“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon, “Beautiful Boy”
Driving along in our truck, just the two of us, time opens up and conversations can, and often do, go anywhere. On the way to Camrock Elliot and I were having one of those free, twisting and turning, talks and somehow we landed on the subject of the Beverly Hillbillies. Elliot had never heard of, or even seen a passing glimpse of, the show. I couldn’t believe it. Was I a failure as a father? I began to try to describe it to him and really warmed to my subject. I sang the theme song – “Listen to a story about a man named Jed, …” I explained the backstory, described each of the characters in detail, recalled some of the funniest bits I could remember. As I told all this to Elliot, it was like the show came alive to me again and I remembered how funny it was. And then I remembered, as if I was back there again, how happy we would be, my Dad and I, when we watched it together. Sometimes he laughed so hard tears would squeeze out of the corners of his eyes and roll down his cheeks. He’d rub them away with the soft heel of his rough brick layer’s hand, as if the touch of those tears on his fingertips might be too intimate to bear.
When Elliot and I arrived at the race, there was so much to do I forgot all about the Beverly Hillbillies. Registration, a warm up pre-ride of the course, eat a quick bite, roll up to the starting line, give the last minute advice on the course, and then, find a place for those all-important photos. The steep grass hill climb that starts the Camrock course has a false top, turns to the right, and then sends the riders up another steep gravel climb before finally leveling out into twisting, swooping, singletrack. I installed myself at the top of the grass hill and waited for the bellowing “Goooooo” from the timeless and eternally unchanging race director’s pre-race speech. Elliot showed a new maturity by holding back on the start, rather than going off like a rocket and using his tiny self to full advantage. If you’ve ever seen Elliot climb a steep hill ahead of a pack of kids who are all at least a foot taller than he is, then you know why power to weight ratio is real.
But this wasn’t to be Elliot’s best race. I jumped on my bike and pedalled up to the next section of track where I could see him pass by – through the prairie grass field just before the trail turned into a tunnel of trees. As soon as I saw his face, I knew he was in trouble. That panicked look, holding back tears and yet still bearing down on the pedals. He gasped out broken words as he went by but I didn’t understand. Another parent standing beside me turned, “I think he said ‘can’t breathe?’” Then I knew what that panicked look meant – asthma attack. I raced back to the truck, found Elliot’s inhaler, and then rode the course trying to catch up with him. I didn’t find him until he was halfway done with the race. He stopped, took a quick puff, and was off again. He was almost a minute behind the first place racer. I jumped on my bike and rode to the next spot where I could see him pass by. This was after punchy climbs and tight snaking singletrack in the dim dark of the riverside woods. The first place rider passed me and I began to count off the seconds. Elliot came through looking fresh and determined and now was only 25 seconds behind the leader. In the end, Elliot made up all but 14 seconds and came in third in his age group. Afterwards he told me how, in addition to his asthma distress, his chain kept derailing from the front chainring and he would have to slow and back pedal to re-engage it.
I suffered through my own race, cramping like an old man on the last switchback climbs and finding myself stranded, unable to move my legs on the side of the loose rocky trail with less than a quarter mile to go. I managed to somehow remount my bike and soft pedal to the finish and that was the extent of my glory for the day. Another weekend spent driving hundreds of miles and racing so that I could see my name on a results sheet way down at the bottom end of my age group. My aspirations are only to get to the middle of the pack – no more podiums for me. Why do I do this?
On the way back home the truck was quiet. I was brooding over my results and Elliot sat listening to music on the radio. Then, after driving for nearly a half-hour in silence, Elliot asked from the back seat, “Dad, do you think when we get home we can watch the Beverly Hillbillies?” I had forgotten our talk about the show and was surprised that Elliot had remembered it through the excitement of the day. “Sure,” I said. “We can probably find some episodes on YouTube.” “Okay,” he said and went back to listening to the music.
I glanced up into the rear view mirror and caught a glimpse of Elliot’s face, shining with the news that we would watch this TV show. And then it occurred to me: The plans and the training and the packing and the camping – even the racing itself – these are all simply the structure that provides the “in between” places where life happens. Like the walls and the floor and the ceiling of a house merely provide the boundaries that must be filled with life and love to make it a home. The race, how it went for Elliot, how it went for me – what place we came in, our speed and pace, the blow by blow of how we circled through the woods rolling on the dirt with our legs and lungs pumping – that’s just part of the structure. Only a few memories are made in the racing and planning. But the planning and the packing and travelling and the racing, they are only a small part of why we do this. We do this because life is what happens in between – in between the moments we are training, traveling, camping and racing. Life happens while we are busy planning life.
And so why do we do this? The structure of our plans, the edifice of our efforts, provide the place for our lives to be lived. It gives us an excuse to go meet other people, like all the racing families from Vision, like Michael at our local bike shop, Race Pace, like all the other racers at every race. Why do we do this? Because it gives an excuse for Elliot and I to simply be together so that when one of those in-between moments of life happens, we will be there to receive it.
Back home we watched episode after episode of the Beverly Hillbillies and I laughed until the tears rolled down my cheeks. We didn’t talk about the race. We didn’t talk about biking. We just laughed and laughed at a silly TV show. But tomorrow we will be ready to get back on the bike, ready to plan our next race.