Editor’s note: This is the second installment in a two-part series. Look for the first half of the Metcalfe family biking adventures in last week’s Outdoors section.
We upgraded our sag-wagon for our next trip in 1994. The new car was a classic 1970s American station wagon borrowed from my late brother-in-law, Paul Helmar, known as the “Love Machine.” With three adults up front, five kids in the back, plus gear and bikes on the roof, we pulled out of Skagway and rumbled down the Alaskan Highway dragging our rear bumper and guzzling gas. We were off into the wilds of British Columbia, once again with Barb, cousin Leo and our three kids. New to the crew was Leo’s older sister, Patrice.
I found sag wagons to be problematic. Like the day it snowed on this trip. As the Love Machine pulled out of the campground with Barb at the wheel, and Lynn and Nellie in the back seat, an onlooker would have thought it was the last lifeboat on the Titanic. Patrice, Luke and Leo made a rush for the car and young hands had to be pried off door handles.
Perhaps this little drama can be explained by Patrice’s efforts to incite a mutiny. You see, Patrice was a strong-willed girl with a twinkle of mischief in her eyes and she wanted more time in the car.
But, her drill sergeant-like uncle quelled the rebellion and it was back on the bikes for some character building.
Again in Skagway
In 1996, we were once again in Skagway with our three children and Leo. No sag wagon this time.
Everyone was riding, including Nellie, our youngest at age 7.
“I can’t remember which bike trip it was but it was the first one which I biked and I’m pretty sure we started the trip in Skagway,” Nellie, now 22, said in an email.
“The real character building trips were the ones over the passes,” Ann said. “There were tears of pain and frustration at points. But when they made it to the top, and saw the downhill in front of them, they were proud and full of energy.”
Where the road started up is where Nellie stopped pedaling.
No amount of bribes or pleading would get her moving. Ann took the other kids and started up the hill. As everyone started pedaling, Nellie started to cry, and as they disappeared into the distance “my waterworks only got worse,” Nellie said.
“I remember asking (dad) what gear I should be in as I started up an extremely steep hill. (He) told me I should be in a high gear. After about ten minutes of struggling up the hill I stopped. I remember giving (him) the silent treatment for the rest of the day,” Nellie said.
When Nellie started crying, I had this horrible sinking feeling that I had let my ego dictate what she could do. That feeling has stayed with me a long time, and even though the problem with gears was based on miscommunication, it is good cautionary tale.
Character building is a two-way street for both child and adult.
Stages of a girl’s life
For our vacation during the summer of 2000, Nellie, Ann and I took a fast ferry across the Gulf of Alaska to Valdez. We were biking 300 miles to Anchorage.
After finishing a soccer tournament in the Lower 48, Lynn flew to Anchorage and then down to Valdez to join us. Luke, 17, had a job repairing bicycles and couldn’t get away.
Lynn seemed annoyed with the situation from the minute she arrived. Her comments suggested that her friends were having all the fun in Juneau while she was stuck with her kid sister and tedious parents.
As we left our motel room to begin the trip, Lynn paused in front of a mirror to carefully check her appearance.
This was a different Lynn. She was no longer a kid, but instead a teenager with a keen interest in the social world outside of the family.
“Lynn and I were both in those bratty middle and high school stages of a girl’s life,” Nellie wrote. “And if I remember correctly, I don’t think either of us went into that trip necessarily wanting to be there. The first break down occurred when Lynn insisted she needed to eat a Nutrageous bar and ‘Drill Sergeant Dad’ told her she had to wait until we had finished our biking for the day. That started an all-out family feud,” Nellie said.
Things didn’t pick up until we approached Anchorage. At that point everyone began to feel like we had accomplished something and the Anchorage branch of the family was impressed. It was a good way to end the trip.
Bagels were involved
“Meltdowns have been a feature on just about every bike trip I’ve ever been on,” said Kathleen “Teeny” Metcalfe, a younger sister of mine, as she discussed her own meltdown.
Teeny was describing an incident on a Seattle to Spokane trip with Ann, Barb, Lynn and Lynn’s best friend Britney Moen, in 2004. Lynn and Britney were just out of high school. Nellie and I were in Spokane for a soccer tournament.
Bagels were involved, Teeny said.
“I had been carrying the bagels around for days and we stopped at a grocery store. ‘Why are we buying more food when we haven’t eaten what we have?’ Teeny said.
Teeny threw the bagels into a trash can in a fit a rage and “cracked” when the others pulled then out.
“Finally, it was like, ‘OK, I think I am having a meltdown here.’ Typically I’ll be screaming for 10 minutes then I realized I haven’t been eating. It was all about these stupid, ridiculous little things that you focus on while you’re pedaling that set you off,” she said.
But this trip was about more than meltdowns.
For Lynn it was a breakout tour.
“I could see her stay right on Teeny’s back wheel and I know she could have gone ahead,” Ann said. “She gained a lot of confidence on that trip.”
“Lynn and Britney were much stronger than I expected,” Teeny said. “They didn’t need any of the biking gear you’d think they needed. They didn’t have bike shorts, or bike shoes. Britney didn’t even have a touring bike and Lynn’s bike was too big. That was no big deal to them, they just had tennis shoes and it didn’t matter at all. They just got on and rode.”
The ladies go shopping
In 2005, while I was training in Mongolia with the Alaska Guard, the ladies kept biking.
This time it was Ann, Teeny, Lynn and Nellie on a trip from Bar Harbor, Maine to Boston, Massachusetts.
“The difference between this trip and the other trips Lynn and Nellie had been on was there was something to do besides look at trees,” Teeny said, half jokingly.
“The Bar Harbor trip was the cat’s meow because every 10 or 20 miles there were little shops, things to see. They had a couple of carrots keeping them motivated, Boston and New York City. It’s OK to have fun while you’re suffering,” she said.
Shopping has its place but suffering makes for better stories, as Lynn later said.
“When I was young, I could not understand why our parents were taking us to these remote, mosquito-infested places in Alaska to bike for our ‘vacations,’” she said in an email.
“I had a lot of fun when I was on them, but I always wanted to do what the other kids were doing like go to Disneyland. Then, we did that Disneyland trip and I liked it, but I realized that it really wasn’t as much fun as the bike trips.
“I honestly can’t say that I have very many good stories from the Disneyland trip. Or at least none that can compare to ones that I have from bike trips. What I appreciate about them now that I couldn’t then (and this probably sounds cheesy) is they instilled a sense of adventure in me. I realized that a lot of kids who went on ‘normal vacations’ were actually jealous of the things that we did as a family.”
“Bike trips also give you pretty good street cred as a little kid. I’m pretty sure they were all afraid of me and thought I was really tough, and I liked that,” Lynn said.
• Mac Metcalfe is a Juneau resident and cycling enthusiast.