Why this blog?

Yonah Biers-Ariel refused to have a Bar Mitzvah. His parents insisted on an alternative rite of passage. In order to avoid leading a half-dozen prayers and dancing with his grandmother at his Bar Mitzvah party, Yonah pedaled a bicycle 3,804 miles—San Francisco to Washington DC—joined by his parents and little brother. Along the way, the family collected thousands of signatures on a global warming petition calling for the United States to undergo an energy rite of passage moving from our dependence on oil to a non-carbon energy future.

99 GALLONS OF GATORADE is the father’s memoir of this ordinary family’s extraordinary journey.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Chapter 17 - A Woman of Valor

This particular day was 84 miles sans towns, convenience stores, shade. We had to schlep all our water, so Djina packed an extra 4.5 gallons in her trailer. Bonus question: what does a gallon of water weigh?

In order to avoid as much heat as possible, we arose at 4:00 a.m. and powered down the cereal and bananas we filched from the buffet the night before. Yonah bid a wistful good-bye to the waffle maker ensconced behind the buffet’s sliding glass door, locked until long after we had departed Eureka's darkened Main Street.

Though we crossed four named summits: Pinto, Pancake, Little Antelope, and Robinson, nothing was too steep, the heat stayed below triple digits, and we were blessed with a slight tailwind.

It was hard to believe that Yonah was only thirteen as he blasted up the ascents. Though physically he was becoming a man, he still asked questions about obvious common sense things that he could have easily figured out had he trusted himself. A few days earlier, he asked, "How do I wash my socks?" followed by, "How will I know they're clean?" and "How do I hang them up to dry?" It was as if he felt that failure would reflect poorly on his character. The paradox is that the road to success always runs through the towns of failure, fiasco, and defeat. As a youth, I was unlike my son. Once I convinced a commercial rafting company to employ me as a guide after boating with a friend down the American River in his raft and figuring out that all one needed to be a guide was paddle around a few pesky rocks. Heck, any moron could do that. Here let me insert more evidence to support the notion that there is a God who watches over idiots, or at least a patron saint of imbeciles, for no one died or was permanently maimed in my single season on the river as I habitually flipped rafts in rapids with names such as Satan’s Cesspool, Troublemaker, and Meatgrinder.

Djina's the same. Expert in areas she knows little about. So given our natures, how did Yonah become so tentative?

My hope was that the trip would give him the confidence to make mistakes and figure things out for himself. As the old saw goes, while parents can't solve their children's problems, they can give them the tools and confidence to figure them out on their own. This would work if I answered his sock question by stopping what I was doing, smiling, and calmly replying, "If you were on your own, how would you wash your socks?" I would wait and he’d eventually come up with his own solution. What an excellent parent!
Only it wasn’t me.

The incredulous father who could not believe his son was incapable of washing his own socks stared at the boy and huffed, "Are you kidding? Soap and water!"

The boy's tentative nature continued.

It was Father’s Day, the Mother’s Day afterthought holiday invented by Hallmark and the tie cartel. The only use for a tie on The Beast would be to keep Solomon’s hands on the handlebars, and I knew that Big Government must have had some stupid law against that. Instead, Djina cajoled the boys into saying something they appreciated about me at the top of each pass. Despite the earlier sock remark, Yonah joined Solomon and came up with something sweet, thoughtful, and at least partially true. It was the best Father’s Day gift ever.

The day’s only difficulty was that after 7.5 hours on the bike, Solomon started nodding off. I kept knocking him on his helmet to keep him awake. While other nine-year-olds spent their summers running around playing sports, Solomon sat from sunrise to sunset on the back of a bike in the middle of the desert. Again he was offered a plane ride to Los Angeles, and again the budding masochist declined.
We rolled into Ely expecting another pleasant town like Eureka. But though it was significantly bigger at over 4,000 souls, half of the town’s beautiful buildings were boarded up. Young, unemployed men created an angry vibe in the air. Think Main Street at Disneyland. Think crystal meth. Mix together in a cocktail shaker and pour out Ely, Nevada.

