I didn’t realize then how much would change, or how fast. Soon, the road to the park is closed because of permafrost melting and landslides, a bike ride near Polychrome Pass has been locked in the archives of the past. I couldn’t see the current chaos of family life, the hourly messy and loud, pictures of my eldest son going to kindergarten one day. And somewhere in my imagination I didn’t hold a place at home for long epidemic months when biking often seemed to be our only normal thing. What I realized was: Bicycles will take our place, now and forever. Between watching the bear behind and breastfeeding in the tundra, staring out of the well-read path into the vastness of the park seemed like the closest thing to freedom I had known since I was a mother of two.
Since the Denali trip, our cycling style has grown with our boys, who are 5 and 7 years old, no longer children, but boys. In the summer, we picked up baby carriers and backpacks, piled the bikes on top of the bikes, and covered a significant few miles without ahazari. In the winter, we tunneled through the snow and slipped on the ice, often not the way we wanted. Throughout each season, our fleet changes to keep pace with our lives. From toddler balance bikes to trailer bikes, from panniers to sleds, from tow ropes to sheer stubbornness, the only lessons to remember are that nothing stays the same for long.
Often, we find bicycles as necessary for recreation as they are for transportation, such as a weekend spent with my sister’s family in the Talkitana Mountains north of Anchorage. With a balance bike, three paddle bikes, four children and three sweaty, backpack-totting adults, we grabbed a muddy track and headed out into the rain. When the trail became too steep for biking, we parked the bikes behind a tree and jumped into an alpine lake where we pitched tents and peeled off dirty clothes, picked up M&Ms from the trail mix and reassured our kids that, yes, We’ll make it home again someday. In their imagination, they might have ridden a marathon, climbed a mountain and then climbed the highest peak in the world. For adults, tired of cozoling and bribery and wondering who had the worst idea, it was felt for almost a long time. But the next morning, after breakfast, everyone’s complaints faded in the rain. When we got back on our bikes the kids whipped and cheered, delighted at the prospect of downhill wheels.
As our range has expanded, so has our speed, which can be both a gift and a terror. One afternoon, on a local mountain bike trail, I found myself alternately trembling as I pushed up and down and waited, tempting one boy with sweets and promising the other that we were almost there, or at least I Thoughts We were. As we got closer to the end of the loop, the trail narrowed and the boys jockeyed for positions, the little one was having a brave, bad time. Blurred handlebars and splattering mud, they cared around the corner and crossed a bull mouse that set foot in the scene below us. Fearing the worst, I pedaled frantically behind them. When I reached the bottom of the hill and saw that the two boys were shouting but unharmed and the mouse was moving away, I grabbed them tightly. We sat on a log and I divided the last sticky bears into their damp, dirty-spotted palate, slowly counting each one as a blessing.
It will be an extension to say that biking always makes us feel exercised and energetic, our family unit is cohesive and cheerful. Even bicycles do not work miracles. Instead, they help bring us back to ourselves, providing a mirror for us to recognize time as fleeting, parenting as humble, and family adventures as more of a chase. After all, they change our horizons, not leave us the way we started.