What follows is both setup and excuse: On Saturday night, John and I went to Ray’s MTB Park in Cleveland. I brought two bikes with me: my 20″ wheel skatepark bike and my 20″ racing bike. The park bike was just there as a backup, so I didn’t prep it before loading the truck and heading out.
When we got there, John and I headed for the “pump track”, which he’s been using to practice for his BMX races. I went around a few times myself on the race bike and felt pretty good — until I pushed it a bit too far, lost traction in my front wheel, and crashed. I’d put brand-new tires on that bike a few days ago and I guess they were imperfectly scuffed and/or overinflated. Another run through confirmed that I didn’t have as much traction as I wanted. So I swapped back to the park bike.
A three-hour ride in the back of my Silverado had brought the pressure on the park bike’s tires pretty far down, to the point that it felt sluggish and difficult to ride. I should have gone and aired-up the tires but at that point we were running short of time and I didn’t want to waste ten of the remaining twenty-five minutes going out to the truck and getting the pump.
John asked me to take a GoPro video of him riding the pump track. Which I did, and I gave him a headstart so I wouldn’t run him down. Imagine my surprise when I realized that I couldn’t quite catch him. When he continued for a second lap, I fell behind to the point that the video wasn’t any good. I had to call a halt to the proceedings and start again, leading to the footage you see above.
Last month I set up an impromptu challenge at the pump track and offered money to the fastest rider. The rules of the game said you could have 15 feet to accelerate before dropping in. I managed 25.7 seconds. My pal Martin, an Elite-class rider who made the qualifiers at the World Championships earlier in the year, did it in 24.6 and was the fastest 20″ BMX bike. The fastest rider was a NORBA dual slalom champion in his twenties who used a 26″ dirt-jump bike to get around in 22.8.
With no 15-foot headstart, and without knowing that he’s being timed, but with a couple of cheater pedals along the way, John’s doing it in 31 seconds or thereabouts. Which explains why I couldn’t make easily catch him with underinflated tires. In the end I had to pedal just to stay close. In four years I’ll be fifty and he’ll be twelve. There is no way I’ll be able to keep up with him. Not around the pump track, not around a full-sized BMX track, maybe not even around a long MTB trail loop.
There’s a special place in hell for men who cannot graciously yield to their sons: the Great Santini basketball scene is a classic example of that. Yet it’s also a fact that young men need to triumph over their fathers eventually, and that there needs to be some kind of effort involved. If I’m going to pose any sort of challenge to him at all, in any arena, I definitely need to work on taking better care of myself. Yesterday, we went to the indoor kart track where I proved able to beat John by about 1.1 seconds. It’s likely that I’ll give him some trouble in a race car well into my fifties; it’s possible that I’ll be able to box and spar with him until he is in his mid-teens.
For all I know, John will eventually decide to be a writer, in which case I might challenge him well after my death. I have advantages that he will never have, a headstart given to me by a full fifteen years of my life where I managed to read a few hundred pages every single day no matter what. Courtney Love complained a while back that she had to compete with men who “disappeared into their rooms for ten years and came out with all these guitar chops.” The implication, of course, was that Courtney was too popular and happy to spend a decade’s worth of penance-via-practice. (You can see for yourself, if you want.) I think John will be the same way, I think he’ll be too popular and too well-adjusted to read Moby-Dick three times in a row as a teenager the way I did.
The inevitable and necessary conflict between me and my son will occur across a broad range of battlefields, some yet to be named. My job is to put up as much of a fight as I can without resorting to Santini-esque churlish nastiness. On basketball court, race track, or printed page we will come to know ourselves in the struggle, much as Frederick Douglass and Edward Covey did. On two wheels, however, the conclusion to our story has already been written. It’s just a question of how long my pride will prevent me from reading it.
Happy New Year, everybody!