Why I love the high school mountain bike racing season

Ed being served pancakes by a butler

This is my impression of the trials I endure as a coach for the La Crosse Area Mountain Bike Team.

The National Interscholastic Cycling Association high school mountain bike racing season just came to an end. I was one of a dozen coaches for the La Crosse Area team, and the season was very good to me. I was forced to ride my bike consistently, and leave the house occasionally to travel to races and camp in a tent.

Recently, I was at Paul and Jenny Fisher’s house, eating chili and apple crisp, when the subject of conversation turned to mountain biking. Jenny asked me, “Eddie, how do they get you to camp out, when you hate camping?”

In perfect harmony, Nikole and I said, “It’s not really camping.”

I went on, “When we arrive at the race course, I ride around the course a couple times with some of the racers. While I’m riding, someone else sets up the tent. Then a bunch of parents cook a meal.”

She said, “Oh yeah, cooking is the hardest part of camping.”

I agreed, “Yeah. Then we sit around a camp fire and talk smart. Then I sleep in my down sleeping bag. In the morning, a bunch of parents make a hot breakfast. I eat, then ride around the course a couple more times with some of the racers warming up. Then I cheer for the kids in the races. Then I eat a lunch that someone else makes.”

Mr. Fisher said, “Wait! You mean you basically eat, sleep and ride your bike?”

I said, “Yes.”

He said, “Mr. Hale, you’re a genius.”

Yes. Yes I am.

But I acknowledge that it is the work of all the other coaches and parents that makes my race weekends so wonderfully happy. I am truly thankful for all that they do.

Noteworthy Peeps:

Josh Shively, our head coach and possibly the nicest man you will ever meet.

Mary Luebke, one of our food czars and taker of excellent photographs.

Dan Speckeen, a very happy coach who also organizes food, cooks a mean pancake, shows up early to claim campsites and likes coffee.

There are at least a dozen other coaches and spouses who work very hard to make the race weekends all they can be for Ed. I am thankful for all of them.

sunrise in the camp site

Morning dawns, and the world says, “Ed, what can I do for you today?” (Dan Speckeen, in the middle of the photo, is one of the food organizers, and the manager of my caffeine needs on race weekends.)

Camping in a farm field

This is a common race weekend campground — tents and campers gathered into “compounds” in an un-mowed farm field. The nearest plumbing is five miles away.

Ruthie racing and smiling

Honestly, this is what it is really all about… seeing Ruthie wearing her race face.

Edward racing

The Hale kid out on the race course.

Ruth standing with some of her racing friends

You should all get your daughters into mountain bike racing. The ladies have a lot of fun. They cheer for each other, even for those on other teams. Nobody sits on the bench. The cheering crowds are just as big for their races as for any of the others. It is a good sport.

My Scrape with Death

Me holding a steering wheel and looking terrified

The Build-up

My huge, beautiful, Ford van had loud steering. I took it to my mechanic and he diagnosed it as a failed steering gear box. I said, “At least it is not the rack and pinion.”

The Flashback Scene

You see, my father worked for 30 years at Goodyear. I remember him talking about the great expense involved in a rack and pinion replacement. It sounded like the hip replacement of the car world. When a person’s car was sick, friends would whisper to each other, “I hope it isn’t his rack and pinion.”

Back to the Present

My mechanic said, “That van doesn’t have a rack and pinion. The gear box is its ‘rack and pinion.’ So, my son, you get to experience the great expense you have feared since you owned your first car.” (The last sentence was not spoken, but I know he was thinking it.)

The Boring Part

I had the gear box replaced. Our mechanic is about 10 miles away, so we had trouble finding time to pick up the van. Nikole and I finally had time to pick it up at 5:30am on a Monday.

The Plot Thickens

Driving the van home in the dark, I wondered if there was a little play in the steering wheel. I attributed it to being hypersensitive because of all the money I had just spent. When I drove under a street light, I was surprised to see that, though I was driving straight down the road, the steering wheel was aiming to the right… I mean way to the right. I should have been careening into Lake Onalaska. I decided the mechanic probably forgot to center the wheel.

