Pensive pedaling (Loop 2)

Our son Andy was interviewed on CNN this morning. Part of his job as a reporter for Politico is to appear on occasional news interviews to comment on stories he’s written or what he’s hearing from his sources.

It’s totally amazing to his father and me that he is doing this stuff. Dan and I watched him as we ate our pancakes and then, fortified by carbohydrates and parental pride, we donned our biking gear and headed out to enjoy the glorious morning.

Given the pleasant (under 100 degrees) temperature, we decided to do one of our longer loops. So we started out toward the 32nd Street entrance to the paved, multi-use path that meanders through the Phoenix Mountain Preserve just south of Shea Boulevard in north Phoenix. The path connects with Dreamy Draw Park before running down a hill, up a ramp and across a bridge over the freeway to quiet neighborhood streets behind The Pointe Hilton Resort at Squaw Peak.

When Dan and I returned to Phoenix after three years in grad school in Cleveland, we rented a townhouse at The Pointe’s Tapatio Cliffs location off Seventh Street in North Phoenix. Andy was born a month later, at 3 a.m. on July 17, in the middle of a monsoon storm.

My first few weeks as a new mom became infinitely more enjoyable when I discovered a neighbor who had an infant daughter. We started taking walks together each morning, pushing our strollers around the hilly neighborhood, often ending up at her house or mine for a shared lunch. One morning, Dawn stopped by the house for some reason I can’t remember. Dan was getting ready for work. Andy was in a walker seat — safe, I thought, because he hadn’t fully mastered the skill of propelling it forward.

Suddenly I heard a sickening crash. The seat, and my baby, were at the bottom of a dramatic (but not-kid-friendly) fireplace pit in the living room. Dan came running out of the bedroom, furious.

How lucky I was that morning! Andy’s head hit a carpeted step — not the Saltillo-tiled fireplace. My son was scared, but unhurt. My husband was angry about my carelessness but he got over it. What a difference a  few inches makes. I could be coping with a brain-damaged young adult right now instead of beaming at the promising, articulate young man I watch on TV.

Near 16th Street and Northern we turn onto the canal path heading southeast. Crossing 18th Street, we pass a young couple out jogging, pushing a young child in a stroller. As we approach the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, I remember one of the defining moments in my decision to choose as my life partner this man who now pedals beside me.

We were young, single, working professionals — both employed as reporters for the Arizona Republic. But I didn’t really know Dan Barr until I happened (completely at random) to move into the same north Phoenix apartment complex in which he lived. We had the same odd schedule — Sundays and Mondays off — so we often bumped into each other at the laundry room or by the pool. Eventually we started hanging out together — going on bike rides, going for walks, hiking (what was then called) Squaw Peak. One day, we took the bike path past the Arizona Biltmore. It was a hot day, we’d ridden lots of miles and we were both sweaty, dehydrated and cranky.

Before I knew it, Dan had jumped off his bike and was pushing it along the sidewalk toward the resort’s spacious pool. Always a stickler for rules, I followed behind him, lecturing all the way. “What are you doing? We can’t go in there!” But he kept going, and so did I. We both ended up in the pool–fully clothed–laughing and splashing and daring the universe to deny us the moment.

You have to maneuver a bit to get past traffic at 40th Street but we were soon safely past it and heading into a breeze as the canal path continued on through Arcadia. Just past the Arizona Falls at 56nd Street and Indian School, I suggest a pit stop at the nearby park. I wash my hands and return to my bike to find Dan thumbing a response on his BlackBerry. I give him The Look. If you live with someone who has a BlackBerry, you know that look.

This is the place on our loop where I always get tired and Dan seems to find his second wind. As he charges ahead of me I settle into a slower, methodical pace. The wind always seems to kick up at this point along the path and the scenery is not interesting enough to be distracting. I never mind riding hills; I choose that challenge. But riding into the wind, which I don’t choose, makes me depressed and mad. It feels like a personal affront.

I pass a homeless man at the side of the path, his bike nearly covered by an avalanche of personal belongings rummaged during his travels. I stop feeling sorry for myself.

My brother Ron, who lives in Seattle, decided to ride his bike to Phoenix. He took more than a month off work and slogged an average of 75 miles a day, pitching a tent most nights and cooking his own dinner. I made him call me every couple of days so I could track his progress on the map and insisted that he call when he got close to the Phoenix city limits. When he finally did, my other brother Bob, my two sons and I grabbed the videocamera, piled into the car and drove north to find him. We followed him from Cave Creek Road eventually south on Tatum Boulevard — giggling, awed and taking lots of pictures as we tried to comprehend the distance he’d just traveled on the strength of his own two legs. When he got to our circular driveway, he rode past a finish line the boys and I had hastily thrown together, went into the house and promptly ate almost a whole pan of brownies.

My brother was sweaty, stained and terribly thin that day. His bike panniers were bulging with supplies and he had camping equipment and bicycle repair equipment carefully anchored to every available space. I wonder how many times, during the six weeks it took him to ride his bike to Phoenix, otherwise well-meaning people mistook him for a homeless guy.

We turn north with six miles to go to get home. I am flooded with memories and eager to write them down. My legs reflect the urgency and before I know it I’m well ahead of Dan. As I pull into our driveway and put my bike away, I see him pedal past our house. I know exactly what he is doing: putting in the extra few hundred yards he needs to round off the ride to an even 24 miles. I’m intensely competitive about stuff like that but today I let it go. The words are screaming in my head.


Read “Pensive pedaling (Loop 1)”

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