This summer I wish my boys were still toddlers. Not in the sense that I miss the diapers, the trashed vehicle strewn with gummy-goldfish-juicebox flotsam, or the numerous energy spikes and dips navigated with naps and park visits. I miss the level of safety inherent to toddler activities. After years of practice and skill-building on bikes, this summer I face (almost) every mother’s nightmare: Duthie Hill bike park. It has the word “Park” in it, but don’t be fooled, it doesn’t resemble the kind of bucolic scene we moms are accustomed to. Absent are the traditional swings, slides and monkey bars. Taking their place is the next generation of swings and slides that attracts all ages who crave a dirt-crusted thrill and woodsy cardiovascular challenge.
My boys’ first encounter with Duthie was several years ago was when we (in my opinion) jumped the gun on introducing this park before they were ready (make that “I” was ready). “They’ll be fine,” my husband confidently asserted. “They’ll love it!”
“Easy for you to say, Mr. Unmotorized Evel Knievel.” To my husband’s credit, it was remotely possible that his two-wheeled daredevil DNA got passed down to at least one of his offspring. I’d heard plenty about the exhilarating jumps and banked turns from Glenn’s many experiences. I’d seen YouTube videos of “sick” trails such as “Ryan’s Eternal Flow” and “Braveheart”. If these routes were intense enough to receive 10,000 hits on YouTube, it couldn’t be a good thing for two kids under the age of ten.
If you haven’t been to Duthie yet, it’s a massive woodsy park with trails of varying difficulty sprouting off from a central clearing. While riders most commonly park off of Duthie Hill Road, you can even access it fat-tire-style from Grand Ridge Drive by following the Grand Ridge Trail system northeast. Approximately four miles from the top of the Highlands is the back entrance to the ever-growing Eastside MTB nerve center. A birds-eye view would show a network of more than a dozen carved paths that have been architected by bikers to offer bumps, jumps, turns and thrills for all levels of riding expertise. You can prepare yourself for the thrills in store for you by going online first. The viral helmet-cam videos available on the internet depict ten-foot high bridges without railings, where riders deftly roll down shoulder-width paths with potential for a painful plummet on either side. The videos reach a climax with a high speed descent followed by a ramp that launches the rider into exquisite aerial acrobatics. It’s enough to make any Nervous Nelly look away from the computer monitor.
The Duthie YouTube videos that receive the fewest hits are the kind that reassure me that this park probably won’t double as an early graveyard for my boys. They show a gentle hill series that resembles riding over the backs of tortoises in a circle. Neophyte riders can learn about momentum, power, looking two bike-lengths ahead instead of at the front tire, shifting gears mid-hill or -turn, and practicing general control without bone crushing consequences.
Similar to skiing, the routes are labeled for their difficulty; synonymously spanning from “Bunny Hill” to “Black Diamond”. My boys’ maiden voyage a few years ago was far less terrifying than I was prepped for. Before they pushed off down their first trail I inquired, “Where is the landing pad for the rescue helicopter?” Instead, I should have been asking “Where’s the nearest pharmacy where I can buy calamine lotion?” They were quickly going to become acquainted with, I discovered, not precipitous falls nor epically bloody crashes, but stinging nettle and poison oak. The Bunny Hill run had its own hazards and risks, but of a less fatal kind.
Now that the boys have a couple dozen Duthie visits under their belts the risks have become more numerous. With rising confidence levels comes the temptation to sample courses that exceed Bunny Hill difficulty. As a mom I have to rally quite a bit of faith that the wipe-outs, balks and losses of momentum the boys experienced on the entry-level trails will contribute to them being more cautious as the speed and complexity of the routes increase. Will they exit “Ryan’s Eternal Flow” with all limbs intact? Will they overshoot the park exit and get lost? Is there a strong enough cellular signal in the woods to call 911? Oh, how I long for swings, slides and picnic tables. Perhaps you can join me in some hand-wringing, brow-fretting fun this summer.