It felt like a dream. I had Stella strapped to my chest, a huge backpack on my back, and I ran down the train platform with a bike balanced with one hand and dragging the trailer with the other. They both wobbled and threatened to veer away, but I muscled through it. The edge of the pedal caught my shin and cut me. Drew was ahead of me, loading the other bike. Cole was running beside me, then he tripped and fell flat on his face. He screamed, “Mama!”.
“Oh no sweetie!”
The platform was emptying, we were almost out of time. I couldn’t pick him up. Instead, I yelled in my best serious mother voice, “Cole, quick, get up, the train is going to leave without us!” hoping to jolt him. He was crying, sitting on the ground.
We’re almost out of time!
I ran to Drew, dropped the bike and trailer, my heart pounding, then ran back to Cole, scooped him up on one hip, with Stella still strapped to me, and jumped into the first train car I could see. The doors closed.
Oh god, I hope Drew got on! With the bikes!
It was a tense five minutes of waiting, trying to comfort Cole, who was angry at me for not catching him. I cleaned off his knee with some bottled water and put on one of our last big bandaids on the barely-there scrape. The ritual soothed him.
Drew walked into the car with a distracted look on his face. I can never read him because he’s always worrying about something, even if all the major things went well.
“Huh? Yeah, oh right, yeah it’s all on the train.”
We were traveling from Geneva, Switzerland to Trieste, Italy so we could escape the rain of the last two weeks. Then we bike down through Slovenia and into Croatia where we can pick up the Euro Velo 6 route again.
In Europe, you can take bikes on many trains, but it’s mostly the regional ones, so we had to piece together an itinerary with five separate legs. It’s also mid-summer so everyone is traveling, the stations are always packed, there’s luggage piled to the ceiling on some trains, rendering the bike rack unusable. Luckily, no one seems to care if we bring the bikes into the spaces between carriages, so that’s what we do.
We arrive in Trieste and it takes an hour to assemble everything. I get the kids some watermelon and juice, and load them into the trailer. We have to take a ferry out of Trieste, we’re told. It’s impossible to bike.
It’s a beautiful sunny day.
It feels so good to be in the sun. (Finally!)
We walk our bikes across the street and I drag my bike up over the curb.
Drew does the same thing.
It doesn’t look right.
I lean my bike against a tree and run over.
“Hold on!” I yell and I pick up the trailer in the back to raise the second wheel over the curb.
The trailer swings towards me, the kids are flat on their back.
“Wait!” and then “Oh my god Drew, the trailer is broken.”
It isn’t the first time this had happened. We were near Orleans, France riding along the canals when we turned down a dirt road to camp. There was a little lip at the end of the road, and Drew threw his weight into the bike to force it up and over it. The trailer hitch broken in half. The metal tore right where it connects to the trailer. It was destroyed.
So when Drew turned around, he knew exactly what he was seeing. This time though, we didn’t have the luck of being just 1 km away from a guy on a boat with a full workshop in his hull. That kind stranger drilled three new holes in the metal, shortening the length but workable. Drew promised himself to be more careful.
This time, Drew made some kind of noise, then gave me a knowing look. He hadn’t lined up the trailer with the curb so when he pushed the bike he was bending the trailer hitch, and with the weight of the kids there was enough leverage to rip the metal right in half.
The bike trip was over.
I mentally raced through the options. Get it fixed. Not possible, the length was too short now to drill more holes. Get a new one. This model is discontinued. It could take days anyway. We can’t afford to live in a 100 euro hotel in Trieste for two weeks while we wait. Take the bus. The bus doesn’t allow bikes. Or trailers. Uh, uh, uh…
We had just spent 300 euros to get our bikes here, taking them on and off the train 10 times, with two kids plus the trailer. So much expense and effort. What a terrible slog all for nothing. It was hilarious, really.
Drew was digging around in our stuff. I could see his idea… bungee cord the trailer to the bike. Maybe.
“Drew. No. We can’t. Not with kids. It’s done. We have to leave it here. Let’s just take the bus.”
I don’t know if you have ever had your partner mess something up really bad… maybe they crashed the car or lost something really important. I would normally get mad at Drew for something like this, but he had this look of pure anguish on his face. It physically hurt me to see him like that, as much as it would if it was one of our kids.
I stepped into a moment of grace. The bike trip was over. Everything we had worked so hard for was done. We had failed. Yet, I had this one thought: “This is a defining moment for my marriage.”
Instead of thinking of it as something that happened to me, I shifted to my husband’s perspective, this was a terrible day for him. That shift filled me with love for him, I felt so terrible that he had to go through this sense of self loathing. He had the idea for this bike trip, he loved it, then he broke the trailer — twice! — ultimately ending our trip after 1,200 km. So embarrasing. So terrible. I would be kicking myself so hard.
“Drew, what would you do if I broke the trailer?”
“I would be like you are right now.”
“Okay, let’s just pretend I did it. Let’s take the bus to Croatia and relax. Let’s not double down on our misery by also being upset about it. It happened. That’s bad. But we can still enjoy Croatia. Can you do that?”
“Okay, I will try.”
We unpacked the bikes. Booked a bus to Croatia. Gave our empty bikes and the broken trailer to a curious passerby.
The feeling of grace stayed with me. I held Drew’s hand more. I was a little sweeter. We lounged in the park in Pula, Croatia while the kids played. After a few days we were looking to move on.
“Where should we go?”
“Um, the Euro Velo 6 picks up in Osijek, we could go there.”
“We don’t have bikes, Christine.”
“Oh wow, it is going to take me a while to remember that.”
“We can go anywhere.”
This summer has been the best travel experience of my life. I learned so much. I got so close to my kids and husband. We became this little cycling team, having the most lovely pedal through Europe. It changed us. We can do anything, absolutely anything.
“Let’s go to Romania.”