I stress about what I write. Not the topics, but the word count, the frequency, the quality. I lie—I stress about the topics, too. I joined a writers’ group on Facebook—Authors with Tourette Syndrome. “Authors.” Stretching? Aspirational? I’m more comfortable with the generic term writer. Author implies output, something published. That’s not me, barely.
I brought this on myself. In a different Tourette group, I posted a link to a virtual reading. “Nine authors, including me, are reading Monday night…” Right there, I called myself an author. No wonder I received an invite to the authors group. Now I feel pressure to produce.
This month is miserable. Work, coaching, a backlog of great books to read. I can’t carve out the time to write. Add in the Olympics. On Saturday, Sophie laid out our options. “The best deal is Hulu Live. We can watch or record anything we want.” It’s only sixty dollars. Not much money for a world class event that hasn’t happened for five years. We signed up. Instead of writing, I’m watching TV.
Monday night was my only free time this week. The rest of the week looks like this:
Tuesday night: Coach
Wednesday night: Work
Thursday night: Coach
Friday night: Work
Saturday all day: Work, then coach, then work
Sunday: Go to the beach
Sophie, at dinner on Monday: “Hey I recorded the men’s cross country mountain bike race today!” So much for Monday night. I coach a mountain bike team, Eli’s mountain bike team, although Eli isn’t riding. He broke his pelvis in June, and while it’s healing quickly, he isn’t ready to ride trails. A fall might send him back to ground zero.
Last year, “coaching” meant making sure no one got left in the woods. I dawdled behind the kids at an easy pace, usually much slower than I wanted to go. The term is sweeper (I sweep up the remnants). “Jeff, sweep the ‘Green’ team.” The Greens are the high school riders; the Reds are the stronger middle schoolers. Magically, this year I’ve become the lead coach of the Reds. I guess I’m a little more experienced this year—still, this feels like a stretch. I plan the focus areas for practice, the drills, I lead rather than follow. This year, coaching has become a big deal.
Monday night, while watching the mountain bike race instead of writing, Eli started in with his ‘I can ride that’ patter. Whenever we’re out hiking, and we happen on an absurd part of the trail—a cliff (up or down) a thin ledge, a twelve-inch-wide bridge, Eli will say “I can ride that.” When we sit down to stream Red Bull Valparaíso Cerro Abajo—a downhill urban mountain bike race that plunges down staircases, across roof tops, and over jumps gapping entire streets, Eli says “I can ride that.”
The Olympic course featured stacks of huge boulders to ride over or jump off. Steep climbs that seemed to go on forever, long jumps that landed at the start of a turn. The race left me white knuckled, gripping the edge of the couch, exclaiming “oh brother” over and over. Eli, clearly missing his mountain bike, simply said “I can ride that.”
Tuesday night at practice, I took the Reds on the hairiest part of our practice course. Inspired by the gnarliness of the Olympic race, I decided to stop coddling the kids. We rode a deep, dry, wash, rounded at the bottom, steep on both sides. It’s actually easy to ride through but it looks scary as hell. After walking through the gully, talking about the best line to enter and exit the streambed, each kid took a turn, riding it forwards and back. Mixed results. Most of the kids had trouble riding up the steep bank exiting the gully, but one after another, they plunged down the decline without hesitation. If they were terrified, they kept it to themselves.
Eli is now spending his days completing the exercises assigned by the physical therapist. This includes a short, daily bike ride. He’s walking without crutches, without pain. It shouldn’t be too much longer before he can rejoin practice. Something to look forward to: he and I decided it makes the most sense for him to ride with the Reds on his initial outings while he tests out his joint. I get to ride with my son.
In the meantime, Eli’s “I can ride that” bravado is just a good way for him to feel like he’s still in the game. I can’t imagine his disappointment as I head out for two-hour practices three times a week. When he comes back to practice, I’ll be sure to lead the Reds through that gully. Even for skilled riders, the first time through inspires a momentary ‘holy shit’ response. But as he watches the Reds, many of them first year riders, drop down the bank, one after another, he’ll know that unlike all the crazy crap we see on TV, this one, he can ride.