Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Mountain Biking with Kids in Kananaskis: Canyon Creek

Unhappy Michael. Happy Mack. Indifferent cows.
This year Michael finally "got it". At the age of seven, he learned how to ride his bike. More than that, he loved riding his bike. He also loved his new mountain bike, which had front suspension and looked decided cool.

The ice cave (you can just see it through the clearing in the trees to the left.)
So on the Labor Day weekend we took him on the Legacy Trail from Banff to Canmore. He did great, as did his 12-year-old brother, Mack. On a short gravel section just past the park gates, he declared, "My bike was made for this!" He then decided he wanted to go mountain biking on a real mountain biking trail.

After much research, I settled on the old gravel road at Canyon Creek a 15-minute drive west of Bragg Creek. The road had been closed years before, and was now a favorite of mountain bikers who start on Moose Mountain and end at the parking lot. We would start at the parking lot and ride the six kilometers to the trailhead for the Bragg Creek Ice Cave, a short hike that I figured would make the perfect fun reward (see my post 7 Steps to Making Hiking Fun). Although there were a couple gentle ups and downs, the elevation gain was negligible. It seemed perfect.

Two minutes after we started up the road, Michael stopped and informed us: "I'm tired." This happened again five minutes later. And two minutes after that. And so on, and so on. Not even a small herd of cattle crossing the road at the four kilometer mark made a difference. He was decidedly unhappy. So we turned back. My inclination was to say, "You're not tired. Now don't ruin this for Mack and keep riding." But that would have ruined it for all of us. A bad first experience mountain biking, or at least a worse first experience than he was already having, would have made getting him out again torture.

Luckily, the slight decline of the road made the ride back easier and faster. He forgot that he was tired (I still don't think he was tired at all), and he had a blast. Then, as I promised, I dawned a bigfoot costume and we made a video of bigfoot attacking two kids. (Seriously. Bigfoot Attacks Children. Walking around the woods in a bigfoot costume was FUN.) By the time we got back in the car, Michael was his old happy self and all was good in the world. An ice cream cone in Bragg Creek erased any lingering bad memories.

The lesson to be learned? Even kids can have bad days, and it's no use pushing them to keep going on those days. As a parent, you have to know when to pack it in, and not try to guilt or scold the kid into meeting your preconceptions of what he can and can't do. Kids outings, within reason, should be experience oriented not objective oriented. I learned this to be true with hiking, skiing, snowshoeing and now cycling. The ice cave will still be there next year, and with any luck Michael will be having a better day pedaling to it. If not, we'll turn around and make another bigfoot video.

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