Sunshine, bikes and such

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We came to Luxembourg with great cycling expectations.   There was an article in the New York Times back in September of last year where a reporter chronicled a three day biking trip around Luxembourg.  It caught our attention not just because we were moving there, but it was the kind of travel article that was so compelling in both word and photo that it would have been clipped and saved regardless.  Through the article we learned that there was 600 miles of bike trail on 23 different paths in a country the size of Rhode Island.   It’s a country that’s only 35 miles wide, so 600 miles of bike trail is A LOT.   And apparently they plan to build even more giving us more reasons to carbo load.

The realization that Luxembourg was serious about their embrace of cycling prompted us to ship over all eight of our family bikes, and me to outfit my bike with the perfect bike basket.  Visions of a front hub woven basket filled with flowers, baguettes, and a borrowed Chihuahua eventually gave way to a more practical solution.   Since my goal was to make cycling a lifestyle not just a photo opp, I settled on the durable, collapsible, rear facing Topeak TrolleyTote Folding Basket.   It has an extendable handle and wheels, so it can trolley along with me as I do errands.   It’s nifty and serious-minded.   I also sprung for some commuter biking tires.

With great expectations came new resolutions.  Less car touring, more bike touring.  Less Costco-sized shopping, more tote sized shopping.  Less I-only-run-for-fitness, more cross-training.  Maybe even a cute cycling shirt.

Unfortunately, the TrolleyTote hasn’t seen more than a few days above freezing since we’ve been in Luxembourg.  And while it may be serious-minded, I have been seriously cold and unwilling to freeze my baguettes off.  So when we saw sunshine that warmed us enough to allow us to shed our jackets for the first time this past weekend, we decided it was time to pull out the bikes.  Plus Quinn is here this week and we are trying to do everything to cement this place as his soon to be new home. 

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So on Monday with warm temps and little boys in school, Brett took the day off so the three of us could test out the first of the 23 different paths.   The cycling paths are known as PCs (for the French term pistes cyclables) and we decided to do PC1 (the Cycle Path du Centre.)  The 43 km path rings around the City Center and hits many of the surrounding neighborhoods – a great first ride to acclimate Quinn to the local geography.  (Quinn loves maps.  It’s a Ballbach thing.)  In case you didn’t catch it, the path was 43 km – longer than it would take us to get to the Belgian border.  This immediately qualified as a cross –training bike ride. 

Given that this would be an errand-less ride, I left the TrolleyTote at home.  Within minutes on my bike however, there was lots of clicking and what I perceived to be as “drag.”  I soon realized that maybe instead of focusing on bike baskets I should have focused on having the bike shop tune my fussy gears.   If someone had mentioned this to me previously, this was not the time for a reminder.  Once I felt like I was adequately “heard” about how much my gears sucked (and my husband got on my bike to validate my complaint), I found a gear that would do and decided to stop being the squeaky wheel. 

That was a good move, because this was a bike ride that decidedly exceeded Great Expectations.

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PC 1 started in the narrow streets of the old city and later dropped us along a river valley following the Alzette River.  After several kilometers, the path opened up into beautiful, rolling farmland where we saw cows and goats and budding plants we couldn’t yet recognize.  After we had been spoiled by vast vistas, we crossed into a dense forest.  More farmland and then quaint village suburb and then dense forest again.  The variety was unbelievable.  Quinn remarked: “There is a surprise at every corner.”  The trail was well marked, and most of it was along pavement or dirt road with just enough elevation change to make it challenging but not a gut buster.  Little of the path required us to share a road with cars which is pretty amazing considering that this was the trail closest to the city center.  For those in Seattle who know the Burke Gilman trail, this was 10x better in terms of beauty and variety, and it wasn’t packed.  Not once did we have to say “On the left” – which is good because I don’t know how to say that in French yet.  I had to bail out about 10 kilometers shy of finishing the circuit due to a school pick up, but I am eager to do it again.   And I can’t wait to enjoy it with friends who come to visit when the weather is cooperative.

The whole first bike experience got me thinking about expectations and how sometimes even our high expectations are blown out of the water.  We often talk about how reality falls short of expectation, but sometimes we don’t stop to celebrate when the opposite happens.  The New York Times writer helped set our expectations, but then the experience itself (with the necessary attitude check at the front fender) was full of even a few more surprises.   It was better than advertised.

In the same way, we expected that our decision to have Quinn stay back in Seattle was the right decision.  It made sense on many fronts given that he was mid-year in his first year of high school, he wanted to finish his basketball season and that his best friend’s family offered to have him stay and live with them.   But having Quinn here this week – seeing and hearing how that decision has unfolded for him – has exceeded Great Expectations.

We already knew that he would be living with the one of the single best families we know.  This is a family that already has four children – three of them teenagers – who willing invited another iPhone and voracious appetite into their active home.  We knew this was an incredible gift.  To have a family we trust say YES -- not just to provide room and board, but also love and care for our son in our absence.  It’s a big job. 

What we didn’t know was just how much he would become part of the fabric of their family.  The Wilson family has adopted Quinn as one of their own from Day 1 with a bedroom that was specially outfitted for him, a cupboard stocked with his favorite snack foods, and a family initiation involving the Finding Nemo SHARK BAIT HOO HAHA song while eating a Big Mac.  I’ve heard a lot more stories this week about life under the Wilson roof – the laughter, the fun, the PRESENCE in attending the things that matter in all 5 of the kids’ lives (including Dan sitting through a 3 hour awards ceremony for Quinn) and the PRESENCE in conversations – the important ones and the frivolous, immature ones that teenage boys occasionally ask us to suffer through. 

It’s not just his relationship with his best friend that has grown during this time, it’s also been the relationships with his two extraordinary teenage sisters, his amusing younger brother (who is reportedly less annoying that his own), and a second Mom and Dad that are known not just to me – but the entire city of Seattle given Dan’s longevity as one of our city’s most beloved professional athletes – as an example of true humility and selflessness.  I don’t know how they have the bandwidth (well maybe I have a hunch), but their supply to love on others seems to be unlimited.  I caught Quinn saying something this week that had a whiff of new found modesty, and thought “Oh, that sounded so Wilson.”  It’s the kind of rubbing off that has had me remark: “Though I miss my boy desperately, I wouldn’t have wanted him to miss all these wonderful surprises around every Wilson corner.”   We love you Wilsons!

Off to Paris tomorrow for the day with my boy ... let's hope we find all the right street corners.  I'm giving him the map ...