My youngest daughter, Madison (8 yrs), is now (finally) riding a two-wheeler, so for the past few weekends I’ve been going out with the girls on our bikes. Mollie (12 yrs) gets bored with those rides because “Maddie is just too slow.” So this past weekend I promised Mollie she and I could go out, just the two of us. Maddie had a playmate over, so Mollie and I slipped away without any hurt feelings and headed towards the Wildhorse Creek Valley. I had promised Mollie we would stick to the flats – even though I knew no matter where we went we’d have that hill coming back into the neighborhood (Justin, Mark, Jose, you guys know the hill). And we brought along extra water bottles because Mollie knew she was going to be hot.
On the way out of the neighborhood, I pulled the old switcheroo and suggested we climb up Hardt Rd – just to see what she thinks of it, then we could go down the other side and ride the flats. The real goal was to let her experience some downhilling – she’s fearless, so I knew she would love it if she made the effort to climb first. She hesitated, so I said, “Well, you did it on your litte bike.” That sealed the deal, she took the bait, and up we went. I told her how hard lots of racers find this hill, but being fresh she didn’t think it was too bad, so now there was some confidence growing. When we got to the end of Hardt, I told her she had already climbed almost 200 ft – that made her feel even more confident. We rode along Wildhorse Creek up top and then started the descent towards Ossenfort. She loved it but was a little scared, so I just rode behind her telling her each time she hit a new high speed.
When we got down along the flats east of Ossenfort, we rode past Babler Forest. I said, “Hey Mollie, I want to show you something.” We turned into Babler Forest and rode up to the bottom of the hill. I said, “This is one of the hardest hills in St. Louis. Not many people can make it up this climb.” I just wanted to see her reaction when she looked up that wall, and even more so when I told her that I’ve hit 53.6 mph coming down this hill. I expected her to shake her head in disbelief and then start riding away, but to my absolute astonishment she asked, “Can we go up it?” I couldn’t believe my ears. I said sure, but don’t worry if you can’t make it. Well, she fought and clawed and switchbacked and struggled and grunted all the way to the top. She must have come off her pedals a dozen times, but she was determined to make it. I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I encouraged her the whole time but never once told her she had to do it. Once on top, she savored the success for awhile, and then started asking about how to go down. I just told her keep her hands in the drops and on the brakes and stay in control of the bike. I followed behind her and watched in disbelief as she hit 40 mph. When we got to the bottom, she said that was the most thrilling thing she had ever done in her life! She was ecstatic. Then she said something that floored me (again!) – “Can we do it again!” I said, “Let’s just go ahead and ride to the end of Centaur, and on the way back if you still feel like it you can.”
All along the flats, all she could talk about was how much fun it was going down that hill. We rode to the end of Centaur, stopped for a snack, and started back. Sure enough, she wanted to do Babler Forest again, so I rode behind her as she once again used all her little might to conquer for a second time what few people have done even once. Once again, she made it to the top, and once again, she asked for advice on how to go down faster. I’m not a real worrywort kind of dad, but I was still telling her to be cautious and stay in control. Down we went again, but this time she got up a good head of steam going into the descent. She was actually disappointed when I told her she hit 41 mph – “I wanted to hit 45!” All I could think about was, if she crashed, how I was going to explain to my wife that she did it going down Babler Forest – at 40 mph – for the 2nd time! But no such explanation was needed.
Along Ossenfort and approaching our neighborhood, Mollie looked up with sudden realization – “Oh man, we have to go up that big hill into the neighborhood!” I said, hey – you just did Babler Forest twice, that hill is going to seem like a piece of cake (even though, at an average grade of 13.3% for a quarter-mile, its difficulty falls just shy that of Babler Forest!). Well, for those little 12 yr old legs, 18 miles and over a thousand feet of climbing had taken its toll. I really didn’t think she was going to make it they way she was grunting and groaning with each pedal stroke, but not only did she make, she did it without stopping! Her first full hill climb without a stop – a momentous day, indeed. Once up top, she discovered that her chain wasn’t on the biggest cog – doh! That made her feel even better about what she had just accomplished.
I’m really proud of that little girl. In 18.5 miles, she climbed a total of 1,157 ft, doing four climbs with the following stats:
– Hardt Road: 0.60 mi, 174 ft, avg grade 5.5%, max grade 12%
– Babler Forest: 0.25 mile, 190 ft, 14.4% average grade, 20% max grade
– DeHart Farm: 0.25 mi, 175 ft, avg grade 13.3%, max grade 17%
In the above route map from my Garmin Edge 305, the blue dot is our starting point, and you can see the Babler Forest spur going off to the west – the two times up that climb seem to stick up like fangs!