“Did my Dad ever own a bicycle?” I texted those words to my Uncle in Florida. These are the kinds of questions that have started to occur to me – random, simple facts that I suddenly need to know about my Father since he passed away. The reply came back, “No. Not that I ever knew.” My Dad was from a family of seven kids, raised by a single mom, and as poor and as rag tag as any stereotypes of impoverished West Virginian hillbillies that you can conjure. My Uncle followed up with one more text. “But I did build one from parts out of the landfill! And your Aunt J___ won one at church for naming all the books of the Bible.”
My son, Elliot, is shining up his red and white bike, getting it perfectly clean for the first stop of this year’s mountain bike racing series. It’s a new bike for a new season. We opted for a 24 inch cyclocross bike, rather than a purpose built kid’s mountain bike. Elliot only weighs 55 pounds, so we are trading tire width for a racier geometry and overall lighter weight. After purchasing it with the advice from our local bike shop – Race Pace – and having the owner, Michael, replace the drop bars with a flat bar and grip shifters, the little Redline looks like a perfect tiny replica of real Cross Country MTB racing steed. I watch Elliot carefully polish each gleaming surface and think of how this is a world away from what my bikeless Father knew as a kid.
It’s hard to believe, but this is our fourth year of racing mountain bikes together. Besides racing, we’ve ridden trails all over the country – IL, WI, WV, OH, NC, SC, CO, UT, NM, MI. When we hit the trails for the first time each Spring my heart swells up with thankfulness and we both are grinning from ear to ear. I know my own Father, who never had a bike, made sacrifices so that my life would be a little better than his. This is not a new idea. It’s part of the so-called American dream. Most people think of that “better life” in terms of money. But there is more that my Dad sacrificed and more that I have received than money. These moments on the bikes with my son, they were earned for me by all the moments my Dad sacrificed to work a brutally hard job. All the moments he didn’t have with me, on a bike, throwing a ball, camping – I am now able to have with my Son because of my Dad’s faithfulness to provide for his family.
Elliot is ten this year and we are turning into quite the Father / Son racing team. We are especially excited to be part of Vision Cycling and the chance to ride and race with other biking families. Hopefully we can all learn from each other. One thing we’ve learned is how hard it is to get yourself and a child out the door with everything needed to camp and race – even for just one night! How many times have we been an hour down the road only to remember – at various times – forgotten shoes, underwear, helmets, race numbers, tires, water, medicine, toothbrushes, and cash? So this year I’ve tasked the boy to make a bike packing list. The result is in the photo below. This is one of those moments, one of those precious artifacts of this season, that I always want to remember.
I’m not yet sure what this blog will be about, except that I want to take the time to write down the moments from this season so we can remember them when this year is long past. Since I just lost my Father, I’m also remembering him and pondering the legacy of our Father/Son relationship and how it has passed on to Elliot and I. So, my working title for these rambling ruminations on biking and Dads and Sons and racing and the memories made will be this: “A Season to Remember.” Thanks for reading and joining us for the ride.