Later, I made a left turn, and when I straightened the van on the next street, the steering wheel was aiming a little to the left.

Oh Great Brainless One

An intelligent man would have screeched to a halt and run from this possessed vehicle. But, being free of meaningful brain waves, I just kept driving it and wondering.

The Week of Bliss

I called my mechanic and made an appointment to have it looked at the next Friday. I suppose he thought I was a little light on brain waves, or he would have asked me to bring it in right away.

We drove the van all week. Nikole drove it full of little kids and a couple old ladies 50 miles per hour to our Wednesday night church thing. She thought it steered funny.

My Scrape With Death (not really)

On Thursday evening I was driving Edward to the Onalaska YMCA for swim practice. I kept telling him, “This thing is steering really weird.” I turned right and the van hesitated before making the turn. I felt like I had to correct a lot to get it going straight down the next road. (This might be a good time to read the section labeled “Oh Great Brainless One.”)

We drove by my mechanic and I wondered aloud if I should pull in, park, and call Nikole for a ride home. But I didn’t. I dropped him at the Y, and sat in the parking lot wondering what to do. I had dreams of going to Farm Fleet to get chicken food (because I know how to party). But a 65 mile per hour highway lay between me and Farm Fleet. I decided to drive slowly through town to get a cup of coffee and wait for my kid to get done swimming.

I passed the on-ramp to Highway 53, and wondered if I should just chance it. Thinking about how bad that might have been sort of makes me sick. I get the same feeling when I think about the time I almost drowned in Swift Creek.

I got to Panera Bread and pulled into a parking spot. I was not happy with how I was centered between the yellow lines. I inched the van forward and turned the steering wheel to the right. I felt a snap, and the steering wheel became a freewheel. It spun effortlessly as if it were not connected to anything. I rolled down my window and craned my head out to look at the front wheels, and indeed, they did not turn when I spun the steering wheel. I said in my head, “Oh God. What would have happened if this would have broken at 50 miles per hour? Thank you, that it happened in a parking lot.”

A Few Sort of Humorous Parts

I drank coffee in Panera as I waited for the tow truck. I wondered why people were looking at me like some sort of pariah as I swaggered back and forth to the coffee carafe and my table. Finally, I caught my reflection in a window and I was wearing my neon yellow biker jacket. I am sorry. I was layering. I forgot I had it on under my fashionable The North Face coat. I look normal in my neon yellow jacket when I am with 20 of my biker friends on the road, each of us in our own neon jacket. But in Panera, I looked like a freak wearing a street sign.

(Warning: there is a naughty word in this section. Cover the children’s ears) When the tow truck guy arrived, we exchanged the pleasantries usually shared by burly car guys. Then he asked, “What is the problem?”

I said, “It doesn’t steer.”

He asked if he could check it out. He got in, started the engine, and turned the wheel back and forth. He looked at me incredulously (Tow truck guys always do that) and said, “You have steering.”

Rather than give him a lecture on customer service, I just struck a pose like a teen-aged girl, pointed both index fingers at the left front wheel and said, “Yeah, but check it out!”

He stuck his head out the window and turned the steering wheel and said, “Shhhhhit! That sucks.” I agreed in less vulgar terms.

Is It My Mechanic’s Fault?

With mild difficulty, the tow truck guy got my un-steerable van onto his flatbed truck. He delivered it to the mechanic’s now closed shop while I drank coffee and waited for my beautiful wife to come and pick up me and my son.

The next day, I pondered how my mechanic would grovel and apologize for installing a faulty gear box. He would probably offer me free oil changes for life. Then he called and told me it was not the gear box he installed. It was my stupid Pitman Arm.

So, I got to buy a rack and pinion AND a Pitman Arm. My mechanic said that in 30 years of mechanicing, he has never replaced a Pitman Arm. He did not know they could wear out.

So, as usual, I am Mr. Special. The guy who breaks the unbreakable. The guy whose rack and pinion wears out. But at least I’m not the guy who sailed off the road into a cement wall because his steering failed at 65-miles-per-hour.

