“This is a good sign, having a broken heart. It means we have tried for something.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert
“Everybody else went out. But it’s not lonely, cuz I’m with you and you’re with me!”
Overheard - a voice from the bathroom: “Ewiza? I have the funnest idea in the WORLD! I could take off my pants and pee into the toilet like a HE!”
Concerning her outfit for the day: “I got very useful fings on me: cuz I got shorts on under HERE, and a tee shirt on under HERE!”
Drawing: “This person has hair and ears! Which is just what a person needs.”
Ivy becomes a make-believe creature, as she runs around the room: “I’m a Quartuar - it jumps, and looks at interesting things.”
At the end of our Bike Trip: “Tomorrow will be the end of our bike trip! Which is sad, but tomorrow I can work again! We have pens in the car, and I’ve been waiting a looong time to work…”
Scandalized at the mounted elk on the wall: “ACK! That’s a real deer that got chopped off!”
“Ivy! Don’t blow on me! …She’s doing that cuz she thinks this number ISN’T ten…”
Commenting on the string of traffic that whizzed by when I turned off the road: “Mama, all the cars in the WORLD were following us!”
Wowee zowie. What a summer this has been!
When I last wrote, the kids and I were in Sisters, Oregon, with only a few days left before we dropped Ben off at Not Back to School Camp, and rendezvoused finally with Jeff, and Mom and Dad and Loren and Aunt Barbara and Uncle Jyoti and Cousins Dave, Michelle and Leo, at Jake and Page’s house in Vashon.
But first, the last few days of my solo road trip with the kids. We spent these days in a state of full-on errand-running combined with epic adventure. Such an interesting combination! We were all missing Jeff, and I particularly did whenever we saw something amusing or fascinating: a sign for a 5k race named “The Walterville Waddle” (Ben and I laughed a lot at that one!); a road sign warning dramatically about an “Abrupt Edge”; a volcanic spring that Maggie and Freja showed us, where 45-degree water emerged from the side of a mountain and tasted like icy cold, watery ambrosia; a wasp that landed on Ben’s plate…and suddenly and dramatically rose up into the air with an entire noodle clasped teetering in its talons, until it (and the noodle) made it up into a tree, and then actually flew out of sight entirely. One day I was actually brave enough to unpack the van and get all the bikes out so that we could go for a ride on the amazing off-road trail system that extends for hundreds of miles outside of Sisters - and which began just a quarter-mile from our campsite.
I couldn’t stop kvelling as our trip continued. “Kvelling” is Yiddish for Being Prideful and Taking Lots of Photos, and since Jeff wasn’t there and we could only talk on the phone for a limited number of hours per day, I mostly kept adding photos to my album. (Soon, we will figure out a way to share the photos Ben took with his camera, and we’ll add them to this album.)
I mean, I love my kids. And I love bicycling. And my bicycling kids are just so great. Who WOULDN’T kvell!?
Meanwhile, back on the east coast, Jeff spent a week with his family in Connecticut (his dad is doing great after the surgery, thanks for all the kind e-mails and well wishes!), and then another week in Ithaca working at Cornell. It was a very successful trip, although it was long and we missed him. Hopefully he didn’t get too overwhelmed by (or accustomed to) the quietude…
And then the day came. I left my 15-year-old baby to spend two weeks ALL ALONE at summer camp (with a hundred and twenty of his peers plus about thirty adult staff members…but without ME!) and I drove away without him. Ben will soon update you concerning his world-rocking two weeks at Not Back To School Camp.
Then, Eliza and Ivy and Jem and I drove our empty-feeling yet enormously-packed van up the interstate toward Washington, where Mom and Dad were already waiting, and Jeff arrived later that evening.
Vashon is where we next spent an amazing two weeks, exploring Jake and Page’s new island estate (complete with gardens and apple orchard), visiting with so much family, picking blackberries, working, cooking, picnicking with Grandma Ruth and Grandpa Terry, bicycling on mountain bike trails, dipping our toes into incredibly cold salty water, eating a lot, enjoying lots of family dinners with Jake and Page (and cousin Nala the dog), cooking, working, sightseeing (and for Jeff, spending the day working at Jake’s office) in Seattle. It’s wild to go from the rural quietude to an enormous city, where such an enormous number of people and People Places exist: a tattooed man carrying a giant bouquet, a woman with tottering high heels, a landmark that is impossible to describe (because how do you explain what a Space Needle is??), a store selling just hats, a store selling just cheese, a market selling almost anything you can possibly imagine, little street sweepers that drive along the sidewalk, and a woman dressed all in red, even her purse. So Many Humans in one place!
