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The Story of
Rick Archer's 25 Mile Bike Ride:  Saturday, June 1st

Previously I reported that my daughter Sam, 21, was about to embark on the journey of a lifetime (see my story titled Texas 4000)

From June all the way to the first week in August, Sam and her friends will be riding their bikes from Houston all the way to Alaska. 

The opening event of this year's ride took place on Saturday, June 1stThat is when Texas 4000 held a kick-off event in Lampasas, an attractive town north of Austin.  Parents of the riders, friends and alumni from the previous 9 rides were invited to join in a community bike ride followed by a giant picnic at a local winery. 

There were three rides to choose from: 75 miles, 50 miles, and 25 miles.  Sam asked me to consider joining her for the 25 mile ride.  Considering the longest bike ride I have been on in the past 50 years is about a mile, this would be a bit of a stretch for me to begin with.  Furthermore, at age 63, I am certainly no longer an athlete. 

On the other hand, I admire my daughter so much for becoming a part of this adventure, I said yes without hesitation.  This would be my way of saying in a meaningful way that I am with her in this experience. 

That said, I have been dreading this trip for months now.  When you are retired, money no longer grows on trees.  I just couldn't see wasting $200 on a motel room for the night.  So I reluctantly steeled myself to the 4 hour drive up, the marathon bike ride and the 4 hour drive back on the same day.  Mind you, Marla and Sam were both worried about me; that made three of us. 

Lampasas is over an hour north of Austin.  Consequently I had to be on the road at 5 pm.  Sam had a really good idea.  She talked her best friend Nadia into giving me a ride once I got to Austin.  This kind gesture on Nadia's part was the edge I needed.  After my 3 hour drive to Austin, Nadia took me the rest of the way.  This gave me a much-needed hours rest before the main event.

It was so interesting to watch Nadia in action.  This young lady kept one eye on the road and one eye on her cell phone road map for entire hour and a half trip.  Meanwhile I had my "State of Texas" road map with me.  While Nadia focused on the "Little Picture", I had the "Big Picture" in front of me at all times.  I offered to navigate for her, but Nadia was perfectly content to do it her way.  I marveled at this clear distinction between how the two generations approach a road trip. 

In the end, Nadia got us there on time and without headache.  Her way worked just fine.  Therefore it is not my place to say which system is better.  I will say Nadia had a clear advantage once we reached Lampasas.  The small roads she used were not on my State of Texas map.

The 25 mile bike ride took place in the beautiful Texas Hill Country.  Unfortunately I got off to a bad start.  Sam had been asked to assist with the start of the 50 and 75 mile rides.  Because everyone on all three rides is supposed to finish about the same time, the longer rides start earlier and from different locations than mine. 

Consequently Sam didn't make it to my spot until shortly before the ride began.  Just as the leader was giving instructions at the start of the ride, Sam noticed my front tire had no air in it.  You would think in a sea of bicycles that bike pumps would be everywhere, but such was not the case.  It took 10 minutes to locate a pump and solve the problem.  I fumed - I hate being the very last person!!  I was already the oldest person in the race and now everyone else had a ten minute head start.  Darn.

Sam and her friend Isaac rode with me.  Isaac was the person who handled my flat tire.  Isaac is a fellow Texas 4000 rider this summer.  Hailing from the tiny town of Elsa down in the valley, Isaac is one of my heroes for several reasons. 

First of all, Isaac is the first member of his family to attend college.  He did it with the help of scholarships which is a testament to his hard work in high school.

Each rider has to raise $4,500 to participate in this program.  I have not yet pointed this out, but the purpose of the program is to raise money for cancer research.  In other words, Texas 4000 is a charitable organization. 

Raising $4,500 for a poor kid like Isaac is not easy.  It is in fact an overwhelming goal.  In the case of my own daughter, Marla and I got her off to a big start with a $1,000 grant.  Isaac, on the other hand, had to spend much of the summer of 2012 panhandling in the Texas heat down in the town of McAllen, Texas.   According to his blog, Isaac spent two entire weeks begging for money on street corners before he finally reached $1,000.  That is about the purest example of the difference between privilege and poverty you will ever see.  If you are curious, Isaac wrote a humorous and quite touching story about his experience. 

To me, panhandling does not sound like fun.  In fact, it sounds dreadful.  I thought I had it really tough when I was growing up, but when I learned about what Isaac had to go through to make it to college and to make it onto the bike team, that put everything into perspective for me.  No matter how bad you think things were, there is always someone out there who struggled even more.  Now you see why Isaac is one of my heroes which explains why I asked him to ride with me for a while.

I was desperate to catch up with all the riders ahead of me, but Sam told me to hold my horses.  Now what?  Sam handed me a helmet.  I had never worn a bike helmet in my life and objected.

Sam rolled her eyes, "Just put it on, Dad, and don't argue."

