Family Mountain Bike Bonding: “Do you Want Stitches or a Scar?”

“So, can I, like, take mountain bike lessons?” my daughter asked en route to a weeklong vacation in the mountains. “Uh, yeah, of course, you can,” I replied trying to mask my abrupt surprise. My kid, who we call P, and I are about as emotionally divergent as two people can be. She is enriched by the energy of other humans and loves to attend weddings and other festive celebrations of life and joy. I, on the other hand, could sit with a stand of trees for weeks on end without notice. P is also thirteen and appropriately doesn’t like anything I’m into, including mountain biking. I didn’t want to be like my parents as a kid either, and I had planned to let her find a more social activity to embrace — until she asked about lessons.

P initially asked if my partner and I could teach her to ride. Having worked as a teacher in the past, I knew a fresh voice and neutral relationship would result in both faster better learning. After a few days of riding with an instructor at the La Thuile Mountain Bike School, P was painted with bruises, tired, and loving the thrill of the trails. She progressed from walking sections of the sole blue track on the mountain to riding the whole ribbon without pause. She then bumped up the risk meter to red trails, letting go more and riding a few additional drops every lap. She rolled across glacial streams and let the slick cross-country tread on her bike dance around as they pleased.

The kid has far more courage than I did at her age, and she’s learning faster for it. Red-rated trails in La Thuille would have been considered black when I learned to ride, and the mountain’s many black trails would likely have been illegal. Thanks to our dramatically more capable bikes that’s all changed for the better.

I’m genuinely stoked that my kid has a new way to challenge herself, to exercise, to make friends, to enjoy the forest, and we can do it together. Also, mountain biking has unquestionably made my life better in ways I do and don’t notice, and I’m happy to spread that goodness whenever possible.

On the final day in the mountains, with the car packed for home, we all hopped on the chairlift for one last ride on one of the former Superenduro stages together. P had ridden it with an instructor and wanted to demonstrate her newfound flow. She rolled all of the drops and took some of the race lines we pointed out to make things a little spicier and faster. She rode nearly everything that she had walked earlier in the day with the skills instructor. I didn’t mask how proud I was of her moxie and her ability to push through fear and learn. It was and is inspiring.

Before we got on the chair lift P said that she was kinda bummed that this would be our last run. I shared with her, foolishly, that some folks feel superstitious about saying “last run” because they think they’ll hex themselves and get injured. I then added some context, mentioning that people often get hurt toward the end of the day when they’re tired, which has little to do with self-cast folk spells.

Alas, at the base of that last run P was riding faster and with more confidence than ever before, when her front tire caught the edge of a rut and she spun an unplanned somersault. The crash would have been fine, as she was wearing a back protector, full face helmet, and kneepads, but when the bike landed on her the dropper-post remote lit just above her left eyebrow, opening a deep puncture that filled her eye with the warm red stuff.

While washing the laceration in an icy stream my partner asked P, “do you want a scar or stitches?” P looked up at us both, my face and appendages punctuated by trail tattoos, and replied enthusiastically. “Scar!”

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