saga through the marionberry lane

Despite having a relatively adventurous streak as a Mama, I sometimes get stage fright before embarking on even the simplest of errands out. Another bike ride today, this time out and back on Preachers Slough via Monte. We’re supposed to leave by 9:30 but I dither about and check and re-check that we have a basket full of food, raingear (fifty percent chance of showers, which in Washington State always seems to amount to a hundred percent yes), water, my coffee, lipstick, car keys. We end up leaving the city limits over an hour later than I’d originally planned.

The trail itself is a deceiving, friendly little endeavor for the first greater part of a mile. Sophie, installed on her larger bike, complains a bit about the soft, gravel surface which differs quite a bt from town riding. Nels spots flora and fauna, expertly identifying the plants he already knows. “We passed some butterfly scat,” he says casually, and I almost fall off the bike laughing at his casual, knowing tone. Despite weather that alternatively heats up humidly and dips down into cold rain showers, he is a friendly presence huddled on the back of my X, hugging his arms around my waist and now and then disembarking to earnestly chase white moths.

The trail gets entirely rougher, becoming what would likely be a pleasant hike but serves as an irritating, sluggish ride. We soldier on, the kids accepting my, “Not too much farther”. The going gets worse, marionberry bushes and birch branches reaching out to lash us on the narrow trail (after one such snag I ask Nels if he’s alright and he replies, in the same casual tone as before, “It’s just some Old Man’s Beard [the type of tree moss most common here]”). We can’t be much more than 1/2 mile away from the west trailhead when the spongy ground gives way to golf ball-sized gravel slipping and sliding under our tires. I suggest to the kids we pull the bikes off the trail and continue on foot a bit, just to see what’s ahead.

We walk for a bit but my children are feeling hungry. I send them back to the bike and crouch off the trail to relieve myself. As I’m finishing up I hear a the roar of rain on the tree canopy. “OK, that sounds like real rain,” I’m thinking. Figures: here when we’re at the apex of our journey. Pulling up the jeans, moving back on the trail and scooping up my open coffee cup (yes, I bike while drinking) and I see that it isn’t rain splashing in the deep-brown of my beverage, it’s large-scale hail. Nels is thrilled; Sophie, back at the bike with her mitts in the lunch basket, pulls back and hunches, her braid forlorn over her shoulder, her body the picture of despair. As I get closer I see she is indeed crying. “Why do you do this to us?” she throws back her head and wails, blaming me not for the ride but for the precipitation.

The bikes are in a relatively dry spot; I pull the kids under the tree and hand out a few items for ther nourishment. Sophie asks for the soft, banged-up strawberries – “Those are the sweetest.” I sip my coffee and pack the bike as best I can; I know the three miles back is going to be mildly unpleasant.

At first Sophie’s tears continue as we slowly make our retreat on the now even-wetter ground. I am often at my best on our bike rides, perhaps because there are no phone calls or pets or laundry or messes I am beholden too. I don’t feel impatient or miserable but rather proud of my kids – knowing what they’re capable of, knowing what they will enjoy. Soon my daughter is no longer sad and I have forgotten the chill; she tells me when she’d like to get off and walk (“They shoud have paved this trail,” she mutters) and gamely gets back on when she’s ready to ride. During this trip she she has been learning to mount and dismount this larger bike, a skill earned while preoccupied merely with keeping old branches out of the spokes of her wheels. I tell the kids that getting to the car, we can turn on the heater and strip off our wet clothes, finish our lunch.

The only thing that makes the warm car trip even better is the back-to-back Queen songs on the radio: “Fat-Bottomed Girls” and “Bicycle”. Sophie sings along at the top of her lungs. We get home and the kids run into the house in their underwear; I haul in seeming loads of wet laundry.

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