Hell on wheels

The other day, I got caught out in a surprising pop-up rainstorm on my way home.

The precip had tapered off by the time I rolled into the driveway, but a neighbor saw how wet I was and attempted a little dig.

“I’ll bet you wish you’d driven today,” he said.

“Not really,” I replied. “I just wish I had left work 20 minutes earlier.”

I’ve thought about that since, and try as I might, until this weekend I couldn’t think of a ride I’d regretted taking.

I’ve regretted bad decisions and stupid mistakes. I’ve regretted crashes and scrapes and nervous races under shelter to escape lightning arching across the sky. I’ve regretted turning right instead of left, regretted shortening planned long rides and lengthening planned short ones. I’ve regretted not bringing along more food, and I’ve regretted losing my last water bottle 30 miles from home in 90-plus-degree heat.

But regret a ride?

Until this weekend, I never got off the bike and thought, “Man, I wish I hadn’t just done that.”

That changed Saturday night/Sunday morning, when I invited my kids along to do the Lenexa Midnight Bike Ride.

I did the ride last year with my dad and had a grand time. Last year’s event started in Old Town Lenexa and drew more than 1,000 fans. The ride — about 12 miles — went along roads that were closed to cars and included a stretch in an underground storage facility.

Though it started at midnight, it had a family-friendly vibe. Hundreds of kids rode along with guys on spendy carbon-fiber road bikes. Although there were some “serious cyclists,” I’d say the vast majority of participants was average folks out for a spin.

I had so much fun, I decided I’d invite my kids back this year, and they jumped at the chance to stay up past midnight. My wife, a morning person, said she’d like to go, too.

For some reason, though, organizers decided to move the ride this year to Shawnee Mission Park.

It dawned on me late that meant the nature of the ride would change.

Part of the fun last year was that we were riding on well lit roads that were closed to cars. Though the park also would be closed, it’s dark. Really dark. Strike one.

We had to park in a field bumpy enough we probably wouldn’t have been able to drive across if we hadn’t brought my SUV, then had to walk our bikes half a mile over the same bumpy field — covered with tall grass — to the start line. In the dark. Strike two.

And then there was the course itself, a 4.5-mile loop around the lake. I’d been to the park dozens of times growing up, but never had ridden a bike through there. At the start, officials cautioned riders to go slow down the hills and warned that young children probably wouldn’t be able to climb back up the other side. Strike three.

My kids were in good spirits from the off (bless their hearts; we made ’em run/walk a 5K with us early Saturday morning in Eudora, too. What were we thinking?) and seemed to enjoy the novelty of riding among hundreds of other cyclists on roads lit only by handlebar lights.

Once we crossed the dam, however, and got our last glimpse of the lovely moonlit lake, the road turned up — and the trouble started.

The hill was steep enough folks were grinding to a halt and popping off their bikes to push, kids and adults alike. This went on for the rest of the ride — about two miles of pretty steep downhills and uphills, with nervous cyclists riding the brakes on the downs and tired riders jumping off mid-hill in front of other sometimes inexperienced cyclists with questionable bike-handling skills on the ups. In the dark.

Kids were separated from parents. Children cried. Adults called out to their missing offspring, who, without any ambient light, looked just like everybody else with a light strapped to the front of their bikes.

As my daughter and I waited for the rest of our family atop one hill, a weary adult resting across the way started hurling violently. The sounds of the vom bomb echoed off the woods, providing a stomach-turning soundtrack to the worst ride of my life.

My kids held up pretty well. We encouraged them up the hills, told them it was OK to push their bikes if they needed to, let them stop and rest as needed, yet they still hit the wall about a mile from the end.

We finally completed our first loop, trudged back over the same grassy field to the car, loaded up and headed home.

The kids were asleep long before we hit the highway.

I, meanwhile, fumed that organizers had turned a fun, family-friendly, unusual little jaunt into a horrific trail of tears and puke. They somehow managed to turn a ride I couldn’t wait to do again — and share with my whole family — into the first and only ride I wish I’d never taken in the first place.


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