Hey, Just Ride 45

Struggling up the final challenging climb, my bike wobbled from side to side, nearly grinding to a halt in that nanosecond between my right leg, then the left, hammering with all my weight on the downstroke.

Sweat poured into my stinging eyes, down over my chin and eventually dripping on those legs that screamed with lactic acid boiling in every muscle. My back ached like someone had plunged a knife in me. And my behind? It felt as though my shorts were filled with broken glass.

Simply put, it felt awesome!

A few minutes later as we rolled into the Big Foot Beach State Park campground at Lake Geneva, I tumbled off my bike and collapsed to the ground landing on my backpack completely spent.

Just a month before the start of 9th grade, I made it! We rode our bikes 50 miles to the ultimate summer adventure, a parentless overnight camping trip. Well, parentless after a little help.

My buddy Gibby’s Mom drove down with a bulk of the gear we would need for our stay. A bulk, but not all.

Although today no one would accuse me of jumping on the latest tech offerings, back then? Well, I spent my birthday money on the latest, greatest aluminum framed backpack.

To legitimize my purchase, I loaded it up with 50 pounds of my gear — my sleeping bag, tent, a can of pork ’n’ beans, and other items. I know it was 50 pounds because I stepped onto our bathroom scale just before rolling off.

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This was long before most cycling accessories were on my radar. No helmet. No cycling shorts. No cleats. No nothing. It was caveman biking at its finest.

The trip began in fine fashion, with a roaring ride down Sunnyslope Hill. We spent the early miles beneath the canopy of Maples and Oaks through the countryside.

As the day heated up into the upper 80s in a cloudless sky, we rolled out into the farm fields of Southern Wisconsin, nary a pinch of shade in sight. Around the 2-hour mark we were out of water and out in the middle of nowhere.

We soaked ourselves with a friendly farmer’s garden hose and refilled our water bottles as my back signaled a little stiffness and my legs tingled a bit. No matter, this would only end in one manner, with me rolling into Big Foot.

The last hour included a couple of stops — only a few since getting rolling again appeared to be more painful than any rest could quell.

Like most teenagers, my body rebounded quickly. We chowed down on beans and weiners, soda thanks to Gibby’s Mom, and some donuts — each bite tasting just a bit better than ever, since we were on our own for the first time in our lives.

We soaked in the thrill of no parents around. We could do whatever we wanted. Complete freedom.

That turned to terror about a half hour after we zipped our tents closed with the wind howling and a storm bearing down, when the Ranger rolled through the campground announcing over his PA that a tornado was spotted on the other side of the lake and was headed in our direction.

“Everyone take cover!” he bellowed as he drove away into the darkness.

Should we ride down to the beach in the dark? Hunker in our tent? No, we gotta get down, lower. We ripped open the zipper and dove down into a slight gully behind our site as the thunder roared and lightning flashed. We didn’t say much to each other.

No telling how long it took before the Ranger rolled through announcing the ALL CLEAR! It felt like forever.

Suffice to say, Gibby’s Mom rolled in shortly after sunrise to check on us. We were praised for our decisions. To keep the smart ideas flowing, I tossed my backpack into the trunk.

We rode home, carefree, light as a feather.

Time to ride.

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