I hate it when she talks to me like that, but I meekly obeyed nevertheless.  Helmet, bah humbug.  Kids are so soft these days.  Back when I was a kid, I rode my bike to school 2 miles every day for five straight years.  I never wore a helmet, I never stopped for stop signs, and I never paid a bit of attention to any rules for the road. 

Some things never change.  For example, we soon got stuck behind a string of cars at a highway stop sign.  Hey, I'm on a bike; why not cut in line like I did as a kid? 

So while a string of ten cars just sat there waiting their turn, I rode my bike to the head of the line.  Good move.  I saved five minutes of waiting.  When Sam caught up with me, she immediately scolded me for taking the shortcut.

"Dad, please don't do that again.  That's why motorists hate us.  They see us breaking the rules and begin to resent the fact that we act like we are special."

Oh.  Hmm.  Okay, I had to admit Sam had a point.  Nevertheless, don't you hate it when the kid becomes the parent? 

Soon we passed the busy streets and proceeded to an obscure country farm road that would serve as the main drag for the ride.

We soon arrived at our first big hill of the day.  Hmm.  I saw a young man walking beside his mother.  The hill was too tough for her to climb it on her bike.  Instantly I vowed that I would do everything in my power never to walk up a hill that day... a decision I regretted for the next two hours.

When it comes to climbing a hill on a bike, there is suffering involved.  My legs burned and burned.  My heart went huffing and puffing as I struggled mightily.  I hurt so bad. 

Sam had explained how to switch gears.  I was constantly downshifting trying to get any advantage I could.  Suddenly the gear shift wouldn't take me to the next easiest level.  I panicked.  Oh no, did I break the darn thing?   Why wouldn't it shift?

Sam took a look at my bike and calmly explained I was in the lowest possible gear already.

This day would be full of one humiliating moment like this after another. 

I complained bitterly to Sam about how much I hurt to climb the hills.  I never knew before how much I could hate hills.  Sam shrugged her shoulders.  She pointed out these hills were nothing compared to some of the hills her team would be constantly facing on the ride.

Now I was curious.  I told Sam I wanted to see her in action.  I asked her to ride up this hill as fast as she could.  To my astonishment, Sam shot up the hill in a straight line without any hesitation.  I was aghast.  How did she do that?  

I was immediately overcome by a very painful revelation which I shared with Sam once I got to the top of the hill.  I told Sam that in every parent-child relationship, there comes a time when the child has clearly surpassed the parent.  I said that today was that moment. 

Oddly enough, as recently as last summer, I was in better shape than Sam was.  We jogged at Memorial Park and I did better than she did.  That was last summer.

Sam's program insists that their riders train for this event.  And train she did.  Sam logged over 500 miles in preparation for this summer's ordeal.  Now she is in the best shape of her life.

As a parent, I am thrilled.  My daughter has never shown much interest in physical fitness.  Now through constant interaction with many of her fellow riders who are fitness advocates, Sam has turned into a jock for the first time in her life.  And I can tell she is proud of herself.  It has been tough and there has been tears and frustration, but Sam will tell you it was worth it.

Sam's new-found fitness is just one way this program has helped my daughter grow.  Sam has discovered she can tackle a huge task and master it.  Furthermore, I can sense the confidence her success has given her.  As a father, I could not be more pleased.

I might add I imagine Isaac's father is proud of him as well.  Isaac had no idea he could ever raise all that money.  And yet he did it... and probably gained a world of confidence in the process.  

Now you begin to see why the parents of the riders are so enthusiastic about this program.  It used to be you had to send your kid off to the Marines to make them this tough.  What a joy it is to see a more peaceful alternative. 

Sam said there was a rest stop up ahead.  Looking at the mileage indicator on her bike, Sam concluded this would be the halfway point.  This was good news because I was getting pretty tired. 

I asked Sam what our time was.  She indicated we were on pace to finish between 2 ½ and 3 hours.  I frowned a little.  I had hoped to finish in 2 ½ hours.  Somewhere I wanted to find a way to accelerate a little.

The rest stop was situated atop a hill.  Fortunately the degree of incline wasn't too bad, but the hill was long long long.  I was exhausted when we finally made it to the top.  I frowned as I noted Sam wasn't even breathing hard. 

I enjoyed the rest stop thoroughly.  They had shady tents with pretty college girls handing out goodies.  I was delighted to find my favorite foods waiting for me - peaches, bananas, and small peanut butter sandwiches.  Yum!

They also had a bizarre drink to share - pickle juice.  Pickle juice?  I don't like pickles.  They make me wince and pucker up.  Sam called me a sissy.  Darn her anyway.

So I tried the pickle juice.  I immediately began to wince. Oh yuck.  How ridiculous!  This stuff is awful.  OMG, these cyclists really know how to suffer.  I have always had a Spartan aspect to my personality, but I can't say I have deliberately ever gone out of my way to suffer.  Somehow pickle juice seemed like overkill.  The hills were all the challenge I needed today.  I decided to stick to water instead. 

