My wife and kid and I had an experience like that ourselves this past Saturday. I've taken them out for gentle rides before - 8-10 miles, keeping off the technical stuff as much as possible... gentle rides. We usually ride Cedarville but will mix in a dirt trail here or there just for fun. The boy is just six, the wife, not so keen on bumpy stuff. Or she wasn't anyhow.
A couple weeks ago, we hit Cedarville; It is a state park near Waldorf. The trails are mostly non-technical, though if you ride fast enough, or poke around a bit, you can find a few challenges. Definitely beginner territory - a perfect place to take a nervous or reluctant new rider, or smaller child - with only a little intermediate skills work sprinkled in. We usually ride the Orange loop, which is about 7 miles of mild single and double track, with some fire road and a few twisty bits of groomed single track thrown in for good measure (and a couple hundred yard-long stretches of corduroy). Nothing too tough. As we were leaving, Wife of Rouleur, who is usually a reluctant MTB'er at best, said, "You know... that was awfully fun. But I could use some gears." She had been riding my old Kona single speed conversion which is a sweet little compact steel MTB, one of the original mid-entry level cross country racers. But yeah, single speed... probably a bit much if you're not hardcore.
So dutifully - as in never passing up my duty to upgrade gear whenever possible - I got Jon to scare me up some SRAM X7 thumb shifters and derailer, and a cassette, and we converted the 1x1 Kona into a nimble 1x9.
This last Saturday, we hit Cedarville again. The normal ride down the Orange loop was going fast and everybody was cheerful and peppy, even after taking a detour down the wrong fireroad and having to double back to regain the single track. When we crossed the Blue loop, about 5/8ths of the way through the ride, the boy wanted to go on the Blue up the hill. The Wife was game, so we proceeded through the Blue, which is a twistier, somewhat more technical trail than the orange. Basically, this doubled the length of the ride, and we wound up zipping through some tight single track that was framed by trees and very close-in vegetation. The pace was surprisingly brisk considering the cast of characters. We were having great fun, and a lot of it.
All went pretty well until about mile 12 or so. At that point, Will was getting tired and misjudged this enormous root. *I* had trouble with that thing on my 29'er, so it's no shock that the root right after the big one ate his 20" wheel and he spilled. (I've crashed a hundred times on roots like that, and three times in one night on one just like it at Lodi...) But he got right back on his feet though, and soldiered on.
The last few miles were tough. The boy couldn't pedal up the steeper hills and did the hike-a-bike. (Been there, son. Been there.) But he stuck it out, didn't complain, ate his Clif bar and drank his Gatorade, and we finished up in a little under three hours of riding time. We were all really happy - Wife of- said "that was awesome, but I'm definitely getting to the end of my rope." Son of was tired too, and hungry. Me? I was actually a bit tired. It was 15-16 miles, and my way of using the family dirt ride for a workout is to sprint the short hills, then regroup and soft-pedal. So it wasn't brutal but it wasn't a null effort for me either.
There was only one thing to do at that point. Eat Mexican food. So we did that and drove home.
The really gratifying bits didn't happen right then, though riding and spending three uninterrupted hours with the family was gratifying in its own right.
On Sunday afternoon, we were talking about baseball, and the boy informed me, "I like baseball okay... but it's not like mountain biking. Mountain biking is awesome."
Today, Wife of Rouleur informed me that some of her pants must be stretching, and she thanked me for pushing her on the bike. She's looking forward to the suspension fork I ordered to update the old Kona. (Which, BTW, is still an excellent, ridiculously light footed old hardtail...so she's not exactly suffering with this particular hand-me-down.)
I feel great about this. I love my wife for sticking with it a few times and for being open to seeing the fun of zipping around in the woods on a bike. She's no longer a reluctant tag-along, but an eager participant in the group ride. And I admire my son for being brave and willing to give everything a go, willing to ride until he just can't go any further, then come back and ask for more.
This has convinced me: the only thing better than doing what you love most, is sharing what you love to do with the people you love the most.
Getting out of the ruts...
Not afraid of tight singletrack
Zipping downhill and enjoying the breeze
The family that shreds together...
Happiness = An Empty Tank