I will remember last Sunday’s “The Little Filthy” gravel race forever. It was the first event in which my 8 year old son rode his own bike along with me, side by side, the whole way. It was also his first ride on gravel and we encountered many of the fun and scary things that often happens on gravel rides — passing cars, dogs, rollers, and the comradery and kindness shared by the racers.
I had never participated in the Filthy 50 events before, but I signed my Little Man and myself up to ride the tandem for 50 miles well before my spine issues cropped up in late spring. One of the things I cried about most over the summer months was the fact that I was missing out on a summer of riding with Cole. He still adores me, and I know at some point in his years he’ll want to avoid being seen with me. I only have a few years left in the sweet spot, and then I figure our tandem days will be over. He already lets me know on the regular that I embarrass him.
One of the things I was most curious about heading into spine surgery was when I’d be allowed to ride outdoors, and my surgeon originally said it wouldn’t be until November at the earliest, and more likely in the beginning of 2018. I knew all I could do about the situation was exercise and push myself within my limitations and see what happened. Imagine my shock and surprise when, at my 6 week appointment, I was moving around so well that I was granted permission to ride outdoors!!! I immediately made it my goal to finish the 12 mile Little Filthy course in early October, even though it was a long shot.
A week before the Filthy events, I tentatively asked Cole if he would like to ride the short 12 mile route with me? He thought about it a little bit, and replied that he was sad that we couldn’t ride the tandem like we had planned, that my “stupid back” had ruined things for us. I must have looked at him with sadness in my eyes, because he quickly quipped, “But that doesn’t mean we can’t go and have fun on our single bikes!” Aw yeah Little Man!
In the days leading up to the event I warned him that this was probably the hardest ride he would have done to date, harder than anything he had tried before. He had ridden longer than that distance before on a crushed limestone trail, and had ridden the indoor trainer for an hour and a half in one go, but had never ridden gravel of any distance other than when he was strapped to the back of the tandem. He told me that he was scared and I asked if he wanted to change our plans, and he said no — he was scared, excited, and ready to go.
The morning of the race rolled around and I woke up around 6:30 AM to get ready. Cole heard me stirring about in the kitchen and quickly emerged wearing his full kit. He was ready and raring to go! We got ready quickly and without incident, loaded our bikes, a metric crap ton of gear and snacks, and began the hour and 20 minute drive to the race start. We arrived, found parking, got registered, got our numbers, wandered around saying hi to everyone, and then got our bikes ready. We strapped a top tube bag to his bike with a bunch of gummy worms in it, and then he rode around enjoying the freedom I had granted him to explore the race staging area on his own. I stayed behind at the car getting all of the food strapped to my bike, making sure we had cue sheets and the Garmin course loaded, flat repair for 2 bikes, and secret motivational snacks for the kid.
Cole and I lined up at the start and I had a hard time convincing him that we should line up towards the back of the 700+ riders present that morning! Most riders were tackling the 50 mile course, with a handful in the 24 miler, about about a dozen tackling our 12 mile race. Cole had his game face on that morning, seriously sizing up the other competitors his size. He kept asking about the other kids, saying “I wonder what race he’s doing?” and “How old do you think she is?” Yeah, he’s my kid — we’re both too competitive sometimes.
We rode past a farmhouse and out of nowhere a black lab shot out of the yard, careening toward us at full speed. I quickly maneuvered so my bike was between the dog and Cole, and I tried to act nonchalant for Cole as the dog bared its teeth near my calf and barked, and I could feel dog spit splatter on my leg.
The race started and the pack rolled out like a giant swarm. Cole did a great job considering it was his first event — he only cut people off twice in the first few miles, and generally had a blast chasing down riders and trying to keep up with folks. The first few miles were fast with lots of distractions for both of us. I only had a minor heart attack once when he cut off another rider heading through a corner, forcing them to slam on their brakes. Many riders got flats in the first section of the course. As we rolled by I asked the riders “do you need anything?” and taught Cole that it’s polite to A) not assume that they don’t know how to fix their bike and B) offer your gear or support if they want it.
At that point in the race, he started complaining that all of the lumpy gravel was making his full bladder feel awful. He was wearing a Camelbak and had been sucking down liquids since before the race started. I told him he had to hold it as there were no discreet spots for him to pee. We rode another mile and nothing really opened up, so I finally relented and told him to go pee in the ditch as long as he could keep the “important stuff” out of sight. He jumped right off the bike, got done with his business, and we quickly started rolling again.