To my surprise, the peanut butter really did the trick.  I immediately felt much better.  In fact, I felt refreshed and even a bit energetic.  

Noting that everyone seemed quite happy to stay at the rest stand for as long as humanly possible, I saw a chance to get a head start on the pack for the second half of the trip.  As for me, I wanted to get this over with.  I was ready to roll.  So I hollered, "Let's head out, Sam!"

Then without waiting I got on my bike.  I was thrilled to see a long downhill awaiting me.  Wheee!  As I coasted the long downhill, I actually felt young again... a wonderful exotic feeling that stayed with me for all of two minutes until the next hill came along.  Then I felt old again.

At the top of the new hill, I noticed the descent was quite steep.  Sam took off and I took off after her.  I immediately disliked how fast I was going.  My bike was going way faster than I felt comfortable with and I felt out of control.  I openly admit I was frightened.  Thank goodness I had spent my entire childhood on a bicycle; otherwise I would have probably hurt myself.  This was way too fast for me.

At the bottom of the hill, Sam smiled.  "Now you know why we are expected to wear helmets."

This ride was turning into a real pain in the butt, literally and figuratively.  Speaking of butts, my butt hurt so bad I quietly wondered if I would be able to walk tomorrow, much less dance.   For the record, I can assure you I was indeed able to walk and dance, but every movement was an effort.  I hurt like h...l the next day. 

One thing about riding a bike is you have lots of time to think.  The number 25 kept rolling around in my mind.  There was something about that number that bothered me.  Then it dawned on me.  A marathon is 26 miles.  We were traveling a distance today just one mile less than a marathon.  Wow. 

I was impressed with myself for about a minute when suddenly a very disturbing thought crossed my mind.  It seemed to me like the most recent winner of the Houston Marathon finished with a time around 2 hours, 10 minutes.  I was on pace to finish a shorter distance in 3 hours.  I was astonished.  I had just realized there are human beings who can run 26 miles in a faster time than I can ride the same distance on a bike.  I felt truly humbled by this realization.  That is amazing!

It was about this time that Sam began to explain that cycling is exploding in popularity.  It is fast becoming one of America's favorite new forms of recreation. 

I did not reply, but I do remember thinking that anyone who takes up cycling for the fun of it must be out of their mind.  The pain involved from these constant hill climbs was kicking my you-know-what.  I was glad I was here and I was glad I was sharing this time with Sam, but there was nothing about this event that remotely made me want to do it again. 

For the life of me, I could not imagine riding my bike for two hours on a Saturday morning "for the fun of it".  Of course, maybe my crummy attitude has something to do with being 63.

As I continued to mull my pain and my predicament, my mind turned to jogging.  I run for 12 straight minutes every day.  I hate every minute of it, but I do it anyway because it is good for my health.  I could see myself doing a modest amount cycling as a form of exercise, but to ride for the fun of it?  No way. 

Fun is playing half-court basketball which cuts down on the running.  Fun is skiing.  A chair lift takes me to the top of the mountain; gravity takes me down the mountain.  One-way kayaking is fun.  The current carries me down the stream; a cell phone calls someone to come get me.  Biking on the other hand is crazy.  Until they install T-Bars for uphill climbs, I'll pass.  Anyone who says they cycle for fun must be out of their minds.

And now my daughter was signed up for 4,000 miles of cycling.  Thanks to the little riding I had done today, I could not even conceive of the amount of suffering this young woman will be facing for the rest of this summer. I openly admit I admire Sam for what she is doing.

And judging from the looks on the faces of the other parents, they are equally proud of their own children.  We are not talking about "summer camp" here.   We are talking about a definite ordeal.  I am fully convinced of that. 

My ride ended in a semi-funny way.  Back when I was young, I was a pretty good athlete.  I might as well admit that I still have a little pride left.  I didn't expect to "win" this ride, but I wanted very badly to at least beat someone to the finish line. 

Therefore I was tickled pink to discover Sam and I were way ahead of the pack.  When we left the Rest Station, not one person was ahead of us.  They were all too busy enjoying themselves.  So I believed that we were ahead of a lot of people.  Furthermore in the past 40 minutes, not one rider had caught up to us.  Wow.  Sam and I were doing really well... which is another way of saying I was doing really well.  I smiled as I concluded that the other parents couldn't catch me.  Not bad for an old man.

Then we got to a highway that crossed our farm road.  Sam immediately began to frown.  Maybe it was the sign that said "El Paso 200 miles" that got her attention. 

Yes, I am teasing. It didn't say El Paso.  What it did say was that Oakalla was 16 miles away and Bertram was 12 miles away.  Sam was unhappy because both towns were significantly in the wrong direction from Lampasas.  We should be getting closer to Lampasas, not further. 

Sam continued to study her little map on the I Phone.  We tried one new direction, but Sam's heart wasn't in it.  We went 200 hundreds only to have Sam stop and turn around.  She took us back to the road we had been on.  Now we went 200 hundred yards on our previous road and Sam stopped again.  Her mind told her something was wrong, very wrong.

