, seeking a trailside campsite for our night’s rest. Team Eleanor was chugging along in front (for whatever reason, Eleanor’s stokers do best ahead of Frank, and Frank’s stokers do best with a rabbit to chase), planning to meet up with Frank at the campsite. Suddenly, a loud, little girl cackle erupted behind us, signaling the unexpected arrival of Team Frank. Eleanor’s stokers were not willing to be left in the dust and a family bike race ensued all the way to the campsite, replete with laughter and good-natured teasing.
- Otter’s birthday was delightful. Grandpa’s arrival on his day was a gift unto itself. Add to that the novelty of eating at a restaurant chain that condones peanut shell waste on the floor, and you have four relaxed and happy kids. The gifts from his siblings is the part that melted my heart. I never suggested they give him anything, since they have little independent accessibility to shopping, and we have little capacity for more stuff. Lil’ Mo gave him, completely of her own accord, one of her surviving (and intact) Fourth of July necklaces. If you know how attached she is to all of her ‘fancies’, then you know how big of an act this was. Tango gave him his share of the found-toy car they were formerly sharing 50/50. Sissy made a card and filled it with horse jokes. Otter was clearly touched by all the attention and thought, which warmed my heart further.
- The family bike race mentioned earlier paved the way for racing trains later. At times, the prolonged uphill path would get tiresome, but at the first sound of a train all the kids energized to try to out-pedal it. The train may have four engines pulling it, but we had six, and no load! Seemed reasonable. Sadly, we always lost the races, but we consoled ourselves, in between gasps for air, with how long we delayed the train from passing us.
- One day as we were riding, it occurred to me that three kids have loose teeth. Otter has a bad habit of retaining loose teeth well past their expiration date (and currently has one still in place despite its replacement’s full presence behind it), but he is always keenly aware of and motivated by money-making opportunities. A light bulb went off and I informed the kids that I had worked out a deal with the Tooth Fairy to offer a bonus payout for the next tooth pulled. Surely that would light a fire in Otter’s mouth to get Snaggle Tooth out? Minutes later we pulled over so I could take a picture (below). As I snapped the photo Tango loudly announced that Sissy pulled out a tooth. Otter immediately started negotiating a bonus deal for the next tooth pulled, certain he would be the beneficiary of that deal with time on his side since Sissy just pulled out one. The very next day she pulled out her last baby tooth. Otter has gone back to complacent tooth turnover….
- A funny moment occurred as we rounded the corner of a bridge. Old Man’s bike seat fell off Frank. The bolt had sheared. Blessedly, there was a hardware store only a half mile away, so Old Man rode to it (solo and without sitting down!) to replace the bolt as the five of us teased and harassed him mercilessly about his predicament.
- At our most recent campsite there was the ruins of a kid fort. Once our kids discovered it, there was no other occupation for them than to bring it back to its former glory. They found new sticks to reinforce the structure, thatched the roof, and even furnished it with a leaf bed and a tree stump table and stool set. All four of them were so contentedly occupied with it that I began to wonder why we ever buy them toys when they find so many natural ways to entertain themselves.
- We are now on the C&O Trail. The condition of the trail itself is inconsistent and is not nearly as well-maintained as the GAP, which in addition to our resumed cargo load has made for slow progress since we parted ways with Grandpa. One thing the C&O trail has over the GAP is the well-distributed abundance of campsites and porta-potties. The kids have now taken to rating the condition of each porta-potty they use. The first kid loudly announces the number of stars out of ten and each subsequent user voices his or her rating after exiting the unit, and they compare notes on the qualifications for the ratings. I’ll spare you the rating criteria, but happily report that no porta-potty has yet rated below eight stars.
- The C&O Trail has detours in a variety of places. One of which proved too difficult for us to abide. The Paw Paw Tunnel Hill Trail is strenuous and steep per the sign, but also narrow and rocky from Old Man’s scouting assessment. Passing hikers doubted our trailers would clear the jutting rocks and said that unloaded single cyclists have been known to take over an hour surmounting the two-mile trail. Triple tandems, with gear and trailers? No way. We had no cell coverage for the day leading up to the tunnel, so had no means of routing around it other than the paper map that showed no return river crossing from the unknowns of West Virginia for 30 miles, and we needed food for lunch that day, not to mention assurance of 8+ star rating porta-potty access along the way…. All that was left for us to do was to figure out how to surmount the three barriers along the construction path. Thankfully, it was the weekend, so no construction workers were present, thereby enabling us to pursue our delinquency, and each subsequent barrier was less convicted to deter us. This can be viewed as an episode in shameless rule-breaking or a remarkable team exercise at problem-solving. We choose the latter.
We continue to be blessed with time and opportunity for making these family memories, and we are grateful for it. However, in the spirit of full transparency, I assure you we do have plenty of non-Hallmark moments on a daily basis. Bad days and annoyances occur in this lifestyle as much as any other, they just make for less interesting blog posts… but they do make these happier moments all the sweeter. Onto another week of unknown gifts and opportunities.