Father and son begin their first descent of 14,110ft Pikes Peak

Along with the guiding, mentoring, nurturing, disciplining, and demanding a father does in hopes of raising a competent son, there should also be some sharing: sharing of time, sharing of self, sharing a passion for life itself. If a father is lucky, he will have a hobby or active pastime he can share, hoping that junior will also take to it so that it can become a time of bonding, a time of togetherness. It could even become a platform for sharing some of life’s important lessons en route to memories that will last a lifetime.

I was most fortunate that my junior (originally known on Singletracks as “Miniskibum,” since I originally joined this site as “Skibum”) did indeed take to the sport of mountain biking, thus setting us up for years of joint adventures. With Miniskibum no longer mini, now grown and off to college, I’ve had time to reflect on our time together on bikes, in the woods, exploring, getting lost, getting found, getting hurt, healing, and getting back at it all over again.

Phase One: Father/Son Time

Early father/son ride on Spencer Mountain, Whitefish, MT.

In the beginning (where all the classic tales begin), there was a boy. By all outward appearances, he was an unremarkable boy just like any other you might encounter on your block. He came from a traditional family in a typical suburban neighborhood. He played with friends, watched television, and thought little, if any, about his future or his relationships, just as a young boy should.

The boy’s father, like any good father, looked for ways to be a good dad that went beyond mere provision. He wanted an activity they could share. Despite being a traditional dad, he didn’t engage in the most traditional of American activities. He was not an expert fisherman, had little interest in team sports, and while competent, didn’t really have a passion for woodworking or other traditionally-male activities. What he did have was a passion for mountain biking. So, when the first opportunity presented itself, Junior got saddled up with a 20″ hardtail and father/son bike time began.

Demo Day at Vernal’s Northern Utah Mountain Bike (NUMB) Fest.

And in the beginning, that’s all this was. This was not riding time, at least not for dad. Junior was too small, too young, too inexperienced, and too unskilled to really go for a ride with dad. But that was okay. It was time together, out of the house, out in the woods, playing and enjoying each other’s company. It was a time of teaching, but not overtly–more like teaching by osmosis, but with the primary emphasis on fun.

Bonding occurred. Teaching occurred. Growth took place. It was a time of great joy. Dad didn’t even mind gaining a few pounds, as rides never entered his aerobic zone. Nothing could surpass the joy of seeing Junior clean an obstacle or make a nonstop ascent of a challenging summit for the first time.

Sizing junior up for a top-quality bike.

When Junior first got a Singletracks account, he took on the moniker “Miniskibum,” which I found most gratifying. Every dad wants Junior to be a chip off the ol’ block. But my junior was my polar opposite in many ways. His personality is laid back while mine is direct and aggressive. He is lean and fair while I am blocky and dark. So when he decided to “Mini Me” himself to me, that was a huge surprise. But more important than stroking dad’s ego, what it really meant was that, no matter what our differences, we would always be able to share the ride.

Phase Two: Perfectly-Matched Partners

As joyful as those early days were, they were nothing compared to the time that would follow. As Miniskibum grew, so did his strength and skills–quite rapidly, I might add. There is definitely something to be said for starting ’em young. When one grows up on a bike, everything is natural, and skills come without difficulty. And as one grows up, physical strength and stamina increase rapidly.

It wasn’t long before Miniskibum was able to hang pretty close. This set us up for many great adventures. Each spring break, we would take a week-long bike trip, just the two of us, to some southwestern mountain bike mecca, where we would sink our knobbies into killer trails for nine straight days.

Dad was super stoked when Singletracks chose this shot from a Fruita trip as the Photo of the Day.

Sometimes these trips included useful lessons, like how to get lost, how to break a bike, or how to dislocate an important joint. Actually, the beneficial lessons were how to not panic, how to find your way out of the wilderness once lost, how to stay calm in the face of a broken $4,000 bike on the first day of a trip, and how to field splint a busted brake finger. And for the rest of our lives, we will be able to laugh about the misadventures as well as the adventures.

Showing Dad how to ride the rocks.

Despite our personality differences, Miniskibum developed my attitude about biking, having the same trail preferences. He loved charging down gnarly, technical, rock-strewn trails. Smooth and flowy was declared boring; only when constantly negotiating obstacles or grabbing bits of air along the way was he happy.