Finally she gave up and called Isaac.  To her dismay, Sam discovered our route was not a loop as she had been led to believe, but rather a trek to the Halfway Point and back.  In other words, we had just ridden our bikes eight miles past the turnaround point.  Even though we had traveled 20 miles at this point, we were not five miles from the finish line... we were twenty miles from our destination.

I groaned.  Oh no.  The thought of retracing our steps was more than I could bear.  I had secretly hoped that it was mostly downhill on the final five miles.  Sometimes it does better not to know what you are up against.  Recalling all the hills I would have climb again, I felt miserable.

Fortunately we got lucky.  Tom, a volunteer for Texas 4000, drove past us in a minivan.  He was en route to pick up a woman who had been overcome with leg cramps.  Sensing we were lost, he stopped to make sure we were okay.  Sam and I swallowed our pride and admitted our mstake. 

Bless his heart, Tom offered us a ride.  We did not even hesitate to accept. 

I completed my day's ride in the minivan.  I didn't even make it to 25 miles.

Furthermore I was embarrassed.  I had just spent the past eight miles telling myself what an amazing old warrior I was because no one could catch us.  It isn't really much of an accomplishment to stay ahead of the pack when no one is chasing you.

I also felt kind of sad.  I had just been given undeniable proof that my genetic predisposition for getting lost had been genetically passed on to my child. 

I have little doubt Sam would refer to it as a "recessive gene".

Okay, so my day didn't end in glory.   Nevertheless the afternoon picnic was fun.  I got to meet some of the other parents and some of the other riders.  I also spent the most time with my daughter since she left for college four years ago. 

It made me so proud to see that her years at college have helped her grow into a very special person.  I quietly noted throughout the day that Sam paid close attention to how I was doing.  Sam has reached the point in life where she has become a caregiver.  This is a good step for her. 

Sam has always been one of those people who openly wonders how she can make the world a better place.  I noticed that Isaac has a similar attitude.  He has this quote on his Texas 4000 Profile Page:

"The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in."¯ James Baldwin

There is something special taking place in every single one of the riders.  I credit the Texas 4000 experience for giving these young adults the chance to discover and to grow.  Considering how far they have come already, I cannot imagine the changes that await them as they travel the United States on their way to Alaska.  I am excited to find out.

Rick Archer
June 07, 2014

 

The Great Texas 4000 Scavenger Hunt

Forward

Rick’s Note:  For one day on June 4th, I had the privilege of hosting the entire 23-member team on the Ozarks Route here in my home.  I was unusually impressed by the poise and the character of these young adults.  In fact, I was so impressed by the women on the team that I actually felt compelled to go back and study the women’s movement here in America. 

Based on my observation of the ladies, whatever we are doing to create more opportunities for women in America, it is definitely working.

Now here is the story.
…………

The Origin of the Scavenger Hunt

As readers of the SSQQ Newsletter know, my daughter Sam is a member of the Texas 4000 bike team that is riding from Austin to Alaska this summer.  The purpose of the program is to help raise donations and awareness in the fight against cancer. There are three different teams riding to Alaska.  Sam’s particular team is taking a circuitous route that includes trips to Houston, St Louis, Chicago and Minneapolis.  

Every member of the Texas 4000 bike team has a responsibility.  In the case of Sam, her job was to find sponsors to house the team in the towns and cities where the team was scheduled to stop.

In her capacity as “shelter finder”, Sam approached me about letting half her team stay at my house on the night they visited Houston.  This meant 12 college students would spend a full day and night at my house.  Without hesitation, I said of course.  After all, I figured my dance studio had enough room to sleep everyone comfortably. 

Some people would think about how to feed them, but that never even crossed my mind.  I was instantly more concerned with how to entertain them.  What could I do to keep the riders busy?

As I began to think of ways to fill their free day in Houston, I came up with a perfect solution.  Why not create a giant Easter Egg hunt?  After all, isn’t that the sort of activity any college age youth dreams about?

I decided they were a little old to look for Easter Eggs, so I renamed the event and called it a Scavenger Hunt.  After I finished explaining the challenge to my daughter, Sam hesitated on the phone. 

At this point, Sam politely tried to steer me away from the idea.  She explained they were actually pretty busy that day.  Sam began by saying the team had been invited the team to city hall to meet Mayor Annise Parker at lunchtime.  Apparently City Councilman Dave Martin, a cancer survivor himself, had a son on the bike team.  Councilman Martin had arranged the visit. 

To the delight of the riders, Mayor Parker seemed genuinely interested in their project.  In fact, Mayor Parker had declared Tuesday, June 4th as “Texas 4000 Day” here in Houston, a very kind gesture.  Sam said the bike team was really looking forward to the chance to meet our Mayor. 

