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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!