Riding with Family
This journal entry was originally published in early 2016 when TBD was known as Team Health Warrior. The post was lost in the transition to ToBeDetermined.cc so we dug it out from the Archives and reposted it here:
Of all of the potential conversations to have with my seventy two year old father, gearing strategies and cornering techniques for his first criterium would have fallen pretty low on my list of expected subject matter. Though reflecting on the past several months I probably should have anticipated this outcome.
Rewind to September 2015. For the third year running my parents were hosting roughly a dozen New York City based cyclists for the Gateway Cup in Saint Louis, Missouri. Every room in our house was occupied, including several delineated only by hanging bed sheets. With four days of criterium racing there was a steady stream of laundry to be washed, food to be procured and injuries to be nursed. Despite the at times overpowering scent of kit soaked with late summer sweat my parents loved every minute of it, even joining in the alcohol fueled celebrations to conclude the weekend.
As we prepared our Sprinter van for the return portion of #999milestogateway my dad casually mentioned that he and my mom were interested in buying a pair of bikes. It had been twenty years since they sold their downtube shifter equipped bicycles but the enthusiasm of the weekend was contagious and they wanted back on two wheels. With the help of a friend, within a few weeks they were the proud owners of a brand new set of hybrid bicycles. From there it was a slippery slope…
By the time my parents visited New York City for Thanksgiving my dad already had something sportier in mind – the fat tire hybrids were great but he was ready to go faster and further. We devised a plan to sell some of my old race bikes and when I returned to Saint Louis for Christmas he was on a shiny new Cannondale CAAD10. This is when my Dad’s real research got underway. First there was Strava and endless route explorations. Then it was the ancient web 1.0 layout of SheldonBrown.com where, just as I had done in my early days of racing, he compared the wide array of potential gear ratios searching for the rosetta stone of cassette and chainring combinations.
As Spring approached my parents swapped their flat pedals for clip-ins and in most weeks were riding more than I was. To celebrate my mom’s sixty fifth birthday in May we decided to ride the Mini Vino Fondo in the rolling hills outside of Saint Louis. To prepare, my parents signed up for a local cycling studio’s training program. Soon my calls home involved recaps of power tests and cornering practice for the upcoming Tuesday night criterium series.
In the week of the Vino Fondo my Mom’s riding plans were sadly felled by a bum knee, transforming her race day role from birthday rider to support car driver / photographer. Disappointed but undeterred, the remaining portion of our foursome set out from the Sugar Creek Vineyard with four hundred other riders under cloudy and windswept skies.
It turns out that the course was a bit of an ass kicker with steep ascents the likes of which I didn’t know existed in the flat lands of Saint Louis. It was only after the fact that we learned one of the climbs was featured in the now extinct Tour of Missouri, climbed by the likes of Alberto Contador and won in the go-go days by George Hincapie, Christian Vande Velde and Dave Zabriskie.
Given the course profile and high winds, our average speed hovered in the low teens as we cut a course through open farmland and dense wooded side roads. It was a far different landscape from the Vermont countryside of Rasputitsa, but just as beautiful in it’s own right. Passing the midway point the sun finally emerged from overcast morning skies, lifting temperatures and spirits.
The forty five mile route passed at least one famous Missouri landmark – the Daniel Boone home – before hitting the gravel bike trails of the Katy Trail that served as the home stretch. While we didn’t ride every ascent on the full fondo course, with a helping hand our entire trio ascended the final climb back to the finish line where beer mugs and celebratory birthday cookies waited.
Sometime after the ride finished, as we enjoyed cold beers and wine under the warm afternoon sun it dawned on me that on that day, for one of the first times I could recall, I was the one doling out instruction to my dad.
After thirty three years of parenting on matters from the mundane to the life altering, this ride was one of those rare instances where I had wisdom to impart on the person I see more of myself in than any other. While mid-ride instruction on cadence and gear selection is far from transformative, on that day it was a small way of saying thank you for many years of far more important guidance.
It was a ride I won’t soon forget.