No Better Father's Day: Bicycles and Ice Cream

What did I want for Father's day? Only two things (clearly, this dad is a selfish, demanding, and specific kind of guy): Ride my bike, always a given; and go camping. The ten- and eight-year-old sons had been hearing since March that camping at least one night per month April through October was a goal for the year. Between spring 2013’s refusal to let go of less its desirable elements and the boys’ participation in the Great American Pastime, we hadn’t so much as driven a single tent stake. This weekend, however, would not get away.

A number of reasonable bike-overnight destinations had been discussed for the year, ranging from 6 to 30 miles in one-way distance. The plan was to work up to the long hauls as summer wore on, but it happened that the eighteen-year-old racer in the house was planning to compete on Saturday at Nebraska's Ponca State Park. Hmmm … 30 miles, and a relatively flattish route that begins in Iowa. We'd been doing a weekly loop of around 20 miles' worth of errands. The potential reward was worth the risk, since a bailout existed with the Big Dummy, providing a rest option for tired pedalers.

Our goal was to leave at around eight a.m., with the thought being four hours’ worth of riding and breaks. That would give us a window to catch the final two hours of the marathon event. Poor use of personal energy delayed us. Then I ran out of gumption Friday evening and didn't get to the store. Slept in later than usual Saturday morning and got a late start on the second-chance grocery run. Finally, I had my ducks in a row at about ten o'clock. No race spectating today.

A pop-up thunderstorm decided to dump on the area for about forty-five minutes. With the road a little wet but the sky now dehydrated and clearing, we rolled at eleven. The first 5 miles were a known commodity; unfortunately, mile 6 wasn't, and it was a dad's nightmare, with no alternative route available: Vet's Memorial Bridge, bi-directional construction, ped-bikeway closed – not happy with the lack of foresight by planners here. But my cardiac function remained intact as we reached the south end of the span.

Thankful, we stretched to unknown territory for the young adventurers. The researched route dished up a couple of miles of gravel to grind; it was a little soft from the precip, but not bad. We lunched on wraps prior to a few miles of riding to a planned research project: The Dairy Sweet in Jackson, Nebraska, which advertises "The best malts on Highway 20 ..." Such a bold claim must be validated. One strawberry, one chocolate, and a vanilla cone. Two thumbs up for the Highway 20 side of the claim and one thumb up for "best ever."

Satisfied, it was westward ho, but progress came to a halt with a flat tire just up the road. A fresh tube got us rolling again, as we began tackling the long gradual elevation gains to Ponca proper and the final big push up the 2-mile climb to the state park.

We were well-toasted upon on arrival at Ponca, and extremely glad to hear the pool would remain open for another hour and a half. Let's call it a boys' bath. Cleansed and refreshed, it was off to locate the campsite my older son had occupied the previous evening. A beauty: spacious, green, shaded, and with a great view to the southeast. Supper was a choice of steak or salmon fajitas, fried potatoes, Spanish rice, and green beans (the latter two selections from a can, but surprisingly tasty in our well-exercised state). A little discussion made it clear that we hadn't climbed enough already today; we decided on a 2-mile descent to Bronco Billy's to refuel with more frozen goodness and a second shot at the 2-mile climb. Yup, ice cream 2.0. A clear, calm, campfire kind of evening closed the day.

Morning arrived. As much as I’d like to have stayed sleeping or just lying in my bag enjoying the whispers of nature, just like at home, it was not to be – it's tough getting old. First light found me brewing my favorite java. The youngest joined me at 6:45, and his brother emerged minutes later. We thoroughly enjoyed making and eating egg-muffin sandwiches by toasting English muffins and ham over an open fire with sticks before adding scrambled eggs and cheese. Delicious!

After their 30 miles the previous day, my riding companions were surprisingly spry. Unfortunately, another flat on the same stretch of pavement forced another break in the action. Underway again, clearly the single mile east to Jackson made a requisite refuel-up in order. Out of cash, we were forced to go franchise, hitting a big new C-store for a shake, slushee, and pistachios. Not bad, but not quite the previous day’s quality of treat. We backtracked our route and feasted on a victory meal at Jim's Burgers, including – you guessed it – more chilled dairy product.

Not often does someone get exactly what they want and come away with even more than they expected. I'm counting my blessings as a father right now, and realizing how truly happy all my days should be.


Get more information about bike overnights.

Tip for this adventure: Ice cream, of course. Bronco Billy's in Ponca, Dairy Sweet in Jackson, Cottonwood Landing near Ponca State Park.

Favorite local bike shop: Albrecht Cycle Shop, Sioux City, Iowa.

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