Cole yo-yoed with other riders — he could climb faster than a lot of people as he’s strong and light with muscular legs, but his slight 60 lb frame didn’t exactly lend itself to screaming fast descents.
He had a low point around mile 5 or 6 — we were climbing a hill, and I made some inane comment something like “hey, here’s another hill” and he sternly looked at me and said “Mom. Do NOT tell me we are riding a hill. I KNOW we’re on a hill. I don’t want to think about it.” Hahahaha! Ok deal kiddo.
At mile 7 we turned away from the throngs of people — we were headed straight back to the start line while the longer courses would continue south. I noted that I didn’t see any tire tracks around. The gravel had been a little damp in spots so we had seen tire tracks all morning, and now there were none.
Honestly I didn’t believe we were in the front, but I thought what the heck — I told Cole that maybe we were in the lead since we didn’t see tracks? I told him to be on the lookout for other tire tracks as we hit the rollers on the way back.
One of my favorite memories of the day is teaching Cole how to properly ride rollers. He was coasting down the hills and struggling up the climbs. I told him he needed to shift so he could PEDAL while going down the hill, and it was like his universe opened up. He started hammering down the hills, hitting over 20 mph (not fast for us adults, but fast for a kiddo who isn’t heavy enough to really fly downhill yet). He giggled down the descents and I held my breath at times, not wanting to spook him when the gravel occasionally got loose. He handled the bike exceptionally well even through the swimmy stuff.
One of the longer, steeper climbs forced him off his bike and he walked up the hill. I told him I would ride ahead but promised to wait at the top of the hill. He looked sad when he got to the top and asked me if walking was allowed during bike races? I replied with a resounding YES, of course! He was allowed to move forward by whatever self-powered means he wanted. I then told him tales about all the times I’ve walked my bike up hills in long distance ultra events, and I think it actually made him feel more badass to know that he was “walking like mom”. Ha!
We rode past a farmhouse and out of nowhere a black lab shot out of the yard, careening toward us at full speed. I quickly maneuvered so my bike was between the dog and Cole, and the owner screamed pointlessly at the dog trying to get it back to the yard. I tried to act nonchalant for Cole as the dog bared its teeth near my calf and barked, and I could feel dog spit splatter on my leg. The dog eventually gave up the chase as we cleared the property line, and at this point I told Cole that sometimes loose dogs out on farms bite gravel cyclists. I figured he needs to know the hazards, and I struggle with the balance between scaring him and making sure he’s adequately prepared. We talked about what to do when it happens (move fast, talk to the dog, yell at the dog) and he took the whole situation in stride.
After the next riser we looked back and saw a car coming up fast. After it screeched past us Cole looked back again and saw riders on top of the hill behind us. He looked defeated and said, “mom, now we are not going to win for sure.” I asked why he was giving up already, we didn’t KNOW that we were beat?! and then he began hammering up the next rise. This is the favorite picture that I took that day, him out of the saddle, cranking those little legs, determined to stay in front of the next pack as long as we could.
He only looked back a small handful of times, and focused on continuing to do his best regardless of what the other riders were doing. He was riding his own race and was in the zone.
We finally hit the pavement leading into town, and we could see a water tower up ahead. I taught him that often water towers mean civilization is nearby, and can be a sign that a rest is coming up soon. He said his legs hurt, but I used the water tower as something he could focus on in the final minutes of the race. It was fitting because we had had a long discussion about the function and purpose of water towers on the drive down! Eight year olds are fun. 🙂
We could now see the finish line, and I sped up a bit, being antsy and wanting to be done. Cole immediately yelled at me and said he wanted to cross the finish line ahead of me. I said “Fine, you may – but I could beat you if I tried.” Nothing like being a realistic mother….
We crossed the finish line and Trenton, the race organizer, yelled out that we were second and third. “Holy shit!” I thought to myself. My motivational tactic for Cole, the belief that just maybe we were in the lead, was actually close to true! We were asked to return to the finish line for a podium picture, and oh man, this one’s a keeper. The Little Filthy is an event we won’t forget any time soon.