Soli Deo Gloria!

 

An Unfortunate Miscalculation In Cold Weather Riding Apparel

A cyclist frozen in an ice cube but still riding

I drew a sketch of a frozen cyclist. It is not meant to look like anyone we know

This past Saturday I went on a little bike ride with my sister. My crazy sister is turning 60 years old next year, and decided she wants to ride 60 miles on her birthday. She asked me if we could train together sometimes, and I thought, “Lady, I could ride 60 miles before breakfast and again after lunch.” (I don’t struggle with pride. I am just awesome.)

I was a little late to Laurie’s house and we began our ride at 3pm. It was 51 balmy degrees. I wore two long sleeved shirts and a jacket on top. I wore fleece lined tights on the bottom. I thought, “I am going to roast out there.” And I would have roasted, if it were 51° at 3pm in June. But it was November 27, and the sun was laughing and saying, “Look at the idiot in the yellow windbreaker. I am going to bed soon, and he is going to be a popsicle. (Hey, why is that hot chick riding with freaky, yellow, twig man?)

We started out heading north through Winona, Minnesota, and after a few miles, I noted that it felt cooler than I thought it would be. I kept telling myself, “I can feel a little cool for a couple hours.”

When my sister’s phone announced, “You have gone 10 miles,” my torso announced, “I am freezing.” I was glad I wore my winter gloves. I thought back to when my sister asked if I was going to wear my fleece jacket… my beautiful, red, fleece jacket that right now was hanging uselessly on the back of a chair in my sister’s dining room. Why hadn’t I worn the jacket?

The sun was in South America now, and the temperature was dropping fast. I was trying to hide my frigidity from my sister. Around mile 15, I swung my arms around trying to force blood into my frozen fingertips. My sister asked if I was cold. I confessed I was getting cold. I asked, “Are you cold?”

She said, “No, I’m fine.”

How was she fine? She had no windbreaker and she was wearing thin, leather driving gloves. I am the seasoned cyclist. Why am I the one hurting? And I had no idea where I was. Were we 10 miles from home, or 2?

A few minutes later, we rode up to Winona Lake, and I knew we were close to done. My sister asked, “Do you want to ride around the lakes, or head for home?”

I said, “I think I must head home.”

Oh the knowledge that we were on the “downhill side” of this ride gave me renewed strength. I was the great explorer headed home for a hero’s welcome. I was going to live!

Three miles later, my bike was leaning against the garage door at my sister’s house, and I was running for my street clothes. With my ice cube fingers, I put on every bit of clothing I had. My sister made hot coffee, and after I drank that, she fed me hot chili.

I drove home with the heater on full blast, drinking more hot coffee.

My Take-Aways

  1. Do not trust natural fibers! Trust chemicals. Wool long-sleeved jerseys do not keep you warm. Wear the polyester Polar Fleece.
  2. Don’t leave your neck gaiter in the car, Sir Edmond Hillary! Stuff it in your jersey pocket, just in case.
  3. Always bring coffee money!

 

Bee Stings Don’t Hurt That Bad

I want to apologize to my children for every time I thought, “Come on! It’s a bee sting. Get over it!” I was stung as a kid, and it wasn’t that bad.

Today, I was riding with the high school mountain bike team. I was dominating from the back, as usual, when someone stuck an ice pick in my forehead. I realized I had been stung, and, man, did it hurt? I wanted to ask the other guys, “Does anyone mind if we stop so I can curl up and cry for a while?” (I didn’t. I kept riding and trying to look tough.)

man snarling but thinking about crying

I’m not crying… on the outside

The pain grew and I kept thinking of my kids and how little sympathy I have for them when they have a run-in with a bee.

Now I am blogging, with a throbbing red forehead… that itches! And I am getting less sympathy than I deserve.

I am sorry, kids. You are right. It hurts.

