I know every parent says it, every single year, but honestly- where does the time go?!
August 13th was the long-anticipated day of honor for the star of our family show, the birthday of our cheeky toddler Theo.
We hadn’t been able to plan anything specific for his special day- our plans and itinerary are so ambiguous, it’s impossible to predict exactly where we will be most of the time!- and I’ll confess, I felt a pang of sorrow at the fact that he wouldn’t be enjoying his birthday with family and friends back in the UK. However, we’d hoped to take a day off and spoil him a little, do something fun and Theo-focused for a change, and enjoy some family time together. However, with our campsite falling short of expectations, and the town of Greenville offering little in the way of toddler-friendly excursions or attractions, we decided that perhaps a delayed birthday celebration at a better location at a later date might be a better plan of action.
After Theo roused us nice and early, with excited exclamations of “It’s my birthday cake today!” (apparently the two are one and the same in the eyes of a 3year old…) we treated him to a ‘birthday cake’ (muffin with 3 candles in!) for breakfast, and were obliged to re-light the candles and sing ‘happy birthday’ 8 times before Theo could be satisfied. Watching him attempt to eat the muffin with the candles still stick in the top was the most classic moment…especially as one of the candles found its way up his nose in the process…!
He had 3 cards- one from his Great-Nana, back home in Devon, one brought to us in San Fran by Nana, Roy, Auntie Lucy and Tom, and another from ‘Nana-Lola and Dan-dad’ from Boston. Watching him push around the fire-truck and digger cards with all the relevant noises helped alleviate those traces of guilt I felt at the fact that he wouldn’t be getting any big toys or games from us- because who has space or money for those whilst cycle touring?!- as it just goes to show… children don’t need expensive, fancy, top-of-the-range toys to keep them happy. They just need their imagination and a little encouragement!
I did, however, feel a pang of sadness when I asked him what he wanted for his birthday.
“I get on an airplane and go to the England house to see my NANA!” He replied triumphantly.
However, he seemed content enough when I told him we would get on said airplane in 5 weeks, rather than today. It’s nice to know memories of his family are staying with him!
Mini-birthday celebrations completed, we packed and saddled up and set on our way.
The route for the day was as simple as could be- just continuing to follow the 15 north until we reached Rockwood- and then, depending on how we felt, heading west to Jackman. All on the same road, with no need for complicated directions- a day off from navigation.
The morning’s ride was fantastic- almost completely downhill as we descended into a valley, with beautiful weather and yet more beautiful scenery to help us on our way. We followed Moosehead lake, glimpsing the crystal clear water and stretches of agricultural settlements under the clear blue sky. It was pretty much perfect. After 15miles, we stopped briefly for some much-needed peanut-butter-and-jelly ‘encouragement’ and a brief rest while Theo had a quick run around.
I spun around from chasing Theo as I heard Matt curse.
“We’ve gone completely the wrong way! 15 miles in the WRONG DIRECTION!!”
“Huh?? How is that even possible?! I thought we were just following one straight road all day! We’ve not turned off or anything. How can we have gone wrong??”
Turns out, Greenville is at the base of Moosehead Lake- and from there, you can go north-west, or north-east: following the lake, but on either side. For whatever reason, it hadn’t quite ‘clicked’ with either of us that the lake was on the wrong side as we were riding. Or that we hadn’t seen a single ‘Route 15’ road sign since leaving Greenville. We had simply got on a road and followed it, assuming it was the right one. And wasted an entire morning.
I struggled to show the same self-restraint I had exercised during our previous “oops” moments on-route to Bangor. My irritation was a little too strong this time around- not just at Matt, but also at myself. (although I feel it my duty to point out that I had absolutely nothing to do with the route planning for this particular day…nor had I even seen a map to demonstrate where we should have been going…and therefore feel it only reasonable that I be absolved of all blame… ) There was that all-too-familiar sinking feeling of realization as we reflected on the 15miles we had already conquered- pretty much all of which were downhill- and realized the return would, of course, be the opposite. I picked up my bike a little more viciously than usual before storming back to the road with cartoon-style smoke flying from my ears and a face like thunder. This is not how I envisioned spending my son’s birthday.
