Dad, still out in front.
Dad, still out in front.
Without thinking much about it in advance, I "biked my age" today. This being my birthday, it just seemed like the thing to do. It is a common enough goal for many cyclists, no matter their age, that there are forums where riders log both their intent and the accomplishment.

The idea came to me in a "happy birthday" note former Silent Sports ad manager Jim Wendt posted on my Facebook page. He said he biked his age on his birthday for several years before the distance got, well, up there a bit.

The distance I had to ride was not insignificant, but less than my longest rides this season.

I started out needing to drop off, at my kids' day camp, a change of clothes my 9-year-old son forgot to pack (OK, clothes he picked out but I failed to watch him actually stuff in his bag). So that accounted for the first 8.5 urban miles from the west side of Madison to Middleton, Wisconsin.

Then I hit that series of rollers on Airport Road heading west. I made my way on familiar, little traveled roads to the small towns of Cross Plains and Mount Horeb - exactly where an orthopedic surgeon told me the week before not to go on account of my bad knee. But I grew up in Mount Horeb with a love/hate relationship for the area's countless, cruel hills, and I can't imagine a bike ride in which I'm not climbing half the time.

After a pit stop at the Kwik Trip in Mount Horeb, I opted to take the easy way home on the flat and fast crushed limestone surface of the Military Ridge State Trail. That's a nostalgic route for me. As a teenager without a driver's license, I spent many a summer morning biking the trail from Mount Horeb to Madison, and then finding my way to State Street.

I'd then spend the afternoons hanging out in the many book and record stores there and imaging myself a college student living a little closer to campus. That time would come and go, too. In the mean time, my parents, both state workers, had offices on either end of State, so I would check in with them over the course of the day. At quitting time, I'd carpool home with my mom. My nearly 50-pound mountain bike would be tied on the back of the state van.

I'd argue I'm a stronger rider today than I was as a teen on those 25-mile days. Which is fortunate, given that today's birthday ride was just shy of 47 miles. That's a couple miles and change more than I needed. Maybe I can bank the extra for a year from now when I need to ride 45.

Father vs. son

Now, I don't have a problem admitting how old I am. I think I just did. What I'm in denial about is the age of my father, who is still out-biking me. He's riding rings around me, if you image the rings of a target with me in the bullseye.

I would say I prefer riding with my dad. But we both know that doing so just serves to neutralize each other and not give one that needed edge over the other. That sounds odd, I realize, especially since we're family as well as "teammates."

One of the probably inevitable consequences of taking part in the National Bike Challenge is that competition is more likely to ensue within a team than between teams. And since Team Silent Sports is barely ranked within the top 300 teams in the country, our members (a handful, anyway) primarily aspire to taking and holding the top spot on our team.

The ribbing dad and I have been giving each other (and there's been smack talk involving other riders, too) has been good natured for the most part. But now my son has taken an interest in seeing the rivalry between his father and grandfather play out. A whiz at fourth-grade math, my son could see I'd need to ride my age today to get out ahead of my old man. So he urged me to do it. I couldn't let down my No. 1 fan.

Yet before I could finish, catch my breath, shower, refuel and log my miles on the National Bike Challenge website, I saw that my father had already logged his miles for the day. How far did he go? Forty-four miles. He biked my age as well. Grrr.

I haven't talked to my dad yet, but I will tonight over birthday cake. No doubt the amount he biked was as deliberate as the amount I biked. But hey, I'm truly inspired by my father. And I'm just glad I didn't have to ride his age today.

Joel Patenaude is the editor of Silent Sports magazine.