My wife, daughter and I walked about a tenth of a mile from our home on Sunday afternoon, July 14 (my parents’ 28-year wedding anniversary, by the way), for a Philadelphia Youth Camp cycling class with instructor Matthew Kawalek, assistant Mikaylah Lorenz, and the traffic cones of Dorm 1B.
Based at the base of Philadelphia Church of God artist Gary Dorning’s second-story tower office and just beyond the center field fence of the softball diamond, pyc cycling headquarters was an exciting sight. Miss Lorenz had spent about half an hour painting a black-and-white checkered finish line on the pavement. A checkered flag was planted in the grass next to the finish line, and a special-order red ‘pyc Cycling’ flag stood next to the starting line several feet away. A big, breezy, beautiful American flag fluttered from the staircase leading up to Mr. Dorning’s office. Two stocked bike racks, a shelf piled with helmets, and two large water jugs completed the scene, and numbers from Star Wars and other popular movies provided the soundtrack.
About ten minutes after we arrived, Dorm 1B, led by counselor Andy Inojales and assistant Logan Yoder, cheerily greeted the cycling staff and my family. After filling up their water bottles, they circled up amidst the trees beyond the outfield fence. Mr. Kawalek started yelling about how much he loves cycling and then led the group in a vigorous session of vertical jumping. Various leg stretches were accompanied by shout-counting to ten in English, Spanish, French, Tagalog, and German.
The 11 orange-clad campers, representing the United States, Canada, England, and Australia, then selected a bicycle and a helmet and tried to guess the names of the different parts of a bicycle as Mr. Kawalek pointed to them. My two-year-old, Loma, freely offered suggestions, to the amusement of the aspiring cyclists and kitchen volunteer Melonie Holmes, who spotted Loma from afar and, of course, had to come near to snap photos of Loma. No one guessed that the seat of a bicycle is actually called the saddle. They were too busy horsing around.
After a review of how to shift gears and a brake test (back-wheel brake, then front-wheel brake to slow to a graceful stop), it was time to tour the long course. I took my position comfortably at the back of the pack as we rode, with periodic breaks, past the softball field, turned left down the gravel road, looped around past the maintenance shop and down the hill, turned right toward Imperial Academy, pivoted toward the faculty homes, pushed hard uphill past the homes to the burn pile next to the Windsor dorm, wound through the tall grass and across the road by the north gate, followed the barbed wire fence through the woods to the Mail Processing Center, and zigzagged through another patch of trees and onto the final stretch of road to the finish line.
Since camp director Stephen Flurry that very day had lengthened each daytime class from 75 to 90 minutes, we still had loads of time left for the short course. Campers and workers walked their bikes over to the John Amos Field House parking lot where eight orange traffic cones were set up: four in a straight line and four more advancing diagonally just past those. Mr. Kawalek weaved right-to-left through the first four, then crisscrossed through the last four—first to the left, then right, left, right, before turning and sprinting back to the starting line.
A few campers botched the pattern but received a do-over. When it wasn’t their turn to take on the course, Gabriel, Michael, Zachary, Elijah, Nickolas, Sevren, Wyatt, Ben, Daniel, Aaron and Jack mingled amongst themselves and chanted the names of the riders. The camp record was about 28 seconds, but Michael shattered it with a time of 26.66.
Euphoria ensued. Equipment was returned to its place. Grateful platitudes were issued. Water was guzzled. Tickets were awarded to Michael, Zachary and Aaron. Dorm 1B departed cycling, tired yet triumphant.