“Let’s go to the beach” usually indicates a vacation or a time of leisure, but a Covington family fought heat, fog, sand, traffic, road signs, sunburn and armadillos to earn their trip to the beach. The family, including five children ages 6-21, left July 13 on bicycles from Covington and arrived at their destination in Jekyll Island early July 20.
Ken and Jennifer Avery and their family planned and trained for three months before setting out on their bike trek to Jekyll Island, more than 300 miles from their home in Covington. Their plan was to break up the trip in manageable chunks, 30-50 miles each day, so they would be able to safely complete the trip.
The parents reasoned that the trip would have longer lasting benefits than just a break from the normal — even the new-normal of COVID-19 — which ironically cleared the calendar for time to prepare for the journey.
The trip was important to the Avery family because Nolan, 18, is leaving this fall to serve a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Santiago, Chile. Marlin, 21, just returned from serving a mission for the church in California and is preparing for his next life step. This separation was very much on Jennifer’s mind, who said she wanted to her children to develop long-lasting relationships that would span their lifetimes.
“The best way to do this is spending time together... working, playing, praying, laughing and dreaming together. This trip provided all of those things,” she said.
They also wanted to challenge their children physically. “We want them to have fitness-oriented vacations where they work for it,” Ken said. “It had to be a goal big enough that they could stretch and so they could recognize that any goal is achievable if you break it down.” The difficulty with this plan was that their youngest son, Tad, was only 6 years old. Tad decided he could handle 15 miles per day for the trip; he actually managed 10-15 miles during the trip.
Ken and Jennifer tag-teamed driving a camping trailer ahead of the family, so beds and air conditioning would be ready for the travelers at the end of the day. Also, Tad could get his miles in for the day on the bike and ride the rest of the way with one of his parents in the truck. One of the parents would cycle with the older children: Rachel, 14; Weston, 16; Nolan, and Marlin, who all completed the entire distance from their home to the beach, riding 35-50 miles per day. Tad successfully rode his 15 miles each day, through the encouragement of his older siblings.
The Averys focused on backroads to avoid traffic, and Jennifer navigated the family’s route by comparing several different mapping apps: Google, Cycle.travel, and AllTrails. Even with a triangulation of data, the trail was not always smooth. “You should never go on a road named Sandy Road,” Jennifer said. It literally was made of sand, and while the older kids loved fishtailing around in it, they had to struggle in a mile and then back out again to find a better road.
There was also 99-degree weather once the family reached Statesboro that drove the group to get up earlier to beat the heat. They began riding at 5 a.m. and tried to finish after lunch to avoid the blistering sun. Marlin had already been sunburned and suffered from “hell’s itch,” a reaction that causes unbearable itching, but he rode on anyway.
The Averys used strong camp lights when they set out in the dark, which “probably made us look like a UFO” since they rode in formation down the road. The lighting did not save them from the early morning wanderings of nocturnal animals, which caused Weston to nearly crash and disturb the peace of an armadillo crossing the road. Weston also had an unfortunate collision with a road sign.
It was through these painful experiences that Ken said he hoped his children would learn important lessons.
“I had hoped they would repeatedly find themselves feeling they had reached into some extremity to allow them to do some discovering about themselves,” he said. “There are things we learn in our extremities that we don’t learn elsewhere.”
The family, especially Weston, is familiar with these “extremities.” In remission from cancer (Hodgkins lymphoma) for almost six years, Weston has come back from chemotherapy and struggling to run a mile to tackling this 300-mile riding challenge.
“We don’t treat him differently,” Ken said. “He is a very capable individual.”
Weston has spent the last two years building his endurance athletically and was strong during this trip; in fact, he assigned himself the role of mechanic and snack-carrier for his siblings.
The trip was not all labor. After achieving their miles for the day, the family parked at campgrounds, hit the kickstand on their bikes, and went fishing, swimming and kayaking. Not surprisingly, this and finally reaching the beach were favorite parts of the trip for the family. Nolan caught a 5-pound bass, Marlin said he loved the scenery along the way, and Tad loved catching crabs on the beach.
Rachel’s favorite part of the trip was different than her brothers’; it was the 216-foot bridge that signified the end of the trip and led to the island. It was intimidating for her, so Ken suggested that she lead the way.
“It was nice to feel like I overcame something,” she said. “I learned not to underestimate myself.”