So when we told the children we would be taking a "really long bike ride" during Spring break, they had no idea that we actually meant, "really long".
"Like longer than riding to school?', they asked.
You mean the school that is a mile away?
"Uh, yes. Longer than that."
"Will it take an hour?"
"Yep, probably," we told them.
It was almost unfathomable!!
Now, I have never, in one continuous ride, covered over 20 miles, let alone 40, so I knew I was asking a lot of the kids. Nonetheless, we came armed with our best positive parent attitudes (which are often left at home once the morning kid wrangling is done), and ended up having one of our best, and most memorable family outings, as well as accomplishing something Lee and I have always wanted to do with them.
What did I learn? A few universal truths, is all.
I believe this needs no explanation. Suffice it say that sometimes in life you just need a little bribe to keep on going- a little incentive. My backpack was stuffed with fun packs of motivation. I remember when I was 14 that my Sunday School teacher literally bribed us with full size candy bars each week to come to class and sit and listen. It worked. Seriously, bribery has a place. And one of those places is on a 40 mile bike ride when your 9 year old has a bad case of the whines.
2) Stop and play on the rings and ropes in Santa Monica.
We had a schedule to keep. We really had to keep moving. BUT- the kids love to stop at the rings ropes, bars and swings by the pier. So we did. We burned about 30 minutes there, and it was time well spent. Those 30 minutes bought us elevated spirits for at least another 5 miles- well worth the delay. Kind of like an afternoon nap, really.
3) Don't get stuck in the muddle of Venice Beach.
For some reason, people just love Venice Beach, but as far as I can tell, it's mostly homeless, drug addicts, failed artists, lousy street performers and washed-up beach bums. Plus it reeks of urine. There is so much going on there- so many people, winding pathways, dozens of outdoor vendors, belligerent "locals" who have commandeered the parks- that it's easy to get confused or sidetracked. If you don't keep your goal, which is to get out of Venice Beach as soon as possible, you could get sucked into that mess and lose your whole day. So many better beaches than Venice Beach. It's a shame some people will never realize that. (And yes- that was meant to be metaphorical :))
4) Know when to ignore your 9 year old.
A few hundred yards into Manhattan Beach, Derek almost convinced me that he was on the verge of death and that if I didn't stop and take care of him, he would most certainly die a painful and most egregious ending, all because of me. Once I ascertained that he wasn't sick or injured, but merely sick of riding, I let him know that he was welcome to join us or stay put on the sand and complain all day long, but I wasn't going to be his cheerleader for much longer. At that point, when the whining commenced once more, I rode off so I couldn't hear him any more; I wanted to enjoy the ride! By the time we hit Hermosa beach, he was back up with us ( biking miracle!), recovered from his ailments, and the worst was over.
5) A good meal and some rest can work miracles.
By the time we made it to Redondo Beach, after a solid 20 miles, the kids were spent. The boys, especially, where a hot mess. It was so bad, it was comical. They truly believed that we were NEVER going to stop, never going to eat, and that we were the meanest, most boring parents in the world! But alas! Ruby's diner, a few cheeseburgers, a couple baskets of fries and a nice rest turned the bike ride into fun, mom and dad into the nicest parents in the world, and suddenly the world was rosy again. Miracles!
6) It's mostly mental.
The kids are in pretty good shape; they're active and strong and are used to doing physical things. That said- we weren't sure they had the stamina to make it all the way back. After lunch, we told them to do the best they could, and that if needed, Dad could ride back to the car and come pick us up. They took it as a challenge and they were off like a shot. We broke up the ride into 7 "stages", with each major beach being a stage, and by the time we reached "stage 4" which is what we affectionately call "Susie's Beach" (Playa Del Rey), I knew they would make it. By that time, Carissa was so far ahead of us, we didn't see her until she waited at a busy street before Venice. The difference, I know, was all mental- what had been drudgery on the way there became something to be conquered and mastered. Would that they could approach their future obstacles like this.
And above all:
7) When the wind blows in your face and you're going up a hill at mile 38, dig a little deeper, put your head down and pedal.
Why must there always be a headwind during the last few miles? There are almost no hills to speak of on this bike path, except for the last stretch between Santa Monica and Will Rogers State Beach- and they hurt! Grayson was riding with me at this point. He had chased down his older brother and sister and passed them just after the pier and was elated to be in 1st place. There was such a short distance left- but his legs hurt, his rear end hurt, and his hands were raw from gripping. To watch him pedal as fast as he could up the little hills was almost inspiring, knowing how tired he was and that he is only 7. To see our entire family, including a toddler who sat patiently all day in her little seat, finish the ride and make it to the car together was a proud moment. I was impressed and pleased that they had chosen to go all the way back, even though I wouldn't have blamed them if they had stopped. This was a moment that I believe brought us a little closer- knowing that seemingly impossible things can be accomplished, especially when you have your family to help you along.
8) And- even in the midst of triumph, your kids are going to fight.
Yeah- they did. I admit it. In the car. On the way home. Oh well, no family is perfect.