Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Biking to Jester Park: Des Moines 1975

This is what passed for adventure back then. A group of my friends--most of my core friends, Bob, Bill, Larry, Dave, Randy, Jim and I (perhaps others or perhaps not all mentioned)--decided to bike a few miles north of town to a park called Jester Park. I don't know if it was a state park or county park but it was a ways out of Des Moines and Urbandale, maybe five miles or so. We brought along tents and bags and food to stay the night. It was summer, hot, pleasant, and it was our first real trip anywhere as near-adults.
The planning of it was pretty simple. Yes, we were driving by then but we wanted to bike it, so we knew where the park was and how to get there by experience. Were our bikes in good enough shape to make the trip? Who knew--we weren't worried about that. And remember, this was before cell phones and Internet and GPS and constant connections. So, one we packed our bags and filled our measly water bottles (this was before the selling of water as a drink also), we were on our own.
My parents were unconcerned as were most of my other friends. The only parent who seemed worried was Bill's mother and--sure enough--halfway on the long bike ride down rural roads under the sun, here came Bill's mother in her car checking up on us. Ah, what supreme embarrassment for Bill. But also not a big deal--we didn't tease him about it.
It was a fun ride, though hot and thirsty. It was good to be out there and have the world and Iowa landscape slow down, to enjoy the minutes and the farm fields and the trees.
Then we got to the park, set up camp (I think it was free) and wander around. No one else was there, it seemed. We hunted for firewood, played cards, talked, played catch with Frisbees, baseballs, footballs. We wandered the woods, went to the Des Moines River and got in the water, swam and walked the bank and swooshed around in what is a pretty big river. We cooked hot dogs and canned chili and made sandwiches, had chips and cheese--I don't know how we brought all of that on our bikes, but we did.
Bill's mother did not show up.
Night came and we had a fire and told stories and fell asleep and got up the next day and did it again. Then we rode home--long, hot, thirsty--and the adventure was over.
We were not young teens then. We had a year left of high school.
And you know what we didn't do?
We did not drink beer or smoke cigarettes, we didn't smoke a joint or eat shrooms or talk about female conquests.
Perhaps we were behind the times a bit. Or maybe we missed that memo that that was what we were supposed to be doing at 16 or 17. I don't know. But, that wasn't us. It wasn't like we were goody-goody kids, that we went to church and looked down on "bad" behavior. Not at all. It just didn't occur to us that there were other options. For whatever reason, we were not interested in such things . . . But now that I think of it, I think Jerry Lamb went on that trip with us. Jerry was one of those guys that was sort of part of our group but sometimes not. He was one of those guys who saw the other options and had no doubt tried them a bit, had tried to hang and fit in with a rougher crowd than us but was either not fully accepted or was on the fence about who to be: nice boring boys like us or one of the "bad" boys. (Of course, there were many options in between, too.) Jerry Lamb. I'd forgotten about him.
Anyway. It would still be a few years down the road when drugs, drinking, driving cross-country and sex became the idea of fun. For then, an independent bike ride to Jester Park, goofing around in a river, stopping in the shade of a tree on a hot day in central Iowa with friends--that was fun.

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