Each year the Young Men’s organization in my LDS ward organizes the “high-adventure activity”, which is some extra-challenging expedition to a river, a beach, or a mountain. This is a speculative endeavor because we do things that normally only “fit” people do, like biking, canoeing or backpacking, but with our actual bodies, which are more suited to specialized functions such as punching keys on a keyboard or remote control, or for the young guys, a game controller thingy. But, for this one week each year, we scale mountains, ride rapids, or glide down highways wearing only Styrofoam.
The “High Adventure” is always adventurous, even though we are church-goers who attempt these feats without the aid of alcohol, because it involves males from ages 14 to 60, which is well before the age when the frontal lobe in human males matures and responsible judgment is possible.
Last August, for example, we canoed 100 miles of the treacherous Willamette River, which in the summer is not known for dangerous currents. However, two male priesthood brethren found, within sixty minutes of putting our boats in the water on the very first day, the only rapid anywhere on this river, and, given the choice of two forks in the river, naturally chose the one that would dump their bodies into the churning water and fold their canoe around a tree.
I thought this was pretty funny, and I confess I ribbed those guys a little. Meanwhile my son Chad and I carefully and responsibly piloted our canoe safely for the first day, until that got pretty boring. On the second day I paid attention to my fishing lines long enough to tip the canoe over. After that I was back to being responsible for the remainder of the journey, because I had lost my fishing poles and there was nothing better to do.
So here we are one year later, and the Adventure this year is a five-day, 150-mile bicycle trip on the San Juan islands, which are somewhere in the ocean of Washington state. It is a long-standing tradition, and the group has gone there every third year for the last fifteen years.
This will be my first time, however. I am told we will carry all our gear on the bikes, travelling mountainous coastal roads, ferrying from island to island, and camping in picturesque sites.
I’m also told I better get my fat old body in shape or I will suffer painfully and publicly.
I don’t want to put my son through that, so I bought a bike and have been doing a little cycling this spring. I will be much more prepared than I was when Wendy’s family did their first bike trip fifteen years ago, during which the bicycle seat willfully and repeatedly assaulted me in the most tender and sensitive places.
Last week my family camped at the coast and I brought the bike along so I could get a little more practice. Fifteen miles from the campground to the beach should be a good practice. The family went ahead in the Suburban. I passed up several “last call” opportunities where Wendy called, volunteering to come back and pick me up, saying things like “are you sure, this hill is two miles straight up?”
I bravely told her not to worry, and prepared to mount up. Apparently I forgot to pack my helmet, so I put on a hat to protect me from sunburn. Then my belly and I mounted the bike and headed out of the campground.
I was pretty much exhausted by the time I reached highway 101, less than one mile from the campground. It had been too many weeks. The road was hilly, and the wind was blowing against me.
When I reached the base of the first hill, it was time to pull off for a snack. This was going to be slow going. I surveyed the hill while I munched on unsalted nuts and dried fruits (very healthy, don’t you think? I won’t tell you how often I eat that way). Hmm. Steep hill, breezy day, narrow road, fast traffic, no helmet. What could possibly go wrong?
Then up I went. I was riding right into the wind, as well as uphill, which I thought was a little unfair. My hat was flipping around in the breeze and I thought I might lose it. It’s a manly chapeau in the style of “fishing hat”, with a brim that is identical all the way around all 360 degrees. Same hat I wore on last year’s canoe trip, actually. Good sun protection, but quite the sail in this wind.
So I pulled the hat down tight in front, and took on the challenge. I ascended that hill one inch at a time, one revolution at a time.
Occasionally I saw pairs of bicyclists in shiny Lycra suits, zipping down the hill southward. I had a sweatshirt, denim pants, and office shoes. They had rear-view mirrors mounted on the helmets. My bike has a rear-view mirror mounted on the handlebar, which is really cool. They had matching helmets and gloves. I had a fishing hat, and my right hand was going numb. They were carrying nothing, but I was carrying my belly.
They cast a glance my direction, and I’m sure gave me due respect as I lumbered up the hill in the lowest gear, with my big saddlebags, which they could not have known were totally empty.
Then, that blessed moment. After two miles of climbing, I reached the top of the first breezy hill with the hat safely secured. It was time to enjoy the fruits of my labor. I pulled the hat down again, and upshifted as the road leveled out and began descending.
As my speed built, the hat was talking to me: wippa wappa, flippa flappa. Wow – this is going to be fast. I’m not even to the steep part yet. I really don’t want to lose this hat.
I utilized my rear-view mirror to check out the traffic situation behind me. Going uphill, when the cars were passing me at 50 mph to my one mph, it was easy to stay at the edge of the road and cycle over pinecones and sticks. If I’m going to be going fast down this hill, I don’t want to be riding through that garbage.
All was clear, so I pulled out into the middle of the lane, where cars would be most likely to see me early and wait for a safe place to pass. Luckily the curvy road had warning signs keeping the cars to under 45 mph. I would slow the traffic down a little, but not much.
My speed was building, as was my adrenaline. These curves were a little daunting. I gripped the handles tightly, and felt all the muscles tightening from my fingertips to my eyebrows. This was scary in an exciting sort of way, like an amusement park ride or an intense thriller movie. I have no problems as long as the two wheels stay under me.
I was in top gear, but not applying any effort to the downhill ride.. The hat was now rattling like a flag in a hurricane: wippity wappity flippity flappity.
Here comes another pair of matching sissies southbound up the hill. And look at me, just relaxing. OK John, time to dig in and get some exercise along with the thrill ride. I hunker down to lower my wind profile and put some force on the pedals.
Wippity wappity FLAP!
Suddenly everything went dark. My hat was now silent. Instead of flapping in the breeze, its brim was now wrapped around my face like I’m a blindfolded kid getting ready to whack a piñata.
Straining my eyeballs downward, I could see through a slight opening next to my nose. I could only see the pavement directly below my bicycle.
At 40 miles per hour, cars in front and back, I had a death grip on the handlebars and no visibility to the front. However, I could, in my rear-view mirror, see the semi truck behind me.
I’m the piñata, actually. Did I mention I wasn’t wearing a helmet?
I peeled my left fingers off the handlebar and quickly pushed up my hat. Thank Heaven! The cars ahead of me were pulling away, and as a nice added benefit, I was still on the right side of the road. And I now had one eyeball free of the face-sucking hat.
Now I was John the Pirate Bicycler. The brim of my hat was down on the right, up on the left. Without any depth-perception, I carefully applied the brakes and pulled gently into the sticks and pinecones. The trucks and cars sped up and passed me by.
I took off the hat and breathed for a moment. Two eyes are twice as good.
I looked at the remaining hill, and the traffic. I considered the breeze and the sun. I folded the front brim of the hat inside, pulled it back on my head, and my belly and me got back on the road.
I love that hat.