By Rachel Bowman
When I was 13 years old, my mother was called into school for a parent-teacher conference with my high school band director. He informed my mother that I had a “big mouth” and was too “smart-mouthed for my own good”, and that after meeting my mother, he was now aware of “where she gets it from”. My mom chased him out of his own office wielding a golf umbrella and exclaiming words that I had only heard her spell.
With the exception of college basketball games and the one time my sister and I put 24 baby ducklings in the bathtub, profanity never entered my mother’s vocabulary.
My mother became my hero that day.
However, like most other teenagers, I soon became convinced that my mother, along with every other parental figure, was DUMB. Rules were dumb, being grounded was dumb, school was dumb, and I was the smartest person in the world. Moms were embarrassing and not to be looked up to or admired. Her advice was silly, and didn’t pertain to people of my generation. Any time my Mom offered her input into my life, it was immediately discarded.
It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that it occurred to me that she actually might know what she was talking about. Her advice became valuable, her stories became interesting, and after watching one of my close friends endure the passing of her own mother, I chose to put our differences aside and actually make friends with my Mom.
That year, I turned 30, and Mom turned (she’d kill me if I revealed her age!) and here we were, both living in the Keys. This, I thought, will be the year that we will confide in each other and share secrets and be just like those mother-daughters that get makeovers and go on the Ellen show together. She will finally teach me how to sew and I’ll teach her not to drink pink wine, and we will BOND.
This was not the case.
Last August, my mother informed me that she was going to ride her bicycle across the United States. I immediately protested. Riding your bike across the country?! By yourself?! At your age?!
While I was planning a Fried Green Tomatoes-style year of female bonding, my mom had discovered the Woman Tours Company, an outfit run by women who specialized in planning long-distance bike rides for large groups of women. My mother would be bonding – not with me – but with 25 other women, all just as crazy as she is.
No one in my family thought that my mother had the tenacity or thigh muscles to complete a 3,092-mile journey on a bicycle. Mom took a leave of absence from her job at Fisherman’s Hospital, and on March 4, 2010 she dipped her rear bike tire into the Pacific Ocean in San Diego, California and started pedaling her way to proving us all wrong.
My mother is no flake, mind you. She grew up on a small island in North Carolina, lived through hurricanes and race riots during desegregation, lost both parents before finishing high school and put herself through nursing school. She raised two daughters while working 14-hour shifts, is on the board of the Emergency Nurses Association and still makes the best Halloween costumes you’ve ever seen. She has joined riders on six different cross-state bike rides in the past 10 years. But Lance Armstrong, she is not.
With 25 other women, all over the age of fifty (and one 75-year-old!) my mother rode.
She rode through snow in California. She rode up a mountain to 8,600 feet of elevation in New Mexico in one day. She rode through the desert on I-10 in Arizona, past signs warning her not to pick up hitchhikers because there was a federal prison in the area. The state of Texas alone took 18 days (Mom doesn’t like to talk about Texas anymore. But, she did discover the town of Marathon, Texas, and spent the night there.) She rode through the bayous of Louisiana and the swamps of Mississippi, and the hills of the Florida panhandle. They rode through asthma attacks, dehydration and saddle sores.
From sunrise to sunset, she and the other 25 women rode their bikes, averaging 60 miles per day for two months.
Astonishingly enough, my mother rode the full 3,092 miles on the same Kevlar bicycle tires she bought at the Big Pine Key Bike Shop and never had a flat. On April 29, they rode through St. Augustine to the beach, and there I watched my mom and her new friends dip their front tires into the Atlantic Ocean.
She’s hanging up her helmet for now, but Mom’s bike days are far from over. Her goal is to ride her bicycle in all 50 states, and she’s almost halfway there!
I am lucky to have my mom back home here in the Keys for Mother’s Day. She will be relaxing here in Marathon for a few weeks before taking off to work in Alaska over the summer. Don’t worry – she’ll be driving a car across the country this time.
If you see her out and about, feel free to wish her Happy Mother’s Day and congratulate her on her cross-country trip. But don’t ask her about Texas. She might have a golf umbrella with her.