Sunday afternoons are generally spent with my wife’s parents. It typically isn’t spent on the bicycle. However, this Sunday the Beautiful Redhead’s parents were in Ohio and I decided to head out for a ride with Thing Two. Now I’m wondering if I’ll ever get him back on the bike again!
I thought that we would be a little better matched if I rode my fixed gear and he rode his Allez. While his gearing was much smaller than mine, if we did some climbing that would make it easier for him — and harder for me. The only way to find out was to get out on the road.
Most of the riding my son has done has been in the neighborhood or on the Swamp Rabbit Trail. On this beautiful afternoon it seemed like a good time to expand his experience. Obviously, we weren’t about to go riding over Paris Mountain, but I wanted to get him on some back roads with a little bit of climbing.
We started out by warming up on the SRT. As we enjoyed the smooth surface, I worked with him on riding next to another rider and following close on my wheel. I hoped to make him feel more comfortable.
I explained to him that the key to riding in a group is “holding your line.” It really is a matter of trust. If you hold your line and the people around you hold theirs, you can easily ride side-by-side with your bars nearly touching. We didn’t try that, but we continued to practice with him coming up beside me when the trail cleared and then him getting on my wheel as we needed to pass or get passed.
Often I would look back and find he had dropped off my wheel significantly. Was he fearful of following close? I really was trying to soft pedal, but you can only go so slow when you only have one gear. Was I going too fast?
My son is a lot like me. He doesn’t talk a whole lot. It is hard to tell exactly what is going on his mind. I kept looking at his face trying to see his eyes behind the shades. His face never changed. It wasn’t a smile. It wasn’t a frown. He should play poker!
We turned off the SRT after passing Furman and headed toward the base of Paris Mountain. We turned right on Old Buncombe Road so we wouldn’t end up on Altamont. I headed down the road in at what I thought was a leisurely pace. Before long a large gap had opened. Once again I was leaving him behind.
I waited for him as we turned onto the small roads that would lead us along the bottom of the mountain and over to Piney Mountain Road. I asked him if he was having any trouble and he replied that he just couldn’t keep up. Looking at his bike, I could see he was in his small ring. Basically, it was taking him two revolutions to match one of mine. I didn’t comment about moving to the “big” ring because I knew we were about to do some climbing.
The grade started almost immediately. This time I looked back and he had stopped. I went back to check on him and he told me his back was hurting. I massaged his lower back for a bit and then encouraged him to aim for the top of the hill that was marked by a speed sign.
Whew, I had forgotten how much climbing was along this route. There is nothing overly long, but there are some pretty steep sections. The farther we got into it the more I worried that I was going to ruin my son’s view of cycling.
Finally we reached the hardest climb of the day. There was a steady climb at around 6% with an 11% grade for the last 20 meters. I couldn’t ride with him to the top to cheer him on because I had to keep my momentum. Frankly, I struggled to get the track gearing to turn over. Had I not had clipless pedals and been able to pull up on the back stroke, I wouldn’t have made it.
I had told him I would wait for him in a shady spot on the other side and we would take a break. I got there and waited. And waited. And waited.
Fearing he was stopped on the side of the climb, I rode back up the hill I just came down so that I could reach the top of his climb and cheer him on. When I got there, I looked down the road and didn’t see him. I called several times and didn’t hear a response. Finally, I realized I was going to have to ride down to look for him.
Off of this road was a shady lane. I thought perhaps he had turned down it to take a break and cool off. I rode down it a bit calling his name. I didn’t hear anything. I was starting to get concerned.
What if he just got tired of me dragging him up these hills and decided to turn around and go back the way he came? Don’t put such a thought out of the capability of a twelve-year old! I started to sprint back along the undulating terrain. I kept hoping I would see him around the next turn. Nothing.
Finally, I realized that if he was this far along then he was a lot faster than I was giving him credit! My mind went back to that shady lane and I decided to turn and go revisit it. I also started feeling badly that I didn’t give him enough credit to do the smart thing.
As I rode back toward the spot I last saw him I came upon another cyclist. “Did you see a rider on a red Allez?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied, “he was wearing regular clothes and was on the other side of the hill on Dreamland.” “Ha!” I thought to myself, “he made it to the other side.” “Thanks,” I said out loud to the cyclist, “I hope I haven’t made it so he’ll never want to ride with me again!”
As I reached the bottom of the climb, I saw Thing Two coming down the grade toward me. “Well, now he is really going to hate me,” I thought. “I’m making him climb it again!” However, that thought was minimized by my relief in having found him.
We started the climb again and he took off up the climb like a rabbit. I struggled to pull the Draft over the top. Cresting the hill was the end of our trouble. From that point on we rode without incident. Thing Two stuck to my wheel for the rest of the way — including the climb over Piney Mountain and down Chick Springs.
I tried to be a positive as I could be. Still, his expression didn’t change. I did get the impression that he was glad to have made it home and I hoped that was a sign that he felt he had accomplished something.
I avoided talking too much about the ride. It wouldn’t be good to grill him about it. Still, I was dying to know what was going on in his head. How would he respond the next time I asked him to ride?
A positive sign is that he seemed very happy for the rest of the afternoon. Later in the evening, the Beautiful Redhead came to me and said, “I asked Jonathan if he had fun riding with you today.” I looked at her with a quizzical look. “He said, ‘Yes’ with a smile.”