In fact, be became positively high maintenance when it came to riding, which wasn’t always good. If a trail wasn’t entertaining, he really didn’t care to go, and the bar for entertainment value was set very high. But I understood, and we worked together to indulge this desire. I even made geographic choices in our place of residence that weren’t necessarily the best career choices, but no promotion, no raise, no perks or benefits, could compare to the time we would spend together looking for two-wheeled adventures.

Phase Three: The Student Eclipses the Teacher

It wasn’t long before Mini was out in front of Maxi.

Unfortunately, Phase Two proved to be all too short. When the explosion in physical capabilities that accompanies the early teen years for Junior lines up with the deterioration of physical capabilities that is part of middle age for Dad, the two lines of performance switch places pretty quickly. It seemed like no sooner were we perfectly synced than Miniskibum started leaving me behind.

While I knew he was getting stronger and would ultimately be able to beat me to the top of the hill, the real surprise was how he passed me in technical riding as well. The foreshadowing of this trend first became apparent on an early ride at the Lunch Loops near Grand Junction, in which we started out on The Ribbon and proceeded to the highly-technical Eagle’s Wing trail. Miniskibum took obstacles in stride on a 24″ hardtail that made me think on my 7″-travel enduro bike. It was one of those moments where the personal embarrassment is more than offset by the pride and joy in the accomplishment of someone special.

A young Miniskibum negotiates “The Ribbon”

Surprisingly, I would often become the beneficiary of Miniskibum’s capabilities. Not only did the student eclipse the teacher, he became the teacher’s inspiration to up his own game. Miniskibum would encourage, cajole, and flat-out shame me to the top of a tough climb. He would exert a perverse sort of peer pressure on his old man to get me to try features or launch air I would have gone around had I been on my own. He has an amazing eye for spotting creative lines in the chunk.

We all know the benefits of following a slightly better rider in difficult situations, but I never expected that better rider to be my son. Thanks to Miniskibum, a middle-aged rider in decline found new inspiration, stemmed the tide of physical atrophy, and again started charging lines he had given up on, or not even recognized in the first place. The circle of mountain bike life had indeed come full circle.

As I pen this final paragraph, I hold back a single tear in each eye. The tear in my left eye is a tear of sorrow for the departure of my best biking buddy. The tear in my right eye is a tear of joy for the new life of wonder to be lived by a marvelous young man who I may have shared some small part in shaping.

Keep on cranking, son, and may the descent always be worth the climb!

# Comments

  • mongwolf

    Wow John, great piece. Thanks for sharing it with all of us though obviously it was meant mostly for you and your son. And thanks for sharing with us over the years your trips with your son. They were an inspiration to me to get out and ride with my sons, especially my youngest who needed it the most. I paid out a lot of money (buying four bikes, gear for four bikes, maintenance, upgrades, etc.), but I/we gained so much in return. The return on the investment has made it the best investment of my life.

  • mongwolf

    My wife and I have “launched” all three of our sons in life, and like you said Nate, it is in ways a dreaded moment. What a strange time. Somehow it is a strange mix of joy for them and sadness knowing that you can never return to that very dear season of life. There is something very right about it all, and yet, there is a loss … a loss of things as they once were with the dearest of friends … for me my three best friends of life. But if you have lived that season near to the fullest as John and Nate have, then in the end there is no regret in the change of seasons. Time together lessens and the friendship morphs a little, and yet, somehow the deep friendship remains. Mountain bikers are famous for talking about living in the moment. Of course there is some wisdom in that, but one must also look to the future …. dare I even say to eternity (but that’s not for here). BUT if ever there is a real reason to live in the moment, it is those moments with our kids that some day they may have all that they need on the inside to take head on what lies ahead … the great adventure of life.

  • mongwolf

    Ok, this is the new top article of the year imhbao “in my humble but accurate opinion”. 😉 Thanks again John.

  • Gordie Allen

    I read with great interest End of an Era. It prompted me to share my experiences and perspective from yet another generation of mountain bike buddies. I have two sons – Chad and Paco. My goal as a father was to be as much a part of their lives growing up as possible. I was in the first wave of the Boomers, a child of the Sixties and all that accompanied that tumultuous era. Chad was born in 1973 and the following year Harry Chapin released “Cat’s in the Cradle”. That song struck me to the core and I resolved that, come hell or high water, that would not be my legacy. When Paco turned five and Chad seven we began backpacking as a family. My wife, Teri, said “We never went on vacations, they were always adventures.” The next thirteen years we set aside a two week adventure – every year, without fail. Over the years we hiked the Great Smoky Mountains, Isle Royal, The Olympics and the California Redwoods. We fell in love with the Olympics and spent six summers exploring the rainforests, the leeward alpine meadows and rugged and wild Olympic coast.

