Today I finally cracked. Or rather, Woodrow cracked me. He didn’t do it with speed or strength or endurance, though. He did it with the slows.
Simply put, my son is the slowest rider on earth. The first day I chalked it up to having never ridden more than ten miles in his life and suddenly doing fifty miles uphill into the wind on an MTB with a backpack.
The second day I chalked it up to exhaustion from the day before plus brutal climbing. But as he got fitter and never seemed tired I began to wonder. Was he missing a quadriceps or a lung?
I tried all manner of tricks to speed him up. YOU KNOW THESE.
“Stay on my wheel!”
“Stay ahead of me!”
“stay even with me!”
“Find an easier gear!”
“Find a harder gear!”
And of course “Arrrrrrrrrgh!”
All to no avail. Woodrow had his speed, singular, and it was slower than a tooth extraction. There was only one time that he let himself be cajoled off his 9-mph pace, and that was between Gotha and Erfurt. We were passing a pasture and a swarm of horse flies descended on his bare legs. Woodrow hates bugs.
I didn’t know what had happened; all I heard was a yell followed by a near-fatal swerve followed by a 22-mph pace. I leaped to catch on and he drilled it for fifteen solid minutes.
“Damn!” I said. “How come you won’t ride like that all the time? We’d be in Berlin by now.” But he just smiled and notched it back to 9-mph.
It was that deathly slow pace yesterday from Weimar to Weißenfels after so many consecutive days of snailing that did me in. We reached the Sport Tourist Hotel to find it empty and the door locked. After a few phone calls the manager answered and drove over to take our money and give us our room. Booking.com had assured me, of course, that mine was the last room so Hurry And Book Now! I laughed at my foolishness while we waited in the rain to enter the empty dorm.
Woodrow was untired and unfazed. “Awesome room, Dad! And the bathroom has soap!”
I lay on the bed wondering how I’d go out and hunt dinner on Sunday night in this tiny town in the middle of Noah’s second flood when everything was closed especially the grocery stores.
We finally found a Turkish place in the Altstadt and wolfed down the cheap cuisine. I noted a familiar pattern: Woodrow immediately recharged after food whereas I, like an old battery, never got back to the place I’d been the day before.
Fortunately our next leg, to Leipzig, was a mere 40km. We climbed out of Weißenfels and then hit the long effortless downhill tailwind all the way to Leipzig. Woodrow even notched it up to 11 or 12-mph, but the damage was done: I was crushed and could barely turn the pedals.
Ten kilometers from town we got lost and ended up on a Jay LaPkante dirt track along a fully graffiti-ized gas pipeline and when it dumped us out on the street we were hopelessly lost.
“Ask those two old ladies where the bike path is,” Woodrow said, pointing to two women in their forties.
“Excuse me,” I said in my best German, “can you direct me to the bike path?”
“I’m sorry,” the woman answered in perfect English. “But I don’t understand Polish. Do you speak English or German by any chance?”
At that moment a granny on a clunker came pounding by at a solid 20-mph. “C’mon, Woodrow! She looks like she knows where she’s going!”
“But Dad!” he protested, “She doesn’t know where we’re going!”
Despite the reasonableness of his objection we chased after her. She looked back. “Do you want something?”
“Yes, ma’am! The way to Leipzig!”
“Follow me, junger Mann, I show you the fast way!” Her previous pace was as nothing. She flexed her big legs and shot forward.
What followed was a combination between following Manslaughter down a cliff and Surfer Dan through stacked Santa Monica traffic and Wimberley through a crowded hairpin.
This old Frau was a hammer and she went over curbs, through muddy tracks, blew through orange lights, and passed other cyclists like a crit champ. Her legs were blocky and powerful and she railed the wet cobbled corners on her clunker with total confidence.
“Here we are!” she said, braking beneath the huge tower at Leipzig University. “You and the boy go well.” She put out her hand. “Christa Rothenburger.”
She laughed. “No I’m not. Nice riding, really.” Then she blasted off on her clunker loaded with shopping bags. I wondered which one of them held her Olympic medals.
Woodrow had no idea who she was, he only knew it was the fastest he’d ever imagined riding on a bike and surviving.
We got to the hostile youth, checked in, and I collapsed. It was ten a.m. and all I could think was that the next day’s 50-miler through vales and up hills wasn’t going to be pretty.