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Fruita, Colorado holds a special place for me and my wife. Situated an easy four-hour drive from our home in Boulder, Colorado, it’s a mountain biking mecca with a seemingly endless expanse of high-desert trails, breathtaking views, plentiful camping options, and, yes, even fantastic pizza despite being a small town of just 13,000 residents.
For more than 10 years, it’s been an annual pilgrimage for us to head out there with friends, ride our legs off for hours, then bask by the glow of a warm campfire as we recount our days over hot dinners and cold drinks.
Things have changed a bit since those earlier years.
Much of our crew are now in our 40s, and many of us have younger kids. And the annual camping trip that was once dedicated to riding our brains out has now morphed into the “Fruita Fall Family Fest” that one friend takes upon himself to put together each year — complete with a semi-official title and, now, custom PopSockets phone widgets and beer coozies.
It’s quite the scene.
There were almost 10 families in total this time around, a hodgepodge of giant-sized tents, pop-up trailers, and built-out vans. And lots of dusty kids occupying themselves with all sorts of mayhem: BB guns, digging in the dirt, hunting for bugs, burning anything and everything in the fire pit (but no plastic!!!), snacks galore.
And yes, there was still plenty of bike riding to be had.
One of the appeals of the area we all choose to settle in each year is the wide selection of short, kid-friendly loops that are easily accessible right from camp. Some of the kids are a little older and have no problem making their way up the short singletrack climb or dirt road to get to the “good stuff”. But the preferred option for most of the kids was shuttling up the road in a giant truck one of the guys drove out there.
My kid? She surprised me by saying she wanted to pedal — part of the way, at least, because she wanted to “get stronger”. The rest of the way, we used a Tow-Whee tow strap (which, in all honesty, is one of the best kid-centric bike products I’ve encountered).
Once we were at the top, we sat under a tree for a snack and some water, and then rolled around the corner to tackle our preferred trail in the area: a gentle downhill chock-full of twists, turns, and dips, aptly named Kessel Run.
I’d done Kessel Run with her several times before on previous Fruita Fall Family Fest trips — and made the mistake once of doing the entire trail with her (when she was still on a balance bike) instead of just the easier first half.
It took forever. Lots of snacks. Lots of breaks. Thankfully no meltdowns.
This time? It still took a little more than 12 parsecs, but she and a friend (with us parents in tow) blitzed through from top to bottom with a chorus of giggling and little-kid chatting providing the most melodious soundtrack the whole way.
One of the best things about being a parent is the way you get to experience the world through fresh eyes all over again. Everything is fascinating, bewildering, mysterious. And I’d argue that it’s almost even better as a cycling parent, when you get to see firsthand how your little one is learning for themselves just how incredible bikes can be.
On that day, every rock was a challenge the two of them tackled with genuine glee, every dip and depression a laugh-inducing bounce, every little climb a veritable mountain to conquer. My cheeks were aching by the end of each one from smiling and laughing so much. We should all be so lucky to have that much fun every time we hop on a bike.
I have a basic rule regarding mountain bike road trips: the amount of time riding has to be greater than the amount of time driving.
Between the two family laps we did at Kessel Run and the handful of kid-free laps I did over the weekend, this trip most definitely violated that rule, and I maybe covered half the distance and half the hours of saddle time I would have in the pre-kid years. But I still drove back Sunday evening on a high nonetheless, and I’m already looking forward to next year.
Some rules are meant to be broken.