Our Amazing Race
On a mother-son bike-ride across Iowa, my 8-year-old learned the value of setting and accomplishing goals, how to finish what he starts, and how to make friends in all walks of life, while I learned the potential and maturity he can achieve.
It could have been a big mistake — spending a week riding a tandem bike across the state of Iowa with my eight-year-old attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) son, Harry, pedaling behind me. Yes, it could have been a disaster…could’ve, would’ve, should’ve. But, as with so much else in my life A.H. (After Harry), it was one of the best things he and I have done together.
Harry was the first child Steve and I foster-parented after marrying relatively late in life — the first marriage for each of us. I think I knew, as I watched Harry walk up the driveway to our house — ostensibly to stay for a few days, but arriving with everything he owned in a cardboard box — that I wouldn’t let him leave.
Harry Takes on Iowa
When I considered taking Harry on The Des Moines Register’s annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, I focused on the why’s — the reasons I should take him — rather than the why not’s. I’d ridden in the event 13 times B.H., so I knew what we were getting into. We’d have to climb on our tandem early each morning, pedal 50 to 75 miles a day, past corn and soybean fields, and camp in a different town each night. We would travel nearly 500 miles in seven days.
We’d do this with 12,000 people from all 50 states and several foreign countries, some of whom would become our friends. To make up for a scrape or bruise, there’d be a slice of homemade pie. After every 90-degree day, there’d be a refreshing evening shower. For every aching muscle, there’d be a cold Pepsi for me and a Gatorade for Harry.
I wasn’t worried about Harry’s energy holding up as we crossed hilly southern Iowa. Harry always — always! — has energy to burn. His favorite conversation starter with strangers we’d meet confirmed this: “I’m riding a tandem with my mom, but I’m doing all the work. I have to keep hitting her to wake her up!”
My Fears Emerge
My biggest fear wasn’t that we’d lag behind while on the bike but that I would lose Harry when we were off the bike, because of his ADHD-fueled curiosity and his need to explore. I just had to trust him. The newfound freedom helped him grow up a little.
When he was “lost,” all I had to do was look up. Riders travel in teams. Many teams own an old school bus, with a platform on top to carry bikes when moving, and to serve as a party deck when parked. Harry was intrigued by these buses, and invited himself inside for a tour.
Wild About Harry
Harry was drawn to anything with wheels. He sat behind the wheel of a fire truck, an ambulance, a huge tractor, and a forklift. When we stopped for a drink at the base of the driveway leading to a farm, I looked up to see Harry speeding away from me on the back of a four-wheeler, behind the farmer who lived there — a complete stranger! I swallowed hard and waited, wondering what I’d do if he didn’t bring him back!
I was thrilled to see Harry interact with people from all walks of life and have conversations on his own. I was in the habit of interpreting for him, but here he was doing fine. People were enchanted by his one-of-a-kind personality. Nancy, Harry’s new “girlfriend” (she’s older than I) from Delray Beach, Florida, promised to send him a box of shells and shark teeth. The entire Air Force team learned his name and embraced him. One morning, Harry called out, “Good morning, Air Force!” and dozens of deep voices responded in unison, “Good morning, Harry!”
The structure of the bike tour worked beautifully for Harry and his ADHD. There were few rules, so he broke rules less often. We had a routine each morning (take down the tent, load the truck), and we worked toward a common goal. We seldom argued.
Most of all, Harry showed determination that I didn’t know he had. He adopted the macho attitude of the serious riders — “We don’t quit” — and rode out the entire week. I felt good about his future. I saw that, once he starts something, he can finish it. I know that he’ll be able to make his way in the world.