By Hal Walter
It was perhaps fitting that the first real day of school coincided with the solar eclipse. For like the eclipse, it’s difficult to imagine such an event will happen until it actually does, and you don’t want to stare at the date on the calendar too hard lest it burn a hole in your eyes.
Over the past three months I’ve joked with friends that I feel a little like I’ve been running a summer camp for two kids, and I’m one of them, and on the other hand I feel a little like I’ve been running a mental asylum for two inmates … and I’m one of them.
Being the main caregiver for a teen boy on the autism spectrum here in rural Central Colorado is no light duty in summertime. The job is difficult and the hours are long. The opportunity for respite is scarce.
With school letting out in late May, you’re the director of activities and safety officer for 12 weeks until school starts back up. You’re also the chief of chores and the disciplinarian for someone who needs only slightly less parental supervision than the president.
By the way, people still expect you to do your real job. You know, those little tasks you do to make money. For me, that’s mostly editing and some writing, both of which require a certain amount of uninterrupted quiet time and focus.
It’s been said that one must make the best with what they have. In our favor we live out in the Wet Mountains with access to a trail system on a big ranch. I like being outside and teaching my son about the outdoors. This summer we also focused on archery as I am big on developing what writer Thomas McGuane called “high specific skills.”
Since Harrison runs cross-country, it’s an easy decision to keep him physically active with a cross-training program of running, cycling and hiking. Most days he readily works out. However, it’s true that he also has an overbearing addiction to electronic devices, YouTube and Minecraft, and sometimes it can be difficult to persuade him to shift gears from one thing to another.
By the way, the electronic devices are the regrettable key to getting any of the aforementioned work for hire done. In addition to enjoying videos and games, Harrison now has his own YouTube channel and Instagram account, and these sort of need to be monitored as well.
He’s a little old for daycare at 13, but his longtime provider Robin kindly agreed to take him in for a couple days a week, giving me a few hours once or twice a week to catch up, catch my breath, and even catch my burro for some training runs. I also learned about the Boys and Girls Club in Salida, and after some discussion with the staff made arrangements for a couple half-days of activity there.
I’d been sort of looking for a new bike for Harrison as he had about outgrown the one he was riding, and on one of these treks to Salida I found a used Specialized mountain bike his size for sale at Absolute Bikes. We took it for a test drive and then brought it home. Harrison was thrilled to go on his first ride on the new bike. I suggested we start out on the dirt road in the neighborhood so he could get accustomed to the fit and ride. Instead he insisted on the single-track over on Bear Basin.
It started out okay but before long he had picked up some stickers in his socks, and stopped frequently to try to remove them or to scratch his ankles. He was also adjusting to the new ride. He wound up pushing a lot of the uphills and riding the downs. At one point I was so bored waiting for him that I got out my cell phone and made a plea for amusement to my old buddy Patrick O’Grady, who is a columnist for Bicycle Retailer and Industry News. As a result of this conversation he wrote a column for the August issue themed “The Zen of Standing Around.”
It was essentially about the trials and tribulations of encouraging Harrison’s participation in an active outdoor lifestyle. It also was a great metaphor for this summer, and for my life in general.
Also in July, summer practice for cross-country began with the team meeting twice a week to run. Some of the practices were held at Horn Creek Trailhead and others were in Westcliffe. The practices on the whole went really well for him, and suddenly I realized that most of his middle school teammates were now on the high school squad, and while last year Harrison was running fourth on the boys team, he suddenly had the potential to run first on this year’s team.
For the past several years I’ve modeled with my burros for Gerald Merfeld’s Brookwood Gallery summer artist workshops. I typically show up with one or two burros, and do two poses for the group. Last year I decided to incorporate Harrison into one pose. He did well and the artists enjoyed painting him. This year I decided to turn the entire thing over to him.
In the first pose I situated him standing with a red bucket in one hand, and the burro’s lead rope in the other. The artists gathered around and sketched and painted. I was amazed that he was able to hold it together and maintain the pose for the three 20-minute segments. Next I saddled Boogie and he did a pose sitting in the saddle, once again for three 20-minute periods. The artists seemed pleased to have the opportunity to paint him in combination with a burro, and I joked that I was turning the job over to someone younger and better looking.
While all of this may sound like the idyllic summer break, just know that I also endured hours and hours of relentless noise, dozens of inappropriate public outbursts, countless mental and physical thrashings, and what seems like endless streams of mostly inane questioning, random statements and ridiculous demands. It can be quite exhausting.
Perhaps the grand finalé to the summer was a visit from pro cyclist and Olympic hopeful Kiel Reijnen. Kiel rides for the Trek-Segafredo team and vacations in the neighborhood. He dropped by to give Harrison pointers on his cycling technique. This included coaching on riding in a straight line, safety on the road – especially staying on the righthand side and watching out for vehicles – and technical tips like avoiding “cross-chaining.” Kiel also presented Harrison with a team jersey which he now insists on wearing whenever he rides his bike but I think we should probably hang on the wall.
The day Harrison went back to school I sat outside in the sun for a few moments and just tried to collect my brain. I had a pile of work to do and various employers I needed to assure I would soon be back to work. At about eclipse-time I took a colander out to the patio and held it up over the cement. What I got was about 200 half-moons.
From there I went out on the trail and ran four miles. I expected it to get dark while I was out there but the sun just seemed to go dim and there was a chill to the air. As I finished up I heard a confused rooster crowing at a house across the valley from here. It was time to get back to work.
Hal’s books Full Tilt Boogie and Endurance are available from The Book Haven in Salida.