Understanding a partner’s idea of adventure
The other morning, my wife rolled over in bed and said the three sexiest words a woman can say to a man: “Let’s ride bikes.”
She had the day off, and when she’s not working, she assumes I’m not working too, which usually means I get to spend the day knocking out various tasks around the house. But there would be no cleaning of the gutters on this particular day. On this glorious day, my wife was talking dirty to me.
“Let’s ride bikes.”
Just a few words, but so many possibilities. We could strike out for the lesser-known Big Ivy and do a big, seven-mile gravel climb, followed by a bone rattling singletrack descent. Or head in the other direction and do an out and back on the aptly named Heartbreak Trail, where I once dislocated a shoulder! Or we could do a full circumnavigation of Bent Creek Experimental Forest, a 20+ mile sufferfest full of steep climbs.
None of this sounded good to my wife. She stared at me with a look that suggested I should find the ladder and hang out with the gutters all day. I was doing it again— I was smothering the flickering flame of my wife’s love of bikes with my enthusiasm, like Lennie petting his rabbit to death in “Of Mice and Men.”
My wife had been riding bikes regularly—going to spin class and doing weekly gravel and mountain bike rides with girlfriends. She was enjoying bikes for the first time since she was a kid, and I saw it all and thought, “this could be great for me.” I had visions of the two of us doing long weekend rides together. Taking vacations that centered around riding bucket list trails all over the world. We would knock out epic date rides, go bikepacking for our anniversary, maybe. With proper training, we could attempt a thru-ride of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I saw my wife’s interest in biking and translated it through my own lens of addiction. My wife just wanted to casually ride bikes and see pretty places, but I was ready to sell the house, buy a tandem, and ride across the world. I do this a lot. Whenever someone in my family shows a mild curiosity in any of the adventure sports that I love, I automatically assume they’re all in like I am. Kids smiling after a ski run down the mountain? We should put them in lessons and look into Northeastern boarding schools with solid ski racing programs. My daughter liked a show about surfers in Australia, so I ordered a couple of foam boards and started looking into surf retreats.
More often than not, my intense enthusiasm just scares them off from the adventure altogether. My wife thinks it has something to do with my “love language.” Remember that book from a few years ago that suggested people express and accept love in five different ways? Like your love language is either “words of affirmation,” or “acts of service,” or “gifts.” My wife thinks my love language is doing hard cardio together.
She might be right. Last year, my daughter joined the cross-country team at her middle school, and I was ecstatic. I saw us taking long runs together in the woods, where she’d tell me her hopes and dreams, and I’d impart the wisdom that comes with my age and white beard. We’d become best friends and form a bond so strong it could weather any storm. We’d probably get matching tattoos when she got old enough. She didn’t have the same vision that I had. Turns out, she just wanted to run with her friends after school.
Cool. I definitely didn’t cry myself to sleep for a month.
My enthusiasm doesn’t seem to backfire as much with my son. I guess we naturally like a lot of the same things. He thinks my music is too loud (Nirvana, Beastie Boys) and I think his isn’t loud enough (I don’t know the name of the lame pop bands these days), but otherwise we’re on the same page. Riding bikes is fun. Skiing is fun. Surfing is fun. We should do those things as often as we can for as long as we can. Rest and repeat. Every year, we have a countdown until Ski Season starting at Halloween. And yes, we capitalize “Ski Season.”
But with the ladies in my house, I’m a complete Lennie, so desperate to forge a connection through adventure, I ruin any chance of fun for either of them. It’s a problem, and I’d like to say I’m learning from my past mistakes and know better than to smother my ladies with too much enthusiasm. If I’m not growing as a husband and father, then what’s the point, right? But here we are again, me about to drag my wife on some epic mountain bike ride because she casually suggested we go for a spin. And she’ll probably suffer through it too, because she’s nice and she loves me and she knows I love riding bikes until I develop calluses on my tender parts, and marriage is about suffering together, right?
Fortunately, my wife does what she does best and tells me how wrong I am about things and convinces me to find a route that’s a little more casual. Because my journey is about personal growth, I take a step back and realize the error of my ways. I take her on a mild 10-mile gravel spin around Bent Creek that doesn’t gain a lot of elevation. And you know what? It’s lovely. We have a good time. We pedal. We talk. We sweat. It’s more smiles than grimaces and it’s not intense and that’s ok. And when it’s over, my wife tells me she had fun, and suggests we do it again on her off day next week.
In my head, I immediately start planning something epic. Something that challenges our legs, navigational skills, and probably the strength of our relationship. Because personal growth doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a journey. Two steps forward, one step back.
Cover Photo: The author’s wife, enjoying a bike ride. Photo courtesy of the author