Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cast of Characters III

Alan Edward Jackson is the third most important person in terms of this adventure reaching fruition. His tasks will be monumental though if this family is to safely pedal into Washington DC on or near the first of September. He absolutely positively has to keep everyone focused on the task at hand. There will be no complaining on his part because after all, it was his crazy idea in the first place. So whatever happens to this adventurous family, he will get only a small share of the credit for things that are positive. Anything that occurrs which is less than positive will be entirely his fault! He is prepared to shoulder the blame when conditions conspire against these wayward travelers. It might be the terrain one day, it might be the weather the next. It could be a pack of dogs or a mechanical failure on one of the bikes. The possibilities are almost endless so we’ll stop for now. Fortunately for our cycling family, the rewards should outweigh the difficulties that will inevitably occur along the way.

Alan is the oldest of five children that occurred through the union of Elaine and James (Ed) Jackson. He was born in an army hospital in Virginia (Fort Belvoir) where his father was stationed during the post Korean War conflict era. The rest of his siblings (one brother and 3 sisters) were born in Michigan where they still live to this day. Alan had an unremarkable childhood like so many other kids in his day. He experimented with a lot of things but never excelled. He was cajoled into taking piano lessons while in grade school and had it not been for the untimely death of his piano teacher, he might be another George Winston. This tragedy left him so scarred that he was unable to even look at a piano for years! That’s what he told his mother.

Alan’s introduction to bicycles began when he received his first new bike about the time he turned 6. A 24” Huffy with a built in headlight and electronic horn. Boy was that a slick machine. It was the envy of the neighborhood. This bike lasted several years before falling into disrepair. A second bicycle arrived when he was 12 years old. A pair of 3 speed English Racer bikes were purchased for him and his oldest sister Karen. These bikes lasted several years and were put to good use as Alan used his in his first job, delivering newspapers. From the money he made with his paper route, he purchased his third bicycle. This was his first 10 speed and came from JC Penneys. His best friend (Scott Kimmel) got an identical bike and the two of them rode everywhere on those magical machines. Almost daily they would take off and explore neighboring locales. Typical distances approached 40 miles for a round trip. His first taste of long distance self supported touring occurred when he and Scott decided to ride their bikes to Traverse City in northern Michigan. This trip was nearly 200 miles each way. And they planned to make it a round trip. Quite a bite to swallow for a couple of 15 year olds on their summer vacation. While they were experienced in bike riding and experienced in camping (Alan was a Boy Scout) they found that bicycle touring is a totally different beast. They felt prepared for anything when they pedaled away from home that fateful day. The novices were actually wearing rigid frame backpacks stuffed with most of the gear they felt they needed. Have you ever tried riding a bicycle with a 40 pound backpack strapped to your shoulders? They hadn’t tried it either. They traveled nearly 60 miles that first day, a gorgeous sunny summer day. It took them only 10 or 15 miles to discover that 40 pounds on your back is a lot of weight. At this point the larger heavier items in the backpacks were removed and strapped to the rear racks which had been after all, underutilized. This modification made the bikes a bit tipsy but the strain on the shoulders was lessened significantly. The neophyte touring cyclists successfully found a suitable place for their tent and prepared a quick meal before retiring for the night utterly exhausted. Why did they bring that 6 pack of Coke? There’s a pop machine right across the road you dummies! Dang those 2 big cans of Dinty Moore beef stew sure weighed a lot. In the morning they packed up and headed off with way less enthusiasm than the previous day but they headed off nonetheless. This day they covered only a paltry 35 miles before the overcast turned into rain. The rain was not of the drenching downpour variety but it didn’t take much to dampen their sagging spirits. Not prepared for wet riding, they set up camp just 5 miles from Higgins Lake. After an uneventful second evening they packed up in the morning and headed out with a new final destination. Traverse City and the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes had been replaced by Higgins Lake State Park. The third day of the tour was all of 5 miles and they covered that in no time flat. A quick phone call to let everyone know they were fine and then they settled into the campsite that would be their home for the remainder of their adventure. A week after they left home they made another phone call and convinced Alan’s mother to come pick them up. All’s well that ends well!

