Of course it was raining when I woke up. No gentle shower, this was a full-on thunderstorm. This was not a welcome development on the day that J. and I were doing our long-awaited Katy Trail overnight, the trip that had finally spurred some bike enthusiasm in my (team) sports-mad son. Checking my clock, I saw 6:40 a.m. and smiled in relief. With an hour an a half left before I had to get up, I rolled over and went back to sleep hoping to wake to better weather.
Unfortunately, Jeff City was having the same kind of morning we were with possibilities for more showers later. Pretty sure I’d done all of our preparations in vain, I gave J the choice of taking our chances and going or rescheduling. He surprised me and opted to go, and we eventually pulled out of town a good two hours later than I’d planned. No worries, though…the only deadline on our schedule was finishing our ride before dark.
Before setting off, we met up with Bob, Luke, and Luke’s family for Chinese, where our extended stay reminded me of one of my favorite comedy bits.
It wasn’t quite four hours, but we definitely took our time, and J most certainly got our money’s worth at the chocolate fountain.
J. filled water bottles and found frogs while I assembled our borrowed trailer and loaded it with way too much stuff. My main goal for the trip was for him to have fun, so (within reason) I let him bring pretty much what he wanted. That meant in addition to our sleeping bags, a change of clothes, and toothbrushes, I was also packing playing cards, Mancala, a small art kit, chips & salsa, and a portable DVD player. While I wasn’t too enthused about the DVD player, I’ll also admit that later that evening, after approximately 50,000 games of Jelly (his favorite card game) and Mancala, I was glad to cuddle up next to him and read while he watched Spongebob.
I’d told J that we had to ride 10 miles to the Katy Trail shelter, but the distance was actually 12. Hoping to just sneak that fact by him until announcing at the finish, “Guess what? You actually rode 12 miles“, I was foiled by his repeated requests for our mileage. When at 4 miles he was excited to be almost halfway there, I finally admitted that we still had two miles to the midpoint. He took the news cheerfully and kept riding.
The trip was even better than I’d let myself imagine. J loved the wide, flat expanse of the Katy Trail, and over and over he repeated, “This is so fun! I didn’t know it would be so fun! I’m definitely going to want to do this again!” His ride satisfaction index took an even bigger jump with the discovery that he could ride one-handed, and a large portion of our miles were passed measuring how far he could ride one-handed, admiring how he could adjust his seat cover (which was too big and kept slipping) while riding, and watching while he took a drink without stopping the bike.
Of course, this new ability was a bit of a double-edged sword. After photographing a turtle we saw, he wanted to take a few of me (a true blogger’s son). Not satisfied with standing still, he also wanted to take some pictures while riding. I wasn’t enthusiastic about this plan, but I try not to let my fears get in the way of my kids. He did pretty well taking pictures in front of him, but pointing the camera behind him was another story. He got a lot of pictures of the ground or blurry leaves. Snap…check…”That’s no good”…snap…check…”That’s no good”…snap…check…”Well, I got your hand…”
In the midst of all the snapping and checking, he rode right into my bike. Trying to avoid him, I veered off the trail, but he still fell over. Lying there on the ground, the first words out of his mouth were, “Are you ok, Mommy?” Talk about melting your heart! We rinsed the blood off his knee with one of the water bottles and then rode on until we found a good stopping point for the break I’d been putting off for a while.
I tend to be a destination-focused person, and I knew going in that this trip needed to be about the journey. If J wanted to stop 15 times, we’d stop. This was about having a good time with my little boy. This was a good theory, but putting it into practice was a mixed bag. When he wanted to stop in this sun not a mile in, I suggested we go a little further: “Let’s make it to two miles before we stop.” Another favorite was “Let’s make it to that next shady spot before we stop, and when he fell we were in the process of “There’s a town called Wainwright right around the halfway point…maybe there’ll be a bench or something where we can stop there…maybe it’s just around this curve…or this one…” We’d already made a few quick stops, but after his fall we took a longer break, sitting on the trail, eating a snack, and playing a few games of Mancala.
I’d heard the trail was in somewhat rough shape after all the recent rain, but it was great for the most part. There were a couple of treacherous driveways in the second half of our ride. I warned him as we neared them to slow down and be careful as he crossed, but in both cases he went barrelling through probably the worst possible line. If the ruts had been any wider he might have experienced his first endo.
J’s previous long ride had been 9 miles, but he rode our 12 like a champ. Nearing Tebbets, he told me, “I’m going to have to crash on one of those bunk beds for a while,” but when we made it to the shelter he was way too excited about exploring to sit down. While I unloaded the trailer, brought the bikes into the bike room, and fired up a couple window a/c units, he did eenie-meenie-minie-mo to choose our beds from the 22 possible bunks and then checked out the upstairs.
“I thought it would be nicer,” he remarked. A great resource to have (and at $5/person, hard to beat pricewise), the Turner Katy Trail Shelter is definitely low-frills. As I explained to some friends, it’s much like camping inside, with power, a/c, a refrigerator, showers, and flush toilets. I can set up a tent, but I’m not great with fire-building or some of the things that go along with camping, so for me this was a great option.
On the other hand, it’s available for anyone to use. The key hangs on a power pole next to the building because, though owned by the Conservation Foundation of Missouri, the shelter is basically run on the honor system and there are no hosts or supervisors on site. Once J fell asleep and I was lying in my bunk reading, I definitely felt a little vulnerable and nervous about all the sounds an old building makes. I’m not sure if it would have been weirder or better if someone else had been staying at the same time as us, but I know I’d have felt more comfortable with other friends there. Still, you can’t live your life ruled by fear, and I’ve always found the Katy Trail to be a safe, friendly place. Thankfully that held true for this trip.
Having stayed up reading til 2 a.m., I wasn’t too excited to see my child’s smiling face at 6:30. I held him off til 7:30 (thank you, Spongebob) before giving in and getting up. I wasn’t in a big hurry since we had nowhere to be, so we ended up packed up and on our way around 9. Far from being worn out from the previous day’s ride, after doing the jobs I’d given him, J spent the rest of my preparations riding his bike back and forth on the road in front of the shelter.
We stopped to get his picture by the Tebbets trailhead, and a man who lived across the street came over to take our picture together. When I mentioned that we’d stayed at the shelter, he told me the Carl Edwards stays there sometimes. I must’ve looked blank, because he explained, “You know, the race car driver? He owns land around here.”
Our ride back was pretty uneventful. J took slightly better lines through one rut and then intentionally rode the worst part of the other. More one-handed riding, interspersed with his efforts to lift his front wheel (he’s getting better). We saw far more bikes than we had the previous day (17 as compared to 2) and acted out the three billy goats gruff as we crossed over the 8 bridges on the way back.
He was definitely a little less peppy than the previous day, but we took longer breaks at mile 6 and planned a stop at mile 9, but we passed the ninth mile without him saying anything and so kept riding until we were close to 10 before he asked how far we’d gone. Towel spread on the ground and snacks out, he was all set for a longer break and had just asked if we could play Mancala when his coach sent a text that they were going to have an extra practice at 3:00. J wanted to be at practice on time, so this gave him some incentive to get going again, and before we knew it we were back at the car.
All in all, it was a wonderful trip, truly better than I could have expected. It’s been fun gaining a new bike buddy, seeing his confidence grow, and having some new adventures together, but the best part of riding bikes together is just the shared time. When you’re on a bike, really all you can do is ride, so there are no distractions from each other. We probably do more talking while riding bikes together than any other time, and of course we’re building memories to talk about in the future. In this case, a really good memory.