Finding Joy in the Father-Son Journey

Suzy Hopkins
By Suzy Hopkins September 15, 2008 19:26

What’s it like to spend two months on bicycles crossing the United States, from the Pennsylvania mountains across the storm-struck Plains, over the Rockies and clear to the California shore? Just ask longtime Sonora journalist Chris Bateman, 62, and college senior Ben Bateman, 20. They finished their 3,850-mile journey in August, helping raise money for a new track at Sonora High School (www.trekforthetrack.org) along the way. Their interviews with FAN offer a glimpse of how different generations experienced the same life-changing journey.

What were the low and high points of the trip?

CHRIS: Lowest point? Early July outside La Plata, Mo., Ben’s road bike suffered the latest and last in a long series of mechanical problems, in a steaming hot Missouri town with no bike shop within 70 miles, no place to rent a car to get the crippled bike to such a shop and no Samaritan to bail us out. There were many high points, including conquering Colorado’s Monarch Pass in mid-July. But solving the La Plata problem in one day, by finding a new bike that let Ben finish the trip, still ranks as the best.

BEN: The low point was biking through Kansas. Luckily, Kansas was followed immediately by the Rockies, which were gorgeous, and led through a series of wonderful small mountain towns.

The most memorable person you met along the way?

CHRIS: I’d love to say Mark Balagna, the painting contractor who picked us up near Lewistown, Ill. after yet another one of Ben’s bike breakdowns. Mark spent the next day driving us to a Springfield bike shop and back so we could get on the road again, and was representative of many Samaritans who helped us along the way. Unfortunately, the most memorable people were two women at the Burger Hut Drive-in outside of Altoona, Pa.  When we were caught out in a fearsome June thunderstorm, with sideways rain, earsplitting thunder and lightning close by, they flatly refused to let us in. If one of us had actually been struck, a friend suggested, they might have relented. I doubt it.

BEN: In a café in Utah we met a really nice waitress working for the summer to earn enough money to move to Italy.

How did this affect your relationship with each other?

CHRIS: Positively. For the ride we have been each other’s only company and source of encouragement and humor. Neither of us could have done it alone. It’s something significant that we’ll carry with us and share for the rest of our lives.

BEN: I’m not exactly sure …  I know what he eats now – any restaurant, I can tell you what he’ll order.

Was there a moment when you wanted to quit?

CHRIS: We got discouraged regularly. Mechanical problems, bad weather and the oppressive monotony of Kansas prompted Ben to say, “Dad, remind me again why we’re doing this?” But seldom did we have two bad days in a row, and the good rides we had and the good people we met kept us going.

BEN: I wanted to quit twice, in Pennsylvania and Kansas. Both times I just decided I would make it to the next big city, and by the time we got there I always decided to stay.

What did you learn about our country?

CHRIS: That it’s really big and really friendly. A nation you cross in an airliner in four hours has taken us more than two months to cover. But more impressive were the people we met. With few exceptions they were engaging, curious, supportive and willing to help –my Grateful Dead cycling jerseys notwithstanding.

BEN: Areas of higher elevation are inherently better. I have never climbed a pass and found the area at the top to be in any way inferior to the area at the bottom.

What did you learn about yourself?

CHRIS: That, when pressed, I have the resourcefulness to solve problems without panicking. Also – and I think I knew this going in – that I have fair amount of perseverance.

BEN: That I’m able to push through hard times in order to achieve something great, whereas before I would have simply opted out when times got hard.

What do you wish you’d known before you started?

CHRIS: More about how to repair bikes. Ben was an excellent on-the-road fix-it man, but I remain inept, and intimidated by the most basic mechanical problems.

BEN: I wish I had know when we would finish, that we would finish, that I should have a different bike, and that the west was going to be better than the east.

Would you do it again?

CHRIS: Never. It’s been wonderful, but both the ride and my bike seat were too hard for too long.

BEN: I wouldn’t go across country again, but I can easily see myself doing shorter trips.

What’s next?

CHRIS: Time with my family, which I really missed. Back to work, which might seem easy in comparison. And coming to grips with the fact that I can no longer eat with absolute abandon.

BEN: Back to school to get my English degree, but from there I really have no idea.

© 2008, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Suzy Hopkins
By Suzy Hopkins September 15, 2008 19:26
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