The passenger

There are five words no parent of a young child likes to hear. The phrase always means high adventure, and when uttered by a freshly potty-trained daughter or son, it can point to disaster.

In case you haven’t guessed, “I need to go poop” is the simple sentence that’s been feared and respected since the dawn of time.

Those five innocent words nearly stung me on a fateful day not long ago. My then two-year-old seemed to be blissfully napping inside her chariot – a second-hand Burley bicycle trailer. Dad, on the other hand, was wrestling with the pedals of his road bike, sweating blood and pulling the most precious of all loads through the Animas Valley. On that day, my senses dulled by pain and my daughter’s voice muffled by the visquine of the bike trailer, an unfortunate twist hit – I failed to hear those urgent words at first.

Back then, the recipe went as follows: Take any relatively flat road ride, attach a bike trailer and 30 pounds of toddler and add another 5 to 10 pounds of miscellaneous food, sippy cups, blankets and large porcelain dolls. Mix in a slight headwind and a little leftover sympathy weight from the wife’s pregnancy. Sift them all together and simmer over 15 to 25 miles. The result is a level of suffering on par with riding a tricycle up Coal Bank.

Recipe aside, the screaming legs and bleary visions of God were somehow always worth it. My daughter and I loved those bi-weekly journeys with the Burley trailer. As the months passed, both the child and the miles grew. Animas River Trail journeys turned into 10-mile jaunts up to Hermosa. Ten quickly became 20 and before long, my two-year-old and I were doing full Animas Valley loops, struggling up Hermosa Hill and even looking out over mighty Tamarron in a shared state of horrible fatigue/blissful sleep. Despite the suffering, Dad knew he had the best child-care stint in the country, gave thanks to the Burley company before holiday meals and always feigned agony when Mom clocked in for her shift.

In retrospect, I realize that everything was going too smoothly – Dad’s pregnancy weight was melting away, Skyler was learning how to sleep for more than 23 minutes at a time and a decent time in the Iron Horse seemed certain. I should have known. Something had to break, and it did on that day, working our way through the valley and against the wind.

“Dad! I need to go POOP! Pull over now!,” Skyler yelled a second time from behind her visquine cover. This time the words hit with crystal clarity. Knowing we were a half hour from home, nearly a dozen miles from the nearest baby wipe and completely

unprepared, I cautiously eased our ship into harbor and crossed beyond the white line.

Ignoring a hard grimace on my daughter’s rosy cheeks, I lifted the trailer’s lid and calmly asked if she’d consider bottling it up for 20 minutes in exchange for a cookie at home. “Too late!” she cried out straining against the straps. “Now I’m going poop.”

Lightning quick and still steadying my bike up between my legs, I began the most unorthodox of all roadside repairs. There, inches from the white line and adjacent to a beautiful Animas Valley Victorian (I seem to recall the name “Liggett” was on the mail box), I flew into action.

With Coppi-like precision, I reached into my jersey pocket and flicked out my spare tire and its box. Faster than a Merckx-Anquetil duel, I emptied the tire out of the box and lowered my daughter’s chamois. Like Lemond’s Tour de France victory over Fignon, I just barely edged out my competitor; the pack was already coming through the valley and carrying huge speed. I gave the empty cardboard box and the brown peloton a Lance Armstrong “look” and lined the box up into perfect draft position. Amazingly, the pack hit the slot perfectly, chasing the cardboard like it was a hard-working domestique. Happy to have dodged the green jersey, I cleaned up the wreckage with one of my precious riding gloves (someday destined for the trash heap anyway) and then carefully stowed the new cargo in my jersey pocket. Now I had the grimace on my face. Before getting back on the road I managed a few, wise fatherly words – “Just don’t tell mom.”

As luck would have it, Skyler didn’t tell mom, and our biggest challenge behind us, she and I have been pounding the pavement for the three years since. We’ve continued to cruise the backroads of La Plata County, orange flag flapping in the wind, Dad pedaling like he’s on the verge of painful death and Skyler happily reading a book or rearranging the porcelain doll’s hair.

In retrospect, I wouldn’t give up any of those moments, even with the poop, the pain and the endless headwinds. You can have the centuries, the backwards Porcupines and the Colorado Trail epics back. My best bike rides have always been spent with the fruit of my loins behind me.

These days, she rarely sleeps and instead sits in the co-pilot seat and yells, “C’mon dad, faster … faster.” And Dad continues to struggle, pulling 45 pounds of five-year-old, a dozen pounds of trailer and more than a few ounces of Ziploc baggies and baby wipes carefully tucked inside my jersey pocket.

– Will Sands

In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows