This post reflects a collaboration with the National Education Association’s Raise Your Hand for Student Success campaign. All thoughts and opinions are, of course, my own.
“I want to go somewhere…” my 14 year old daughter exhales. It’s half whine, half sigh. She is restless. It’s a longing I recognize. Her “Adventure Fund” jar makes my own heart skip a beat.
Between middle and high school, I was too old for summer camp and too young to pursue my dream of study abroad. I wanted to go somewhere.
One of my older brothers had spent a summer biking in Canada at a similar age and jokingly suggested I do the same. Jokingly, because I wasn’t known for my great love of the outdoors or biking. I didn’t own panniers for my trusty 10-speed Schwinn, even though they would have been handy to get my purchases home from the mall. The mall, at a distance of four miles from my house, was the farthest place I’d ever ridden to.
Maybe it was because my siblings were so sure I couldn’t hack it, or maybe it was the allure of all the sporty new clothes and gear (mummy style sleeping bag! mess kit! wool socks!) I’d need. I was determined to go on a bike trip and prove my siblings were wrong about me. I researched via camp directories and ads in the New York Times magazine.
Finally I found a trip to Prince Edward Island that was only slightly more vigorous and rustic (competitive streak) than the one my brother had done and commenced pestering.
My parents agreed to send me, probably half out of shock and half to shut me up. I’d be surprised if there weren’t bets as to how long I’d last. As the parent of teenagers myself, I can only imagine what semi sadistic and self satisfied thoughts they must have been thinking when they imagined my pampered self pitching a tent in the rain, and eating soggy cereal out of a tin cup while shivering at some rural campsite.
“This should be a lovely little attitude adjustment!”
The first week of the bike trip was like basic training. Daily rides were designed to test our hill management skills, and get us accustomed to navigating rural back roads, pre-GPS style, with a paper map.
The other bikers in my group were all more athletic and New England-y than me. They attended boarding schools and had prepster names like Theo, Liz and Hugh. At least one fellow biker boasted a “the Third” distinction. My footwear and raingear were all wrong. My bike was too mass market. But this was the least of my problems.
My fellow travelers sailed, rowed and played lacrosse. They seemed born knowing how to navigate. Just click your Stan Smiths together three times, flip up your polo collar and say “There’s no place like The Bay of Fundy.”
I barely knew how to use a compass. I learned to position my map optimistically, so that I was always headed upwards regardless of true north. The compass was there to confirm my course. It was confusing at first, but then it was empowering. I could plan a route! I could go anywhere!
Things were great until I hit the hills.
Prior to this bike trip, the gears on my bike seemed to exist merely for novelty’s sake. I only used one or two of them, half heartedly, at the last minute possible. I’d kick myself into first gear with an embarrassing, almost apologetic lurch, nearly falling off the bike when I’d run out of uphill pedal power. Too little too late, I’d end up walking.
High gears seemed totally pointless. It didn’t occur to me to experiment with them until a mischievous, curly haired boy caught my fancy.
“Shift up!” he’d shout as he rolled up behind me, disrupting my peaceful downhill coast and and thwacking the back of my helmet.
He’d pass me fast, pedaling hard into the downhill, racing ahead. Sometimes, though, he’d slow down and ride alongside me, or a little behind me, poking fun at my lack of speed. He was a teasing teacher.
“Now shift again,” he’d say, suggesting the perfect gear for the next few hundred yards, whizzing ahead of me yet again, mid conversation. I chased behind, heart thumping, barely noticing the way the miles flew by.
Soon I found my own rhythm. Atop each peak I crested, I would survey and plan the next dip and ascent. Two shifts on the downhill, two or three on the way back up and then I’d cruise to the next viewpoint without struggle, without pain.
I had a plan. My limbs knew what to do, and when to do it. It was exquisite. I believed I could fly.
This was all I dreamt of that summer – flying over rolling green hills, breathing damp salt air. They were the sort of dreams that feel more like reality than a dream, in which you feel vindicated. See? I told you I could fly!
I still picture possibility as the curly haired boy whizzing past me. Success is the exquisite feeling of cresting a hill, my plans executed, my body in perfect sync with my mind.
It’s a feeling I suspect I’ll be trying to re-create all my life, with each new venture and each problem I have to solve.
“I want to go somewhere….” my daughter repeats, not really knowing what it is she wants.
I know what I want for her; to know these feelings of possibility and success. To be able to read maps optimistically and plan her route. To chase dreams that make her heart thump. Some lessons are taught in school, and some are taught on the road. Students of today are the business leaders of tomorrow. Critical thinking, problem solving, and innovation are skills important in both school and business. Learning how to read a map and make a plan are some of the most basic skills required for launching and running your own business. That summer, long ago, taught me some important life lessons, but also the basics of goal setting and entrepreneurship.
“I know you want to do something, to go somewhere…” I tell her. “Let’s make a plan. Maybe a bike trip?”