Above: Me, Travis, Paul, my dad, Joshua.
Day five of Living a Better Story found us at Martin Creek State Park awaking to a still, brisk, bright morning. We would be able to finish, granted we had the energy and the wits to avoid being killed on the road.
To be honest, I don't think the guys felt the energy, but we departed anyway on the bikes, ready for the dogs we knew awaited us just outside the state park. They provided a brief sprint; the fear of being bitten or having a dog collide with your front tire is a nice way to get the adrenaline flowing and the legs pistoning.
Highway 43 to Henderson was uneventful, until we found a pair of panties lying on the side of the road. I haven't metioned it before, but as we've been going along this trip I've been looking for "roadside treasures." I told one of the guys on the first day that the things I see most often on the side of the road are trash, bungy cords, gloves, and bras. He thought that was random... we both did. Well, on day five I found a pair of red panties. I took a picture of them to make a joke for my wife, which worked quite well, I might add. Then Travis decided he would wear them, and he made a joke of his own.
All down Highway 43 and then onto Highway 64, Travis peddaled himself and his pantied heinie along. The other guys were pretty grossed out by the whole thing; thoughts of where they had been especially grossed them out. Heh, all Travis could think about was finding a bra to match. He never did find a bra, so we ripped the lingerie away about twenty miles from Tyler, our destination.
Other highlights? Well, Joshua (who fell pretty hard the second day) has been struggling all week with a sore elbow. On day five, his sunburn blistered and his arm went numb. I tried to get him to ride in the truck with my dad, but he refused. He said he could still feel his hand, so he'd be okay. I didn't want to stop him from finishing this story his way, so I let him ride. He finished red, yes; he finished tired, yes; he finished with a stiffening arm, yes. As he put it himself, he "spends most of his time indoors." This bicycle trip was beyond his everyday activities. But he finished. I'm proud of his efforts and his accomplishment.
Paul proved to be the supportive big brother this trip. He would hang back and wait for Joshua, he would look after him and check to be sure he was feeling alright, he would encourage him. He was the first to help Joshua up off the road when he crashed. As we neared Tyler, Travis remarked to me that Paul was a good big brother. Travis said he would have probably left his own brother and then told a snowboarding/skiing story to support his point. Of course, Travis didn't actually leave his brother stranded on a mountain, but his point was taken. Paul is a good big brother and Joshua was better for it this week. Joshua still did his ride his way, but his biggest fan was certainly Paul. (And, for the record, I think Travis might find himself a better big brother than he thinks, if given the chance.)
We arrived at my house around 3:30. We were all mildly euphoric and thrilled to have finished the journey. My dad was already there, unloading the trailor. We gathered around for one final picture, which proved to be opportunity for one last prank. My wife called as my dad snapped off his last shot, and handed the phone to Travis. The three boys played their roles as redneck brothers, confused my daughter and my wife, and had one final laugh.
Saying goodbye to each other and the trip is an odd thing. We had just spent the better part of five days together, riding, struggling, laughing, eating, thinking (well, thinking some). Now, it was over. There were a few hugs, a few handshakes. Then, goodbye. I'm not sure I even got a chance to look each student in the eyes as we parted ways. It lasted so long and it comes to an end so abrubtly.
Truly, such a trip as this--such a story as this--is about the journey. It's hard for a goodbye to be other than quick. I do hope these young men will read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl and find themselves thinking through what we did together and what they can do in the future... what they can do to live better stories. A real change in perspective doesn't usually happen in an instant or overnight or even through five days of riding bikes and spending time together. We have a start. Now it's up to them to consider further. To pour meaning and purpose and ambition into the characters they are becoming. To live a better story. I wish them the best and godspeed on their coming stories.