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 11, 2010

Chapter 19 – A Hot Fudge Sundae for the Eyes

I woke early to check the tire hoping to find air. Sort of like hoping one day the Chicago Cubs will win the Series. Possible, but we all know it ain’t gonna happen. The tire was—no drum roll necessary—flat. The only hardware store was tubeless. I trudged to the train station to see about catching a train to Cedar City.

“Only freight trains here," the station manager said.

Any buses?"

He looked at me as if I asked whether their ionic transporter was operational.

"Car rental?"

"There’s one in Cedar City. Your best bet is to go to the edge of town and hitch."

Solomon would walk the 55 miles first. The last option was to inspect the tubes in the sober light of morning to see if there was a common failure point. And there was, all the seals on the no-glue patches leaked. Maybe it was too hot. Maybe they were too old. Maybe I did a crappy job putting them on. So with slightly more attention to detail than a newly-minted neurosurgeon employs, I repaired the two best looking tubes with old-school glue patches and—voila—they held air. (There must be a lesson about life here, but it eludes me. If you discover it, feel free to send an email.)

Though Cedar City was a mere 500-foot elevation gain from Milford, we averaged eight miles per hour, for as our path pivoted south we took the headwinds straight on. These southern winds weren’t content to keep us in Milford, they wanted to blow us past Polaris. Let me make this perfectly clear. If there is a choice between mountains and wind, mountains win. Mountains offer the satisfaction of accomplishment and then the downhill reward. Wheeee! Wind, on the other hand, offers more wind. It is relentless. It dries you out. It enters your ears, nose, mouth, and pores. It is as if some uninvited, rude visitor climbs into your skin and vigorously rubs. When you see a mountain, you calculate what you need to do, steel yourself, and get the job done. You are in control. It is a finite problem. It can be conquered. Wind, on the other hand, cannot be conquered. It has no form and you are powerless. Your only option is to pray for its demise. The mountain mantra is, "Almost there, almost there," until you're there. For wind it’s, "How long can this bastard blow?" If you’re lucky, the wind shifts. The cyclometer jumps from 7 mph to 28 mph. You can hear yourself think. But don’t get cocky. If Aeolus senses hubris, he will return with a vengeance, and you will weep.

The wind made me crabby until it blew the obvious thought into my head. If Nevada was the Saudi Arabia of solar energy, then Utah was the Iraq of wind energy. And Utah is a gentle breeze compared to the Dakotas. If our country’s leadership had foresight, we'd be putting serious resources into capturing wind. If wind can hold a 300-pound load rolling down a seven percent grade to ten mph, it can power more than a few refrigerators and laptops. China is investing big in wind and putting up humongous wind farms in the United States. Why should we cede wind energy leadership (and profit) to them?

Another idea to tell our elected officials in DC.

At Cedar City we were 13 days and 800 miles into the trip. 800 miles is a significant ride, it is a great accomplishment. It is a roundtrip from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It is 2 roundtrips between New York and Washington DC. It is a distance greater than the width of France or the length of Italy.

It was one-fifth of our route.

Between the heat, the wind, and The Beast, we were beat. We needed a break, a shot of TLC. Lewis and Clark had Sacagawea to guide them through their tough times. The Union Army had Clara Barton nurse their wounds. We had Ken Giles. After abandoning us in Fallon, he missed the adventure. He flew into Las Vegas, rented a mini-van, drove to Cedar City, jumped on his bike, and met us about twenty miles north of Cedar City. Had I ever been happier to see someone? Outside of watching my children's births, and outside of going to that party and realizing that my friend Djina was actually a babe, the answer was no. Seeing the tiny fluorescent dot on the road grow bigger and bigger and turn into Ken was a moment of monumental joy.

With his 25 mph tailwind, he rocketed up the road like a dragster, grinning like George W. Bush after the Supreme Court awarded him the presidency. Ken's new pancreas jokes, sumptuous delicacies, and news from Davis were palliative to the weary family rolling into Cedar City.

Someone once wrote that one's true religion is not Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Wicca, Judaism, or even Atheism. Rather, it is what one focuses the majority of his thoughts, actions, and energy on. If this is the case, our true religious beliefs were defined by what the four of us chose to do upon arrival at the Best Western Cedar City. Solomon was a Cartoontarian, a devotee of Sponge Bob Square Pants and an equally inane show, Camp Lazlo. Yonah, while he denied any religious affiliation, was an adherent of Buffetism. He checked out the room where breakfast would be delivered in a short twelve hours. He praised the waffle iron and blessed the yogurt-filled glass refrigerator. Djina was a religious double-dipper. On one hand, she was an Epicurean. She went straight to the five brands of stinky cheese that Ken somehow smuggled by airport security. After gorging, it was a hajj to the hotel computer where she practiced Blogism. As for me, I was a disciple of Dionysus. After parking The Beast, the trauma of the windy ride melted into a single ontological question: beer or wine? Why choose, spoketh my inner soul, and hence my chalice did overfloweth with both.

