Wednesday, April 22, 2009

50 Miles with 8 Scouts

I'm an Assistant Scoutmaster with Troop 574. I'm also an Eagle Scout. This past weekend, my love for cycling crossed paths with scouting as I helped eight scouts in our troop work on Cycling merit badge. Our goal was to ride 25 miles on Saturday, spend the night camping, and return back the way we came for 25 more miles on Sunday. The ride would be fully supported, so the scouts wouldn't be carrying any gear, just riding. Our Scoutmaster, Rob Lee, would be driving the truck with our camping gear, a spare bike, and all our packs.

To make the route fairly easy for these new cyclists, I decided to keep our route in the Snohomish River valley. That would eliminate any long climbs and most of our riding would be flat or rollers. We gathered at Maltby Cafe at 8:30 a.m. Our group included eight scouts: Kyle, Robbie, Karl, James, Chris, Jacob, Sam, and Jonathan. I asked two other adults to join us and was blessed with four others coming along: Scoutmaster Rob Lee in the truck, his wife, Jennie Lee on a bike, Ken Williams riding sweep behind the scouts, and Mike Leaman riding in the middle of the pack on Saturday. I was out in front leading the way.

After doing our bike check, adding air to the tires, loading the truck, and sharing a prayer, we headed east from the Cafe. The first four or five miles of the ride was pretty easy. I kept the scouts in my rearview mirror and was pleased to see most of the group doing well. Our first great downhill was on Fales Road. At the bottom of the hill, we took a tight hairpin turn to the right onto Elliott Rd. and began our rolling ride along the river.

We made our first stop at eight miles into the ride at a pullout along High Bridge Road. The sun was shining and this made a great place to rest, eat some snacks, and check on all the scouts. So far, everyone was doing well. A couple of the bikes could have used a tune-up (or a replacement) but they were getting the job done even if some chains and gears weren't behaving as well as we would have liked.

After our rest stop, we descended down our second great downhill. It wasn't lost on me that these downhills would be challenging uphills when we returned on Sunday. It wasn't lost on the scouts, either. "We'll have to bike UP these won't we?", one of them asked. "Yeah. Right here is where Chris will probably throw up tomorrow," I said, referring to our capable and good-humored Assistant Senior Patrol Leader on the steepest part of the downhill.

Our route continued through beautifully scenic Snohomish County farmland, past dairy farms, modest homes on large acred lots, and forested greenspace. The weather was perfect, even if a little cool. Since our speed stayed a fairly consistent 8-10 miles per hour, I wasn't going to get very warm from any physical exertion, so I stayed dressed in a jacket, arm and leg warmers, and a knit cap under my helmet.

Our second stop was our lunch stop at about 16 miles into the ride. I found a wide gravel pullout along W. Snoqualmie Valley Rd. NE. All the boys pulled out their lunches and sat on the ground talking about the ride and whatever other topics came to mind. We adults compared notes and talked about how well the ride was going. No flats. No injuries. No one complaining. Could it really be going this well? Nine more miles would give us the conclusion.

The traffic was picking up along this stretch of road. But the boys did a fantastic job of staying single file, using their hand signals, and riding along the edge of the roadway within the traffic. It's stunning to think of how confident these guys were becoming when you consider that most had only biked in their neighborhoods or around a park or two. This was big-time road riding!

Our route now took us across the valley toward Carnation. We crossed the bridge on NE Carnation Farm Rd and turned along the river past horse pastures and small riverfront homes. We were arriving into Carnation and our destination was just a few miles away now. Riding through Carnation, I began thinking about my own ride this summer when I'll be riding through small rural towns and old town centers like this. Carnation is a lovely town to ride through and it's one of my favorite rural routes.

I asked Rob to drive ahead and check into our campsite at Tolt-McDonald Park while we rode the remaining few blocks. When we reached the entrance to the park, we gathered for a group photo and then Ken and Mike took off to head for home. They would call an hour or so later to say they cruised home at about 20 mph and made it just fine. I congratulated the boys as we rode down the street toward Tolt-McDonald Park.

