Walk Home and Declare Victory

Yesterday I went on a six- or seven-mile ride with my stepdaughter. The destination was a local health club with an indoor pool. Before jumping into the pool, I ran two miles on a treadmill. I watched the first 20 minutes of a Harry Potter film. (Do the math. Yes, that’s how fast I run these days.) Outside it was a gloriously beautiful day. I felt like one of those people who drive a car to a spinning class.

But the victory was that when my 13-year-old stepdaughter asked to go to the pool, I offered to accompany her on bike, and she agreed without any attempt at negotiation. She has a cruiser bike with the seat too low. She knows I think it’s too low. I decided to leave that be.

We had fun in the pool. Determined to make this bike-trip as fun as I could, we stopped for pizza on the way home. Then, for the most unpleasant two-mile stretch of the entire ride, we took the bike lane along Route 66 (even though there’s a fantastic segregated multi-use path on the opposite side of the street).

Route 66
Get your sadistic kicks...

In spite of any quaint notions you may have about Historic Route 66, there are parts of it that are really icky. Cars were whizzing by. If I’d been by myself, it wouldn’t have bothered me. But I kept an eye on her in my rear-view mirror. She goes sooo slow on that cruiser bike, with her knees up in her face from low seat height. Her slow speed only prolonged her exposure to the traffic on Route 66. But she wasn’t complaining, so neither would I.

In the final mile of the home stretch, she shot ahead of me with a burst of speed. And I thought, My god, is she actually having fun!?

Then she stopped abruptly and announced, “My butt is so sore!

It was a very fragile moment. If I mishandled it, the experience could have been tainted (pun intended) by focusing on the negative aspects of the ride. So we pushed the bikes the rest of the way home. (Have I ever mentioned how much I dislike pushing my bike?) This allowed us to arrive at the house triumphant.

President Lyndon Johnson’s view of the Vietnam war is often characterized as, “Withdraw and declare victory.” After escalating the war in order to achieve a clear and decisive victory, the death toll and the political price became too high, and victory unattainable.

My preferred definition of victory at the end of my bike ride would have been a bit more ideal — my stepdaughter joyfully riding with her seat properly adjusted, and climbing that final hill with no problems. Unattainable.

I can’t speak for other bike advocates, but I harbor an idealized vision of the world where bikes are mainstream, cars are used sparingly, and the transportation infrastructure reflects this cultural change. I also want to see this change in my lifetime — as much as I would have liked to see my stepdaughter arrive home in the saddle. Because advocacy overreach leads to a backlash, sometimes we need to know when to walk home and declare victory.   Somebody once said, “For every activist there is an equal and opposite reactionary.” Case in point: The efforts across the country to remove bike lanes after advocates and municipalities had put them in place.

I think my ride with my stepdaughter makes a template for how advocacy can work. Make it fun. Buy some pizza. Stop when someone’s butt is hurting.

Crank Honors 2012: Top Dogs of Cycling Blogs
Screen Shot: lovingthebike.com

Speaking of butthurt…

Lovingthebike.com has a poll asking readers to vote for their favorite cycling blogs in six categories.

I try not to feel slighted when Commute by Bike doesn’t appear at the top of lists like this. It’s when we don’t appear on these lists at all that I get really butthurt. It’s not that I feel entitled, it’s that we try really hard to be the best resource for information, advocacy, and articles relevant to bike commuters. If you think we’re doing a good job, get on over there and vote.


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13 thoughts on “Walk Home and Declare Victory”

  1. I ride the FUTS everyday, I hardly ever use the Evil Stepfather lane, but on a windy day you do get more of a windbreak from the rock wall.

  2. Joel says:


    You have at least two votes on record: yours and mine.

    “A prophet is never recognized in his own home town (or web blog).”

    I have enjoyed all the postings. I only respond when I think I have something to offer (which is not that often!).

    Keep banging the gong and enjoy riding. I lead by example and I do not care what other people think because I believe in everything I do. Life without passion is like toasted bread without butter and garlic.

