I knew it would happen eventually, I just didn’t know when.
As it turned out, what I thought would happen started on Wednesday, on the road between Lincoln and Chapman. After four days of draining winds and blistering heat, the weather turned a bit, and the ride, for the first time, was more pleasant than it was work.
And that’s the day I saw that my son, Mitchell, had turned the corner from wondering if he was capable of completing BAK to believing that he would.
I remember how that happened to me the first time I did BAK. The first few days were filled with uncertainty and fear. I wasn’t at all sure that I had the strength or toughness to make it across the entire state on my bicycle. Then, about halfway through – I think about the time we rode from Larned to Sterling in 2015, I realized not only that I could, but that I would.
Early on, Mitch pulled ahead of me, and he stayed ahead of me for the rest of the day. We were together in Tescott, where we sat down at a restaurant for some coffee and biscuits and gravy. After that, I didn’t see him again until a brief lunch stop in Solomon. We talked for a bit, and he headed off again, full of confidence and strength.
A few times throughout the day, he’d send me a text message updating me on his location and to let me know he was doing fine. When I made it to Detroit, where riders had the option of continuing on to Chapman or heading south for the Century loop – or 100 miles in a day – I saw the following message from Mitch.
“I’m at Detroit. Or the SAG before it. I think I’m gonna do the century. I feel good.”
I asked if he was with someone, because I had told him it’s best to do that sort of distance with another rider.
“No one. I’m not very far though. I waited for a while. No one to ride with.”
I headed into Chapman a little nervous and worried about him. The distance is grueling for most riders. But Mitchell, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in middle school, requires extra care to ensure the delicate balance of insulin and food intake is maintained during stressful exercise.
I pulled into Chapman ready to head back out to ride the Century loop in reverse until I found him.
My friend Kimberly talked some sense into me.
“Don’t do that Jason,” she said. “Let him have this and do this on his own.”
She reminded me that there was a SAG stop along the way, and that if he got in trouble the BAK staff would pick him up and bring him in.
Then she went to the commons area to buy Mitch a Century Rider badge that she had waiting on his sleeping bag for when he returned.
So I waited nervously.
Then, around 5:30 p.m. he walked into the gymnasium. My friends, his friends now, too, all cheered and clapped for him. Mitch, who is chronically modest, didn’t know quite how to react. He saw the patch on his bed and grabbed it, and he started telling about his day and how he found someone with whom to finish the ride.
Even though I had been telling him for several days that he was doing a good job and showing signs of being a strong rider, it wasn’t until he accomplished his own goals, on his own, that he believed it.
After that, there was never, I suspect, any question in his mind about whether he’d finish this ride. He knew he could ride 100 miles in a day if needed, and the rest of the days weren’t anywhere near that long.
During the week, Mitch and I talked some about the ride, and about his century. He said he wasn’t planning to make a big deal about it, but that everyone else kept talking to him about what he had done and that he couldn’t prevent others from making a big thing of it. I told him that all of those people had done it before, so they understood what an accomplishment it was and how good it felt to do such a thing. And that these people – this Crew – were an incredibly supporting and encouraging group of people who loved to help others grow and celebrate their successes.
This year’s ride has been quite a bit different for me. The past two years were largely about me achieving some personal accomplishment and overcoming challenges I had set for myself. This year, my focus was on Mitchell, and what I hoped would be a similar sense of accomplishment. If everything went well, I thought, he’d have a lot of fun, and like me, meet some people with whom he’d form lifelong bonds.
The first several days, I probably acted a bit overbearing. I hung close to Mitch, and offered what was likely too much advice and instruction. By the time Wednesday was over, I knew that wasn’t at all necessary. He had proven that he was capable, and I need not worry.
On Friday afternoon, after the last long ride of the week, one of our friends asked us to reflect on the experience. Mitch said that he learned that he can do more than he thought, and that having diabetes wasn’t something that ever needed to stop him from doing the things he wanted to do. I said that Mitch proved to me that he was perfectly capable of managing himself, and that I needn’t worry all that much about him anymore.
I imagine to some people, it might seem a little silly to get so excited or emotional about such a thing. But I can’t begin to describe how incredibly proud I am of this kid. I’d be proud of him no matter what. I’d be proud of him if he had done what he did without a chronic illness that requires constant maintenance and management. But the challenges he faces make the accomplishment, to me, even more meaningful
I told Mitch that every year I’ve done BAK, I’ve learned something about myself. This is the sort of thing that happens out here. Maybe not for everyone, but for some of us. We find ourselves. We find our limits, and often we find that those limits are farther that we ever thought, that we can do more than we ever thought possible. We find something that exists inside of us, something dormant that is somehow brought to life and forced to the surface and asks us to be more, to be better than we thought possible.