Although I had heard about the Warrior Bike Trail in the past, I was always a little unclear as to where exactly it was located. Various sources had declared, “It’s just off of the Drakes Creek Greenway behind Sam’s Club.”
The directions seemed easy enough to follow, but I had never had much interest in further investigating its whereabouts. After all, when we first moved to Hendersonville, I had tried the only other bike trail in town that runs by the lake at Sanders Ferry Park, and if the two were similar, I expected it to be a disappointment of nothing more than a few hundred feet of uneventful terrain running between a row of trees, a thrill only paralleled by the riding the penny horse at the mall as a kid. Minus the promise of an ice cream cone from Chick-Fil-A when the ride was over, the Sanders Ferry trail was only a slightly better experience.
Back in late spring, Mo, our daughter who came into this world with an impressive sense of adventurism, decided that she was going to become a championship bike rider. At six-years old, her petite and muscular frame encompasses the kind of energy one would expect from an Olympic athlete, or one of those ultra-outdoorsy types I sometimes encounter at REI with the altruism of one who just walked off of the Appalachian Trail and back into civilization.
Likewise, Mo is the kind of kid who lets nothing stand in her way. Her determination embraces all of the innocence of a kid who still believes that anything is possible with enough imagination and a little bit of fit-throwing to get your way – qualities I will die teaching her to refine instead of planting a seed of limitation that would inevitably sprout barriers, thus breaking that spirit of hers that most adults spend a lifetime trying to recover.
There are three rules of life Mo has defined for herself, and she lives by them religiously in everything she sets out to do:
1. Set your sights high.
2. Go a little beyond that point, even if you can no longer see and someone just asked you five minutes ago not to go there.
3. Add in some kicking and screaming for dramatic effect if need be.
Following these three simple steps,
Mo did what Mo had to do.
She got out on her bike every single day to get better and faster.
She practiced her turns, figuring out at which mailbox she should execute a standing ride to gain speed. I cringed a little watching her. I would call out, “BE CAREFUL!” or “PLEASE DON’T DO THAT!” as I watched her make sharp turns with her leg riding close to the ground.
As she rounded back up the slight hill to our driveway, she would quickly jerk the petals back on her pint-sized purple 16 inch REI Novara Firefly, causing the bike to come to a halt with the rear tire skidding across the road, kicking up rocks and sliding out to one side, producing the dramatic sound effect of friction between rubber and pavement. Given about ten more pounds on that bike, I’m certain there would have been smoke involved…
…and possibly a small fire.
Eventually, Mo would raise the stakes, deciding that a timer had to be set so that she could ensure she was improving. And so, day after day in the heat of the sun, I would sit on the rough aggregate of our driveway using my cell phone to time her as she ran the course she had mapped out through our cul-de-sac. And each day, she got a little faster until she was maxed out and grew bored riding the same tiresome track, finally deciding that the thrill of her race was no longer enough to satisfy her.
“You know, Mommy,” she said excitedly one day as she skidded to a stop in front of me, “if you get on your bike and ride with me, we can leave the cul-de-sac! Will you race with me?”
Without hesitation I answered, “Sure, Mo.”
Here's the thing about Mo: If Mo wants to become a championship bike rider, then Mo will do whatever she can in whatever circumstances she is given to make sure it happens, even if that means getting Mommy on her bike, handing her her helmet, and declaring enthusiastically, "Come on! Let's go!"
It was impossible to turn her down.
Mo is like that little kid from an early sixties sitcom who is so helplessly adorable and sweet, but a little bit rotten and a little too mischievous for her own good. She has the imagination of Pippi Longstocking, the curiosity of Curious George, and the wide-eyed wonder of Beaver Cleaver all rolled into one. She is a joyous handful of energy to say the least, and I adore every inch of her personality.
I have been asked many times by various strangers, “Does she always have that much energy?”
And to them I have always replied, “Oh, yes, and it is my most favorite thing about her!”
Mo’s sense of adventurism and boundless energy have always been a good match for my own. I understand her need to move lest she starts to feel cooped up and frustrated in her surroundings; we both share the need to physically experience every aspect of life in order to learn and to grow. While I have never been into biking, I was enthusiastic to ride alongside her, to feel the wind in my face, and to possibly do one of those impressive screeching tire maneuvers in the safety of the driveway.