Epilogue

After deciding to press on with the ride and not cry, I was doing my usual thing where I drift farther and farther off the back of the group of fearless young people. I felt a drip of sweat slowly running down my eyebrow. A moment later I realized that it was actually my six-legged assailant crawling down past my eyeball. I smacked him off my face in a reflex action and also sent my glasses flying off into the forest.

I stopped… fell farther off the pace… found my glasses… and resumed the chase.

A Saturday With Wet Feet

The YMCA Frostbite Swim Meet

Drawing of ed on the edge of the pool with a stopwatch

Drawing of a nervous man. Is he holding a bucket and a piece of cake? Or a stopwatch and a clipboard? It depends on which of my kids you ask.

I volunteered to do timing at my kids’ swim meet this weekend. It was -2° outside. But after entering the Y in my Inuit costume, I changed into shorts and a t-shirt to brave the tropical pool room. I wish the kids could learn to swim without splashing. I’m like, “Hey kid. I’m giving up my Saturday to help out at your race and you thank me by launching eight ounces of pool water onto my foot? You’re lucky I brought a change of socks.”

Timing for the prestigious Frostbite Swim Meet is tense. I kept saying in my head things like, “Okay, this is a 200 meter race. That’s eight lengths. Okay, he’s on his sixth length, I think. Oh crud, my lane is in the lead! I can’t look at the other timers to see if they are getting ready to hit the stop button. Okay, okay, I will try to discern if he is setting up for a flip turn or a reach for the wall. I HOPE THIS TWERP DOES FLIP TURNS!” I needed muscle relaxants by the time my morning shift was over.

The Hale Family Christmas Letter 2015

Six Annoying Children, A Good Looking Man, and A Woman on the Edge

This summer, we drove to Colorado for a Hale family reunion. We picked up some old guy hitch-hiking just outside La Crosse, and he turned out to be my dad. He enjoyed a long, loud ride out west with his grandkids. After we got back home, we didn’t see him for a month.

The Hale family in front of the Rocky Mountain National Park sign

The Hales in Colorado, in front of the Rocky Mountain National Park sign.

Hale Family in front of Rocky Mountain National Park sign

There were a lot of Hales in Colorado this summer. And some Maedkes, Haases, Henrys and Wardens

Chicken Man

I realized a lifelong goal this summer, when I raised chickens from eggs. I told the kids the chickens would like us, if we were the first thing they saw after they hatched. They are grown now. They hate us…  and run when we approach.

Nikole holding a yellow chick

Nikole with one of my homegrown baby chicks before said chick understood he should hate humans.

Helen with several teen-aged chicks in her hands

Teen-aged chicks are not pretty. This was about the last time they thought we were okay.

The end of home school (for the big ones)

Home school was so lame, we decided to send our kids to a brick and mortar school. The kids were so distressed to leave home (except for sane Helen) that we feared they might have a cumulative nervous breakdown. But after three months at Aquinas Catholic Schools, they find they enjoy being socialized.

Four kids on the first day of school. Claire looks grumpy

Some members of the family were less than enthusiastic about going to school this year.

Lydia

Lydia (5) is cute. She mostly lays on the dog and sucks her thumb. She will play the piano, when forced. She is home schooled. This year, Lydia learned to swim – like really swim with her face in the water and turning her head to the side to breathe. She also learned to ride a bike, which you can do anywhere, unlike swimming which requires a pool.

Lydia laying on Jack the dog

This is the scene every day, at least once a day.

Bethany

Bethany dressed as a witch

My photo curator, Claire, promises this is the best photo of Bethany from 2015

Bethany (7) is cute. She mostly does crafts and lays on the dog. She likes Barbies. She is home schooled. Bethany enjoys crying on the piano bench, just like her older siblings did. Bethany likes swimming on the swim team, and looks forward to the competitive meets.

Ruthie

Ruthie holding pumpkins

Ruthie purchasing two Halloween pumpkins when most kids are satisfied with one.

