We arrived before the party even started. It didn’t make sense. Why show up early when I wanted to spend as little time there as possible? I guess we did it for Eli. Saturday was his season-end shindig. A cookout, a camp out, a chance to hang out with his coaches and teammates and not ride a bike. The fall mountain biking season will end this weekend. Last weekend, there wasn’t a race, so we had a party instead.
As soon as we got there, Eli and I ditched Susan. We left her with the coaches and their wives. The ones who set things up. Eli and I rode the trail. Since mid-August, Eli met his team every Tuesday and Thursday evening for a ninety-minute practice. He’s ridden countless three-mile loops. Saturday, he wanted to ride one with me. Slightly terrified, I followed him into the woods.
At fifty-seven, I’m not sure I can handle a fall. This is the last time I fell hard: Seven years ago, mountain biking with some friends, I crashed. The bike slid left, I fell right, flat on my stomach. I bruised my hip bone; I bent my derailleur. A hundred yards later we hit a fire road. I bailed on the group and rode back to my car. I haven’t been mountain biking since.
Susan has. A month ago, Eli wanted to ride a trail system he learned about from his team. I wanted to go too, but I wanted to run the trails not bike them. Susan volunteered to ride with Eli. At the end of my run, I emerged from the woods onto an open field. Eli rode up to me. “Mom fell and hurt her neck.” I turned up the steam; I still had seventy yards to run.
Susan hit a rock and rolled head first over her handlebars. She landed on her back. We’re all lucky she didn’t get killed. Lucky she can still walk. Bloody and bruised, her crash was my cautionary tale. I’m not a kid anymore; like Susan, I break now. So off I rode; I followed Eli into the woods. Other than sore hands and shoulders from my death-grip on the handlebars, everything went fine. I could ride all the obstacles, and I mostly kept up.
The ride was the easy part. When we returned, the party had started—thirty parents making small talk… or real talk depending on how well they knew each other. All my relationships are in the small talk category, a skill in which I truly suck. I got by for a while talking about the mountain bike course, and then biking in general, and then I dried up. Long silences, people excusing themselves. I simply don’t know what to say. Susan and I were the first ones to leave.
One of the topics that came up that evening was whether I was interested in coaching. In Gettysburg, I’m known as a cyclist. Before my job accounting for my county’s library system, and before that at my county’s domestic violence organization, I accounted for my county’s YWCA. I instructed spin classes at the Y. I rode my bike to my job at the Y. To the thousands of people who belong to the Y, I’m a cyclist, a coach. One of Eli’s coaches actually used to take my spin class. A couple of the other coaches think I’d be a good fit for the team.
There’s temptation in this. Flattery at being asked. Two mandatory evening workouts every week. Getting back my mountain bike mojo. Spending time with Eli. Giving me something to do on his race weekends besides awkwardly hanging around the team tent. I could be that coach who sits with the socially anxious parents at the team dinner. There are so many reasons to say yes.
But there’s a huge reason to say no. I’ll be out of my comfort zone. I’ll be around other people… all season. It drains me; it’s awkward. I can’t converse. I won’t be able to wear my hearing aids when I ride, will I even be able to talk with the kids and the coaches? What about the parents? And then there’s my Tourette tics—weird faces, weirder noises. Something else to feel self-conscious about. I wonder if Eli even wants me to coach. We talked about it briefly. He didn’t say no, but I don’t remember him saying yes either. He’s got a great relationship with the coaching staff. He feels comfortable around them. Would it screw everything up to have his father around?
I don’t need to really think about this for six months. That’s when the planning starts. And the trail-work, lots of trail-work. It’s on my mind now because his last race is coming up. If I get involved will he be more likely to ride through the winter? Less? I want him to ride. This is the first group activity he’s ever liked. Maybe it will wind up that way for me too.