FUN, ADVENTURE, PIZZA AND CHOCOLATE MILK

When I turned around, Fred was gone. I’d been chatting for longer than I thought, and now Fred was around the corner out of sight. He isn’t yet six years old and my inattention had resulted in him riding alone down a single-track mountain bike trail. I rode to the nearest corner, which gave me a sweeping view of the trail weaving its way down to the coast a couple of hundred metres below. I could just make out Fred – a dot disappearing into the distance. I’m sure if he was in any trouble he’d have stopped and waited for me. He was doing just fine.

This was our second ride of the day. In the morning we’d taken our neighbours to our local trails on Makara Peak. Fred rides the easier trails, although he is itching to try more – to explore further. This time he had challenged himself to ride the bigger of the two mounds in the skills area and the roughest switchback on the Lazy Fern trail – the only one he walks down. He managed both (with a helping hand on the switchback). We rode from home, around the trails, to the park for an ice block reward, and most of the way home again before mum was called in the sag-wagon: 13 kilometres and 200 metres up and down.

I’d mentioned the bike day idea to Fred a week prior, and then hoped for a good weather day in the Easter holidays. The loose plan was to ride locally in the morning, then to drive out to Whareroa Farm on the Kapiti Coast in the afternoon to explore a trail that heads gently up towards Akatarawa Forest. The climb might take us an hour or more of riding and pushing (and snack stops), but we would be rewarded by a long, fun descent perfect for Fred that would lead almost directly to pizza. Fred was excited at the trail (I’d talked it up rather well), but I suspect he was equally as excited at the prospect of pizza. The middle Saturday of the holidays was sunny and remarkably warm for late April. After the morning exertions at Makara Peak I wondered if Fred had enough energy in his little legs for the afternoon, but he was adamant he wanted to ride more. So we loaded up the car. One half-hour power-nap later (for Fred, not the driver) we were rolling out on a farm track towards the hills.

Fred constantly amazes me at his attitude and ability on a bike, but I do have to remind myself that those little legs don’t store much energy. We rode until we’d gained enough height to justify a lolly stop. Then we rode a bit and pushed a bit more until another snack stop was required. Then Fred walked while I pushed both bikes, with Fred complaining that his legs were tired and me promising fruit cake at the top. But the top still looked a fair way off, so we made our own top and stopped on a corner with a view, to eat cake. We’d made it almost 200 metres up, three-quarters of the way to the real top.

We stop in places I've never stopped before, and we talk about trees and birds.

Fred and I ride the easier mountain bike trails at very relaxed pace. These are trails I’d usually ride quickly, as a means to get to more interesting terrain. But riding with a five year old means I see the trails in a new light. Fred notices little bumps and ruts that are trampled by my big wheels, but are obstacles to him. We discuss how to ride berms. We search out the muddiest lines and biggest puddles. We stop in places I’ve never stopped before, and we talk about trees and birds. Riding with Fred I see a different side to mountain biking. I start to understand the need for these easy trails to introduce riders gently into the sport, and I see how rocks and switchbacks and ruts that I barely notice can be rather daunting to an inexperienced rider. But most of all, I see old familiar trails become the fuel for exciting adventures.

From our Whareroa Farm high point, Fred decided that I was going to hit all the jumps and wall-rides on the way down. He’d even memorised little ones that he would try. I’m sure, as he gets older, he’ll realise that his image of Dad’s riding ability and Dad’s actual riding ability are some way apart. But for now, I’ll bask in his imagined glory. For the record, my wheels did leave the ground, and I did get almost horizontal for a scary split-second. Fred rode his ‘wall’ and wheelied his jump. Once I’d caught back up to him, he proudly told me about his unseen crash (riding too fast into a corner), and made sure I knew every time he released his brakes to let his speed build. To cap it all off, there was a stream crossing to get us wet, and Fred unnecessarily avoided open gates to bump over five cattle-stops on the farm track to the car.

In the afternoon we rode almost seven kilometres and another 200 metres up and down, making 20 offroad kilometres and 400 metres for the day. I was tired, so Fred must have been exhausted. The pizza and chocolate milk (with ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream and marshmallows) were richly deserved. This is exactly what riding a bike is about: fun, adventure, great company, and the opportunity to eat brilliantly naughty food.

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