I was recently visiting the Cave of the Mounds in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin when I passed a young father toting his child in a tag along behind his bike. The memory from my own attempt so long ago came flooding back to me.
It had been decided that my wife needed a quiet weekend all to herself. She would catch up on reading and tending her flower gardens while I would wisk the children off for an adventure. Quiet time is not generally a standard for the parents of two small children. I had had my boy’s weekend and now it was her turn.
I decided that I would load the tent and sleeping bags unto my bike and tag along, get Bailey, my ten year old, settled on her bike and Kathryn, my three year old, strapped into the tag along. The weather forcast for the weekend was sunny and reasonably warm and there was a well groomed trail that wound its way from Verona to Blue Mounds State Park where a campsight would be waiting. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
We all kissed mom goodbye as she dropped us at the trail head and began our ride of some sixteen miles. I had often easily covered this distance riding the trails in Madison. In my mind, this should be an easy ride and a wonderful adventure to be shared with my daughters. And so, we were off.
We had gone about six miles when we passed Riley’s Tavern. First sign of trouble ahead, both girls needed a potty break. The looks I received as we entered the tavern should have been my warning. Oh there was no threat from the patrons, the women of the crowd were actually supportive, cooing and fawning over my daughters. On the other hand, the men in attendance offered more of the “what are you thinking” variety of looks. After a potty break and a couple of sodas, we were back on our way. Well sort of. Less than a hundred yards down the trail, Bailey took what would be the first of her many career Riley’s Tavern wipeouts. Before I knew it, she was down on her knees in the gravel, tears flowing in competition with the blood from the scrap on her knee.
I was not going to let this stop us. A minor setback, I thought, as we returned to the tavern for some first aid. Our friendly female bartender cleaned the cut, bandaged her up and encouraged her with a popsicle to continue on. Meanwhile, the men of the bar, looked on with that “told you so” look. Now for better or worse, this was pre-cellphone era, so mom was none the wiser for our mishap, not that I believed for a minute she wasn’t going to find out. But I could face that later. Our planned early afternoon arrival at the camp site was now looking more like mid afternoon, but we were back on the trail.
We had been enjoying a fairly flat to almost downhill trail to this point. Anything that goes up must eventually go down or in our case, just the opposite. Shortly after our luxury rest stop, it did. As the trail continued up, doubt began creeping into my mind. Bailey’s progress had slowed considerably and with it mine and Kathryn’s. We started a process that would become Bailey’s biking tradition. Just as she would begin to ask the inevitable “how much farther?”, we would begin to sing her favorite song, “Denise Denise”. I find it ironic, that all these years later, her daycare provider is…..you guessed it, Denise. We were well into the thousandth repeatition of the song, when finally, the trail turned downhill and we coasted into Mt Horeb.
It was at this point the biking gods turned on me. Not only did Bailey think this was our destination and wanted to be done, Kathryn, who had been sleeping for the last hour, woke up. She was having nothing to do with continuing this trek and wanted out of the tag along. To make matters worse, the trail now started to rise again. In that moment, it dawned on me that you can’t call it a mound if it isn’t higher than pretty much everything around you. So close, and yet seemingly so far.
I somehow managed to get Bailey going and asked her to not encourage her sisters complaining screams emanating from the tag along, but to actually try to ignore them. We would be there soon I said, knowing full well that I was now destroying my daughter’s ability to ever estimate distances with any degree of accuracy. What was a dad suppossed to do? We entered the desperation phase of our adventure. Just as I was beginning to feel the weight of the tag along pulling backward as I was struggling up and onward, I needed to start pushing Bailey along with my hand on her back. I was now riding for three.
Somehow, we managed to continue on. Kathryn was still crying but she was losing volume. Meanwhile, Bailey was picking up where Kathryn was leaving off. She had given up believing my “were almost there” pleas and was now beginning to doubt everything I had ever taught her. And then suddenly, the sign appears. It promisingly provides salvation, “Blue Mounds State Park Entrance”. We made it……….. I’m just kidding. The park entrance is at the bottom of the mound. The road meanders up forever and we have been defeated.
After what seems like an eternity, we have managed to walk to the campground office, Bailey walking and me pushing my bike, the tag along and in the only hand left, Bailey’s bike. Early afternoon long ago became mid afternoon which gave way to late afternoon only to become early evening. We may have set a record for the slowest bicycle trek. They will compare our speed record to failed attempts for years to come.
I am exhausted, starving and humbled. I have just enough strength left to pitch the tent and ample fear for what will I do all day tomorrow, assuming we live through the night. I need a miracle and it happens. It arrives in the form of the park ranger, a middle aged women who upon checking us in at the office takes much needed pity on me. Expecting to be admonished for my misadventure, she instead lauds my courage and offers to help. As I am pitching our tent, she shows up with an arm full of wood for a campfire and the most delicious, life saving frozen pizza ever. After lighting the fire and inhaling the pizza, I am actually thinking we may survive.
I’m just kidding, what always happens when I try to camp happens…..rain, accompanied by thunder and lightening of course. Why not? Morning dawns bright and promising. What is to be day two of our three day adventure is unanimously voted our last. We throw everything into the tag along, strap Kathryn in, mount our bikes and make our hasty retreat. What was our gruelling uphill yesterday is now wonderfully downhill to Mt Horeb and we thank the bike gods for that. We stop at the first establishment serving breakfast, call mom and capitulate. PLEASE, come get us, I was an idiot. But it seemed like a good idea at the time.