By: John Jericiau
I’m often asked why I have such a strong desire to have children of my own. It used to be that I was often asked how I have such a fit body, but that’s a different lifetime! I used to be most identified as a triathlete, but these days it’s as a dad. I’m not complaining, but I am happy that my husband Alen has not started calling me Daddy yet. Speaking of which, for the last 8 years Alen has called me “Babe”, but recently has reverted to “John.” I guess there’s something weird about calling someone who just turned 50 a babe. Or maybe because we have two young babes in the house, with another on the way (29 weeks from now!).
But I digress. Thinking back, there is a moment in my life where I definitely remember a seed being planted – a time I knew that someday I would become a father. It was the summer of 1984. I had just graduated from college (undergrad) and was halfway through a solo bicycle ride from New York (I was born in Manhattan) to Washington state and then down the entire pacific coast to San Diego (the triathlon capital of the world). This was a trip that required about 3 months of planning, and was supposed to include my college sweetheart Maria. A week before the start of the trip, however, Maria decided to hook up with my college roommate, so I decided to part ways but complete the bike trip as planned, much to the chagrin of my parents. I had never been west of New York, I was 22, and this was the pre-cellphone era, so they were scared of their oldest child being alone in the middle of the USA.
I averaged about 91 miles a day for 2 months in order to cover the 5460 miles, and each and every day was a unique, wonderful experience, and I got lucky. Except for four hours of drizzle in Michigan, I enjoyed sunny, warm weather the entire ride. No flat tires, no injuries. Twelve states plus a stretch in Canada as I traveled over the Great Lakes, it opened my eyes to a new world of interesting people, places, and things. I spent a total of $206 the entire trip, mostly due to the generosity of perfect strangers. I had a lightweight tent and sleeping bag packed on my bicycle so that whenever I got tired at the end of the day I could set up camp in convenient places like parks, schoolyards, churchyards, or even hidden behind billboards.
I only needed to resort to these campsites about half the time, however. More often than not the summer evening would play out like this: I would stop in a town to shop for food at a neighborhood market, and I would literally be swarmed by locals asking this young kid where he was headed and where did he come from. Out of this group of locals, someone would usually volunteer to take me home, feed me dinner, give me a bed and a shower, do my laundry, feed me breakfast the next morning, and pack a lunch for me to take as I headed out on my journey to the next town 91 miles west, where this sensational scenario would probably repeat itself. I was amazed at how open and giving the world was!
Halfway through the trip, in the middle of July, I came upon the Continental Divide. For those of you that don’t know, the mountainous Continental Divide runs from northwestern Canada along the crest of the Rocky Mountains to New Mexico. Every continent except for Antarctica has a continental divide. As I bicycled west, the mountains of the divide were so unbelievably high that after spotting them on the horizon it took me two days to reach the base! When I finally reached the base I was greeted with the following sign: EXTREMELY STEEP UPHILL NEXT 19 MILES. I took a deep breath as I started up what would turn out to be the most difficult 6-hour bike ride I have ever taken. The area was teeming with tour buses and sightseers, because the views were amazing. Scores of vistas dotted the road upward, where people could stop and get water, and cars and buses could stop and rest their weary motors. One particular tour bus departed from the base of the mountain at the same time as me, filled with kids from the Rocky Mountain Summer Camp program, or at least that’s what the very colorful sign on the side of the bus said. As I made my way up the mountain I would pass this bus at a vista, only to be passed by this bus on its way to the next vista, where I again would pass the resting bus. This happened over a dozen times, and each time it passed me more and more kids and adults from this bus would recognize me from previous passes and start shouting and cheering out their windows.
I later learned that this was a bus full of “disadvantaged” kids waiting to be adopted as they lived out their days in a local orphanage, and they were being treated to a road trip through the mountains by a local charity. I was amazed at how supportive they were as they passed me each and every time, but as I was within a mile of the top I stopped seeing them for a while – just when I needed them the most!
As I biked up the final curve before I reached the summit of the mountain, I could see (through my sweaty sunglasses) what looked like a scene right out of the Tour de France – people lining either side of the road, cheering and waving whatever they had in their hands. It was the entire Rocky Mountain Summer Camp bus, emptied out and waiting for me as I finally made it up the 19 mile mountain! I came to a stop among the crowd and was overwhelmed with emotion as they whistled and applauded and hugged me and patted me on the back. In all the hoopla and noise, the head counselor finally let me in on what all this was about: every single kid present was so starved for someone to look up to, someone to admire, someone to call hero, that watching me make my way up the mountain, I was their hero … at least for today.
I knew right then and there that someday, somehow I would have a kid of my own, and I would want him to say to me “Dad, you’re my hero.”
The 20 mile ride down the other side of the mountain was a speeding 29 minutes of cheering and screaming, but this time it all came from inside me. I was ecstatic, I was exhausted, but best of all I was somebody’s hero.