Then Sam pointed out that Kaitlyn Hunt, a Texas 4000 rider from the previous year, wanted to host an alumni Open House in the afternoon.  And of course MD Anderson, recipient of a great deal of the donations raised by Texas 4000 over the past ten years, wanted to honor the team in the late afternoon. 

“Gee Dad, as you can see, we are going to be pretty busy.”

No doubt Sam was hinting that her team of 23 really would prefer just to have a little free time. 

Nonsense.  I replied by pointing out the team didn’t have anything to do that morning.  Fun, fresh air and exercise was exactly what these riders needed on their day off to stay sharp.  

Mind you, the riders were staring at two straight months of fresh air and exercise.  But that thought never crossed my mind. 

Sam surely rolled her eyes when I didn’t take the hint.  But she was too polite to simply say it was a bad idea.   Sam decided to humor me.  Rather than bluntly break the news that her team would much rather sleep that morning, she quietly began to persuade the team to participate in my goofy game.  Mind you, Sam was banking practically all her credibility on me.  If this event turned out to be a colossal bore and waste of time, Sam would surely hear about it for the next two months.

In retrospect, I can’t imagine what I was thinking.  I speak the truth when I say it never dawned on me that these young people were perfectly capable of entertaining themselves.  What these young adults craved most was rest and free time.  But I was too stupid to figure that out for myself.

 

The Contest Begins

Consequently the Scavenger Hunt proceeded as planned.

On Tuesday, June 4th, the bike team showed up at my house very late at 10:30 am.  They had spent the night at someone’s house in Katy.  They were very groggy.  From the looks of them, I assumed they had partied the whole night.

I was frustrated with the late start.  The original plan was to get them here by 9 am.  Sam explained they got a slow start because the Bike Team wanted to sleep late.  Oh well.  I figured there was still time for the Scavenger Hunt, but there was no time to spare after that.

Mayor Parker intended to see the bike team at 1:30 pm.  I estimated the Scavenger Hunt would take an hour.  If we had started at 10 am like I assumed, this would have left plenty of time to head back to my house and let people take showers and change into fresh clothes.

It didn’t happen that way.  After leaving my house for the Arboretum, we didn’t get started till 11:15 am.  I felt so sorry for the kids, especially the girls.  I knew they were doomed.  There was no way we would finish with enough time to freshen up.

Several of the young ladies were wearing really pretty outfits.  Although they looked great, these were not exactly the clothes I would have chosen to wander about in the Texas heat.

No doubt this morning of slogging through near-tropical conditions would render them sweaty, smelly, and sticky… and they would have no choice but to go straight to meet the Mayor like this.  I idly wondered what the Mayor would think.  I have no doubt the girls would die a million deaths if God forbid the Mayor should inadvertently crinkle her nose.

Oh well, too late to worry about that.  It was time to form two teams and get the show on the road.  I decided the easiest way was to have boys against girls, an age-old rivalry that dates back to the beginning of time.

As it turned out, the boys played a semi-dirty trick on the girls.  To my surprise, the boys immediately took their shirts off.  It was hot out there.  No point in ruining their nice shirts with lots of sweat. 

The girls shot daggers at the boys for their nerve.  No fair!

Taking off their shirts may have been a practical idea, but I also think it may have backfired.  Judging by the looks on their faces, the young ladies seemed even more determined to win the contest.

So how did this contest work?  The Houston Arboretum is located in a corner of Memorial Park.  If you have never been to the Arboretum, it has lots of nature trails plus an excellent map to help you navigate the maze-like grounds.

It was that map that gave me the idea for the Scavenger Hunt.  I copied the map onto my computer.  From that point, I identified six general locations.  Then I went to the Arboretum one day before the event and hid clues in the six locations.  On the back of each “general clue”, I wrote specific directions on where to find the nearby hidden clue that would direct the hunters to the next spot.

I thought the two sets of clues were fair.  Both teams would cover the same amount of ground.  The only advantage would be if some clues were easier to find than others.  So I made a real effort to make sure both sets of hiding places were nearly identical. 

 

The Girls Take the Lead

To start the contest, I took the riders to a location at the front of the park.  I had one boy and one girl come forward for a spirited contest of Paper, Scissors and Rock.  It went down to the wire.  Ashley Day barely nosed out Julius Zerwick 4-3.  I gave Ashley one minute to decide if she wanted to take her girls to the right or to the left… I wanted to be sure both teams headed off in opposite directions.  Ashley took a quick look at the map, chose right and off they went.  The boys immediately scrambled off to the left.

Their first destination was at the opposite end of the park about 7/10s of a mile away.  My idea was to take them as far away as possible and have them work their way back.  What they didn’t know was the final clue was located just a few feet away from their starting point.  In other words, they would make a round trip.

I let the teams study their maps to decide for themselves what route to take to the farthest point.  Then while the two teams raced to the first hiding place, I meandered over to the same spot to see how things were developing. 

