The crash happens—as always—so fast. One second I’m riding along a range road behind my 12-year-old son, the two of us chatting away about the drunken yahoos at the campground the previous night. I take a quick peek over my shoulder for traffic (good, no vehicles in sight). Then boom. I’m lying on the pavement, tangled in my bicycle, a bit stunned. My leg is bloodied, my front brake lever a little bent, and my left hand kills. In fact, I can’t move my fingers. The pain courses through me in distinct waves as I try to make sense of what just happened.
Then comes the part I’m not proud of.
“What the hell!? You cut me off! You can’t just whip in front of a guy like that!” I yell, in disbelief and anger, at my 12-year-old, who is standing straddled over his bike in the middle of the road, trying to process what’s just happened. He says nothing but I can tell he’s upset. My hand, I’m sure, is broken.
I haul myself up. The loaded touring bike seems to weigh a ton. I manage to get it upright and assess the damage. Damn, my hand hurts. I climb aboard and we resume riding in silence. Immediately I feel bad for over-reacting. Yes, he did cut me off. Yes, he should have been more careful. But he is only 12.
For a 12-year-old, my son is pretty adept on a bicycle. He’s got some wheel savvy, an impressive sense of balance, and, most importantly, that intangible, confidence. On a mountain bike, he’s already a better technical rider than me on some days. And he loves riding, anywhere, anytime. But I sometimes forget that there’s a lot about cycling that he doesn’t know yet. How could he?
We’d had a blast on our overnighter, pedaling from Stony Plain to Wabamun Lake, west of Edmonton. We stopped at an old-time general store, rode some gravel, scoffed at the world’s biggest rip off of a mini-golf course, got chased by a dog, stood under a gigantic dragon-fly statue, ate nachos at the Yellow Submarine, poked sticks in a campfire, slept in our tent, ate oatmeal for breakfast. All the fun stuff you imagine you’ll do on a bike overnight with your son.
Now this. How to recover the mood? How to save the trip? Repair the damage? As if on cue, the skies turn dark, almost black, and the rain begins to pour down in sheets. With no shelter in sight, we press on.
I say I’m sorry and I remind him to always give room to other riders, and I tell him, somewhat lamely, that crashes happen. I explain—as if this will make him feel better—that if you cycle much at all, you’re bound to hit pavement at some point. I think—but don’t say—that he’s going to have his share of falls and crashes, ones where he will hit the pavement, not me. I’m glad this one, at least, was the other way around.
We ride the rest of the way back in the heavy rain, not saying much. We’re cold and wet, the gravel is getting mushy, but as long as we’re riding, I forget about the pain in my hand.
We’ll get past this, I know. I remind myself that these overnights are not only about tailwinds and ‘smores. They are a kind of initiation into the unique joys as well as the occasional pains that make up the cycling experience, and that what we’re both feeling now is just part of that passage.