The wheel goes round,
whether you’re pushing
uphill or coasting down
“I wanta bicycle in hot afternoon heat, wear Pakistan leather sandals, shout in high voice at Zen monk buddies standing in thin hemp summer robes and stubble heads. …” —Japhy Ryder in “The Dharma Bums,” by Jack Kerouac
By Patrick O’Grady
Special to the Hardscrabble Times
“The Zen of Standing Around,” he called it.
Nobody would describe the Tour de France like that. But my friend Hal Walter wasn’t talking about the Tour, which isn’t even a blip on his sporting radar screen. He was talking about a stop-and-go mountain-bike ride with his son, Harrison.
“An hour and 45 minutes for four miles,” he noted. “About an hour slower than I usually run it.”
A short, slow ride with your kid probably doesn’t sound like a big deal to you. And strictly speaking it wouldn’t be one to Hal, either. His idea of a good time is the annual World Championship Pack-Burro Race out of Fairplay, Colo, a 29-mile run to the summit of 13,185-foot Mosquito Pass and back. He’s won it seven times.
Hal has some experience racing the bike, too, most of it from the Mount Taylor Winter Quadrathlon in Grants, N.M. The 43-mile Quad starts and ends on the bike, but in between competitors run, ski and snowshoe up and down 11,301-foot Mount Taylor.
So, yeah. Four-mile mountain-bike ride with your kid. No big deal.
Unless your kid is autistic — or as Hal prefers to say, “neurodiverse.”
Then every mile deserves its own milestone.
Saddling up. Hal came late to the bike. He was about 7 when he taught himself to ride a three-speed step-through, which was too big for him but fit his single-mom’s budget.
Hal recounted the experience a couple years ago in his column for Colorado Central magazine.
“I remember one day taking this hulking steel steed out to the sloped driveway behind the duplex where we lived, determined to learn to ride it. I started at the top with my feet to either side and shuffled along astride the bike while coasting down the short drive. Then I pushed it back up and tried again. Over and over.
“Each time I was able to coast a little farther between steps. It seemed like hours went by, and then suddenly I coasted the entire driveway.”
Rock and roll. Pushing it back up. Trying again. Over and over. Welcome to Team Sisyphus.
I learned how to ride early, with my dad’s help, in Canada. After the old man got transferred to Texas in 1962 we went for regular evening rides around officers’ country on Randolph AFB. It was a nice slice of family time, and remains a fond memory.
Here in Albuquerque a neighbor would like to get in on a little of that. After asking me for advice she and her husband have been bike-shopping, hoping to squeeze in some rides with their daughter before she goes back to college.
I can recommend it. And so can Hal.
Sport as medicine. I expect Hal wondered whether he’d ever be able to share his love of a good sweat with Harrison, who was late to a lot of things, not just cycling.
He’s had at least four speech therapists, but still has trouble with communication and comprehension. This frustrates him, and he lashes out, sometimes physically.
But with a little assistance, and a lot of patience, Harrison has been able to attend school like all the other kids — it helps that the Walters live in rural Custer County, Colo., near a very small town with an equally small school — and he’s inherited enough of his parents’ aptitude and appreciation for running to participate in the track and cross-country teams.
Spinning your wheels. The cycling is mostly recreational. Hal rides as a respite from the pounding of long-distance running, and he thought he might share this activity with Harrison, too.
But like his old man, Harrison took a while to master the technique, enduring failure after failure, until one day the nickel finally dropped and the music started playing.
He quickly progressed from a BMX bike to a Diamondback mountain bike, and got to where he was comfortable logging some serious gravel mileage alongside Hal as he ran one of his burros around and about.
Harrison raced the school triathlon, and started exploring the neighborhood single-track. And this summer dad gave him a nice attaboy, trading in the old Diamondback at Absolute Bikes in Salida for a used yellow Specialized Hardrock.
The truth(s) of the matter. None of this means Harrison will be chasing a famous jersey to match his new-used yellow bike.
He’s a skinny 13-year-old who’s been known to stop on training runs to call an imaginary friend on an imaginary phone. He can be loud, and occasionally, violent. Your finish line may not be his.
The kid is doing his own race, at his own pace. Hal’s along for the ride, and if it takes nearly two hours to cover four miles, well, that’s how long it takes.
While Harrison fusses over the stickers in his socks, Hal practices the Zen of Standing Around, like Kerouac’s Ray Smith contemplating the Buddha’s first Noble Truth (all life is suffering) and the third (the suppression of suffering can be achieved).
“The funny thing is he seems to have no problem pushing that thing,” says Hal. “Like it’s just part of the deal. You push the steep stuff and ride the downhills.”
This column was originally published in the August edition of Bicycle Retailer and Industry News.