Ruthie (9) is cute. She mostly likes to read books. It is all she does. She mostly reads when she should be doing something else like clearing the table. She is in 4th grade at Blessed Sacrament School where she has fooled the teachers into thinking she is a good kid. We regularly get reports of her angelic behavior, hard work and attention to detail. At home, the mask comes off. Her countenance glazes over when we give her a directive. I am convinced that when she is told to do anything, her soul leaves her body and reads on the couch. If I say, “Ruthie, clear the table.” She looks off into the distance, moves toward the table as if to obey, then turns and joins her soul on the couch.

Edward

Edward in a cowboy hat looking serious

I told Edward, “Look serious off into the distance.” Nailed it.

Edward (12) is not cute. He mostly dribbles basketballs — in the house — when we have decent folks over. He also does tricks on his scooter (outside) and rides his bike. He can only do homework between the hours of 10pm and midnight. Edward is in the 7th grade at Aquinas Middle School. He also has fooled his teachers into thinking he is a good kid, to the point that he was named student of the month in November. Edward was recruited onto the middle school basketball team by a coach with very poor judgment. He dominates the floor the way Michael Phelps might dominate Kobe Bryant. Yeah, he plays like his dad. Marble runs and Legos are still big with Edward. In nice weather, he rides with the middle school all-city mountain bike team. I would say he rides for the mountain bike team, but that would require his father to fill out forms, make deadlines and leave the house and drive places.

Claire

Claire at Riverside Park

One of the many trials Claire was forced to endure at her “real” school was the Homecoming dance.

Claire is 14 years old. She mostly swims. I mean she is really into it. She would miss parties, meals and family fun time, to go swim back and forth in a cold pool. She is sort of fast. She was the big holdout on going to an out-of-home school. Now she is the one rushing the others out the door to get to school on time. (For Claire, “on time” means 30 minutes early.) She enjoys gym class games that involve throwing balls at other kids’ heads. She nails the other kids in the head and looks innocent to avoid doing punitive push-ups. She shows no signs of success in high school. Claire gets good grades, but is only on the lame honor roll. She is not on the high honor roll, which vexes her greatly. She is on the all-academic team. Claire was also named Rookie of the Year on the high school swim team, and, she lettered in swimming. (We’re praying she adjusts to school.)

The Eldest Child

Helen at La Crosse Community Theater

The famous actress, Helen Hale, back when she was a nobody in the Missoula Children’s Theater.

Helen is 16 years old. She mostly does social. She acted in the Missoula Children’s Theater play this fall. She attended Christian camps this summer. She joined the Art Club and the Journalism Club at school. When she is not social, she is doing homework. She loves to read and draw. Helen is also a swimmer who won all her events at the prestigious Winona Invitational International Swimming Championships Preseason Opener. This summer, Helen water skied to please her mother. To the astonishment of everyone, she dropped a ski and slalom skied, just like her mom at 16.

The Matriarch

Nikole is beautiful. She mostly does family maintenance. She teaches elementary home school. She is constantly (no exaggeration) driving one of the kids somewhere. She somehow finds time to cook gourmet meals, because no one else in the family can cook, as they are too busy swimming and reading books. This summer, the formerly broken Nikole chose to tempt fate by water skiing again. Fate lost and Nikole won, returning to shore every time with nothing broken and all her joints in-place. Nikole just keeps getting fitter and fitter. She gets up early and goes to the Y to exercise with the other Catholic school parents. We all laugh at Nikole, because if any of us say, “I met a kid named such-n-such today.” She will say brightly, “Oh, I workout with his/her mom!” She works out with everyone’s mom. Nikole continues to be the glue that holds us all together.

Zellmanns, Rouxs and Hales by the Zellmann cabin

Some of the Zellmann clan at West MacDonald Lake. The lake that tried to break Nikole, but failed.

Pa

I am a pile of worthless. I mostly avoid work. Not when I go to work… then I work fairly steadily. But at all other times I try to stay far away from anything that might make me think, struggle or sweat. If not for dog walks and an occasional kid-taxi mission, I might never get out of bed. I help kids with homework. I would enjoy doing other things, like working-out with Catholic cyclists, but I am up too late doing my children’s homework. While my wife gets more chiseled, I get softer. My artist muscles are weakening too. I can barely draw a stick figure anymore.

