My parents were not raised to be outdoorsy people. Yet in their pursuit of free, healthy and educational activities to engage their kids, they began taking my brother and me to state parks on weekends when we were very young. Nearly every Sunday, nine months of every year, they would pack up us kids and a picnic and drive up to three hours to explore a new or favourite state park. When nearly all of our neighbours were sitting in church pews, our family would be traipsing up and down creeks or competing to accumulate the most ‘nature points’ (points awarded from Mom and Dad if we spotted something interesting such as a colourful bird or a snake) along a trail. Lunch was a sandwich, soft drink and some sort of savoury treat, such as potato sticks or cheese balls, which we normally weren’t allowed to eat. My brother and I were often not the most willing participants. We would have rather been home playing with our friends than hiking trails in a state park.
However, I credit these trips, and subsequent high school courses in Ecology and Environmental Botany, with turning my love of being outside into a love of nature and science that grows ever stronger as I grow older. I immediately enjoyed camping and backpacking and wilderness trips the first time I experienced each of them as a teenager. For my parents, those forays into the eastern deciduous forests of Indiana turned them into avid day-hikers; they have hiked all over the U.S. and have visited nearly every protected natural area in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky. They have never gotten into camping, though. My brother goes hiking with my parents when they visit each other – but only to spend time with my parents, not because it is something he enjoys. In many ways, like many siblings, we are very opposite.
So today my parents and I depart 43rd St. early, with all of my gear and my bike in the SUV, to head to a state park just over the IN/IL border. My parents have been to this park before and enjoy comparing the trails we hike today to what they were like on a previous visit. We enjoy our time together – our last chance to see each other until September and our last chance to hike together in the supreme greenness and humidity of the Midwest. We’ve been doing this together for nearly 35 years. We will not have 35 more. I am always conscious of how little time I have left with them. Consequently, I am always sad to leave them, even when I’m heading off to do the thing I most love in this world – bicycle touring.
There are tears slowly sliding down my cheeks as I unload my bike in the campground at day’s end. There are tears in their eyes, too. They are proud of me, and my independence and confidence to undertake solo bike tours, but I’m sure they would be much happier if their pride could be directed at more safe and secure accomplishments such as career progression. But thankfully, they have never placed conditions on their emotional support or love.
My mom waves goodbye as they leave me next to a picnic table in a deserted campground. As the sun sets, I erect the tent, reassemble the bike and wonder just how out of practice I’ve become at touring in the eight months since I wrapped up the 2013 tour. Strangely, I’m not nervous. I’m not really excited. I sit down to study the maps for tomorrow’s ride and check to make sure all the bolts on the bike are secure. Just like any night on tour. Maybe I’m not so out-of-practice after all….