Together we rolled my dusty mountain bike out of dark corner of the garage. Mo went around and removed the caps so that we could air up the tires that had been sadly ignored since my college days. I uncovered my helmet from the sports bin, checking it for cobwebs and spiders and blowing on it to clear the dust from the crevices. As I placed it upon my head, I leaned my chin back and fastened the buckle under my neck, wincing a little at the familiar chocking sensation of strap against skin and that odd feeling of a tight bubble squeezing the circumference of my head. Shaking my head from side to side, I breathed deeply and let it out with a long sigh. “Alright, Mo! Let’s do this!”
Her face beamed up at mine, her eyes crinkling around the corners and her smile stretching from ear to ear. “Thank you, Mommy. You’re the greatest Mommy that God could have ever given me!”
My heart skips a beat and melts into my belly every time I hear her say that. She reserves it for special times and always delivers it with that same look on her face.
We took off down the driveway and out through the hilly streets of our neighborhood, mapping out different routes with each new adventure we would embark upon several times throughout the day, eventually making our way out farther and farther until we reached the arboretum where there are off-road hiking trails winding around the lake in a maze of towering trees and open green spaces.
It was on one of our trips to the arboretum that I remembered the famed Warrior Bike Trail I had heard of years ago. I had kept the memory of those conversations stored away in the back of my mind where I tend to place useful information for future exploration.
“Hey, Mo!” I told her when we came to Rock Mountain, a small rocky island that juts out into the lake that Mo had named a few years back. We always stopped our bikes there, removed our helmets, and stepped out into the opening to skip rocks across the water.
“I think there is a really cool off road bike trail we can ride on. Do you want to check it out? It’s called the Warrior Bike Trail. I’m pretty sure you’re a warrior and can handle the course, ” I said playfully. “What do you think? Are you up for it?”
“Sure! Let’s go!”
Another thing I love about Mo is her spontaneity and enthusiasm about trying new things. “Awesome! Tomorrow we’re going to make that happen, Mo.”
The next day, equipped with water, a first aid kit and our helmets, we loaded up our bikes into the back of the minivan and drove out to the greenway where we set out on our path.
After the regular twists and turns of the pavement and across two bridges, we made our way out beyond the big hill that runs behind the shoppes at Indian Lake until we came to the crosswalk across the main road, still with no sight of the Warrior Bike Trail.
“Where do we go now, Mommy? Are you sure there is actually a trail for warriors?” Mo asked.
“Yeah, I know it’s around here somewhere,” I said with hesitation in my voice, looking both ways and behind us, wondering if perhaps we had missed it somewhere along the way. “Let’s go this way and see if there is an opening in the trees.”
We made a lefthand turn down the wide sidewalk, riding parallel with oncoming traffic, and as we came to the first clearing, we looked out and saw in the distance a blue sign confirming that we had reached our destination.
“THERE IT IS, MOMMY!” Mo shouted excitedly.
“Awesome! It looks kind of spooky,” I said. We had ridden across the short field and down to the two openings that were narrow and seemed to disappear as soon as they had begun.
“We made it this far. It looks fun!” Mo declared.
“Do you want me to go first?” I asked.
“No, I can lead the way,” she responded. As soon as the words left her mouth she had already taken off and started to disappear into the dark tunnel of the unknown.
I quickly followed behind her, looking down in front of my tire as we rode on this trail that was much more adventurous than riding a penny horse, and much more like riding a rollercoaster powered by the muscles in my legs. The creek ran along beside us off to our left. The scenery was magnificent and alive with the color and sounds of spring. Trees shot up into the sky all around us in dense forestry. Thick poison ivy crept throughout the grounds on either side of us, threatening to bite our ankles. There were areas of water pooling in thick mud that caked up on our tires, throwing wet stickiness all over the underside of our bikes and up the backs of our calves and t-shirts. Mo rides so low to the ground that mud splattered onto the back of her helmet as she picked up speed and laughed as she crossed over small hills that, with enough speed, made fantastic little ramps to zoom over and gain a bit of air with both tires off of the ground.