Eliza helped Jake and Page clean and paint their treehouse. Jem used his new pogo stick (a birthday present from Grandma and Grandpa) and picked blackberries daily. Ivy and Eliza played so many games in the “giant” house, going up and down the stairs (“Why can’t WE have stairs in OUR house?!”), and chatting for hours with everybody. On the first weekend we were there, Aunt Barbara and Uncle Jyoti came, and Cousins Dave and Michelle and baby Leo arrived, and then Loren flew out for five days. The amazing part about being so close to family was that it felt like there were so many of our PEOPLE around, like we were kind of part of a tribe.
What is up with living so far from our families?!
How is it that we visit with family more often in general, now that we live in California, than we did when we lived on the east coast?
These are surprisingly complicated questions.
It was sad to say goodbye.
On August 31, we had a five-hour drive to get back to Eugene, where, after two weeks with nary a phone call (no news is good news, right?!) it was time to find out how Ben had fared at camp.
Seeing Ben for the first time in two weeks, and watching him say goodbye to the last few straggling campers who remained at the pickup spot, was indescribable.
This child who is older than a child, this boy who used to be my baby, was talking about his new Friends, all these other Teenagers, and events at camp that “changed the way I think about the world”, and…and this was my BEN, who struggled for so many years without having ANY friends, nor even wanting to have them. Ben told us that he’d organized an Autism Spectrum Discussion Group at camp. And it was like all the years of Ben’s life were suddenly flashing in front of me, the tantrums and the speech delays and the boring days of nothing but backhoe loaders and social isolation and more tantrums, and then the years of GAPS and trying to heal and the Overwork and Overwhelm, and the hurting and hoping, and the continuing work for the last few years to help him grow into and expand his world, and the incredible, incandescent image of Ben, now - right now, even standing in front of me - taking flight: meeting people, becoming independent, WANTING to grow into and expand his world, and wanting to and actually making new friends.
I had to walk around behind some shrubbery while Ben was saying his goodbyes, because I really was very definitely crying.
And then, without really a break in the action, our family vacation began. I wasn’t sure whether it would totally sink or actually swim, but in order to maximize Jeff’s vacation time and make it back to Joshua Tree and continue with our current autumn activities, our whole-family bike trip began the day we picked Ben up from camp.
That evening, we stayed with a Warmshowers host in Eugene, and Ben was practically in the middle of telling us how late he’d stayed up every night at camp, and how amazing it all was, and how he totally could probably stay up that late every night, even at home, even though nothing could ever be as amazing as Camp…when he fell completely asleep. Eliza giggled: “Wasn’t Ben just talking?! And now he’s asleep!” Which was soon true for everyone except me, because there were a LOT of little details that were about to either sink or swim, and I couldn’t figure out whether it was insane or not, to take everyone on a bicycle tour while Ben was still processing his two weeks at camp and Jeff was feeling so tired and Ivy was so young and…and…there were truly a million things that could go wrong, but maybe it would be better to sleep for a few hours.
It was hard for me to fall asleep that night, that is for freaking sure.
The next morning, the rest of my family rode to the Eugene train station, where the plan was to bring the bikes on the train up to Salem, and then ride through the Willamette Valley over the course of a week, back to Eugene.
One detail changed from when I’d originally planned the trip, however: we decided to bring the van along. This served several purposes, mainly allowing everyone to ride unloaded bicycles while all the rest of the Stuff traveled via van. It also allowed us to carry enough food for four days at a time (using our van fridge), so that I only had to go shopping once. Also, it provided assurance that Just In Case, the van would be available to pick up anyone who - for whatever reason - didn’t want to ride that day.
So: while the rest of the family took the train to Salem, I drove straight to the grocery store, shopped for a hungry cycling army of low-vitamin-A-eating visiting-space-aliens (space aliens (small, green, cute as a button) are generally the metaphorical characters we personify when taking our Special Diets out into the world!)…and then I drove up to Salem, where our second Warmshowers host awaited.
I honestly thought that Dave was in his sixties when he came out to introduce himself. Maybe a very fit 65-year-old, I decided. Likely he was only 62. He’d offered to host us, and to research the most kid-friendly routes to ride up the hill from the train station to his house, and when his hospitality was impossible to refuse, he even offered to ride with us, from the station back home and then the next day heading out of town. So after I parked the van in his driveway, he and I mounted our bikes and rode down to meet Jeff and the kids, who got off the train almost immediately after we arrived.