Matt’s frustration worked in his favour as he sped away from me with almost alarming speed. Struggling with the climbs, I panted and huffed in his wake, until he became a blip in the distance. Frantically ringing my bell and shouting to attract his attention, I called for him to stop. He was too far away to hear me. If I were to fall off my bike now and slide down the bank, I thought morbidly, he wouldn’t even notice until a couple of miles down the road, when he bothered to turn and see where I was. This made me panic. The adrenaline gave me extra speed. Amazing what the mind can do…
It was gone midday when we finally rolled back into Greenville and decided that treating Theo –and ourselves!- to lunch was the only feasible plan of action. Hooked up to the café wi-fi, we contemplated our potential next move. We were at least 20miles from the next town (and had already down just under 30miles, without actually getting anywhere!) and were unable to conclude if there was a motel or campsite in the next town that could accommodate us. Numerous calls to the single motel we could find listed proved fruitless; going through to an answering machine repeatedly, until one of the staff at the café helpfully then decided to tell us that it was, in fact, closed.
Theo remained blissfully oblivious. I envied him his innocence and lack of perception as to the state of things: he had no idea that we had ended up in exactly the same town from which we had left, shared none of the burden of responsibility in undertaking the physical process of traveling by bikes, or the stress involved with navigation and planning. His greatest concern is when he is going to get his next meal; where his next toy is coming from. It’s an enviable state, childhood- and how little we appreciate it at the time!!
Charming those around him as usual, Theo caught the attention of other diners as he cheerfully played and sang in the middle of the restaurant. I was proud to reply to one woman who enquired after his age that he was “3- today!” and Theo received cheers, clapping and congratulations from the entire restaurant in response. It was such a small, simple thing for everyone to do- but it made my day by making my little boy feel a little bit special, like a star, just for a moment.
Our fruitless search for an alternative destination for the night left us frustrated and at a loss as to where to go next. I didn’t feel I had much more than 10, 15miles in me for the afternoon- certainly not the 40 we had originally planned and anticipated. And yet, I desperately wanted to avoid another night in ‘The Campground Of The Pit Toilets’- and felt guilty that we had wasted a day; Theo’s birthday, no less.
We decided, at length, that the only thing to do would be to stay put- and fortunately Matt stumbled upon another campsite not far away, hopefully complete with ‘proper’ toilets. As we made our way over, we discovered it to be a multi-purpose leisure centre: complete with a golf course, campground, fitness centre, restaurant and motel. A few teasing words, some friendly banter, a gentle bit of persuasion, and a mention of our little man’s birthday and misfortunes of the day so far, and we had secured a room for the night at a fraction of the advertised cost- a room complete with kitchenette, TV, internet and more.
Better still, we had barely unpacked our belongings into the room when the heavens opened with a spontaneous, unpredicted storm. Dark thundering clouds covered the sky and torrential rain spilled onto the ground. If we had continued to cycle, we would still be on the road right now- caught in the midst of it- with 10miles still to conquer. I felt a slight, smug satisfaction and sense of glee at having escaped such a fate, and watched the weather tear apart the countryside around us with a renewed appreciation. The lightening sparked up the entire sky; the low rumbles of thunder echoed around the hills and agitated winds whipped up the clouds into all manner of distortions as it hurried them across the sky above us. There is something oddly beautiful about storms- they are tremendously powerful, all-consuming and yet bring with them an entirely different perspective, a different light, a different atmosphere. One of those moments when you realize just how small and insignificant you, as a single entity, truly are. Me, our trip, Theo’s birthday… they all seemed to fade into nothing.
And yet as quickly as it arrived, it was gone. We ventured out once more and crept to the restaurant, finding a sandpit outside filled with diggers and trucks to occupy Theo while Matt and I decided to ‘let our hair down’ and celebrate our 3 ‘successful’ (!!) years of parenting the grown-up way- with vodka and deserts! Everything had that fresh, ‘renewed’ smell and sensation associated with a shower: each blade of grass still weighed down heavily with raindrops, and puddles reflecting the beginnings of the sunset. Theo then found two companions in the form of the owners sons, and spent the remainder of the evening running about and playing with true enthusiasm with ‘my new friends!’ Their shouts and laughter were the best possible present: perhaps my only regret for Theo on this trip is that he hasn’t been exposed so frequently to other children, and we’ve heard him ask on occasion for his friends at nursery, for Abi and Niamh (his oldest friends!) and watched as he eagerly approaches every and any child he chances to meet in parks and campsites along the way. At least we can reasonably say that shyness isn’t holding him back- and perhaps this trip has fostered in him a greater degree of confidence in approaching others and making new friends!
Our day ended perfectly, in spite of its shaky beginning. Sat together on the back porch, sipping our drinks and happily filled after our delicious deserts, we watched the sun set over the hills as our little boy played to his hearts content. I am convinced- right now? There is nowhere better than this.
Happy Birthday, Theo.
Miles Today: 28
Total miles to date: 2,534