Teaching Kids Perseverance – or how to stay on that bike!

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On our trip to Colorado this summer, we took the boys on a lovely bike ride around South Catamount reservoir, on the road up to Pike’s Peak. It was further than I had imagined, and had more ups and downs than I expected, plus a lot of off-camber biking along the slope down to the reservoir. Red handled it like a champ, although there were a lot of sections where we had to talk him through it.  At one point, he stopped at the crest of a small hill, scared to bike down, over a rock, and around a corner. “You can do it,” I said, stopping behind him.  He shook his head no, trying not to cry. At this point we had not traveled as far on the trail as I had hoped, it was getting hot, and I had already realized (but not yet told anyone) that I’d forgotten the snacks. So I gave him the out and told him it was okay to walk down this one. Everything was just slightly harder than we had anticipated, and at that point, my goal was to keep us moving and get as far round the trail as we could before anyone spotted the lack of trail mix. His dad, who was waiting just a little further down the trail, confirmed he could just walk it. “It’s tough to start at the top, buddy, just walk this one if you want and we’ll try it the next time.”

By this point, having jumped off his bike a few times already when sections looked too technical, I had started coaching him to walk the route and ‘imagine you’re riding it’. I suggested he pick the line he would have ridden and really picture himself doing the hard stuff.  It’s a trick I use myself when I’m riding something out of my comfort zone, especially when I panic at the top of a crest and don’t commit to riding down the technical section at the other side. I was ready for us to do another walk-through as he seemed to be getting the hang of the idea. So I was surprised and delighted when Red quietly said, “No, I’m doing it. Just give me a moment.” We watched him bite his lip, get on his bike and then ride down that rock. I was so pleased, not just that he managed it, but that he chose to push through and try it even when he’d been given the opportunity to skip it. It’s really easy for him to let one of us adults take charge and tell him what he can and can’t do when he’s on the trail. I was delighted that he examined the route, thought about what was within his abilities and decided it was something he could manage.

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School work comes really easy to Red and as a result, he finds it uncomfortable when he has to try and persevere to gain a skill. And that’s one of the many reasons why we want him to get out and enjoy biking, skiing, and the outdoors in general. Working to obtain a skill leads to a sense of accomplishment that he’s not used to. The moaning and crying and general discomfort are hard for us while he’s working through it. But there’s nothing like that smile on his face when he realizes he’s mastered it.

Just a couple of days later, my husband and I went on a bike ride without the kids. It was another reservoir ride – at Rampart Reservoir. Surprisingly, many of the same issues arose. It was a 14 miler, which was longer than I had ridden in a while, but based on the map we assumed there wouldn’t be too much up and down hills. We were wrong. There were some pretty technical sections, a lot of looping in and out behind the reservoir, and a lot of micro-hills to ascend and then descend. Plus, I was suffering from an epic headache which I’m guessing was altitude related. The irony of the fact that my husband had to coach me to ride those slightly too technical sections was not lost on me. We would see the dam ahead, only to loop back into the trees behind the reservoir and lose sight of it for fifteen more minutes, watching it finally come into view apparently no closer than when the trail had headed away from the water.

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Finally, we made it to the dam and rode the gloriously easy and fast pavement across it. My husband looked at the map and offered me an out. ‘If you want, you can just stay here and I’ll ride back for the car and come and get you.’ I thought about how incredibly exhausted I felt, how we were already late getting back for the kids, how much the pounding inside my skull was taking a toll. And then I laughed, as I thought about Red. It’s so easy to forget that things we can do without thinking, can be hard work for kids. When they collapse on the ground at the top of a hill, they really are that shattered and not just (or not always) milking it for dramatic effect. I set my jaw, got back on my bike and we rode most of the rest of the way (we did take a slight detour near the end to try and get home faster for the kids). I felt the broad smile across my face as we made it to some easier riding and beautiful views, realizing that I had got to experience this only because I  had pushed on and kept trying.

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As we rode into the parking lot I legitimately threw my bike to the ground and lay on the stony ground, too exhausted to pedal another foot. A car drove up, looking for a space to park, and hovered near me. I could almost make out the annoyed look on the driver’s face as they wondered why I was lying there. I did not care. Red, I get it now.

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