An Alaskan bike trip with my 10-year-old son by Lautjie Boshoff
It was early 2017, my wife and daughter got their bags packed, swung by to pick up grandma to head off to the international airport for their grand trip to the United States. 3 generations of “girls” all going to have a family gathering in sunny California. Disney Land, Universal Studios, and all the lights…an unforgettable experience. Noah, my 9-year-old son at the time, did get not get to join in the fun. Working in tourism, I had to man the fort, so us “boys” stayed back and let the girls go on holiday all by themselves. Noah, however, was not sad… Part of the deal was the girls would be bringing his highly anticipated brand new Trailcraft 26” Timber mountain bike with them on their way back…And that is where this story begins…
Noah has been riding bikes since he was in diapers. As he got older, I found out that the world was in desperate need of kid’s mountain bikes. Somehow the cycling industry had come to the conclusion that kids bikes needed to be twice as strong and twice as heavy as adult bikes, also components and suspension just needed to look cool, function was not important. Living in the mountainous little country of Costa Rica, I had to come up with a solution or risk my son never knowing the joys of riding a bike.
I was about to give up when I came across a comment in a blog about the small company called Trailcraft based out of Colorado. Upon contacting the owners, I was convinced that I had found a solution, I was not wrong! Noah’s new bike allowed him to advance incredibly fast. The super light bike with top of the line components made it possible for him to be able to pedal to the top of the hill, while bike’s perfect geometry, superb brakes, and plush kid tuned suspension allowed him to shred the downhills. It was not long before he and I made our first trip to one of the local bike parks.
Costa Rica is a steep country. The normal biking culture here takes people on dusty dirt roads and the sport has much to learn from North America and the rest of the world of mountain biking. There is, however, a small niche of riders that have discovered the thrill of downhill on dedicated trails. In the past 5 years, single track is becoming quite trendy…The only problem is that nearly all of the riders here rip, and there are no “kid” friendly trails, its parking lot or Black diamond, with nothing in between. Although he walked quite a bit at first, within a year of owning his Trailcraft, Noah had become familiar with many of the trails in the country.
Feeling confident in his skills, he begged me to allow him to enter into the Enduro Mountain Series taking place throughout the 2018 season. At age 10, he was about 8 years younger than anyone else in the race. Fortunately, the coordinator of the event had seen Noah riding in the park, and knew he had the skills to compete. The race turned out to be a milestone. It was the first day Noah was riding by himself. He had to navigate the trails on the way down and find his way to each summit checkpoint. He also had to manage his own food, water, and take care of his bike….Since I was in another age division, I only saw him after it was over.
Other riders were impressed by his maturity and line choices, but the trails are rugged, strewn with roots, drops, rocks, and uneven terrain. The super light hard-tail was out of its element, Noah had taken the machine to its limits. While all the rest of the racers had full plush 160mm of travel on full suspension bikes, Noah was getting hammered on the way down. It was time to step up his game. We competed again at one of his favorite parks, and although the hardtail again had to perform at maximum level, Noah was moving up the ranks, and no longer seemed like he needed any special attention.
I am proud of my son. He has managed to focus his energy towards biking, he practices every day at home on the dirt track he built around the house. He is keeping up with me on the long hauls up and has no problems staying with the group on the way down.… Since we work in hospitality it is hard to get into a rhythm with other people to schedule bike rides. With Noah, I now have a capable riding partner and the two of us get to go on magic adventures together. I felt he had worked hard enough to step up into a new bike that would allow him the same control and pleasure as I get when we are out riding…
So, this brings us back to the beginning of the story… Noah did not get to go on the Disneyland trip, but since the “girls" got a trip, the “boys” were due. Earlier this year, I received a phone call from Shasta, a buddy of mine in Alaska. He was getting married and asked if I could come to the wedding. I have always wanted to see Alaska in the summertime and Shasta has had a special relationship with Noah. When Noah was 3, Shasta helped build Noah’s first bike track. I knew this was our chance to get a “boys” trip in!
Secretly I was planning with Ginger and Brett at Trailcraft to create the ultimate weapon for Noah. The specs of the new Maxwell 26” were perfect for his height and weight. With plenty of travel for such a small rider, the shorter cranks, spot on components, the 120mm full suspension Maxwell was just what he needed to take his riding to the next level. Brett fitted a Fox Transfer dropper post, a mean set of Maxxis Minions, and a pair of Crank Brother Mallets to create the ultimate Enduro machine!
Trailcraft shipped the bike to Anchorage and Shasta assembled it before we arrived. Noah had no idea he was getting a new bike. I had told him Shasta's fiancé had a small mountain bike he would be able to borrow. . He was super concerned that he would be too small for the bike, and really thought that he should have brought his Trailcraft Timber. I don’t know how convinced him it would be OK.
Upon arrival to my friend’s house, we sent Noah to the basement to see if the fiancé’s bike would fit. After about 5 minutes of not hearing a peep, we went downstairs. Noah was just staring at the Maxwell. I asked him what he thought, he did not answer. I asked ”do you like your bike?” Tears streamed down his face as he hugged me for what seemed an eternity. He had been dreaming of this bike and to actually see it, let alone own one was too much… Then the hopping started. He is still hopping today!