The Dog

Jack running and looking crazy

I searched to find the most flattering photo of Jack.

Jack the dog is dopey. If Nikole is the glue that holds the family together, Jack is the Valium that holds my sanity together. Every morning when I want to roll over and cry, “What’s the point?” Jack is there to tell me how much he loves me and that I am the best thing that ever happened to him. He insists I take him on a long, morning walk. As we walk he goes on and on about how beautiful are the leaves, the trees and the sky. His favorite verse is “The heavens declare the glory of God.” He repeats it over and over again as we walk. Outside, I am forced to say positive things like “Good morning” to neighbors, and soon I may begin to think it is good. When I leave for work, my dog pretends to be sad. When I come home from work and am about to curl up on the floor and cry, “What’s the point?” Jack is there, telling me that his day was a black pit of despair without me there. He reminds me again, that I am the light that makes life worth living. He insists I take him on another long walk, during which he barks at children, little old ladies and anyone else who appears to be completely innocent. And when I go to bed, he tells me, “Dad, I love you, and I promise I will not go upstairs and sleep on one of the human kid’s beds.” He is a liar.

Jack the dog in the yard

Jack the dog looking fairly normal for a change.

As I proofread this, I thought, “All my friends are going to wonder why he hates everything and gets joy only from his dog.” Rest easy, my friends. My kids also do a fairly good “Welcome to the Morning” and “Welcome home from Work” greeting. And a kid who wants me to read a book can get me out of the fetal position. The Hope of Heaven also gives me great peace, as do Christmas movies, bicycles and my supermodel wife.

We hope you have a good year with kids less weird than ours, a house cleaner than ours, and a dog who sleeps in the dog-bed you bought him. Merry Christmas.

My Exciting Birthday 2015

Ed with his cake and very many kids

By late evening, the guest list had swelled to include neighbor kids and kids I don’t even recognize. Look closely. My kids are in there somewhere.

My birthday started like any birthday. I was ignored and forgotten. When, later in the day, my family could avoid me no longer, they condescended to a family bicycle ride. We rode through town being sure to find the busiest streets with uncontrolled crossings. Then we had a pleasant time riding through the traffic-free bicycle trails. My tough little kids and my lazy older kids rode seven long miles.

I spent the evening grumbling in front to iMovie, trying to splice a little video together. I spoke threats as I tried, unsuccessfully, to legally add copyrighted music to my movie. I had to settle for the least lame, free music I could find. At about midnight, following the direction of my teen-aged daughters, I made final revisions, and I published the video.

Thank you, Nikole and kids for going on a ride with me while I careened dangerously all over the trails looking into the LCD of my point-and-shoot camera. Thank you, Dad for hanging out with me and drinking coffee while I made this silly video and gave you half of my attention.

I Realized a Dream This Week

Me and Lydia and Jack paddling

I realized a tiny dream this past weekend…
I have a dog who will go paddling with me.

It all started many years ago when I saw this guy peacefully paddling his cedar strip canoe past my in-law’s cabin with his trusty golden retriever sitting calmly amidships. I thought, “I want that someday!”

I tried coaxing my father-in-law’s dog, Maddie, into a canoe, but she wasn’t into the whole paddling thing. She sort of blew it on the “sitting calmly” part of the dream.

I will never have the “cedar strip canoe” part of the dream, because I gave my stalled out wood strip canoe project away to my nephew, Josh. But I do own a pretty, baby blue, 17-foot Core Craft canoe. And I own a pretty, 75-pound, almost white, yellow lab. And on the first day of July, the two came together to fulfill my tiny dream on West MacDonald Lake.

How the Dream Took Shape

Lydia and I coaxed Jack into the canoe and cast off before he could change his mind. The ride was pretty exciting at first, as Jack walked from one side of the canoe to the other, threatening to tip us at any moment. Every half a minute paddling stopped and white knuckles grabbed the gunwales. (Be sure that even though I spell out “gunwales,” I pronounce it “gunnels” like any good sea captain would. This along with my use of, and correct spelling of, “amidships” must convince you that I am the real deal in the world of expert paddlers.) When we asked Jack to sit, he would flop all his weight against the side of the canoe as if it was a backrest, and we would travel along tipped at a scary angle.

