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A local paper recently published several dispatches from a literarily inclined adventurer. These mini-travelogues detailed his and a traveling companion’s rugged excursion down a long stretch of the Mississippi. Mosquitoes loomed large. Muck stuck canoes. Comfort food and lodging seemed a distant dream. With his words, he wove a vivid picture of sunsets and sore muscles. Two proud, bitten, sweaty, smelly, aging, yet still adventurous males survived all that nature threw at them and somehow came out the better for it. Though I admired the skill with which the writer described his journey, I secretly scoffed at the extent of the hardship he and his companion had suffered.
Wimps, I thought to myself. I’d grappled with more adversity in two hours than they had in two weeks.
My journey took place on suburban sidewalks. I ventured forth not with an aging and adventurous traveling companion with whom to male-bond, but with two young girls, ages five and seven — siblings prone to competition and conflict. I ventured forth not in a canoe, crowded with an adventure’s worth of supplies, but on foot, equipped only with a house key, three small water bottles, and a ratty backpack.
My traveling companions had more gear: helmets, wrist pads, elbow pads, kneepads, and shiny, gleaming new scooters. Heading for my seven-year-old’s summer art class, we set out on an unusually brisk, partly cloudy July morning. The scooters, purchased the weekend prior, had been tested only on circular laps through the park across the street. The scooter journey was my suggestion, as a way to get past the foot-dragging lack of enthusiasm being displayed for making it to class at all.
“Hurrahs!” greeted my suggestion.
My traveling companions made it out of their pajamas and into some semblance of daytime clothes. We foraged in the closet for the newly purchased scooter pads. We strapped six pads onto each young adventurer, using 20 Velcro closures. We retrieved the scooters from the garage. My daughters scootered halfway down the block, and I fast-walked to keep up. A chill wind blew at our backs. “We’re cold!” the young adventurers announced. While they rested up after their 25-yard journey, I ran back to the house for jackets. I rejoined them and struggled to jacket the heavily padded adventurers. I finally determined that four of each daughter’s six pads (12 Velcro closures) would have to be removed and reattached on top of the jackets.
We accomplished this process, and I checked my watch. The plenty of time I’d planned for the journey had shrunk considerably. “Hurry!” I coached my young adventurers. We proceeded to the next block. A crack loomed large in front of one daughter. She hit it and toppled over, her pads protecting everything but her pride. We stopped to restore her shaken confidence. I checked my watch and began to regret my daring idea for the scooter journey. We proceeded to the next block.
“I’m hot!” one young adventurer announced.
“Me too!” agreed her companion.
The sound of Velcro being rapidly ripped open pierced the suburban air. Twelve reaffixed closures later, I carried my daughters’ jackets and again encouraged forward scooter progress. One young adventurer screeched at the other, when her speed propelled her into a five-yard lead. The leader huffily waited, then screeched as she was passed. The muscles in my neck tightened with tension. I helped my young adventurers overcome still-greater obstacles. My dog-aphobic kindergartener had to abandon her scooter several times to distance herself from potentially dangerous passing canines. I calmed her and coaxed her to continue.
I lost count of the blocks we traversed, as one might lose count of the miles of an endless river.
What had seemed like a perfectly feasible scootering distance quickly took on the ludicrous ambition of a plunge down Niagara Falls. I took a wrong turn late in the journey, overeagerly anticipating a shortcut through the school playground. My heart sank as I realized there would be no shortcut. I kept up a brave front, sweat gathering at my brow, as I implored my young adventurers to press on.
The classroom door finally came into view. A pool of prompt and well-rested students filed in. My young adventurers and I determinedly closed the distance. I collected my seven-year-old’s six pads, helmet, and scooter. We kissed goodbye, and she slipped through the door before it closed with finality on even later latecomers. My spent five-year-old and I sat down on an available bench. My mind wrestled with the exhausting choices now open to us. We could play at the nearby playground for two hours, until big sister was done with class. Then we would all face an arduous, hungry, and competitive journey home. Alternatively, my five-year-old and I could proceed home at a more relaxed pace, bringing the adventure to a quicker end. We rested to gather strength. I suggested to my five-year-old that we head home. A fresh chill wind and the increasing clouds over the playground made her easy to convince.
I picked up my absent daughter’s scooter, stuffed her six pads in my backpack, and started walking. My five-year-old managed to scooter about one block before declaring she was tired of scootering. I collected her six pads and scooter. With one heavy metal transportation device now slung over each shoulder (and a backpack in between), the tension in my neck tightened. My five-year-old managed about one more block before declaring she was tired of walking. I pleaded with my young adventurer to press on. We would make it home. We would relax on the couch. My five-year-old grudgingly plodded another block before declaring she had to go to the bathroom. I pleaded with my young adventurer to press on. We would make it home. She could use the bathroom.
I lost count of the blocks we traversed, as one might lose count of the number of times one is forced to push a stone up a hill in the depths of hell. I know my youngest adventurer tried the scooter one or two more times. I know at one point I threw caution to the chill wind and declared that she could scooter without pads — the helmet was the only essential. Velcro be damned. Our house finally came into view, like a lush oasis after months in the driest desert. My daughter and I staggered to the garage, I to unburden my shoulders of the two, 300-pound scooters; she to remove her helmet, the one piece of equipment she had remained responsible for throughout our journey. Our burdens lighter, we limped inside. I collapsed on the couch. She headed for the bathroom. When my cranky adventurer reappeared, I read a short book that was lying nearby.
I checked my watch. It was time to pick up our other adventurer. The van ride to and from class was a quiet end to our arduous morning. We were subdued. Introspective.
And why not? We had survived all that suburban sidewalks could throw at us and somehow came out the better — or at least, the wiser — for it. We’d drive from now on.
Who needs the Mighty Mississippi?