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I customarily use the December column to gaze back on my year in adventure, much the way I was constantly craning my neck to look behind me last August during the 24 Hours of Tahoe, a mountain-bike relay race. That way I had a better idea of who was about to pass me.
I hadn't initially intended to race. I was at the Northstar ski resort in Lake Tahoe, Calif., to do some reporting in advance of the Honda 24 Hours of Moab (SI, Oct. 20). At Northstar, I met Tom McCarty and Todd Morrish, who were competing in Tahoe and were looking for a third member for their bike team, Grateful Tread. Another racer, a very cool guy named Keith Bontrager, loaned me a sweet ride. The next thing I knew, I was off on my first 11-mile loop.
After climbing about 1,600 feet, all the while drowning out birdsong from the valley with the sound of my ragged breathing (the race started at an altitude of 6,800 feet), I was pleased to see the course level out. Now I'd make up time. Or so I thought. I took too much speed into a double jump—sorry about that, Keith—and flew over the handlebars going about 20 mph.
I flipped and came to rest alongside the trail, having scraped a good portion of skin off my back and my right buttock. Four months later those scars remain as vivid as my memory of lying awake in the team's tent at 3:30 the following morning, 45 minutes before the start of my fourth, and penultimate, lap. I wanted to be in my own bed. I wanted a little plastic bottle of prescription painkillers. I wanted my mother. From the sleeping bag on my left came the voice of McCarty, whom I'd known less than a day.
"Having fun?" he asked.
It was as hard as I laughed at 3:30 a.m. all year.
It was a year that featured fewer assignments on the road, owing to my decision to take six months off work to trade places with my wife, Laura, who took the opportunity to concentrate on her freelance writing career. Aside from some minor glitches—the day I lost track of my six-year-old son for a few hours and had to call the police, for instance—my tenure as Mr. Mom went swimmingly. (Shameless Plug Dept.: How Tough Could It Be?, my book on the travails of this stay-at-home dad, will be published in May.) Laura did greenlight one prolonged, sweaty outing, granting me permission to do the Appalachian Extreme, a three-day adventure race in Maine and New Hampshire.
My mates and I on Team King Oscar occupied last place at one point, but rallied to finish in the top half (SI Adventure, June 16). I had no inkling, flying home, that the toughest days of my week lay ahead.
On the calendar the family camping trip had looked like a relaxing idyll. We would motor south from our home in San Francisco to Big Basin Redwoods State Park, near Santa Cruz. There, with our friends and their two children, we would commune with the majestic trees—we would slow the pace of our lives. That was the plan.
Then Saturday rolled around, and it became clearer to me why Laura loathes camping. It fell to Mr. Mom to plan menus for 3� days, shop for food, pack for kids, pack for self, pack car and then—upon arrival at campsite—unpack everything. That done, I helped unpack my friend's truck (five trips, but who's counting?) while he stood in the campsite chatting up my wife. What else? Pitch tent, finish pitching second tent that wife and daughter had given up on, cook, serve dinner, scrape and wash dishes and silverware, dry same.