Saturday, July 26, 2008

Adversity, or Hell on Wheels

Sweet are the uses of adversity, Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head; And this our life, exempt from human
haunt, Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones,
and good in everything.

~ William Shakespeare, As You Like It

Yesterday was the toughest day of the trip for me. But let me start with the day before.

We left Alpena at 9 AM headed for Point Tawas State Park. Although the ride was to be a long one, we figured that if we left early enough we could take our time and even play in Lake Huron for awhile at some point during the day. We were also looking forward to the state park as our experience at Hoeft State Park the day before was very good.

We decided to take our long afternoon break in Harrisville, which turned out to be a very good choice. As we cycled into town and past the local ice cream shop (as you faithful readers know, we seem to find these as if by some sort of magnetic draw or by primeval instinct), we stopped to speak with a woman enjoying a cone on a bench by the street. She directed us to a very good lunch spot just down the block by the harbor. We spoke with her for awhile about our trip and off we went (but vowing to come back for ice cream after lunch).

While we were eating lunch the very same woman we had just been talking to a few minutes earlier came in. She said that she thought our trip was amazing and offered us a warm bed, a home cooked meal, and a bonfire at her house for that evening (she lived right on the lake). What an amazing offer! Here we are, total strangers (and some might say totally strange), and she invites us to stay for the evening. Unfortunately we had to decline (that would really put pressure on us to ride over 90 miles the next day and few options to make up the distance over the next few days). We did give her our blog address. If you are the woman who made this kind offer: thank you! We wished we could have taken you up on it.

After eating lunch we made our way back to the ice cream shop. The sign said "home of the big dipper" and they weren't kidding. The cones were huge. We enjoyed our afternoon ritual sitting on a bench in front of the ice cream shop, enjoying the day and the cool breeze blowing in from the lake.

Alison wisely suggested that we take time for the kids to play in Lake Huron before we left (there was a state park just a few blocks away). We rode there, the kids jumped in their swim suits and were off. Sometimes I need to be reminded that we need to find fun things to do during the day. My inclination would be to stark early, hit the road, and get to where we are going. Some days, however, there isn't much to see at the end of the day so we need to take these opportunities as they come to us.

We finally left town at about 6 PM (ok, it was a long mid-day break!) and headed out to Tawas Point (another 30 miles south). We arrived at the state park at about 9:15. When we checked in at the park office we were told that there was only one campsite left in the whole park (of 200 sites). And it was a corner site (she mentioned this to me twice as though I wouldn't want it, since apparently 199 other campers didn't want it). And it was in the RV section -- in fact, the entire park was an RV section. There was no tent-only or primitive sites. And it was $27! Alas, it was 9:30 at this point, we were all exhausted, and we just needed a spot to put our tent.

As we rode toward the camping area I was worried that we wouldn't be able to find the site because it was dark. Our way, however, was lit by the glow of multi-colored hanging lantern lights strung on nearly every RV in the park (I bet you can tell a lot about the owners of the RVs by the types of lights they string). It was like when I was a kid sneaking downstairs on Christmas morning, my way lit by the lights on the tree).

When we got to our site I saw something I have never seen before. I had to do a double-take. In the campsite next to us (hey, all the campsites were next to us; this was the pinnacle of urban camping) a kid was playing Nintendo Wii. Outside. The television was on a table next to the RV. At least he was playing baseball and getting his exercise, I guess. Now, let me say that I am not fanatically opposed to video games. I have played my share (maybe more than my share in video game parlors of my youth). Every Thanksgiving when my brother-in-law Rob visits us in Walla Walla we usually have a video game marathon of some kind or another. SOAPBOX ALERT: but while camping? One thing this trip has shown me is that kids do NOT need to be tied to electronics. They DO have imaginations. They CAN play and make up games and have fun without being connected to an electronic umbilical cord. They WILL survive being unplugged for awhile. I don't want to sound pious here. We own a TV and watch it. My kids like to play on the computer. As a society, however, I think that we have swallowed the mass-media lie that our kids will not be happy without these things.

I also noticed that there was no picnic table (which we needed to eat our dinner). When I mentioned this to Alison one of our camping neighbors sheepishly said that they were using it. She delivered it back to our site but only after saying that we really needed it.

After a quick meal of turkey and cheese sandwiches, pudding cups, Gatorade for the kids and a 24 ounce beer for me (this is the only size they sell in singles here!), we went to sleep.

Now, to the hard day. Yesterday we needed to ride from Tawas Point to near Bay City. The road had a very narrow shoulder and more traffic than we have seen anywhere else on this trip. It was, in fact, non-stop. I think Gus said that the longest time he counted between cars was 19 seconds! Our original plan was to find a small motel north of Bay City. Up to this point there were numerous options in the towns we rode through. But not yesterday. The day seemed to drag on and on, we were fighting traffic and a headwind, and the miles seemed longer than usual. When we got just north of Bay City we saw a couple of motels. The first I wouldn't have sent my dog to. The second looked better, but we decided to pass on it an ride a couple of more miles into town. At this point (about 9:00) it was starting to get dark and I was worried about our safety.

