We’re biking in Canmore, Alberta, at the Nordic Center known as the mecca of mountain biking this side of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Canmore is a launching pad for adrenaline enthusiasts and outdoor activities. With over 100km of bike trails ranging from green to black designed by some of the nation’s best trail designers, it’s no wonder people travel across the globe for their chance to ride these mountains. Views of the sun reflecting off Mount Rundle, surrounded by jagged mountain peaks and babbling creeks carving their way through the mountainous town, Canmore is certainly a favorite place of mine. With these breathtaking views, the spectacular scenery wasn’t the most beautiful thing I saw that day.
The recent rain left puddles, eroded routes, and slick conditions on the mountain. As we pulled into the Nordic Center, we noticed young families were exiting the parking lot and heading home while more experienced riders were anticipating a mountain to themselves. My brother-in-law, Brad, looks over his shoulder to his son sitting in the back seat, explains the weather conditions and asks if he would like to ride. Eager and excited, he emphatically shouts “yes”. It’s a challenge my nine-year old nephew was up for.
We’ve been on our bikes for nearly two hours with significant elevation gained for a kid of his age. A nice mix of flowy singletrack downhills and technical sections while dodging riders coming the opposite way. This was the first time I’ve mountain-biked with my nephew and I was thoroughly impressed with his ability to churn his legs on the climb and his bravery going down, especially considering the less-than-ideal environment. His excitement doesn’t last the entire ride, however, as a cloud of debris erupts from the ground while the visibility momentarily disappears. My nephew, now laying under a vibrant green 80-foot evergreen fir tree with pine needles surrounding him on the ground, looks like he has just seen a ghost after his hard crash.
Moments earlier, Brad led our group to show us the right line down a steep, slippery section with a hard left-hand turn. My nephew, nervous and intimidated by the descent, needed a few moments to process the drop he was about to take before he set off after his father. The anxiousness of the drop impacted his decision-making and affected his confidence resulting in him missing the line. In a split second, the joy and excitement of the ride flew out of my nephew as his body was hurled over his handlebars.
At the sight of the crash, Brad threw his camera down to the ground and sprinted up the hill to his son, spread out on all fours, chest heaving. As my nephew picks himself up off the ground, dusting away the dirt and debris while crimson red slowly drips from his forearm, he insistently professes he will not continue the ride down the mountain. His face is pale, his hands are trembling, and he will not make eye contact with his bike. The intensity of his emotion begins to settle once Brad, a calming force for his son, wraps his left arm around his shoulder, pats him on the head and speaks a few words of encouragement. After 5 minutes standing on the side of the trail and out of the way of other riders, my nephew cautiously reaches down for his bike as if he’s contemplating whether to finish the ride, staring at his father, watching for signs of reassurance. After he has processed his decision, with a smile slowly appearing, he looks at me asking if I caught that fall on camera.
My nephew gets back onto his bike, and quickly becomes a trail blazer. Using his fall as experience and an opportunity to learn, his speed increases, and his trepidation decreases. Within 20 minutes of his crash, with his contagious smile, he is back to soaring over jumps, out jumping both his father and me.
The exhausting climb, with legs seizing up from exertion, the wet and cold conditions, and knowing the distance from our position on the mountain to our vehicle at the time of the crash, made the circumstances around the crash much more difficult to bear. For anyone who strives to improve their skill set on a mountain bike, crashing is inevitable. It’s a necessary evil. For many, a crash that hard will shake your confidence causing you to hold back, become tentative with worry rather than focusing on your competence. Like many things in life, having confidence and believing in yourself on a difficult downhill section is extremely important. Hesitancy can impact how you ride which ultimately leads to more mistakes.
The few minutes after the crash reminded me of the importance of relationship between a parent and child, and what can all be learned through spending time and conquering challenges together. Mountain biking offers you many extraordinary opportunities to grow, both as an individual and in your relationships. Although the crash was painful and distressing for a nine-year-old, it allowed my brother-in-law an opportunity to teach his child a valuable life lesson. Resilience, the capacity to recover quickly from difficulty and adversity, a virtue which carries us through our most challenging seasons of life. Adversity creates the opportunity for growth, allowing us to cultivate the resilience we need to deal with and manage adversity. Every challenge we face and navigate strengthens our will, our confidence, and our ability to overcome future obstacles.
This moment taught the youngster how failing is not the opposite of success, rather it’s a part of success and part of the journey to improve. Most importantly, it was a moment in which a parent was able to console and encourage their child, while showing just how much they believe in them. These steps taken immediately after the crash provided the motivation needed to get back onto the bike. I had the opportunity to witness a nine-year-old learn how to pick themselves up and have the courage to do something that scares them. This was a memory I will never forget.
These are the precious moments in life, moments that should be used wisely, moments that should not be passed by. I never expected mountain-biking to provide the innumerable opportunities for personal growth between a parent and child, nor an opportunity for relationships to be strengthened in this capacity. I loved seeing the youngster learn how to deal with adversity and how to properly ride his bike through that terrain. I loved seeing the connection between parent and child where trust was momentarily lost after the fall, but then immediately regained after being consoled. There is something that unites two people when they conquer a challenge together, and I believe this situation provided a challenge for both.
For a moment, I forgot that I was in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Written by Andrew Penner.
Andrew Penner lives in Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada and is a shareholder of Agrihub. When he’s not working he loves to travel the world, searching for new adventures, lands to explore and people to meet. Check him out on Instagram and YouTube.