Asia 101: An Immersion Journey for Kids

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So, my in-laws wanted to go on a bike trip, and they weren’t talking about a little joy ride to Dairy Queen. They wanted something epic — pine trees, mountains, rivers, ravines, an occasional moose, at least 30 miles a day, sore legs, moments of doubt, moments of triumph, the satisfaction of a life well-lived — you get the idea. And, honestly, I was all for it, but I had a few concerns, which I will enumerate in order of increasing severity: First, my wife, Kasia, and I have two young children (ages 9 and 11) who would be making this epic journey with us. The 9-year-old is tough, but he’s still 9, which means 30 miles a day, on a small bike, is roughly akin to waterboarding. Second, my in-laws are émigrés from communist-era Poland, and they think that suffering, in its various forms, is more or less the point of life. Third, my father-in-law, Mirek, 64, has only one leg. Well, technically, he has two legs, but only one of them is usable; the other was disabled by polio.

And then there was my final concern.

My mother-in-law, Barbara, 67, is blind in one eye, has one working arm, and — not long ago — lost her sanity and then regained it. You think I’m exaggerating, but I assure you I am not. Barbara had melanoma, which spread to her brain, necessitating radiation, immunotherapy and brain surgery. During the course of her treatment, she briefly went crazy. She thought the pizza delivery guy and the exterminator were trying to kill her. (Just to be clear, she didn’t think they were working together — like a zany, two-man hit squad — she thought they were independently trying to kill her, like two random guys, with the same pointless, evil goal.) Anyway, I digress. The point is, she recovered, thanks to cutting-edge medicine and her superhuman determination, and now she wanted to go bicycling. The only question was where.

We soon found a very promising route, Le P’tit Train du Nord in Canada, an old railroad line that had been converted into a bike path. That meant no cars — a big plus for my 9-year-old and my in-laws. The route ran 120 miles across the Laurentian Mountains, through forests and across rivers, heading steadily south toward Montreal.

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