Spring is coming (or here?), and many are beginning to dig their bicycles out of the garage for the first time in 2015. Others are considering utilizing a bicycle in their daily lives for the first time since childhood. Factors such as health, trail accessibility, and free parking often spur this yearly shift toward more and more people on bicycles in our city, but as most bicycle riders discover, their motivations move beyond measurable metrics such as fitness to immeasurable ones like happiness and well-being. Below is one local perspective from Near South Lincoln resident Ben Welstead on the unexpected joys of rediscovering the bicycle.
Long story short. At the age of 34 I bought a bicycle because there was something peculiar and profound about how my friends Aaron and Ben joyfully lived their lives on two wheels instead of four. I was at a stage in life when I had to know more, and hopefully feel more. Little did I know, buying a bicycle would change who I am as a steward of this planet, a citizen of Lincoln, and a father. The following are bits and pieces of my experiences after just a few months of living a new life on my bike.
Between my hometown of Battle Creek and Norfolk, there is the “Cowboy Trail.” A converted railroad track now covered in red crushed rock, it weaves its way through cornfields, crumbling barns, and farmhouses. One summer evening, I put the earbuds in and set out East. Halfway towards Norfolk as the sun began to set, suddenly the music pummeling my eardrums seemed folly. As I pulled out my headphones, I was struck with an overpowering chorus of crickets and cicadas drumming a steady beat with wings and feet. The setting, golden sun highlighted the wings of a million flying insects. Two mourning doves sang their dirge. I realized in this moment, that on this little speck of our world, I was in a place that you can journey to only by walking or bicycling. And this particular night, I was the only one who chose to travel this course, not another soul in sight. No one was around to see and hear and smell what my senses were allowed to drink so deeply. It was Holy ground. For a moment, I was king of this place, and my soul was at rest.
Best Daddy Ever:
When I started taking my kids on rides, this summer, it wasn’t easy. My kids were 5, 6, 6, and 8. Yep, four kids and one crazy father. There was a lot of complaining, whining, falling chains, breakdowns, fighting, wrecks, yelling etc. Yet we always made it home, and always wanted to go back out the next day. It took some work, but we got good at it. There is power a child feels in a bike ride that if somehow bottled up could fuel space rockets. For a while now, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around what began to happen and continues to happen on our rides:
Once everyone felt comfortable on their bikes and we learned a lot about safety rules and hand signals, we started going on longer and braver rides. Also, I started to speed up. The first time it happened, it was too good to be true. We were out on a ride and hit a pretty steep downhill in our neighborhood. I kicked it hard trying to get away from my kids and cause them to make chase. They accepted the challenge and we were cruising. As we careened down the hill with the wind starting to muffle all sounds, there was a joy that was welling up inside one of my kids like the coming dawn. Just as the sun can’t be contained by the horizon at the moment of sunrise, I heard this scream from behind “You’re the best Daddy ever!!!!!” On other rides, replace that yell with, “I love you!!!!” or “This is the best day ever!!!”
I’m not making this up. It really happens. A lot. It’s why we push through all the hard stuff. I’ve come to this conclusion about this phenomenon: In my worst of days, I am really good at making my kids feel… small. Only they will know how horrible their Dad can be when he’s pissed off about insignificant things like the never-ending appearance of socks on the floor. All the times I’ve yelled, “You are a child, I am the adult! Shut your mouth and listen.” I hate myself for it. But those moments, those magical trips on our bikes, with the wind, the road, the danger and the thrill, I’m giving them the chance to feel…big. Not just big, but free. Free from all the hard things that come with adoption, abandonment, and a very flawed adoptive Dad. So… my hope and my prayer is that when they are grown, they will look back at all those things that I already regret and see them as small, and remember the bike rides when they felt…big.
Eyes Wide Open:
When you are in your car driving to and from work, you are in a bubble. The roof of your vehicle is the only thing overhead. There are limitations of sight due to glared windows and tiny mirrors. The air inside is stale. After a hard days work, you lock your eyesight toward home and jockey for position as you go as fast as you can to rid yourself of this awkward skin that is your car.
I didn’t realize how much I hated the short daily commute until I traveled the same small distance on my bicycle. I didn’t have a clue what I was missing. As I roll by Cultiva, groggy from the night before, the scent of roasted coffee hits me at 11th and H. I feel refreshed, and ready for the day. On my ride home, as I coast by El Chaparro on 13th, a taco blast of goodness makes my mouth water as I pedal hard to get home craving a dinner with my family.
My eyes have been opened. I notice the houses on each street, and start to understand how our city is put together, realizing niches of class and income. I notice the homeless, more than I have ever seen. Whether it means something or not, I’m always nodding, saying “good morning”, and hoping that at the very least, they know that for that day, they have been seen. I appreciate the bike lanes and trails, and am thankful for the community I am a part of that is continually working hard to give life and strength to the bicycling community.
For the first time in a long time, every day, I can see.
Don’t Give Up
There is a sign that hangs in the creative room of our house. It was given to us by our dear friends The Parsons years ago. The message is simple yet impactful. “Don’t Give Up.” We have shared this message with the many couples we have photographed on their wedding day, because we know how hard the road ahead will inevitably be. Renee and I have uttered these three small words to each other in moments of marriage turmoil, or parenting meltdowns.
We know the difficulties that lie ahead for our kids, and make no qualms about it. Without planning, we started a mantra. “You are a Welstead, and Welsteads don’t give up.” We say it, repeat it, and say it again. I found myself saying it on our bike rides. When we started pushing the limits of our rides, there was always one of my kids that would get tired and frustrated. There were moments of yelling, screaming, and even laying down on the ground. Deep down, I knew it was too much, but sometimes I feel my job as a dad is to put my kids in difficult and almost impossible scenarios. How else will they learn that there is value in pressing on?
One day at the end of a particular ride, one of my girls had almost died two miles from our house. Her legs almost fell off. Her tears almost filled rivers. Yet as she rolled onto the little stretch of sidewalk in front of home and ditched her bike on the side of the house, she ripped her helmet off and with bright eyes still surrounded by saline tear stains declared, “It was hard Dad, but I didn’t give up, because Welsteads don’t give up!” My heart exploded.
Thanks for reading!