A large swan and her young relaxed in an eddy of the Rhine River. I lowered myself to the banks' edge and slipped my calves into the icy river, trying not to disturb the swans. The turquoise water was freezing, fresh from sliding off the Alps into this corner of Switzerland. After weeks of biking, I relished numbness it brought to my legs. I leaned back and gazed appreciatively upwards into a clear blue sky. A rare site on this trip, especially since our month crossing Belgium and France was cold and wet, motivating us to buy another blanket and spend as much time in heated bakeries as possible.
Now, on my right, my dad was digging out his hammock, which had spent the last six weeks stuffed in the bottom of his pannier. “Yay!” I cheered. Between moisture laden clouds and campgrounds with no trees, the hammock had become a bit of a three-pound joke. My dad grinned as he attached the hammock to two beech trees and gracefully dropped in.
“Play with me Mama!” my son, Zion, yelled to me. We had only been at camp for a few minutes and he’d already managed to find some sand buckets.
“I’ll be right there,” I yelled back and giggled. I’m not sure why I thought I would have an abundance of time to ponder life on this trip. Travelling with a six-year-old was and entirely different experience to the hours of writing, yoga and meditation I had ridiculously thought I’d have. By the time we finished biking, setting up camp, playing and reading his books, there was no energy left for anything except cuddling and listening to rain splatter on the tent fly.
“Mom!” Zion yelled again and I pushed myself up. With so much time spent on bikes, we always tried to play with him. And truthfully, some days it was exhausting. I struggled with the guilt of needing my own time to re-energize, but still wanting to keep him entertained and happy. But I was definitely becoming an expert sand castle builder.
Sometime later, my husband came by and I mentioned, “We should go see the ruins.”
“Noooo,” Zion complained. His lips formed a pout but he still looked so adorable with his bright blue eyes beneath a large yellow brimmed hat. I know our son never asked for this kind of trip and I wondered if he will grow up to love riding and exploring as much as his parents.
“Grandma will buy you an ice-cream.” I hold out my finger for a pinky promise. (Bringing your parents on a cycle tour has great advantages.) Before we left, I change Zion's socks. His feet were white and wrinkly and I failed to remember the last time we’d made him take a bath.
A few minutes from our camp were ruins from the Roman Empire dating back to 300 years B.C. We walked up to a 2000 year old amphitheater as the sun lowered and Zion licked his ice-cream.
The history was astounding, with the Romans, the wars, the pride, the discomfort, and we tried to take it all in as we move through Switzerland and then into Germany. The hills came as we navigated our way from the Rhine towards the beginnings of the Danube River. In the town of Tuttlingen, Germany, we found the most incredible pool with waterslides. Zion got clean, splashing for hours. My mom and I snuck upstairs where we stripped off all our clothes to experience our first nude sauna. Testing out many different saunas and baths, I felt exposed and vulnerable, yet confident. It reminded me of this entire experience of travelling with my family; how I often questioned my parenting choices and other times relished in the answers.
Cycling on the Danube flats, I was curious to see how long we would follow the river and how much it would change along the way. At the moment, it was narrow and calm and winding towards a slender gorge. Zion’s arm shot up in the air, showing off his one-handed biking skills before racing ahead with my dad. I laughed as they yelled out their nicknames for eachother; Joe Cool and Freddy Fire. As well as playing games of Twenty Questions and I Spy, we had been through three books of knock-knock jokes, and sang all the songs I could think of. (He’s not much of a fan of my singing, unfortunately.)
“Look a beaver!” My mom pointed and I jumped on the opportunity to keep Zion entertained and by telling him everything I know about beavers. But as we moved through limestone cliffs topped with majestic castles, I found myself craving to see around the next corner. As much as I stayed present in my life, I still often failed. There was always something enticing me to check it out. Zion, though, lives in every minute as if it’s his only.
He doesn’t quite grasp that if we bike faster, we will make it to a beach. That if we pack up our tent and ride on, we will make it to a waterpark in the afternoon. And because of this, I try to experience the moments. I strive to savour life at his pace.
An older gentleman from France cycled with us for a while and Mike conversed with him in French. I was able to catch the gist of their conversation as he asked about Zion’s school. I understood Mike as he explained that Zion is in kindergarten and it’s okay he’s out of it for a while.
“Ecole de vie!” The French cyclist shouts and smiles! “School of life!” And I can’t help thinking that he meant it for all of us. And I realize that perhaps, I have had time to ponder life on this trip after all.