After our respective reveries, we found a Mexican restaurant and consumed an amount of calories equal to the three nearest tables combined. Mis hijos los hablan con la waitress en Espanol. She was so moved by these two cute gringos that she brought them a special dessert consisting of tortilla chips, sugar, and chocolate syrup. To an epicurean, it might not sound gourmet, but between bites Djina pronounced it holy.

* * *

We took two rest days. The first morning was dedicated to The Beast. At the bike shop, I jettisoned the patched tubes for new ones. It also needed a new rear tire. The bike shop owner had difficulty finding a tire because The Beast’s wheels were—of course—out-dated. By the mid-1990s, bike wheels went metric, 27-inch wheels became 700 mm, and tire manufacturers recalibrated their products.

“There might be something in the basement. C’mon, we’ll take a look.”

We descended the stairs into a cavern so scattered with junk, it wouldn't have been surprising to find Jimmy Hoffa in cement shoes.

"Oh, that thing? I picked it up at a garage sale in Flint."

His only 27-inch tire was an ancient Schwinn designed for short urban commuting. Its heavy weight was balanced out by its proneness for blow-outs. Nevertheless, it was better than what I had. I sat in his shop and switched tires.

The entire time in the store, the radio was blaring the voice of Middle-America: Rush Limbaugh. I'd listened to Rush before and found him quite entertaining. Entertaining in the same sense of watching eight-year-olds play Little League baseball. The kids in their immaculate uniforms are serious. The coaches with their clipboards and shouts of strategies are serious. The 20 walks and 18 errors render the game ridiculous. And so too with Rush. He tries to come across as a serious, well-informed, political commentator, but his obvious half-truths and outright fabrications are so ridiculous, one can only grin. The question I grabbled with as I switched out tires was: Should I bring out the petition? On the "of course" side, he owned a bike shop and was a super nice guy. On the "are you kidding" side, he was a Dittohead, an acolyte of Rush Limbaugh, a man who claimed that global warming was a conspiracy cooked up by Al Gore and his ilk because they hated America.

"Uh, do you want to look at a—uh—petition we're bringing across America on global climate change?"

"I'll take a look."

For a full minute he studied the document.

I was nervous he'd find a misplaced comma or some grammatical faux pas. (I may teach high school English, but "who" or "whom" isn't any easier for me.) I worried that he'd shout, "Ha! A split infinitive! I'd never sign such drivel! Get Rush on the phone! I got me an ignorant liberal elite here!" But he finished reading, picked up a pen, and said, "We need to do something about this."

I floated out of the shop on a new tire and the realization that if a guy who religiously listens to Rush thinks we've got to do something about global warming, maybe, just maybe, we've got a chance.

* * *

Imagine a giant the size of the Empire State Building built a canyon-sized sand castle. Now imagine a windy rain came and knocked three-quarters of it down. The giant then glazed the remaining walls and towers with paint made from the orange of wispy clouds at sunrise. That's Bryce Canyon. Still can't picture it? Get a Sierra Club calendar.

All of us but Yonah hiked the canyon. Normally we would have dragged him along, but a rite of passage has to involve freedom of choice. Without freedom, he'd remain a kid. Though I wasn't ambivalent about giving him the freedom to stay behind, I was sad. Hiking the canyon was a hot fudge sundae for the eyes and freshly baked bread for the soul. One of the tougher elements of parenting is when you let go and watch your child make what you believe is a mistake and not rag on him. Yonah, however, was anything but sad. He read a book while the rest of us hiked. After the hike, I told Yonah about all the cool sights in order to show him what he missed, so next time he’d want to come along. I’ve used this ploy plenty of times before. One day it’s bound to work.

Later we stopped at an ice cream shop. Solomon ordered a hot fudge sundae. His eyes sparkled with delight as the huge bowl was set down before him. By the time he knocked the spoon against the empty glass, the sparkle was a dull glaze.

Clearly you can eat too much of a good thing. Does the same go with nature? Can you take in too much beauty? Does it ever become dull? For me, the answer is an emphatic no. I’d like to imagine that this is a universal truth. That’s why I didn’t say anything to my older son.

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