About halfway to the spot of the first clue, I was aghast to discover two of the boys had allowed themselves to get separated from their teammates.  They were busy eating wild raspberries they found on the side of the trail.  Good grief.  Then I was further aghast to see the girls leaving the first location at the same time as the boys were just arriving.

I estimated the girls already had already carved out a ten minute advantage.  I am not quite sure what happened to give the girls such a powerful edge, but once they got the upper hand, they never surrendered it.  The ladies stayed well ahead for the rest of the day. 

To be honest, I was secretly rooting for the boys.  Don’t tell anyone, but I happen to be a guy.  However the moment I saw those girls seize the impressive lead, I knew the contest was likely over. 

The instant success of the girls made me wonder how they had attained such a dominant lead.  At that point, I spent the rest of the morning meditating on intelligent women.  I have long known that Sam is a bright young lady.  But everyone one of these ladies was equally smart.   Together they formed perhaps the most talented group of young ladies I have ever met. 

I began to think about how American society has changed in regards to women during my lifetime. 

 

America's Feminist Movement

When I look at how some of the Arab countries treat women, it is almost impossible to comprehend such disdain.  It seems impossible to think that here in the United States we would ever treat women so poorly.   However, a quick look through history shows there was a time when even our own country clearly discriminated against women. 

What a difference a century makes.  I can still remember the horror I felt as I watched the 2004 movie Iron Jawed Angels that covered the early days of the women’s suffrage movement.  This movie detailed the cruel treatment of American women as they struggled to gain the right to vote back in the 1910-1920 Era.  Using the same non-violent protest methods as Martin Luther King, their protests really got under the skin of some of the politicians.  The men decided they couldn’t beat the women, so instead they threw some of the leaders in jail!!  

From what I gather, women had been protesting for the right to vote as far back as 1850 without much progress.  Fortunately, their voice was finally heard.  Women won the right to vote in 1920.

After that long-awaited triumph, the women’s suffrage movement quieted down somewhat, taking a back seat to the Depression and World War II. 

I have been told that back in the Fifties there was a tendency in education to teach girls to deliberately suppress their intellect and defer to the boys in their class.  I don’t know if this is actually true or not, but I would not be surprised if there was indeed favoritism towards the boys.  Every other society in the world seems to think boys are more valuable than girls; why should America be any better? 

Apparently that began to change thanks in large part to President Lyndon Johnson.  Although Johnson’s Civil Rights Act of 1964 was written in order to end discrimination based on religion, race, color, or national origin, the act also energized the women's rights movement.  The women rightfully pointed out that they too were being discriminated against, especially in the workplace.

In 1967, President Johnson took one more step forward.  His Executive Order 11375 required all entities receiving federal contracts to end discrimination on the basis of sex in hiring and employment.

The Civil Rights Act and the Executive Order gave women a huge foothold.  Once it became the law of land that discrimination was illegal, women were able to take their fight to the courts to gain equal pay and equal working conditions. 

Furthermore, women recognized they could make further gains through legislation.  They began lobbying efforts that paid off in a big way.  One of my favorite events of the Seventies was the big squawk over Title IX. 

Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana played a key role in the passage of this 1972 bill.  These were his words at the time:

"We are all familiar with the stereotype of women as pretty things who go to college to find a husband, go on to graduate school because they want a more interesting husband, and finally marry, have children, and never work again.

The desire of many schools not to waste a 'man's place' on a woman stems from such stereotyped notions. But the facts absolutely contradict these myths about the 'weaker sex' and it is time to change our operating assumptions.

"While the impact of this amendment would be far-reaching", Bayh concluded, "it is not a panacea. It is, however, an important first step in the effort to provide for the women of America something that is rightfully theirs—an equal chance to attend the schools of their choice, to develop the skills they want, and to apply those skills with the knowledge that they will have a fair chance to secure the jobs of their choice with equal pay for equal work".

The first real battle that emerged from the passage of the bill took place on college campuses.  For the first time in American history, colleges were supposed to treat women equally. 

That rule applied to sports teams as well as to classrooms.  If a college gave 100 scholarships to male athletes, then it was supposed to give 100 scholarships to female athletes.

Athletic directors across the nation bemoaned the fact that this meant they would be forced to begin giving athletic scholarships to women as well as to men.  They raised an awful hue and cry across the land at how awful this concept was.  They didn’t have the money to treat women equally!  Oh my, this meant they would have to take scholarships away from boys and give them to women instead.  What a bad idea!  This was terrible!!

There was a lot of fuss, believe me.  Some pretty mean things were said.  Men's sports made money for the school; why cripple successful programs?  Furthermore, no one would ever bother watch women play sports since they were such inferior athletes.  What a waste of money funding women's sports teams. 

In the end, the athletic departments had no choice but to knuckle under.  The law was the law.  Whether the athletic directors liked it or not, women athletes were going to finally get their chance.  Unless universities wanted to see their federal money disappear, they had no choice but to comply.