    I KNOW you like riding your bike. That is what makes this site so much fun to read.

  3. BluesCat says:

    My Weatherbug app on my Droid had an ominous red-triangle alert early this morning, an excessive heat warning telling me it was going to be 106° F or better today. I opted out of riding to work, and it was a good decision: it actually hit 108° F when I would have been on the road, with hardly any wind and absolutely no clouds. I would have cooked.

    But I declare victory! I hopped on the bike at about 5:15 AM and did a 4-mile Coffee Run (saved me the gas I’d have burned if I’d stopped for java on the way to work in the car). It was a room temperature morning, and the dry wind flowing by me made it feel almost cool.

    Tomorrow, they’re talking 108° F, or better! We’ll have to see if Bike Coffee is in the forecast again.

    My vote’s in for Commute by Bike (mostly because they don’t make me feel like a wimp when I opt out of flirting with heat exhaustion).

  4. Scott A says:

    um, sorry but this reminds me of a chapter in Just Ride by Grant Petersen titled “How to make your family hate riding”. But at least you left the saddle height where she likes it. No offense, I’m sure you’re doing fine.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Scott. I think you got the point, and kind of missed it at the same time.

      By yielding to my stepdaughter’s limits I (hope I) succeeded in making the ride fun.

      Now, riding in the Evil Stepfather Lane was just a strategic mistake. I would have had to backtrack a bit, wait for a crossing signal, and then cross over to the nice path. I asked her which she preferred and she said she didn’t have a preference other than to keep moving. It was kind of a mental coin toss for me. In hindsight, I probably should have backtracked.

      But if she had told me that she wanted to call Mom and get a ride home, I was prepared to yield to that request too.

  5. mwmike says:

    C’mon, BC. 108 is still a nice Spring day in AZ. I did my daily 16mi commute from Chandler to Gilbert. What are you going to do when 116-120 sets in?

  6. Graham says:

    I’m right there with you when it comes to cycling with daughters. One thing I’ve learned is to hold my tongue. You can give advice or pointers once. After that initial conversation you must wait with the patience of a Sphinx for them to ask for help.

    Alternatively, you can simply start inching up the seat post when no one is around and watch how magically her riding improves. I’ve been successful both ways. 😉

  7. Woodie E. Comer says:

    I believe that it was Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas that made the statement of declaring victory and coming home. Wish that had occurred prior to my going there.

  8. Miguel@GJEL says:

    Letting younger kids learn at their own pace is one of the greatest favors you can do for them. It may try your patience, but they will enjoy it so much more and will ask to go again.

    Ted, thanks for sharing your story, and I hope the lesson is not lost on your readers.

  9. Woodie E. Comer says:

    Correction to my statement earlier. After googling, it appears that Senator Aiken of Vermont made a statement that became interpreted as declaring victory and coming home. Oh well, keep on pedaling.

  10. Kevbo says:

    Enjoyed reading this post. I cross on my bike at least twice a day, Central ave. in ABQ. SD would find her butt less sore with the seat raised as well as getting more power. The more weight she puts on her feet, the less the bum has to carry.

  11. BluesCat says:

    mwmike – (chuckle) When it goes over 110° F, I’m staying off my bike for a couple of reasons.

    Number one is because I’ve suffered heat exhaustion twice. One of those times was a full-blown sweaty, pasty, puking, trembling, dizzy, OMG-I-think-I’m-Dying affair, so I’m pretty heat sensitive.

    Number two is the guilt I’d feel if I went down in the heat while riding my recumbent, and somebody calls 9-1-1, and the EMT says “He was on a WHAT? What the heck is THAT? I guess we better gear up guys!” So they show up in all that hot fire gear, only to find out it’s a dumb old geezer riding an exotic looking bicycle.

  12. rantwick says:

    That’s funny, I just finished setting up one of my bikes for my ever-growing son to ride. I went ahead and followed his wishes in setting the seat height TOO LOW. I like how you handled your trip.

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