Getting Schooled

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Getting up Mt. Willey. Not exactly the stairway to heaven.

This appeared in, but it’s pretty racerex-y so it’s living here as well. Happy end of summer and happy start of serious dryland to all!

As summer comes to a close and the kids head back to school it’s time to make a mad dash at cramming in all that recreation we meant to do over the course of a way-too-short summer. In the midst of these recro power outings, I am reminded that I am no longer in control of this ship. Sure, I still hold the keys and the all-important wallet, but once we hit the trails, the water, the path to adventure, I am quickly left in the dust, the wake, the bread-crumbless journey that is the end of the pack.

It’s all good of course. It’s the very thing we hoped for when first we got our kids into the great outdoors in Bjorns and backpacks, bike trailers and edgie wedgies. It is the natural order of things. Still, it hurts just a little.

The first pass was ironically in skiing, by far my best event. I remember the exact moment when my older son raced past me on a dual course. I assured him in an ambiguous tone I was trying my hardest (I was—we never raced again). Not long afterward my younger son gave me the same honor. To their credit, neither gloated. To my credit, I never took their bets.

The next pass was mountain biking. It felt like one minute we were on Oak Hill, and I was teaching them to “look where you want to go, instead of where you don’t want to go,” when to shift, how to power over roots and how to “USE YOUR BRAKES!!!” (I never did have them on the downhills. As adults we always hold the self-preservation card.) With dogged determination and way more expensive gearing I could out-gut them to the top of steep hills and when they zipped out of range into the roller coaster trails at places like Kingdom Trails and Union Village Dam, I credited the courage of youth. Recently, however, I realized I had, in cycle speak, “lost the mechanical advantage,” as I fell on an uphill, and looked up to catch a glimpse of my son skimming through the trees a few switchbacks above.
At least I am still giving them lessons in humility and in knowing one’s limits.

They are patient, and wait for me at the top or after they hear a yelp. And they aren’t the least bit smug, which makes it hurt just a little bit more.

In purely aerobic activities, where the ability to endure moderate pain and severe boredom give adults an edge, I hung in there a little longer. Even if I started slower on hikes and road bike rides (the heinous end to our every ride is the ascent of Alpe du Etna), I’d make up for it with less breaks and less complaining. On the first hike of the summer I was decisively passed but chalked it up to a bad day, and afterwards kept within range on most days. By the end of this summer, however, I got it handed to me on a particularly hot and steep slog up Mt Willey, when at one point I contemplated lying down on the trail and having the boys scoop me up on the return trip.

The torch has been passed. But that doesn’t mean the fun is over. I was reminded of this very recently, on yet another outing to a rope swing, where I had been a mere spectator all summer. Surely rope swinging had passed me by. But then another mom showed up, fully intending to swing. This was real peer pressure—not the kind of shirkable pressure from the next generation. In a total role reversal the kids started coaching us on technique, warning us of hazards, urging us to relax and ultimately giving big cheers for having the guts to do what never gave them a moment of pause.

So now I can add MARSing—Middle Aged Rope Swinging—to the list of end-of-summer pursuits. Wherever you spend your last precious days of summer, be sure to plant your flag in the ground and claim some territory in the fun zone as a way to say, “I’m not a spectator yet!”

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