Parenting by Bike

I’ve been a parent for almost 11 years now, but I’m still surprised at how big, important moments come out of nowhere. Sure, a lot of big, important moments are carefully scheduled (somehow, my calendar shows me attending Julia’s fifth-grade graduation ceremony on Tuesday!), but many aren’t. This morning, for instance, I casually mentioned the idea of going with one or both girls over to the new singletrack bike trails at Sechler Park, a short but challenging few miles of track that Cannon River Offroad Cycling and Trails, our local MTB club, built last year.

Having spent hours and hours on the trails in the fall, over the winter, and now this spring, I’ve cut my crashing down from “constant” to “occasional,” which led me to think that the girls might be able to handle many of the trails – especially the “front” section nearest town and the doubletrack “road” along the river in the back.

Vivi was busy today with her BFF, but lo and behold, Julia got very excited by the idea, and so off we went. She was stoked to have a real water bottle in the cage of her new (to her) bike and to wear a pair of my bike gloves. I could barely keep in front of her on the couple-mile ride through town to the trails. When we arrived at the trailhead, I gave her a few pointers, reassured her that she could and should walk any sections that seemed too tricky, and told her I was so happy that she’d even been interested in coming out. I left unsaid that I was bubbling over with excitement at having one of my kids sharing one of my favorite activities with me.

Then we hit the trails. Though the first stretch of trails – from the trailhead to the baseball fields in the middle of Sechler – is almost entirely flat, the track is very tight, with many sharp corners, innumerable spots where there trees are just slightly wider than a rider’s elbows, and a good number of technical features like log bumps and bridges. I am myself the furthest thing from smooth on this section, but I can ride it pretty cleanly now.

On her first try, Julia rode these trails pretty much as cleanly as I do after hours of practice – railing the corners, riding easily over some low obstacles, crossing the bridges without a thought, and intuitively pedaling hard up some steep bits. She did, wisely, dismount for some of the bigger obstacles, but she handled everything else with aplomb – and maybe a few shrieks.

After negotiating the front section, we rode the doubletrack out to the far end of the park, rested for a bit (and talked about how old she’ll have to be to ride in the 100-mile Almanzo gravel race), and then headed back to the start. After a quick break for fizzy water and granola bars from the gas station, we did the whole route a second time. She crushed it again:

Crushing the Singletrack
Crushing the Singletrack

More than once, I was riding ahead of her at a reasonably quick pace, turned to see where she was, and found her right on my wheel, looking for all the world like she was about to make a pass and drop me like a brick. As we neared the end of our second circuit, I sped up so I could get a picture of her hitting the bridge near the trailhead. I rode away fast, but still barely had time to dig out my phone before she cruised through the trees, effortlessly glided up the ramp onto the bridge, rolled over the bouncy little span, dropped back onto the dirt, and whipped past me.

Crossing the Bridge
Crossing the Bridge

It was just a bike ride, but it felt like a big, important bike ride. I can’t wait to take her back there again soon, and to take Vivi along, too.

Great Plains: Americas Lingering Wild

I just finished reading this amazing book – Great Plains: Americas Lingering Wild.
Forsberg, Great Plans

The Nebraska-based photographer Michael Forsberg thought up the idea for the book and filled it with dozens and dozens of exceptional shots of prairies from Minnesota to Montana, North Dakota to New Mexico – plants, animals, people, and especially the land itself.

Buffalo at the Buffalo Gap

Forsberg’s photographs are complemented by short essays by geographer Davis Wishart and natural historian Dan O’Brien, whose eloquence and erudition complement Forsberg’s artistry. Loss is an explicit theme in O’Brien’s writing, an implicit one in Wishart’s – the decline and death of countless plant and animal species, the near-extermination of the grassland’s original Native inhabitants, the continuing erosion (literal and figurative) of all three kinds of prairie…

Yet as O’Brien comes to realize through his work with Forsberg, denizens of the plains do have some reasons for optimism. Arguably, we are now experiencing a moment when more people than ever before are interested in "saving" the prairies as ecosystems, as homes for myriad living creatures, and as colossally beautiful places. Reading this book makes me – an immigrant to the prairie – want to do more to save it and expand it and love it.

Driving the Ice Cream Truck

Ice Cream Truck on the Hill
Ice Cream Truck on the Hill

I had to leave the Buffalo at the shop for a week while a defective part was replaced, which would have sucked except that a) the part was warrantied, and Tom, my LBS guy, only charged me for the labor needed to install the new part, and b) Tom let me use his shop bike, a Surly Ice Cream Truck, while the Buffalo was fixed.

The Ice Cream Truck is a wonderfully crazy machine: trail-ready frame geometry, candy-blue paint, and most importantly, massive 5″ tires. The ICT was loud and slow on pavement and sidewalks, but on any other surface – grass, dirt, sand, gravel – the bike took off. It was a rocket on straightaways, but really showed off in corners and on sharp ups and downs. Riding this thing, I easily railed tight, loose corners in the local singletrack park and rolled joyfully up and down steep banks – technical stuff that I could not handle on the Buffalo. For the first time, I could see how frame size and geometry could really make a difference in riding experience – a fact that I knew, but had never really experienced.