So, this is where I can either gloss over what happened, or not write about it at all. But in an effort to keep the narrative honest, and to show that there can be bad days on the trip, I will relate what happened.

As we rode into town I asked Alison to pull over so we could look at the map. She said that she would stop up the road at the McDonald's. I was in no mood for this so I stubbornly stopped my bike in a small parking lot about a block away. Now, Alison also being on the stubborn side, rode to the McDonald's. Gus and I sat there for a few minutes, me fuming that I was NOT going to ride down the road and that SHE could ride back here. Gus, after sitting with me for a few minutes, wisely said that maybe we could just go down to McDonald's and figure things out. I agreed, but I have to admit that I was fuming (you need to understand that we were 70 miles into the day and it was getting dark and we had no motel prospects at this point). When I got to the McDonald's I found Alison getting some food. I was even more unhappy (what I didn't know at this point was that she had already found out where a motel was and that it was less than 10 minutes away; on a well-lit street; with very little traffic). At this point my brain should have said "Dan, before you do anything crazy, ask Alison if she found a place yet". But, as you probably have guessed, I didn't. I went into a bit of a rant and even, if you can believe it, threw my helmet on the floor. Yes, even 47 year old men can have tantrums. I left the restaurant and waited outside. Needless to say, both Sonia and Gus were stunned (as was I, in fact). When Alison came out I apologized. We decided that if we found ourselves getting into a situation like this again we would try to calmly sit down and assess the situation together and come up with a plan. And no more helmet throwing. As I write this the next morning after getting a good night sleep, I can hardly believe it happened. Hey, maybe it was a dream. I have the feeling, however, that when the kids wake up they will remind me of the reality of the evening!

So, adversity can show the real character of a person. I'm not sure I did well on that test!

Today should be a shorter day since we rode about an extra 15 miles yesterday. The next few days as we head toward the border crossing for Ontario there may not be a lot to see. But we will make due, and the kids will find their own fun as they always do. Everything will be fine. We will, as Shakespeare said, find "good in everything". And we will live to ride another day.

~ Dan


Elaine said...

Dan, I imagine at the end of a long day, weariness adds to frustration and tempers are likely to flare. Chalk it up to experience. When I read about your 'bad day', I was thinking more in terms of flat tires, bike troubles etc. etc. Glad to hear that the trip, in general, is going well at this point. Getting through Detroit and Windsor, Ont. will be a bummer, but Canada should be fun. Stay safe. Love, Mom and Dad

wombat064 said...

Dan my friend, communication is the key and never go to bed angry at each other.
I have been following you guys from almost the beginning and from where i sit you have a lovely wife, fantastic kids and a wonderful marraige. You are a intregal part of all that and If you lose cohesion, guess what happens to everything else.
I am proud to call you friend.

rob singleton said...

You've only had ONE of these incidences so far?!! Hell, having one a week is what I would expect on such an endeavor. Chalk this one up to being 'normal'. Everyone on the trip is entitled to 2 meltdowns each. In fact, I'm having a meltdown now and I'm just cruising the Internet. Having a meltdown in the middle of Disneyland is WAAAY more ironic; it happens to about 1200 families everyday at 5pm. It's a good thing you don't need helmets on the rides. One remedy is to get some solar panels and do a little gaming once you hit the campground. Just trying to help.

Anonymous said...

Calzaretta/ Kirby Klan;

I have not checked in for awhile but a note on Gus and the private property comment I noticed. I am not sure what the law is state to state but while we lived in Hyannis Port we learned that President Kennedy made ten feet from the water public property. That allows people to be on the shore while protecting owners from having private areas invaded. A person walking along the water can walk in the waves and still be on public property. They also might swim from a boat. Most people respect the rights of property owners by not invading prive time unless they work for tabloids. The people you had the misfortune to encounter seem to lack the class that some of the walthiest people in the country show us when they allow us on their properties. To deny a child who has ridden more than halfway across the country a photo is not an action to be proud of.
Regarding the reference I have seen to incidents and meltdowns--I don't know what it realtes to because I have not checked in yet--I can only say that one of the most passionate couples we knew from our newsroom days, who are still going strong all these years later, had some scenes involving flying ashtrays. Life, conflict, rage, fear forgiveness often accompany love.
Tom Mulroe

Jane Kaminsky said...

At least you didn't throw the helmet AT Alison!


P.S. Keep up the funny pictures and commentary. I read your blog when I want to smile.

Jen said...

They say best men are moulded out of faults
And, for the most, become much more the better
For being a little bad.
--Shakespeare, MEASURE FOR MEASURE, V.ii.436-7