The immediate effect meant that some men’s sports teams would have to be abolished.   Some of the less popular men’s sports teams such as men’s wrestling, men’s golf and men’s tennis disappeared.  Fewer scholarships went to the football team and the basketball team.

These teams were replaced by women’s volleyball teams as well softball, swimming, soccer and basketball.  Women were given track and field scholarships as well.  Finally American women were being given a fair shake on campus.


So What Were the Results? 

It turned out that empowering women was one of the smartest things our country ever did. 

The results were practically instantaneous.  From that point forward, American women became the finest female athletes on the planet.  One need only look to our women’s Olympic basketball team to realize how profound our nation’s advantage is in women’s sports. 

In 2012, the USA women's basketball team captured its fifth consecutive gold medal with an 86-50 victory against France, extending its Olympic winning streak to 41 games.

The last Olympic loss came in the 1992 Barcelona Games, and the USA is now 58-3 since women's basketball was added to the Olympic program in 1976, an amazing run of dominance that does not appear close to an end. That includes seven gold medals.

Nor is basketball the only place our women excel.  Our girls are good at everything!!  Indeed, at the recent 2012 London Olympics, our women’s Olympic clearly out-performed our men’s Olympic.  Our women have a bigger lead on the world than our men do. 

That’s pretty amazing because once upon a time, in many events our women’s Olympic teams were a joke.  I am so old that I don’t actually need to read about history.  All I have to do is remember it.  When I was a teenager, America’s women were badly pushed around on the world stage.  Russian women and East German women in particular made our women look like powder puffs.

And now suddenly American women were dominating the world instead. 

And why is this?   Are American women inherently better athletes than American men? 

Of course not.  The difference is that our society decided to give women the chance to excel.  Once our women were given the same kind of training our men had received, our women's performance on the international scale skyrocketed.  For example, our women are among the best soccer players in the world and consistently outperform our men's national soccer team. 

I suggest that America’s enlightened attitudes towards women have put America far ahead of practically every other society in the world. 

The change in America isn’t just apparent on the playing field.  It can be viewed in the workplace and the classroom as well.  Thanks in large part to the Feminist movement that gained momentum in the Seventies, women in our society have made up a lot of ground in the past forty years. 

To me, the results are easy to see.  One can simply look to the women of the Texas 4000 team to realize the days of treating women as 'inferior' in any way at all are long past.

On that day in the tropical jungle of Houston’s Arboretum, I was able to watch a group of exceptional young women show me what they could do.  Those young ladies were definitely the equals of their male counterparts… and maybe even a little better.  Sorry, guys, but the girls definitely seemed more organized.

Or perhaps more motivated.  Maybe the guys shouldn’t have taken their shirts off.

When it comes to compliments, the problem in life is that someone can see me praising the women and conclude that the men suck.  That's a ridiculous conclusion to make. 

Mind you, I thought the young men were exceptional as well.  I really liked them and would have adopted every single one of them on the spot if given the chance.  I don’t even mind that they lost.  What bothered me was the margin of the women's victory.  It wasn't even close!

Fortunately, the boys were good sports.  The neat thing about the young men on the Texas 4000 bike team is that they seemed to take the excellence of the ladies in stride.  I noted that every single man showed respect for the ladies.  It really warmed my heart to see a total absence of sexism. 

 

There is Still Room for more Progress

Over in Afghanistan and Pakistan, women are horribly mistreated for wanting something as simple as an education.  One of the great heroes of the world right now is Malala Yousafzai, the young lady who was shot in the head for having the nerve to suggest that girls had a right to go to school.  It is almost impossible to comprehend such a barbaric attitude towards women, but we have no choice but to accept that this evil clearly exists.

For that matter, even here in America we still have some growing to do.  When it comes to women’s rights, the different generations view things from a different perspective.  I look at the woman’s movement and marvel at how far we have come.  My daughter Sam looks at the woman’s movement and sees how far we still have to go. 

As it turns out, Sam is correct.  For example, despite improvements in leveling the distribution of college athletic scholarships over recent years, men continue to receive a disproportionate amount of athletic scholarships over women.  In 2007-2008, 1.6% of men going to college received athletic scholarships in relation to the 1.1% of women who received them.  On the other hand, this was a definite improvement when compared to 2.4% of men and 1.0% of women who received them in 1992-1993.  If the leveling of the distribution of athletic scholarships between males and females continues at its current rate, it will take up to 17 years before men and women are receiving athletic scholarships at the same rate.

I have little doubt a similar statistic would appear regarding treatment of men versus women in the workplace.  There is still work to be done.

That said, no one can deny America is definitely on the right path.  I cannot help but be proud of my country for constantly encouraging women to take their rightful place in society. 

Seeing these young ladies on the Bike Team in action makes me grateful for the progress we have made so far.   These ladies are model citizens - intelligent, articulate, motivated and confident.  They all seem like born leaders. 