Ice Cream Truck at the Construction Site
Ice Cream Truck at the Construction Site

In short, I had a blast riding this bike. I was almost (almost) sad to give it up on Friday when the Buffalo was fixed, but I was also eager to take the Mukluk – with its expedition geometry – back to the singletrack to see if any of my new skills translated to the bigger, less nimble bike.

Science Rocks!

Julia’s fifth-grade classes are doing their “Science Rocks” musical this week: a set of songs about science, accompanied by some dialogue, a few short skits, and even a little dancing.

Julia at Science Rocks
Julia at Science Rocks

I went to see the big show on Wednesday morning, and found the whole production very entertaining and educational. The kids were really into it, which was funny and inspiring in its own right. Dedicating hours and hours to songs about the elements and genetics? Brilliant!

Spring Thursday

Today was just one of those days that went right. Perfect weather. Lots, but not too much, to do at work – including doing off a few to-dos that had been to for too long. A hard workout at noon. Some Carleton silliness: free root-beer floats at the library.

Root Beer Float Line
Root Beer Float Line

A task at the end of the day that turned out to be easier than I thought. Wonderful floral smells in the humid spring air. A great bike ride home, seeing a half-dozen friends and acquaintances and met a new fatbike. A gorgeous sunset. A pleasant few minutes with the girls when they got home, jazzed up, from tae kwon do. Now, a good new book to read and a delicious beer…

Vivi Poetry

Genevieve made a whole bunch of birthday presents for me, and probably enjoyed watching me open them as much as she had enjoyed making them. What a kid. Though they were all good (and though getting a $5 bill from your daughter is a little weird…), the best one by far was a book of poems she’d written over the week before my birthday – one per day. Here are two. Amazing.

“The bright that comes from the blue”
The Bright poem

 

“Life”

Life poem

Tae Kwon Grow

Tonight, the girls started a new session at tae kwon do by moving up to the advanced class. As green belts, they had been the most advanced students in their beginner class. Now they’re the beginnerest – and youngest and shortest – students in the advanced class.

Both girls were a little nervous about the class as we drove over, but both settled right in. The class was much more intense and athletic than the beginner class had been, so they were both pink-cheeked and sweaty by the halfway mark, when they guzzled half the water in their bottles. In short, they crushed it. I can’t wait to see how much progress they make this session!

Advanced Session
Advanced Session

This being Northfield, at least two of the kids in the class are children of faculty members with whom I’ve worked at Carleton, and one of those girls was Julia’s “big buddy” back when she was in second grade.

Best of April Fools Day 2015

No matter what John Oliver says, April Fools Day is great, especially in the Age of the Internet and especially, I think, in Northfield, which is full of people who enjoy staging pranks and who enjoy hearing about them. Here are a few of my favorite AF jokes from 2015. I’m not sure which I enjoyed more – appreciating their creativity or watching fools fall for them.

General

com.Google

Wisconsin Citizens for the Renaming of Lake Michigan to Lake Wisconsin (especially good for fools)

National Air and Space Museum Puts Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet on Display

Academia

Smith College Quad Monorail Construction To Begin Next Year for The Frontier

Houghton College to Become First College in Nation to Construct $84 Million Bio-dome over Main Campus

Cycling

Pearl Izumi Releases the Fat Bike Bandolier CO2 Carrier

USA Cycling to Organize National Gravel Series, Regular Gravel Racing and Bikes (also especially good for fools)

Northfield

Goodbye Blue Monday Coffee House to open second location

City to Consolidate Library Expansion and Skateboard Park Projects

Announcing CarlCat! Cats now available for checkout at the library

Fortunes

Like you do, Vivi spent a good half hour the other night writing fortunes for fortune cookies. Her cursive script is excellent, and her sense of cookie fortune absurdity is top notch.

Be an advertiser that constantly says, “50% Fewer calories.”

Salt and/or pepper will invade your life.

Grow up to be like Aunt Jemima.

Make a dent is a dead bird’s beak.

Chip your tooth on a barb wire.

Develop a sack-racing obsession.

Pinocchio will take you to Kokaki land.

Work in a factory that makes butter.

An evil magicians will steal your hairbrush.

Smash a tulip.

EVERYBODY DANCE NOW!

Fortunes
Fortunes

Magick

Vivi’s latest passion is magic tricks. I blame the library, as usual – all those books, full of interesting ideas and projects. A couple of the tricks in the first book she checked out were pretty easy to see through. Surprisingly, she wasn’t disappointed when I could tell how she did them.

One trick flabbergasted me, though. She put a different Matchbox car in each of these bags and had me shuffle them, turn them, stand them up, or lay them down the bags. No matter what I did, she could always tell which bag held a certain car. It was literally incredible. Though I knew intuitively that she had somehow marked the bags, I needed an embarrassingly long time to figure out what she was doing – and even then, she was delighted to have tricked me for so long.

Magic Bags
Magic Bags