After quite a while, he laid down right in the middle of the bottom of the canoe and we had smooth sailing. Toward the end he got a little whiny, I think because he missed his loving grandfather. Or he just longed to run and jump again with firm ground under his feet.

So, yippee for me! I have a dog who will go paddling with me when nobody else wants to. And who knows, maybe the sight of Jack and me exploring the lake together will inspire some other kid to buy a 50-year-old, used canoe and a two-year-old used dog and live out the dream.

Epiloge

At 9:30pm, Jack and I went for a moonlight paddle. We got to try out my new LED running lights and we marveled at how bright the world was under the almost full moon. And Jack laid still most of the time.

Very blurry photo of a man in a canoe with running lights and a full moon in the background

Photo by Marilyn Zellmann

jack watching from the dock as Nikole and me paddle away

“Hey, I thought I was your paddling buddy!”

 

How I Narrowly Avoided Incarceration

Ed on the ground with boot on headThe Dilemma

As I rode my vintage Cannondale bicycle to a meeting with Gathering Waters Design this morning, I wondered, “Where will I lock this beautiful machine in the sketchy neighborhood around Gathering Waters?”

When I got there, I looked for a bike rack by Gathering Waters and found none. I was early so I rode around the nearby fire station to see if they had a bike rack. They didn’t. I decided to lock up to a tree in front of Gathering Waters.

After I looped the cable through the wheels, frame and around the tree, I closed the lock and yanked on it several times to make sure it was latched, I stepped back and surveyed the situation. It was right on busy 4th street. Surely no one would steal it in broad daylight.

My bike by the tree in front of Gathering Waters Design

There is my old, dirty, wonderful Cannondale by the organic bike rack in front of Gathering Waters Design.

I checked the time on my iPod and I was too early for my meeting. I decided to walk around a little. I sauntered down 4th Street looking at the houses and craning my neck to see gardens in back yards. I turned back toward Gathering Waters, but after checking the time, I turned around again to continue my walk around the block. I studied the garage on the corner thinking, “That looks like the place where we picked up our parakeet after her failed escape attempt.”

The Bust

I didn’t have time to walk around the whole block so I turned into the alley, thinking, “It’s just a residential alley in a rough neighborhood. I will probably make it.” A few paces into the alley, I heard a car behind me. I turned to see a shiny, black Ford SUV turning into the alley. I moved to the side of the alley to continue my walk, and I nodded to the professional looking man in the passenger seat of the passing SUV. Then the vehicle turned to cut off my progress, the doors flew open and two young men stepped quickly out and stood on my right and my left. Immediately, I thought, “Oh no, the fuzz.”

The tall, dark-haired cop was on my left. The shorter red head was on my right. The tall cop did the talking. “Sir, can I ask you a couple questions?”

I said, “Sure,”

“Can you take your hand out of your pocket?”

“Sure.” I removed the offending hand.

He said, “What is your name?”

“I’m Eddie… Eddie Hale.”

“We saw you looking at that bike on the other side of the block. There have been a lot of thefts of higher end bikes in this neighborhood, and we wondered — what are you doing?”

I smiled a broad smile and said, “That’s my bike.”

He smiled back and said, “Oh… Can I ask you what you are doing in the neighborhood?”

“Sure, I have a meeting at that little church building on the corner. I got here way too early, so I thought I would walk around the block to kill some time.”

He said, “Oh. Okay. We saw you looking at that bike, and we pulled over. We said, ‘If he pulls a bolt cutter out of that backpack, we’ve got him.’”

I said, “Do you think my bike is safe there while I go to my meeting?”

He said, “Well… um… er… ya know… probably. I mean it’s on a busy street, and most of the thefts happen at night, though some of them have been happening during the day lately.”

I said, “Hmmm… Okay.”