Alan grew up in the Saginaw area of Michigan and attended Bridgeport Schools. And just like Donna, he excelled in every art class he took and he took a lot of them. Unlike Donna however, Alan had an art teacher who advised him not to go to college and take art classes. Mrs. Webb was influential enough to cause him to consider an occupation in something outside the arts. Her actual words were “Jackson, you’re smart enough to do something else with your life. Don’t go to college only to end up as a starving artist”. Alan took her words to heart, at least some of them. He decided not to go to college! This was a disappointment to his father who would have gladly paid to see his oldest son succeed in something. Instead Alan chose an occupation that was steeped in glory and fringe benefits! He worked at the local bowling alley where he kept the beer coolers full and helped maintain the lanes as well as general cleaning of the facility and the banquet hall next door. These were wonderful times in Alan’s life. The fringe benefits included free bowling and free beer! This was as close to Nirvana as he had been in his previous 18 years of life. Alan started dating another employee at the bowling alley (Bonnie)who eventually lead him to Barbara Jean who eventually became his first wife.

James (Ed) Jackson was an Industrial Engineer at General Motors and managed to get Alan a job as a hourly laborer just before they eliminated nepotism as a viable way into General Motors. Over the span of two years he worked and was laid off and worked and was laid off again. The final lay-off occurred while Jimmy Carter was President and was said to be the result of competition from foreign automakers. For this reason a supplemental assistance package was established and was retroactive for many of the laid off employees. Alan was one of those who received a lump sum payment of nearly $10,000, No, he didn’t go out and buy 2 new automobiles and some more beer. He surprised everyone and decided to go to college after all.

Just prior to his college days, Alan began to run for fitness and fun. This was due primarily to a positive influence from his Uncle Richard (his father’s younger brother). Over the next 30 years Alan ran in 100’s of road races including 2 marathons; the Detroit Free Press International in 1979 and the Capitol City Marathon here in Olympia in 2006. In addition to running for fitness, Alan ventured into the alternate universe that triathletes inhabit. While attending college he became a Certified Water Safety Instructor and taught swimming lessons at the local YMCA. He spent 2 summers during college as a lifeguard at a small park on a small lake near Lansing. With the inclusion of swimming now in his regimen, he lacked only the bicycling to become a full fledged triathlete. But you know what? Once having ridden a bike, you never forget how! Alan competed in a dozen or so mini-triathlons over a span of 4 years. These events typically start with a 1 mile open water swim, followed by a 25 to 30 mile bike ride followed by 10K road race. While Alan had never trained so hard in his life as he did then, he managed only to come in somewhere around the middle of the pack. Que Sera, Sera!

Alan and his first wife attended a community college in the Saginaw area (Delta) and transferred to Michigan State University where they both graduated in 1986. Alan ended up with a Degree in Chemistry and a teaching certificate to boot. He patiently waited 4 years for a position as a High School Chemistry teacher to open up. In the meantime he filled in 3 to 5 days a week as a substitute teacher for every class and grade from K through 12. Finally Alan grew tired a waiting for the perfect teaching position and accepted a job at DOW Chemical in Midland Michigan as a Research Technician. It was during this period in his life that things took a turn for the worse. In 1996 he left his job and comfortable house and family behind, choosing his bicycle as a means of escape. And escape he did. He set out to conquer new vistas, explore new horizons, and just ride his bike a lot (he desperately needed to find himself). Alan spent the next 4 months on his bicycle and managed to pedal all the way to Alaska and then nearly back to Michigan (central Illinois) before caving in and once again calling his mother to come pick him up. Alan credits this adventure of over 7000 miles with changing his life. Several decisions were reached during all those miles of pedaling. Some of them valid, others didn’t hold water. But that is all water under the bridge! That bike ride was directly responsible for his having met Donna which in turn lead to the miracle of life, one whom we affectionately call Lewis.

It has been my pleasure to compile this summary of the primary characters who will be departing by bicycle on the first of June, 2009 in hopes of reaching Washington DC. Several important people and periods in their lives have been glossed over or totally ignored. Don’t despair if you are one of those people. This cast of characters will be expanded over the course of the next 7 weeks to include as many secondary characters as time and energy allow. If you feel the urge to respond to any of these postings, by all means do so! Your response might very well be the trigger which sparks a memory that is just begging to be expanded. And Elaine Jackson, don’t wander too far away from your phone this summer. You could get another phone call from Alan!

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