Today marks the start of the Tour de France, the annual bicycling adventure that for a few years captivated our older son and several members of our extended family.
The Tour is a couple of weeks of great bike riders pedaling furiously through the French countryside, bouncing madly over cobblestone streets in small towns and struggling up twisting mountain roads so they can scream like supersonic jetliners down the other side, finish first and wina a yellow jersey or something.
The first Tour stage is about 97 miles. That’s like riding from Chamberlain north to Fort Thompson, across the dam to Lower Brule and up Highway 1806 to Oahe Dam. I’ve driven that route in a vehicle. It isn’t cobblestone streets or mountains, but it would be a bicycling adventure.
Our older son got into bicycle riding in a serious way as an adult. I blame his Colorado uncles. They convinced an impressionable young guy, a kid who used to beg to drive the Camaro two blocks to high school, that riding bicycles long distances was fun. Then they convinced him mountain biking — steep, narrow trails, rocks and trees, canyon rims — was even more fun. Somewhere in that indoctrination process the kid started watching the Tour de France.
Our son lost interest in the Tour after several doping scandals involving riders. HIs interest in mountain biking adventures has only grown, though. Apparently it’s more rewarding to ride your own trails at Moab or Crested Butte than to watch on television as somebody else has fun.
I sometimes wonder what my flat-lander father would have thought of a mountain-biking grandson. My dad liked mountains and trees, but he never considered conquering them. The notion of bicycling up and down mountains might have puzzled him, although he’d have admired the kid’s spirit of adventure. In that, the grandson takes after the grandpa he never got to know.
My dad lived his whole life on the farm in Lyman County. He grew up there. He worked and raised a family and died there. He’s buried there along with his parents and one of his older brothers. In a sense, he wound up where he started and didn’t go many places in between.
But that was his choice. Like a lot of people who farm the land, he could have gone a lot of places. He liked where he was and what he did. And for several summers, he took his family on long, crazy adventures. We traveled to both coasts, rode a ferry boat through a stormy night across Lake Michigan, saw the Grand Canyon and Great Salt Lake and drove across Canada from Ottawa to Alberta. My dad planned each trip. There were his adventures, and he returned to the farm refreshed and ready to work.
Come to think of it, as a young man my stuck-on-the-farm dad and his oldest brother had a great adventure not many folks can match. I wish i’d listened closer to the stories because I’ll bet I could have come to understand my old man better than I do. The way he told it, he and his big brother hopped an east-bound freight train one night — near Reliance, I imagine, since the tracks used to run just the other side of the south pasture on his folks’ home place — and rode it all the way to Chicago for the World’s Fair.
The brothers had just a few dollars between them, but they managed to stretch that meager purse into several days and nights, eating lightly, sleeping in crowded rooms and wandering around that grand exposition. That must have been 1933. My dad was 22 or so. In the depths of the Great Depression, there wasn’t a lot of work back home on a dryland farm.
When our son used to take his bike trips alone, we’d worry, as parents everywhere do. We’d admire his spirit, too. I suppose my dad’s folks were like that the time he rode the rails. As I reflect on his big adventure, I guess he wouldn’t have been puzzled at his grandson’s biking trips. He'd have understood what drives the kid.