Father & Son Off-Road Thanksgiving Ride


My 13 year old son has a general distaste for strenuous activities and anything that is a little precarious or might cause injury. He's always been very protective and careful of his being. He'd much rather spend a cold Sunday morning in bed cuddling an Ipad or Iphone or some other device or combination of both, networking with friends and playing games, instead of getting into a wet suit and playing in the surf, or going for a hike up the coastline somewhere, or bombing down a hill with Dad on a mountain bike.  So, I like to push him out of his bounds whenever I can to help him try to get to that limit and push past it whenever possible.

The day before Thanksgiving I managed to talk my son into a going on a "short little" MTB ride to kick off the day right. With a little pulling and convincing, he gave me the green light for an easy mountain bike ride at a local park, for the morning, just me and him. 

We have three children: 13, 11 and 5. Each of them has degrees of daring and each has their own riding abilities. Our youngest began riding a push bike when we was 3 and he's been riding without training wheels for over a year. 

Im very much a Let Kids Do Dangerous things kind of Dad. I don't force them to do anything, but I like to get them exposed to things, let them make the choice to do things that stretch their safety net a little. Our culture has become fixated on safety and personal well-being, to the point that many of us never get to do anything that challenges that sense of safety. We've become safer, so we get hurt less, perhaps, but we also live a little less in the process. 

If you are over the age of 40, you recall as I do, that growing up we would just about always be around some one with a broken leg, or a broken arm. The things we did as kids back then, all pretty harmless, are stuff we see only on Jackass nowadays.   

About 10 minutes from our house is an easy little network of trails in a county park that's great for kids and novice riders. It's a closed park, with riders and hikers on the same trail and the ground is well packed and the trails well maintained. This is the perfect kind of riding area for my son and I. The network goes up hill and for a couple miles, winding around a few ravines and back around. The trail back down is quick and fun. 

 I know my son would rather be sitting home playing his iPad games with his buddies. As we set out on the trail he's already made it clear that my little outing needs to have a very firm and quick end-time so he can get back and get on with his day and his friends. Without trying to ignore his desire to get back home, I try to let him know that we're going to stretch beyond what he wants to do today and do things that he may rather not do, but will do. 

For kids, mountain biking is a great adventure. They are constantly challenged in all the right ways. Balance. Judgement. Muscle. Fear. Self-confidence. Just the ability to self-pilot a multi-speed mountain bike on loose gravel roads in up-hill down-hill terrain is a challenge enough. My son bitched and moaned the whole way and I had to remind him to accept his accomplishments and take pride in the stuff he was able to conquer.

When he wanted to go home, I pushed him a little harder, kept going a little more. He cussed at me and begged to back down the mountain. He didn't much like my laughing at his discomfort and he didn't care when I explained that he can't be tired because Im not tired and Im 45 and smoked for 20 years! 

I can't say I blame him. I wouldn't like some one laughing at me either, but I just couldn't help giggling a little, as much as I felt for him.

As men, we're trained that it's ok to be talked down to somewhat, pushed, whipped into shape and prodded to get to the next level. That's life. That's sports. That's football. 

Still, it's a hard thing to do to your own kid. I didn't much like looking back one time to see my son walking it down one of the not very steep trails at one point, but I let him do his thing. I was alternately impressed on a different downhill to see him riding it through and holding it all together right behind me.

Online gaming is an easy thrill outlet. It's too easy to fall back and get back online. It's too rewarding and too easy to feel rewarded by the social gaming that's available to kids these days. Out here on the trail with dad, his friends aren't around to convey their congratulations, or their envy, or their yearning at the points he got, etc. The challenge is personal and it's physical. It's much harder. Much more real too.

Out on the trail, I really had to keep my son motivated. Kids need a lot of pep talking to keep them going. Lot's of "way to go"s and "good jobs" all along the way. All the while, other dads were there in the same boat as I was. We were all calling out to our kids yelling the same stuff. "No, the parking lot is this way!", when in reality it was the opposite way, just as they thought it was, but to keep them going on the trail we have to tell them that the way back down the mountain is really up the hill a little more jut past that dead tree...

When we were done riding we made a trip to a cafe to grab some hot chocolate and treats. 

I enjoyed our Thanksgiving ride. I think my son probably didn't, at least as much as I did, but, I like to think he'll look back on it one day and know that he gained some skills from our rides and maybe one day learn to enjoy riding on his own.

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  • joe witherspoon