Riding With the Veterans of Youth

The groan of mud trucks and yips from their compatriots is the only way of completing a day of riding bikes at the Green Mountain Trails in Pittsfield, Vermont. Mud flew like the contact of a fresh break on a shoreline’s walls as Budweiser’s red and white speckled the crowd. It was one of Vermont’s most underrated premier events: a Mud Bog.

It wasn’t just a few friends and a couple of their neighbors, but much of Bridgewater, VT—where the event was held—and the surrounding area’s inhabitants. There was everything from mom and pop’s old mini van to mud inhaling machines with tailpipes retrofitted to look like the snorkel you brought on your last trip to Mexico. Some tinted rims were outfitted with tires that looked like they had been borrowed from a tractor that weekend. One truck looked modest in appearance, but shook like a poplar leaf on a cold fall day when it’s engine revved. There were multiple handicaps depending on what category the vehicle fell under.

Bridgewater, VT Mudding.

After parking, my friend Rob and I rode our bikes to the entrance where two long strips of goop welcomed us with an excavator in the center playing life guard for those that would not make the stretch of mud, and need their vehicle snatched from the pit. The rattle of hopped up engines added to the spectators’ excitement for that Saturday’s activities.

People moseyed through vehicle support tents to the right of the pit. Older folks and teenagers drank beer under the same umbrella, keeping dry from spring rain. It was an event for all ages. Wrinkled men clambered into mud rigs wearing hats worn from years of grease. Kids half their age lined up to the start line next to them boasting their shop-class Franken-machines they hoped would breach the gooey mess.

A truck grazed us as it exited the field hosting the event. It pulled a trailer that’s turn radius was a little too sharp for the fast approaching stonewall. The kid riding the trailer spilled his beer as the trailer was tugged over the wall. “Whatchyou doin’ with those bikes?” he said, “You should take ‘em through!” We nervously laughed continuing to watch the event before we returned to the comforts of our clean car. We would have been in a category of our own considering our handicap if we were foolish enough to plummet into mud.

On a weekly group bike ride there is a list of handicaps that include: bicycle technology, skill level and age. The one with blurred edges is age. Sure, in the Mud Bog age isn’t as evident, but the presence of handicaps like wheel size, vehicle size, etc. are still there.

Early morning trails
Early morning trails

I wake to the cold and an alarm that cloaks me with Goosebumps in search of energy to bundle up for a bike ride. This week is my school’s winter break, which provides time to visit my family. Biking has always been infused in our lives, so it isn’t unusual meeting my mom and dad in our kitchen this morning.

I hold myself back from poking fun at their spandex outfits reminding myself they had been doing this since my birth. 22 years enduring Vermont’s cold just to get the heart rate up and hang on to their dwindling summer fitness. We mount our bicycles, me on my regular summertime mountain bike while they grab gargantuan fat tire bicycles, and we pedal up the road.

Wandering up Patch Brook
Wandering up Patch Brook

My dad used to drag me to the top of dirt roads that provided access to some of our area’s most talked about riding. After waiting for me at the top of the hill he would lead the way over roots and rocks as my 12-year old legs flailed the cranks around. There were times that I wanted to put my bike in the shed and go with friends to the skate park. Although I’d get frustrated every time he’d zip ahead on a technical hill, I continued to ride with him.

Like a tugboat lugging a wonky load, my dad dragged my pubescent self up the hills that lead to the single track. What differed three years later was he not waiting for me and going first, shouting, “I have a handicap. You’re faster in the woods; I get a little head start!”

A couple of years later I latched on to the tentacle of a branch extending from an old yellow birch. Turning around I gave a hoot watching my dad’s head crook up as I waited at the top of the hill. Giving each other high fives he turned and took off down the trail reminding me of his head start.

The Parents
The Parents.

It is on winter rides that the age handicap vanishes. We pedal up the road three abreast, slowing as we approach the snowmobile trail entrance. Not knowing how it would go after recent snowfall I take off down the trail. Sure enough, my tires start slithering all over the place in the soft snow like the first time standing up on one water ski behind a boat. It isn’t long before my dad, and finally my mom, passes me. Whoa, I think, this hasn’t happened in a long time.

We stop and start a few more times and my dad floats by with a grin as I struggle. My parents on fat tired bikes and me on my regular bike equate to the old mud truck with devouring tires going head to head with the family mini van that has a fresher engine. I am bitter at first, but keep in mind the times my youthful endurance allowed me to reach hilltops before my dad.

At the next road crossing I put up the white flag, and head home. For the first time in a while, their equipment shadows my age because of soft conditions, and I decide I’ve had enough. Halfway back to our house I start thinking about my handicap. Frustrated that I didn’t try to plod along knowing they never gave up on me when I started riding faster as I got older, I think about the importance of spending time with my parents verses being frustrated by them riding faster than me. Although in recent years age has provided my parents with handicaps, it is times like these that remind me of the path they led me; a path cherishing the bicycle as something that draws us together, and not something that should pull us apart.

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