… extended pause …
Elijah: I want to go on a super long bike trip. But I don’t wanna ride on the back of your bike. I want my own motorcycle. And I want to go to South America or Texas or someplace erotic.
Toby: You mean exotic.
I had a hard time falling asleep that night. I thought a lot about prepping the bikes and gear. I thought more about my teenager barreling into manhood unprepared. And honestly, I wasn’t prepared for him to even want to be a man yet. But, I was ready to initiate him into something less than full-on manhood.
Then, it came to me.
This adventure could be his official welcome into being a young man … or pre-manhood.
The real prep started like all good expeditions – with maps.
We scoped out the Denali Highway; a 130 mile dirt road that winds through the Alaska interior just southeast of Mt. McKinley. Every stream boils with grayling, and ptarmigan sit under every bush. Wolves run the hills while moose and caribou watch from every ridge. It is paradise.
After mulling it over, my dad wanted in. His choice ride was a 2009 Yamaha Grizzly 700; a Cadillac of wheelers. I prepped a 2002 Honda XR200 with a sheepskin buttpad. Elijah rode a 2009 Yamaha TTR125 with a 2×4 for a seat.
After months of angst, finally the day arrived!
We loaded the bikes in the trailer and drove North for half a day. Every half hour Elijah would ask if we were there yet. “I’m just ready to get on the bike and ride,” he would say.
It was late afternoon when we arrived. We were giddy, unloading the bikes and strapping on the gear. Shotguns. Fly rods. Waders. Tools. I was glad Dad was driving the pack mule; his toiletry kit alone was enormous.
Elijah hollered above the awakened engines, “How far to the lodge?”
“Sixty miles.” I yelled. “That’ll be base camp #1. We’ll explore that area, then two days later we ride 50 miles to base camp #2 for more exploring.” I was yelling more for joy more than to be heard.
Elijah revved his bike, grinning ear to ear. Inside his helmet, Dad was chewing gum so fast I thought his internal rpm’s would redline. I squeezed my clutch and dropped into first gear.
In that moment, before we put any distance between us and civilization, we became boys. Yet somehow we were like kings at the same time. We were unified, powerful, equipped. There was nothing we couldn’t handle. The journey lay before us.
We three kings kicked up dust as we tore down the road.
Within the first 5 miles, we jumped an enormous caribou with a rack so large it wouldn’t fit on any wall in my house. At our first creek crossing Elijah wanted to stop riding and start fishing. By the second creek, his skinny butt had grown pretty sensitive, and he swiped my sheepskin buttpad.
When we stopped at a scenic overlook, Elijah dug into the food bag. “How much longer?”
“Only 35 miles to go before sundown.”
I patted his back to encourage him, and then sprayed dirt on him as I tore down the road. Within seconds, he passed me, pretending like he was going to kick me into the bushes. We were having fun and I enjoyed watching him ride.
For the next 35 miles I thought about my dad’s dad. I wish Elijah could’ve known Papaw. One day Papaw and I were fishing, and he got upset with my whining. Rather out of context it seemed, he asked if I knew the difference between a man and a boy. He flipped his rod, watched the cork plop, and said, “A boy always wants to be somewhere other than where he is.” At that time, I thought it was some dumb grandpa advice.
As the sun slipped behind the mountains and the air became thinner, I listened to the sound of tires on the rocks and our motors droning on. Papaw’s wisdom would have to be passed onto Elijah.
The next 5 days were unbelievable.
Glorious weather. Great fishing. Animals everywhere. Fantastic meals. We rode nearly 400 miles of trails and only used the winch once. By far, it was one of the best trips ever.
Looking back, it was an intentional journey out of the routines of our lives and into the unknown. Two generations of men welcomed a boy into that great and crazy time of pre-man.
I was reminded that in life, just as our journey, there is nothing that a family of men cannot handle together. And somewhere along this journey, my son, my dad and I became something more than family, if just for a week. We became boys again, and kings of Denali.