Tall cop said, “Can I see your identification for the record?”

I pulled out my wallet (he was not worried about my hands venturing into my nefarious pockets anymore) and showed him my driver’s license. They both wished me a good day and got back in the car. I walked briskly toward my meeting and waved as they passed me on their way out of the alley.

A Better Place for a Bike

When I got in the little former church building, I was greeted by the photographer who owns the place. He said, “Go on up. They’re expecting you.”

I said, “Can I ask you a question? A police officer just wondered if I was stealing my own bike out in front of the building…”

He interrupted and said, “Sure, bring it in.” I went back out and wheeled my bike into the photography studio and leaned it on the wall. I went to my meeting and regaled my cohorts with the story of my brush with the law. They thought I was dressed too well to be a bike thief.

My wife thought it was ironic that I seldom arrive early for anything, and the time I when I do show up early, I almost get busted for it.

So you can all rest easy. My vintage Cannondale is still my vintage Cannondale. And the La Crosse cops know there is one bad guy you don’t mess with when he’s in the ‘hood.

The Making of…

The reveal. Claire wearing Dad's pants and boot, with boot on Dad's head.

I think Claire enjoyed the making of the “Boot on Head” photo a little too much.

 

The Day We Overcame All… Sort of

The scene was the Winter Father – Son Retreat at Living Waters Bible Camp. I always dread the cold, but this year it was mild — too mild. The staff was carefully shoveling snow onto thin parts of the tubing hill to prevent dark patches from attracting the sun and melting the snow.

The torsion catapult

The torsion catapult made by the Hale kid.

The camp always prepares something for the kids to build with their dads. This year, everyone built a marshmallow catapult. There was much “practicing” and young men kept the air filled with white puffy projectiles.

Saturday night we had a shooting competition. The first task was to knock over a popcan pyramid from 15 feet away. We were given ten marshmallows for the task.

It was exciting because we were in the second wave, and no one had knocked down all ten cans. Edward missed with his first shot. His second shot knocked down six cans. His third shot knocked down three more cans. I looked him from across the room as he lined up his catapult, aiming at one tiny, lonely pop can 15 feet away. It was impossible.

The whole room watched.

He fired…

Silence…

Ting! He knocked over the can. The room erupted in whoops and applause. He got bonus points for having six marshmallows left over.

cans laying around

The former pop can pyramid.

Round 2

The object of the second round was to fling a marshmallow 25 feet into a garbage can – an impossible feat for lesser men. In the first wave, several kids managed to hit the side of the garbage can, but none were able to place one in the can.

In the second wave the mighty Hales stepped up to the table. We had five marshmallows. The first landed short. We propped up the front of the catapult. The second shot landed next to the can. We propped up the front of the catapult some more. Marshmallows three and four hit the side of the can. Our last shot… I took out the set pins and wound up the tension cords a full turn. The wood side of the catapult groaned under the pressure.

The referee said, “is everyone done?” I said, “We have one more shot.” All eyes in the room turned to Edward. I propped up the front of the catapult even more and thought, “Why did you choose that angle? You’re just guessing. What if you guessed wrong!?”

Edward lined up the shot. I said, “Pull the trigger slowly. Don’t snap it.” I held the catapult tight against the table. Edward shot his shot.

The catapult catapulting

The final shot…

The room held its collective breath…

Then, descending as if in slow motion, the marshmallow traced a line through the very center of the garbage can’s circular opening. Again the crowd erupted in deafening woops and hollers.

The marshmallow falling into the garbage can

The marshmallow the kid flung falls into the target.

Edward had done the impossible. He had knocked down the entire pop can pyramid and sunk a marshmallow in the distant garbage can. We were awesome!

We placed third overall.

Yeah, some jerks in the later rounds got better scores than us. But we were the groundbreakers. We were the first. We received the applause reserved for those who break barriers. For a moment in time we crawled out of our shells of mediocrity and shone like the great ones.

And we did with marshmallows.

A marshmallow

The unassuming marshmallow that won our temporary glory.