Climbing hills are an inevitable part of cycling. They are challenging because of the obvious reasons; keeping oxygen in your lungs and the struggle of the getting over the hill to the next part of the route. You are required to do more than just pedal. You probably have to alter your pace and push yourself to do more. As they say, Hill, Get Over It! Life too, is full of hills, climbs that are exhausting and take everything you have without the benefit of a vista to Instagram your accomplishment. In the cycling world, races are often won on the climbs. That said, 2019 was a climb. My year was a 16 percent grade hill.
The hardest part of 2019 was the death of my dad on September 1st. That said, I can’t let the sun go down on the year without talking about Anderson, Indiana where my dad was a history professor at Anderson College (now University) and I learned to ride.
My dad did not teach me how to ride a bike. He tried repeatedly to help me, but I couldn’t master balance. I hated training wheels and even when I tried to use them I’d still manage to fall. It had to be hard to watch. I’m sure he was frustrated and scared watching me flail about and then careen into a curb. One spill resulted in a massive gash on my right kneecap. I remember the blood and the crying. That episode sidelined him from the process. All his efforts and mine were finally rewarded when my mom took me out to ride on a deadend road across the street from where we lived on Myers.
I recall the moment of zen when balance was achieved and I could ride without falling. What an accomplishment! A cyclist was born! I like to say my mom taught me to ride and my father taught me how to adventure. Both are essential ingredients to all that I am.
My mom and I went back to Anderson, Indiana for a memorial service for my dad. There’s a challenge to returning to a place from your past. I was worried about the time that had passed. We left before I started high school so everything about my start in life is in Anderson. It was homecoming week at the University and the planets aligned and for a few days I was a Hoosier kid again remembering not only my dad but how Anderson was the perfect place for a kid to grow up.
My parents and I left Anderson in 1976 when my father took a different job, leaving Anderson University and moving to the Pacific Northwest. We left at a time that was a perfect bridge to my future. I say that because hindsight is 20/20 and I remember wanting the move desperately. I was ready for something new. Anderson was the perfect place to grow up. It was my Stars Hollow (Gilmore Girls) or Mayberry (Andy Griffith) or Narnia. I had nothing but time on my hands, air in my tires and places to bike. I biked everywhere and I did, sorry Mom. I biked places I probably shouldn’t have and I fibbed about having done so. But in my defense, Anderson was my adventure. I went everywhere.
Going back to Anderson was a trip. I could see myself across the great chasm of time and very little was changed. Once our travel plans were set I knew I needed a bike. As I often find myself researching the local bike shops, this one, Buckskin Bikes caught my eye. First, the name and then the location; my hometown, Anderson, Indiana. I thought I’d text the store and reserve a bike for the weekend of my trip. I heard back right away. I don’t know why, but I was over the moon when my phone exclaimed an answer. I was asked about my bike preference. Did I want a cruiser or a mountain bike? My first thought was a banana seat BMX, but I opted for the next best thing, a mountain bike.
I found the shop on 11th Street and met Ben. He went to Anderson U and one of his profs, Dr. Strege was a former student of my father, so honestly, he felt like kin. We spent time chatting about Anderson and politics and the need for better bike lanes and I felt like I could run for City Council (as my dad did) and win on the bike platform alone.
Once I had the bike, a helmet and a lock I took off. I rented the bike for a couple of days and I let the bike and a few basic directions be my guide.
The White River Trail did not exist when I was growing up. Not in any formal sense. I rode my banana seat bike everywhere and I’d like to say I helped pave the way for the trail, however, now, what a great addition. I hope the city of Anderson continues to build it beyond what it is right now. Finish off some of the spots that dead end in a ditch or the mud forcing you to turn around instead of going forward. It’s picturesque and worthy of more attention.
Also, while I’m on the rant, there’s no reason that Scatterfield Road needs to be so hostile to anything besides a four wheeled vehicle. I thought I could handle it but I was scared for my life. The auto traffic rivals the Indy 500! I wish I was joking, but I’m not. Peds can hardly cross the street with a light. It’s wretched and if one of the guys at the bike shop hadn’t mentioned Columbus Avenue, I might still be trying to cross Scatterfield Street. Even the idea of staying on it to get to our hotel was dashed when someone yelled at me to “get off the road, stupid.” I pulled over in the Mounds Mall parking lot to see if I could figure out a way to get around it.
Anderson made me a cyclist and also made me fearless about exploring on my own. I always felt safe in Anderson and I still do with the exception of the aforementioned road. It’s mostly flat too. I rode 18 miles on the first day with my Buckskin Bike rental. Then we got busy with dad’s service.
I wanted to shared all this with my father, of course. He would have thoroughly enjoyed the trip down memory lane. We tried to visit all the old haunts, but I’m sure we missed a few, including Steak ‘n’ Shake.
Anderson University is an exceptional ecosystem for learning and my father is remembered as an exceptional professor. While he was growing his career, I was growing. I loved riding my bike to the campus and seeing him consort with his students and hold court telling stories of his adventures. I made daily trips to the campus on my banana seat bike to go up and down the little hills of the campus. I didn’t know at the time what an unique opportunity I had growing up in a small town where everyone knew my parents and I could roam around for hours just being a kid.
He made trails with his teaching methods and I just made trails. He was always one to use all tools at his disposal to make a point or drive an idea into the minds of his students. He taught like a conductor leads an orchestra. I felt like I was bundled up in love and I seriously considered what it would take to move back to Anderson. But it’s funny because I missed my Northwest life. I missed my routes and my home. One does not have to exist without the other though. Anderson is in me and it helps me climb the real hills and the ones that life puts in front of me in the metaphoral sense of the word.
It’s hard to imagine starting a year without my father in it. He’s been a part of all my years; every birthday, every day, every mile. Thanks Dad.
We end 2019 with a slow roll into a new decade. We’ll adjust our pace to manage whatever is ahead, even if it is a hill.
Thanks for reading and here’s to a Happy New Year!