The ladies made it to the finish line at 12:45.  My estimate of an hour was off; they had taken 90 minutes to complete the Hunt.  This meant they had just a little more than 30 minutes to head over to City Hall.  They would have to hurry.

As I watched the bedraggled gang emerge from the humid forest, my guilt level spiked to new highs.  These poor kids would surely feel icky when they met the Mayor immediately after the hunt ended.  What was I thinking? 

 

Anjali Bhattacharjee

Indeed, Anjali Bhattacharjee, one of the young ladies on the bike team, pointed out the same thing in her blog about the event.  Reading what Anjali said only increased my sense of guilt. 

“Our day in Houston was technically a rest day, but only in the sense that we weren’t riding our bikes anywhere - which is not to say we weren’t running around like headless chickens anyway.

Our day started with an unexpectedly intense scavenger hunt courtesy of the inimitable Rick Archer, Sam’s dad and one of our hosts for the night. All of us riders had donned our nicest garb - sundresses for most of the girls and khakis and button-downs for the guys - which we quickly realized was a mistake, as this scavenger hunt was certainly no walk in the park.

We were led to a bridge on a trail in the Houston Arboretum, where the game was begun. Mr. Archer divided us into two teams based on what he called the oldest rivalry of all time, Adam vs. Eve, boys against girls.

We were given maps that led to the location of our first clue, which then led to that of our second clue, and so on. While some of the clues were hidden in relatively accessible places (taped behind plaques or under planks), Ashley and I had to scale a very tall dumpster to find our fourth clue (taped to the inside wall), and I scrambled down to the river and moved a few rocks to unearth our sixth and final clue.

 In the heat of the day, we trekked all around the Arboretum and eventually our dedication paid off - us girls won bragging    
 
rights and reached the cold orange juice and gourmet chocolate (made by Megan’s mum!) first.

From the Arboretum, we rushed over to Houston City Hall for one of the most exciting events to date. Thanks to Dave Martin, the father of one of this year’s Sierra riders, June 4 was declared Texas 4000 day by mayoral proclamation. We rushed into City Hall and took our seats before being called up to stand before the City Council.

Councilman Martin spoke about the Texas 4000 mission and how much our efforts meant to him, as a cancer survivor. Perhaps the most touching moment of the day was when many other council members spontaneously opened up about how cancer had affected their lives - whether as cancer survivors themselves or having had family members who were impacted by cancer. I think we were all touched to see how proud and supportive the council and the whole room were.

Mayor Annise Parker (the hero of many a rider) declared it Texas 4000 Day in Houston and after we each shook her hand and took many photos with our framed proclamation, we departed City Hall and made our way back to Mr. Archer’s for a slap-up lunch.

While we ate, Mr. Archer graciously refreshed our knowledge of Russian history, D-day, and relayed stories of the Alaskan highway as we enjoyed fresh fruit, sandwiches, chips, and a plethora of desserts.”

 

After reading Anjali’s account of the day, I see that she is a very good writer.  I do not recall speaking with her directly, but I definitely noticed her.  I remember Anjali as a quiet lady with intense eyes.  Anjali, by the way, is an architecture major at UT.  Her father is a doctor who certainly must be proud of his talented daughter.  

Anjali is a perfect example of why I say the riders seemed unusually talented… and not just the girls either.  Every single person I spoke with was alert, intelligent, and well-spoken. 

The one thing I can say about the riders on the bike team is that someone sure did a good job of picking them.  Another characteristic that set them apart was their innate curiosity.  These kids are the most motivated set of “learners” I have ever met.

You may have noticed that Anjali gave me credit for conducting a history lesson during our lunch.  That was not planned.  My impromptu history lesson began when I pointed out I had written a story about their trip to Alaska.  I mentioned “Seward’s Folly” and one of the people sitting next to me asked who Seward was.  That is when I told them I had written an entire story about Alaska for the Newsletter and that they might find my story interesting.  2013 Texas 4000 Journey to Alaska

One young man, Barron Peper, specifically asked me what I knew about the Alaska Highway.  That was the spark that lit the fire.  I told one of my stories about the Alaska Highway because I thought they might be interested.  The next thing I knew I was inundated with questions.  One thing led to another and I just kept rattling off stories. 

These students are so inquisitive it is unreal.  They literally pleaded with me to tell another story.  I was amazed.  I had never in my life been around a group of young people so eager to learn before.  It was a very interesting moment for me.

I might add that in addition to being deeply intelligent, they are also very gracious.

No matter how silly this Scavenger Hunt had been and no matter how inconvenient, not one of them…. Not a single one… complained about how stupid this game was.  Instead they all thanked me and they all told me how much fun they had. 

What a gigantic wonderful delightful fib.

Good grief.  No wonder I fell in love with all of them. 

As I write this story, the bike team is now in Arkansas.  Incidentally, they write about their adventures every day.  You can follow the progress of the riders complete with blogs and pictures on Tumblr.

Rick Archer
June 14, 2014

 

   
   
   
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