Fathers and Sons

Monday night, I rode Waldo with an old friend, Mark, and his 17 year old son Aiden. They’re new to mtbing, and wanted to get to know the trails. Two hundred feet into the woods, I looked back to see if they were behind me, rode off the trail, jammed my front wheel on a log, and did a classic, clipped-into-the-pedals endo. I have a bruise on my chest from where the bike landed, and one on my back from my phone’s Otter Box.

Ah, hubris.

The phone is fine, so yay Otter Box.

Once I got untangled from the bike, we rode on down the Red trail, which, for my money, offers the most Whee! per mile in the park. But at the junction with Yellow, Mark got a call from his wife about water in the basement, so they had to bail. We rode out the fire road, bid our goodbyes, and they drove off. A short shared ride, but it was good to see Mark after ten years, and good to see that Aiden had grown into a smart and confident young man. Most importantly though, I liked seeing that they seemed to have a close relationship. When my boys were 17, it was hard.

The light was fading a little, so I exchanged my sunglasses for my regular ones, then left the parking lot to hack around in the park for while. Riding up Yellow to head out, I’d crested the climb on the west side of the hill and was heading down the east side when another rider hove into view, hull down behind a stone wall and waiting for me to pass. With no helmet and dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, he struck me as a beginner. I said “Hi” and “Thanks” and rode on only to encounter what I assume was his son, a boy of about ten, pushing a new Specialized up the slight grade. I stopped to let him pass, taking an opportunity to demonstrate trail etiquette and maybe encourage the boy by saying, “Go ahead – Uphill rider has the right of way. Nice bike!”

A pretty normal encounter, really, except it felt oddly familiar. A dad wanting to bond with his son, probably pressed for time by the realities of a job and maintaining a home, trying to squeeze something fun in while the daylight lasted. Judging by the kid’s expression though, he wasn’t having a lot of fun pushing the bike up the hill. It felt like the dad was trying too hard, something like I might have done with my own kids.

I didn’t feel good about that.

Five minutes later I felt worse. Riding down the east side, I realized that the light had gone to the point where it was hard to read the trail and that I should skip the upper Yellow trail and ride out. Not a big deal for me, but that father and son were heading down toward the lake on the brighter west side and weren’t likely to realize how fast the light was going on the shady side. If they went all the way down, they’d be coming back in the dark. A failure for dad, an ordeal for the boy, a sadly memorable occasion for both unless the dad could handle it better than I would have.

When I got to the car and put my gear away, I thought about getting it back out and riding down the fire road to see if they needed help. I decided against it, figuring that they weren’t likely to get hurt, and all they needed to do was take the fire road out when the trail hit it. Maybe they’d have a shitty time, or maybe they’d make it an adventure and I was projecting my own failures as a parent on that dad. Maybe they had lights. I didn’t other than on my phone. And the last thing that dad needed was some helpful asshole intruding.

I drove home.

I still don’t feel good about it.




About swampyankeecyclist

I'm Andy Engel, just a middle-aged, middle-class guy from Roxbury, Connecticut. I've been married to my best friend since 1988, and we have two grown sons. I like riding bikes, and my biggest accomplishment is the 180K D2R2. I own 5 bikes but my go-to rides are a 2016 GT Grade gravel and commuter bike and a 2016 Specialized 650b hardtail mountain bike. Additionally, I have a 2000-something carbon-fiber Orbea road bike, a 1990-something Specialized Sirrus that's my old dirt and commuter bike and which now serves as a spare and a trainer bike, and a 1985 Ross Mount Hood MTB. All but the 650b have Brooks saddles. I work from home now, but used to commute 32 miles round trip to work by bike year round. I was a carpenter and still love building things, but regular paychecks, insurance, and vacation time lured me into journalism. I've written a couple of books on carpentry, and I've been an editor at Fine Homebuilding, Fine Woodworking, and Professional Deck Builder magazines. Currently, I manage construction events at the JLC Live and Remodeling Show trade shows. Additionally, my wife and I run Transylvania Guest House, an Airbnb. Find us on Instagram. Come stay with us and I'll show you some great cycling.
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