The terrain took so much of my attention to keep from falling over rocks and sticks that I had little time to worry about Mo falling. In fact, she impressed me as I watched her from behind riding a bike with no gears. She knew exactly when to stand to keep from sliding backward down a hill, her little legs pumping tirelessly and energetically like a wind up toy that never runs out of steam.
At one point we stopped to grab a drink of water, at which point Mo requested that I take the lead. “I am worried about the rocks, Mommy. Maybe you can tell me when they are coming so I know what to expect.”
I took off in the lead, checking in with her off and on to be sure that I could still hear her voice, that she could clearly see me, and to announce when there was a tricky patch of trial that require a little extra attention and careful maneuvering. She fell only once, but with minimal crying popped right back up on two wheels, mud by now even splattered in small polkadots across her cheeks and on her nose, but not letting that slow her down, or steal the joy of her ride. She is a kid who is fearless when she is in her element, and watching her determination made me proud to be her mother.
There is something about being the mother of three girls. While watching them grow up and every day become more and more of the unique individual God has intended for them to be, they teach me more about life that I could ever hope to teach them. And, as they get older, the lessons they are teaching me are always transforming.
Our oldest daughter, Janey, at the tender age of twelve, has taught me about the importance of accepting individuality for what it is – unique and pure, a thing to embrace and flourish in without preconceived notions of how one should dress, or behave. She always throws aside bows in favor of books and boys in favor of honest friendships that are more about integrity than seeking the approval of others.
Our middle daughter, Annie Beth, is now ten-years-old. She has taught me about the importance of relaxing and having a good time, smiling when things are stressful and finding laughter around ever corner; she embraces the notion that a smile is a cure-all for any ailment a day can throw in my direction. As a result, she tends to be the kid I prefer to take with me when I need to go mall shopping, or when I just need to listen to pop music with the windows down, feeling the breeze blowing my hair into an untamed mess as we dance along and laugh, or when we prefer to sit in silence enjoying the scenery and the presence of one another.
Mo, my baby, reminds me of the importance of letting go of fear, instead facing self-doubt head on without hesitation and taking it for exactly what it is: purely a figment of the imagination.
Because, you see, without living life with a little flavor of the way Mo sees things, I would be paralyzed looking out into the horizon. The unsureness of what lies beyond the darkness would creep into the unknown and unfamiliar places, making them seem too scary for investigation instead of seeing them as new adventures to explore. Instead, I would stand there worrying too much about the possibility of dangerous terrain.
Mo has taught me that the only way to get anywhere is to face fear head on, putting my legs into motion with one deep, confident breath and moving forward, laughing at the mud that splatters across my clothes and onto my face, clogging my pores a bit and leaving stains that may never come out in the wash.
When we came out on the other side and back into the clearing, I looked back at Mo who looked worn out and messier than I have ever seen her. Nevertheless, she had a smile across her face with the look of a true athlete who had just finished the greatest marathon of her life.
“What did you think, Mo?”
She looked behind her, holding her hands out with red palms bearing the imprint of the ridges from her handlebars. She looked back at me and sighed heavily.
“I think we’re coming back tomorrow, Mommy!”
“You think so? It wasn’t too hard, or too scary?”
“No way, and I bet when we come back, we can find a whole new path and a whole different way if we make a few different turns. It will be a whole new adventure next time!”
“You know what, Mo? I think you’re right. We’ll come back tomorrow and see what new adventures we can find.”
For the remainder of our weeks in Hendersonville before we moved an hour down south, Mo and I rode the Warrior Bike Trail as much as we possibly could. I was a little sad that I let so much time pass before I took the time to investigate its whereabouts, but then again, riding that trail without Mo wouldn’t have provided half of the enlightenment and exploration that I experienced riding alongside her.
Watching her on that trail reminded me of what exactly it means to be a true warrior: living life with a sense of adventurism and that kind of self-confidence it takes to throw fear aside in favor of experiencing the fullness of life. It is a gift to be able to live life in the moment and to be so very brave like little Mo.
Truthfully, life is too short to live it any other way.