We stopped at Sportsworld for tire tubes. A large sign on the side of the building advertised, "Cheapest beer in town."

Djina wondered, "Is the beer next to the guns or the chainsaws?"

Though there were cases of beer that nearly reached the ceiling, aisles of guns and hunting equipment, and enough fishing gear to deplete the western states of trout, Ely’s single sporting goods store had not a single road bike inner tube.

Three miles out of town was a KOA campground. Its registration desk was located in a large convenience store. Besides us, there were about a dozen people inside, all elderly, all sporting yellow shirts.

"Here to camp?" inquired a bright-eyed seventy-year-old wearing a straw cowboy hat, Bermuda shorts, and white knee socks to complete his cheerful outfit. A badge identified him as "Bill, Texas."


"Y'all riding bikes?" asked “Joan, Louisiana” easily seventy-five with a shock of white hair that resembled Einstein's had he gone to a salon.

"Yes," I said, our helmets strapped on our heads. "We came from Eureka today.”

"Well," Bill said, "You've come to the right place. Just fill out this registration form."

The other yellow shirts inched their way towards us. Bicyclists were a novelty in this campground that catered to the RV crowd. Everyone was so nice that my cynicism antennae interpreted the feel as cultish. Of course it wasn’t. It was simply that if you were retired on a fixed income, this was a good place to be. Make a little cash, hang out with your peers, and be helpful. Given the fear that Social Security might go belly-up in the not so distant future, I filed KOA onto my cerebral hard-drive.

Two KOA women engaged in a heated argument to see who would escort us to the "tent area." “Fran, Minnesota” won, and with a toothy smile, she brought us to a large lawn, possibly the only grass within a 500-mile radius. We raised the tents and tucked into a mac and cheese dinner.

Solomon went to the basketball court, a couple of other kids showed up, and Solomon had two new friends. While Yonah tended to keep his own counsel, Solomon made friends with any sentient being: kid, horse, dog, beetle. If there were no life forms around, he’d bring out one of his imaginary friends. Jamie was a family fixture for years. He ate with us and had sleepovers. Jamie was a nice kid, but it was irritating when he left Solomon’s room a mess.

Three Harley-Davidsons set up camp next to us. Harleys are loud to the point of hearing loss, and they conjure up images of those famous bad boys, the Hell’s Angels. Yet Harleys are panache materialized. The bad boy image gives mystique to the accountants and marketing vice-presidents who buy the bulk of them. It's the sparkling chrome, the leather, the custom touches, and the patented engine rumble that tell everyone, "I'm here. I'm bad. I'm cool. I'm Brando." (Of course, Brando rode a Triumph in The Wild One, but that's only fact. We're talking myth here.)
Not only are Harleys thunderous, but for a few moments after the riders shut off their machines they are a bit deaf. But once their eardrums settled, these bikers were friendly. First came the usual comments. "You're coming from where?" "You're not really going to Washington?" "I doubt if I could bike this stomach of mine more than a mile." Then we handed the most loquacious a petition, and after reading it, he handed it back unsigned. Was there a mistake? Didn't he know that petitions get signed? Or did he see us as part of the liberal scare campaign making something out of nothing. Hadn’t Rush warned them about us? And even if there was a smidgen of truth to what those elitists were saying, which there wasn't, who cares about polar bears? You can see them in zoos. Then again, maybe it was part of the Harley mystique not to get involved. They were, after all, rebels.

But every way we looked at it, the truth of the matter was, after almost 600 miles, the petition’s first rejection.

Answer to water question: One gallon of water weighs 8.33 pounds, so Djina began the day carrying an extra 37.5 pounds in water. That’s a woman of valor.


  1. "Expert in areas she knows little about." Is that really Djina? Can't be.
    Keep it coming Matt; I'm loving it.

  2. I'd like to read what Djina is writing. Is she a pragmatist?

    Would she allow you to quote some of her writing?