Our first ride was through Kincaid Park in Anchorage. We sessioned every trail in the park, and when Shasta got off work we did another few laps, where Shasta showed Noah how to really whip his bike on the step ups!
The real mission came the following day. We loaded up in Anchorage and made our way to towards Seward to take on the Lost Lake trail from Primose Lake. Known as one of Alaska’s premium single tracks, the Lost Lake trail passes over a large pass providing amazing vistas of the huge mountains, fresh lakes, and the Pacific Ocean in the distance. The trip was a little over 30 miles in length and featured a 5 mile unforgettable descent. At one point on the trail, I was really feeling my legs after the big climb. I feared Noah might be getting close to his limits. I asked how he was feeling as I came up from behind. He had a huge smile on his face, and told me that he had achieved the mission his science teacher had given him. Across the valley, he pointed to a massive blue glacier that gleamed as a ray of sun poked through clouds. He said he was studying glaciers in school and he was stoked to see one in real life. He also took the time to tell me how much he liked the that Brett had given him green valve stems to match the green frame of his bike. After 25 miles of hard riding with over 4000 feet of total elevation gain, I would have thought that he had other things on mind than color coordination!
On the way down, I filmed Noah with a go pro. I realized I was no longer having to give him any leads. In fact he was starting to pull away in some of the tight stuff. I was riding plenty fast for my own level… we were flying and I thought to myself, “This is the best babysitting gig ever”!
The following day, we went for a hike with the wedding party. Shasta said it would be fine for us to take bikes while everyone else walked. Alaska’s has pretty short summers, and in mid August, we got a chance to see what summer snow tastes like. 40 mile an hour head winds made a 4 mile hike take forever. Noah and I could not even pedal against the gusts. We rode behind the hikers to be able to make forward progress. Upon arriving to Rabbit Lake, we thanked our blockers and took full advantage of the amazing tail wind down the rocky tundra landscape, Noah of course jumping off of every single rock feature he could find. We headed into a brushy part of the trail, when Noah took full advantage of his XT brakes.
As he rounded a bend, a massive bull moose was right in the middle of the trail! He skidded to a halt and we watched the massive beast calm snacking on the raspberries on the trail. We dared not move a muscle, but the moose had little interest in us and lethargically wandered off of the trail. It took quite a while before the hikers made it back tot he trailhead. Fortunately, Noah and I had plenty of trail features to relive while waiting in the car.
On the day of the wedding, we snuck out for quick ride on Lee’s train before the event happened. Noah tore up the dance floor at the reception even though it was still broad day light at 11:30pm… We only had one day left and Noah had his Kincaid map out with detailed plans of where we would ride the next morning.
We woke up the last morning and it did not look pretty. Viscous winds whipped the cottonwoods outside Shasta’s house, and pelting rain seemed to come from every direction. Hopes of riding started dwindling as the hours crept by. At about 5:00pm, we decided to head out anyway. Shasta knew we could not ride the normal trails, but the dunes on far side of the peninsula could be packed down enough from the rain to make them ridable. With (borrowed) rain gear on, we made our way into the storm. We sat in the parking trying to decide if it was worth it or not.
Suddenly, the wind stopped, the clouds gave way a little and we jumped at the opportunity to hit the bluff. A short, but super steep untracked sandy ridge took us all the way down to the ocean… we rode along the shore and it looked the weather would hold.
Shasta immediately shuttled us back to house. We rinsed the sand off of the bikes, and headed out of town again. This time up the Dome. It was Shasta and his good friend Jeremy’s favorite in-town shred. The trail gets steeper as you go up and everything you ride up you also have to ride down… As were rode up, we noticed Jeremy made a point of riding right through all of the fresh bear poop in the trail. Massive piles of Grizzly bear poop splattered up his bike. Noah and I kind of looked at each other thinking how weird it was… Jeremy soon informed us that whenever you see bear poop, it is wise to run over it so, if by chance you see poop on the way down that does not have tire tracks through it, you had better keep an eye out, since the bear would be close!
This would be the hardest ride Noah would do all week. He could keep up with us when we were on bikes, but the trail got so steep near top that we had to hike the bikes. Suddenly, Noah was no longer in his element. Although the Maxwell was still amazingly light for a Full suspension bike, pushing the bike was tough. At 8:45pm we summited the peak. Anchorage and the surrounding mountains were breath taking. All 4 of stared at vast country laid in front of us reflecting on how fortunate we were to get to see such beauty. Noah was just one of the boys, taking it all in just like the rest us. It is a moment I will never forget. The downhill was incredible, steep, positive corners, great natural features, and lots of puddles, great for a 10 year old.
We are now back in Costa Rica training for the next Enduro. Noah continues to progress and I am sure will soon be waiting for me at the bottom of the runs. For now however, we are enjoying this precious time together and we will always remember the “Boys” trip to Alaska.