    Paco was a natural soccer player, and I coached his teams (AYSO and Travel) from U-7 until he started high school. Three nights a week of practice and at least two weekend games – more if we were in a tournament. The ultimate reward for all those rain-soaked practices and games was to see “my boys” become State Champions their senior year.

    It was 1993 and Chad was in his second year of college. He had gotten a part-time job at Billy’s Bike Shop in Galesburg, Michigan and had started racing in the Michigan Mountain Biking Association Championship Point Series. Prior to the second race of the season, he said: “Dad, you should come with me, it’ll be fun.” We traveled about an hour to the race with two bikes on the car. “I borrowed the bike and gear from Billy – just in case,” he said. So, there I was at the starting line with about twelve other “old guys” in the Men’s 45 and up Beginner class. First time on a bike since I was 16. I did nine miles on a challenging ski resort course and finished – last. I did meet a guy in my age group who lived only a few miles away. Mike and I have been riding together for twenty-five years now.

    Chad and I did ten races that summer. My best finish was – last. I rode all winter on the gravel roads surrounding our rural home. Any day above 20 degrees was a ride day. The following year, we hit the race circuit again. Almost every Sunday we were racing somewhere. When the season was over I had won the Men’s Beginner 45 and up State Championship. Whoo Hoo!

    That same year, Chad told me about a place called Moab, Utah – Mountain Bike Mecca, Singletrack Heaven, Endless Slickrock. Mike, Chad and I hooked up with two guys in Boulder and drove out to Moab. We only had four days to ride that first year. We did The Slickrock Trail, Porcupine Rim, Hidden Valley to Moab Rim, The Portal Trail and Gemini Bridges. Mike and I have taken a group to Moab almost every year since. Chad has been a part of many of those trips as well as trips to West Virginia, Vermont, North Carolina and all over Michigan.

    This year Chad joined our Moab trip again. He’s now 44. I’m 70. There’s been a boom in trail building in Moab for the last five years. We rode for seven days. Some old favorites, like Bartlett’s Wash and some new combos of the Mag-7 and Klondike Bluffs. The week was magical. Although he drops me on almost every climb, I can still hang with him on most of the gnarly downhill stuff. He got some great GoPro shots of me shredding on his back wheel. After every ride, I say “Thanks”. Thanks for taking me with you to that first race. Thanks for the amazing things I never thought a 70-year-old guy could do. Thanks for the scores of friends I have in the mountain biking community. And thanks for the rides to come.

    I don’t think it’s an end of an era, John. It’s just the beginning of another chapter. There are more trails in the future and you’ll get together then dad, I know you’ll have a good time then…

    • John Fisch

      Awesome! Thanks so much for the inspiration, Gordie!

    • mongwolf

      Awesome +1 Gordie. Fantastic story. And yes, what a song, “Cat’s in the Cradle”.

  • NateBarnum

    Awesome article! I really hope my son falls in love with mountain biking like your son has. He is only 2, but I took him on his first ride last weekend on his strider bike. We only went about a mile, but there was nothing greater than being on a trail and seeing him starting to enjoy it. Thanks for the inspiring message!

    • Rwlilguy

      My guy will be 3 in Nov. He has taken to the strider like a champ. Looking forward to getting him on a trail.

  • Hunter411

    Thanks for sharing. I started mtbing approx 4 yrs ago. I’ll be 61 in Nov. and recently got my Son hooked on mtbing at the age of 28. He has approx 34 rides under his belt and we just returned from Moab riding The Whole Enchilada and Mag 7 along with other trails.

    It’s such a great experience to share these rides with my Son. He is now starting to leave me in the dust, except where cliffs are present. I couldn’t ask for a better way to spend time with my Son.

    He now has some of the top trails in the US states under his belt, such as Seq Demo Forrest Flow Trail and Downieville. The local trail just aren’t enough for him or me now. I look forward to many more miles of Singletrack with the two of us as he is hooked on mtbing.

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