The reaction was exactly what my wife, Hailey, and I had hoped for when we gave our 5-year-old daughter, Kennedy, her first bicycle: It was a squeal of delight that lasted for about five seconds. Finally, she ran out of breath.
Kennedy was so excited about her bike, complete with training wheels, that she insisted on going for a ride the next day, May 16. Her chosen destination was the Flagler County Public Library on Palm Coast Parkway.
That’s 5 miles away from our house.
I told her we should try something a little closer. I suggested a 1-mile ride to Dollar General, and we could then decide whether we wanted to head back home or keep going. Pushing my 2-year-old son, Luke, in a stroller, I walked alongside her as she rode.
The first stretch was completed without incident: We made it to Dollar General on Matanzas Parkway. Eating M&Ms in the shade by the bike rack, we had a decision to make. It’s another 4 miles to the library, I told her.
“It doesn’t matter how far,” she said. “I still want to go." Then, in her most grown-up voice, she added, "Let’s get this bike started.”
As we left Dollar General, she screamed in terror when she coasted down her first sidewalk cutout and realized she didn’t know how to brake. This isn't going to last, I thought.
Another few hundred yards later, I realized that all three of us were getting sunburned. I had looked for some sunscreen before we left home, but I hadn’t found any. I had figured we wouldn't be gone too long, so I hadn't worried too much.
On the sidewalk on Belle Terre Parkway, Kennedy was scared of every 1-degree slope. She was scared of every insect or big truck that passed by. At one point, she started whimpering, and I asked, “What are you scared of?”
“Practically everything,” she said.
I was sure we would end up calling Hailey to come and rescue us. Surely, I thought, we won’t make it another 4 miles.
With our arms getting pinker and pinker, I held onto Kennedy's handlebars and helped her down each cutout and crosswalk as we passed Belle Terre Elementary School, then Indian Trails Middle School.
“I’m just a little kid,” she said. “I’m still learning.”
About 2 miles later, I finally called for help just past Parkview Church. Hailey brought us water and sunscreen, and Kennedy had another chance to give up. There would have been no shame in it. We had already had a grand adventure.
But her answer was the same: Keep going.
Hailey took Luke and his stroller back home, and I grabbed face masks from the van, just in case we made it all the way and wanted to go into the library.
I continued walking beside her, carrying her water. Every time there was a bit of shade from a tree, we stopped and ate a few more M&M’s. We checked the map on my phone. She thanked me for holding onto her handlebars when she was scared, as we passed Bridgehaven.
“Some day, you won’t need my help,” I said. “But until then, I will help you every time.”
About four hours after we started, we finally finished the whole 5 miles. We arrived at the library.
Of course, Hailey came to the rescue and picked us up again, so we didn't have to walk home. We returned triumphant, our sunburned arms full of library books.