Saturday, April 18, 2009

Supporting Cast of Characters

Now that the three Jacksons have been partially dissected, it is time to move on to others who may play a part in this epic journey. At this point there appears to be no other people willing to accompany them on their adventure. An advertisement placed in the Companions Wanted section of the Adventure Cyclist magazine did get a few responses but so far none of these have panned out. This may be for the best but the idea of having just one other person with whom Lewis could interact would go a long ways toward alleviating his boredom at being stuck with only his parents all summer long. There will undoubtedly be numerous people they will meet over the course of the summer, but these relationships will only be of the transient type, typically lasting only as long as the Jacksons happen to be stationary. There is a slight chance of them meeting someone on the road who is going in the same direction. The Jacksons will be using maps that were purchased through Adventure Cycling where hundreds if not thousands of cyclists also purchase maps. Anyone who is attempting to cross the country utilizing their maps has 3 routes to choose from. Back in 1976 a few cyclists got it into their heads to celebrate America’s bicentennial by riding across the country. They called this the Bikecentennial. If my memory serves me correct this ended up attracting a couple thousand participants. And the route that was established back then is the basis for the route that is now referred to as the TransAmerica route. In addition there also exists the Northern Tier route and the Southern Tier route but the Jacksons have decided to stick to the original route. But I am digressing so back to the topic: Companions Wanted! The ad placed is as follows:

51 year-old couple with nine-year-old son riding TransAmerica west to east. Looking for small family, couple or individual interested in joining us. Leaving Astoria (Ore) early June 2009. Average 60 miles a day, six days a week. Finish in early September. Mostly camping with occasional warm showers and cheap hotels. Touring experience a plus but not necessary. Should be prepared for loads of fun. If interested email

The two people who inquired haven’t decided to commit,which could be for the better. You never know how strangers will fit into the group dynamics. The initial responder (Ted) was interested because he also wanted to do this with his 2 boys, ages 8 and 12. Unlike the Jacksons, his plan was for each participant to ride their own bike. He felt that the sense of accomplishment would be diminished if one of his boys rode on the back of a tandem. I’m guessing that he also didn’t want to buy another bike. A good tandem is a major expense. Alan spent over $5000 for the tandem that he’ll be sharing with Lewis. When the possibilities were explored via a handful of e-mails, it was pointed out that Alan would not consider allowing Lewis to ride his own bike until he was a teenager. This is primarily for safety reasons but also to make the ordeal less intimidating physically. Alan is prepared to pull Lewis most of the way across the country. Lewis is aware of the fact that he is going to be asked to pedal for all he’s worth whenever they are going uphill. When the terrain is level or going down, he has the option to not pedal. When Alan pointed out to Ted that perhaps it would be a tougher sell getting Lewis to agree to this adventure if he waited for him to be mature enough to ride his own bike, Ted had to agree. His 12 year old is questioning whether he has to go or can he stay behind with mom? It seems that Ted has one other issue going on as well. The final e-mail from Ted uncovered the primary reason that Ted wants to do something like this. He is looking at his own mortality and wants his boys to have something to remember him by if something were to take him away from them prematurely. This something had to do with a health issue that Ted was going to be looking into in the near future. No word from Ted in over a month.

The other response was from an older gentleman who would have been in the company of his wife. These 62 year olds were bitten by the bike touring bug a couple years ago. Their initial ride was the Underground Railroad trail which parallels the route that escaping slaves from the South took to reach their freedom in the North. This was such a positive experience that from then on they vowed to spend their vacation time bike touring. And the cross country idea has really sparked their interest. Unfortunately their schedule is not flexible enough to join the Jacksons until about the second week of June. Alan and Donna and Lewis’ schedule is extremely flexible in every aspect except one. They absolutely positively will depart on June 1st. Everything else happens when it happens. So with only 6 weeks remaining, it appears that our family will go it alone.

I will now cover (as time and space allow) some of the other people who were invited to join or who might play a significant role in this journey. Lets start with Lewis’ older brother Moritz. Wait a minute! If you’ve been following this blog you probably remember something about Lewis being the only child of Alan and Donna! Who is Moritz? He is not really Lewis brother but that’s how Lewis introduces him to others. Moritz is a 17 year old exchange student from Germany. He’s been living with the Jacksons since late August of 2008. And since we’re on the topic of exchange students and other family members, it’s time to at least mention Lewis’ other brother HyunJin from South Korea who lived with the Jacksons from August of 2007 thru June of 2008. And don’t forget Lewis’s sister Diana from Colombia who likewise occupied the downstairs bedroom from August of 2006 thru June of 2007. Lewis lives with a bunch of transients! And lo and behold none other than Andrej (from Slovakia) will be waiting for the Jacksons to return from the successful completion of their big adventure in September. Andrej will be lewis’ 4th sibling in 4 years! OK. You’ve got the picture. Now let’s fill in some of the details surrounding Lewis ‘brother’ Moritz.

The planning and preparation for this journey had begun in Alan’s head years ago. It’s only been occupying space in Donna’s head for twelve months or so. Once Donna became resigned to the fact that she would be joining Alan and Lewis, preparations were made to include or accommodate the ‘brother’ that Lewis would leave behind. The process of obtaining an exchange student involves the host family pouring over dozens of profiles of different students from all over the world. The selection is at least partially based on the interests that the exchange student shares with the host family. Moritz indicated that he enjoyed cycling! Communication with exchange students typically begins months before they show up at the airport, looking for a ride and a place to call home for the next 10 months. Having never met this young man from Germany he was given the option of joining them for some or all of their adventure. There was no pressure placed on Moritz but the Jacksons wanted to be sure that he felt welcome to join them if he so desired. He declined to join citing problems with his visa expiring before the trip would have ended. Since getting to know Moritz during the last 9 months, they have come to realize that what he put on his list of interests didn’t necessarily coincided with his actual preferences. If the Jacksons were to compile a list of his interests of what they now believe to be true, cycling would not be near the top of the list. The list would start with scuba diving, driving an automobile, listening to music, paintball, watching movies, hanging with friends, eating potato chips, roller blading, etc…. until at number 47 you would find bicycling, just ahead of number 48 which would be washing the dishes. Sounds kind of like an average American teenager. Que Sera, Sera! In all fairness though, Moritz has gone on some bike rides with the family and has even commuted by bike, riding 8 miles to get to track practice. He will be joining them on some of the training rides that are upcoming including at least one overnight trip.

The scheduled conclusion of the academic school year at Shelton is not until June 19th, and Moritz’ return flight to Germany a few days later. With the Jacksons determined to leave on the first of June there was an overlap of almost 3 weeks where Moritz would be without his host family. Several possibilities were put out including having our yet to be mentioned good friend/neighbor/tenant/surrogate family member Diane, keep an eye on Moritz while he finished the school year. Another possibility would have been for him to stay with another family in Shelton until his departure on June 21st. The last possibility and the one that was decided upon is the best choice for all concerned. Moritz’ parents Beate and Klaus are flying into Seattle just 2 days before the Jacksons depart and will be staying with Moritz until they all fly out together on the 21st. The Jacksons now have two reasons to be excited about the end of May. Not only anticipation of the big ride but the opportunity to meet the parents of Lewis’ brother!

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