What happened next was that, since the hour-long train trip had just ended…it was snack time! Food was a very important part of our (and any) bike tour, so we stood around the train station chatting with Dave and eating for about an hour before we finally started pedaled up the startlingly long hill to his house. Dave is an experienced cyclist, and he rode faster than all of us, even the boys - but he kindly slowed his pace to guide us back to his house. Definitely, he couldn’t be more than 60 years old.
Dave and his wife were so incredibly hospitable, and wouldn’t even hear of us setting up our tents. They had a bed in their guest room already made up for Jeff and me, and stuffed animals for the girls to play with, and a fire in the fire pit in the beautiful backyard, and Dave let Jeff and me and the boys try out his gloriously fun electric bicycle. Dave had just purchased it last winter, he said, as a gift to himself on his 80th birthday.
We kind of knew the trip would be amazing, right there in Dave’s house that night.
And it was amazing! Truly. It didn’t sink, and it was way better than I'd even hoped for, and Eliza rode her own bike for all 124 miles of it - I never even had to bring anyone in the sag wagon once! (Well, one day I did bring Ivy along for three miles after lunch, thinking that it would be wise not to tire her out, but she was crying so bitterly all the way that I pulled over to text Jeff to see if he would be willing to have his small "ewectric engine" back to ride with him for the afternoon after all. "I wuv you too, but I want to be wif Papa and RIDE!" she told me tearfully. Ivy refused to ride in the van after that.)
The Willamette Valley was a wonderful, FLAT, and perfect choice for the tour. Our hosts were all wonderful, and the distances were just perfect. I could tell that Jeff's fatigue was slowing him down and making him feel a little bummed out, and that was the only downside for me - I wished he was feeling better NOW...but he had a good time anyway, and it was so much better that we were all together as a family.
This was our itinerary and mileage:
9/1/2019 Salem, OR 7 miles
9/2 Independence, OR 14 miles
9/3 Millersburg, OR 26 miles
9/4 Corvallis, OR 24 miles
9/5 Corvallis, OR 0 miles
9/6 Brownsville, OR 27 miles
9/7 Eugene, OR 26 miles
TOTAL: 124 miles
There were some great field trips along the way: riding a little ferry across the Willamette, visiting an enormous old mill that was decommissioned in 2002 and is now a state park (there was a very cool balance scale in the mill, formerly used for weighing giant sacks of grain, and we got to weigh our entire family thereon to discover that our collective weight is 551 pounds), and staying with a family who have turned their suburban backyard into a garden and orchard. One night, we camped in the city park where part of the movie “Stand By Me” was filmed.
In Corvallis, our Warmshowers host said it was okay for us to stay for two nights, and on our "layover" day we walked around the city and enjoyed the public Community Pianos that are decoratively stationed all over, along with lots of other fun small-progressive-town amenities. Eliza and I together got our ears pierced in Corvallis - she'd been wanting to for awhile, and I never had the courage to do it until my seven-year-old did it first. :) So after riding her bike for 24 miles, Eliza walked another mile and a half to and from the tattoo and piercing shop - and the whole family got to see our ears get done. :) That was a bike trip memory we won't soon forget!
The last day of the trip is when autumn began: the final 26-mile ride began in mist, continued into light drizzle, and finished in a moderate drizzle...and we decided to start our drive back to Joshua Tree (where it sure doesn't drizzle almost ever!) the next day.
Photos from the trip: https://photos.app.goo.gl/NVpUMJ34T8uSaAzt7
Most nights after biking, we read aloud some All-of-a-Kind Family, which depicts a recent yet very different era: a time when children did a lot of resourceful inventing. “Kids don’t do that any more!” Ben said, after we read about the All-of-a-Kind Family May Day party, entirely planned and executed by the children and their friends. “People are changing.”
And even though we live very differently than those who inhabited the Lower East Side in 1912, I have been taking great inspiration from these books, which somehow felt relevant during our travels this summer. Watching my kids explore and pedal over the course of the week, I saw so many glimmers of resourcefulness and hope.
I can’t totally explain it, but sometimes it feels like adventure and travel is also revolutionary.
The drive back to Joshua Tree was great: we stopped at a National Monument we'd never heard of before (Lava Beds) and went spelunking in some amazing caves, visited some good friends in Carson City, spent one night under the nearly-full moon in a natural hot spring, and then...we arrived home on Wednesday and jumped straight into homeschooling work and play.
Photos from the drive home (and eventually more fall adventures, once they happen