We met Mr. Lee at the entrance and learned some disconcerting news. The park was closed. "Huh?" I thought, as back-up plans began running through my head... "Uh, scouts... you're 25 mile ride just turned into a 40 mile ride. We need to find a different place to camp..." As I was considering how very bad this could now become, the campground manager rolled up in his green John Deer Gator utility vehicle. "Park's closed due to the flood damage. You can't camp here. Nearest campground is in Fall City."

No way. I explained that it was open when I spoke to the lady answering the phones and taking reservations for King County Parks. She didn't tell me it was closed. She assured me we could camp here... "Well, I'll be talking to her on Monday. But, you can't camp here!"

Now Mr. Lee began. "I've got eight scouts on bikes. If we had cars, it wouldn't be a problem, but I can't tell them they need to ride 25 more miles!" At this point, another scout troop also walked up and explained that they were told the campground was open. The campground manager shut off the engine to his rig, threw his hands up in the air and said, "Alright, fine! You can camp over there. But no one else. To everyone else, this place is closed!"

Phew. I thanked him politely and we began setting up camp.

After getting our tents up, our gear in position, and our bikes stowed, we had a few hours of free time. It was 1:30 when we arrived and we wouldn't need to get dinner started for a few hours. So, Mr. Lee and I led the boys on a short hike. That's right, a hike. Because what better way to make sure these boys sleep well tonight? Get 'em good and tired.

While preparing dinner, a few of the parents arrived to spend the night and check in on us. We Old Goats enjoyed a delicious dinner of spaghetti, salad, and biscuits baked in a dutch oven. The scouts had Top Ramen. Hmmm... not exactly fare appropriate for replenishing your energy. But, that was their menu choice. And we used this as a teaching moment to help them consider better next time.

We gathered around the campfire later that night to enjoy a cherry cobbler, also baked in the dutch over, while we took turns changing a flat tire to knock off one more Cycling merit badge requirement. By 10 p.m., all the scouts had turned in for the night. I wasn't too far behind them.

It rained briefly during the night, but we awoke to blue skies and a warm morning. After a delicious breakfast of eggs, pancakes, and bacon prepared for us Old Goats by the gifted Chef Schumacher (Jacob and Sam's dad), we broke camp and gathered around our bikes to plan our day. We took time to talk about yesterday, how grateful we were to be able to enjoy God's creation like this, and what we thought of the weekend so far. Glowing reports from each scout. This was becoming a wonderful camping outing. Each of the adults remarked on how impressed we were with the way the boys rode.

By 10 a.m. we left the camp with me in the front, Mr. Williams and Mrs. Lee in the back and all eight scouts in a nice paceline in the middle. We took a brief stop at 7 miles into the ride and found Mrs. Lee had traded places with Mr. Lee. He rode up on Mrs. Lee's bike with long scout pants and work boots. Gotta hand it to him to giving it a go.

Our second stop was for lunch on the banks of Crescent Lake. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch with sandwiches, fruit, chips, and more and then I gave the boys a pep talk about the two long climbs ahead. "It's okay to walk your bikes up this hill. It's going to be hard, but you can do it." Off we went. The hill was short, but steep. A few of the boys walked it a short distance but soon were up and riding again. Now we were well past halfway home.

We reached our last long climb back up Fales Road and I was impressed to see all of the boys ride straight up. These guys were tough! Now with just four more miles to go, we pulled over, had all the boys call their parents to arrange their pick up, and then we punched out the last few miles.

Rolling into the Maltby Cafe, I was ecstatic. These guys had done it. I think I had just witnessed a miracle. No flat tires. No serious mechanical problems. No one hanging it up and dropping out. No injuries. No accidents. I congratulated each and every scout, thanked each parent, and especially thanked my co-leaders for making this event such a success.

Now there was just one more thing to do... Go get some ice cream!

View more photos here.

Riders: Mr. Horn, Mr. Williams, Mr. Leaman, Mrs. Lee, Mr. Lee, Kyle, Chris, Karl, James, Sam, Jacob, Jonathan, Robbie
Distance: 50.84
Time: Saturday - 2:26:38 / Sunday - 2:39:09
Average Speed: 9.9 mph
Maximum Speed: 21.8

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