Parent Trapped

December 22, 2003

I customarily use the December column to gaze back on my year in
adventure, much the way I was constantly craning my neck to look
behind me last August during the 24 Hours of Tahoe, a
mountain-bike relay race. That way I had a better idea of who was
about to pass me.

I hadn't initially intended to race. I was at the Northstar ski
resort in Lake Tahoe, Calif., to do some reporting in advance of
the Honda 24 Hours of Moab (SI, Oct. 20). At Northstar, I met Tom
McCarty and Todd Morrish, who were competing in Tahoe and were
looking for a third member for their bike team, Grateful Tread.
Another racer, a very cool guy named Keith Bontrager, loaned me a
sweet ride. The next thing I knew, I was off on my first 11-mile
loop.

After climbing about 1,600 feet, all the while drowning out
birdsong from the valley with the sound of my ragged breathing
(the race started at an altitude of 6,800 feet), I was pleased to
see the course level out. Now I'd make up time. Or so I thought.
I took too much speed into a double jump--sorry about that,
Keith--and flew over the handlebars going about 20 mph.

I flipped and came to rest alongside the trail, having scraped a
good portion of skin off my back and my right buttock. Four
months later those scars remain as vivid as my memory of lying
awake in the team's tent at 3:30 the following morning, 45
minutes before the start of my fourth, and penultimate, lap. I
wanted to be in my own bed. I wanted a little plastic bottle of
prescription painkillers. I wanted my mother. From the sleeping
bag on my left came the voice of McCarty, whom I'd known less
than a day.

"Having fun?" he asked.

It was as hard as I laughed at 3:30 a.m. all year.

It was a year that featured fewer assignments on the road, owing
to my decision to take six months off work to trade places with
my wife, Laura, who took the opportunity to concentrate on her
freelance writing career. Aside from some minor glitches--the day
I lost track of my six-year-old son for a few hours and had to
call the police, for instance--my tenure as Mr. Mom went
swimmingly. (Shameless Plug Dept.: How Tough Could It Be?, my
book on the travails of this stay-at-home dad, will be published
in May.) Laura did greenlight one prolonged, sweaty outing,
granting me permission to do the Appalachian Extreme, a three-day
adventure race in Maine and New Hampshire.

My mates and I on Team King Oscar occupied last place at one
point, but rallied to finish in the top half (SI Adventure, June
16). I had no inkling, flying home, that the toughest days of my
week lay ahead.

On the calendar the family camping trip had looked like a
relaxing idyll. We would motor south from our home in San
Francisco to Big Basin Redwoods State Park, near Santa Cruz.
There, with our friends and their two children, we would commune
with the majestic trees--we would slow the pace of our lives.
That was the plan.

Then Saturday rolled around, and it became clearer to me why
Laura loathes camping. It fell to Mr. Mom to plan menus for 3 1/2
days, shop for food, pack for kids, pack for self, pack car and
then--upon arrival at campsite--unpack everything. That done, I
helped unpack my friend's truck (five trips, but who's counting?)
while he stood in the campsite chatting up my wife. What else?
Pitch tent, finish pitching second tent that wife and daughter
had given up on, cook, serve dinner, scrape and wash dishes and
silverware, dry same.

While scrubbing hardened marshmallow off my children's faces that
night (don't get me started on how overrated s'mores are), I
concluded that, next to the sustained, grueling servitude of the
camping trip, the adventure race had been a walk in the park.

After breakfast on the final morning of the trip it was decided
that the children would do the dishes. It was a Gong Show. While
arguing over which one of them would man the spigot, they created
a fair-sized wetland for migrating waterfowl but cleaned no
dishes. Banishing them, I took over.

While performing this chore, my thoughts drifted to Team King
Oscar's last hours on the Androscoggin River six nights earlier.
The final leg of our race had been a nocturnal,
hypothermia-inducing 24-mile paddle. True, it was warm at this
campsite, but at least in Maine there was a damn finish line.

The next SI Adventure will appear in the Jan. 19 issue.

COLOR PHOTO: WWW.DIGITALINKPHOTOS.COM SCAR TREK The author flipped over the Tahoe 24--literally.

Next to a grueling family camping trip, the adventure race WAS A
WALK IN THE PARK.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)