Along For The Ride: A Tale of Bikeparenting (Film)

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“Along for the Ride” is a short film about pedal-powered parenting and a reflection on the positive impact of one family’s bikepacking experiences together. Follow RJ Sauer and his three-year-old son, Oliver, as they embark on a 320-kilometre gravel race together to honour their shared time on the trail. Find the film and a detailed reflection from RJ and others who were involved here…

This winter, RJ Sauer and his three-year-old son, Oliver, took part in The Rexy Gravel Race, following a 320-kilometre route between Fruita, Colorado, and Moab, Utah. Along for the Ride, by RJ and Brady Lawrence, is a short film documenting their experience together, highlighting the positive impact that bikepacking as a family has had on both of them. As parents, RJ Sauer and Sarah Coates refused to stop adventuring by bike, and instead committed to bringing Oliver along for the ride. Seeking an iconic adventure to share with Oliver, RJ landed on Rexy to commemorate their experiences to date. Watch the film below and then scroll down for a detailed reflection from RJ, including additional insight from Brady Lawrence (the film’s producer), Morgan (the race organizer), and Sarah (RJ’s wife).

  • Along for the ride
  • Along for the ride
  • Along for the ride

“Well, if you want me to tell you that you can still ride the race, you can still ride the race. You won’t do more damage, it’s only pain.”

Wise words from the emergency room doctor as I stared at the X-ray of a fractured white bone. “You wouldn’t be the first one to ride their bike with a broken rib.” The bedside empathy was touching. But also, in truth, it was what I wanted to hear, what I needed to hear. I knew my rib was broken before I walked in and was convinced that the catapult off my bike a few days earlier had pretty much destroyed more than my body, but the chance for my three-year-old son and I to ride together in the 200-mile Rexy Gravel Race just a week from the day.

“I wouldn’t do more damage. It was only pain.”

There was a lot of metaphor tied up in all of this. The suffocating, restrictive effects of a broken rib were the perfect, physical manifestation of the moment. I could feel the window of time closing around me, throbbing, pulsating, no matter which way I turned. We were just limping out of the pandemic, and it was clearer than ever for me that time was the most precious of commodities, especially as it pertained to parenting.

My wife Sarah and I had been doing family bikepacking trips almost from when Ollie was born, not to mention tooling around the city on local adventures. But Ollie was growing fast, getting heavier, and pulling the child trailer behind the bike was getting harder and even unrealistic for some of our rugged bikepacking terrain. Sarah and I couldn’t predict how Ollie would evolve from week to week, so my paternal vision of sharing an event or bikepacking adventure with my son, pulled along in his trailer, was fading.

  • Along for the ride
  • Along for the ride
Along for the ride

It was late summer, and the transitional weather limbo for bikepacking was fast approaching. I had been scheming a trip, event, or race with Oliver that would celebrate these past three years of pulling him behind me in the trailer. This time together, especially through the pandemic, had been incredibly meaningful for me and one of the ways in which we truly bonded. But nothing was jumping out that could work for us. That’s when Lindsay Beltchenko from Salsa Cycles reached out to me and suggested the Rexy Gravel Race. I took a look at the route and immediately thought this could work: the schedule was viable, the geographical distance feasible, the course profile and conditions felt in line with pulling a child in a trailer. Plus, the location and landscape were right out of Ollie’s favourite animated movie, Cars. But he would be the easiest to convince; I needed to run this by my wife Sarah and the race organizer Morgan, who I’d never met, before moving forward.

Morgan: “Who the hell is this guy, and what is he thinking!? With a little homework, it didn’t take long to understand RJ’s abilities and experience with bikepacking in general and specifically with little Ollie. We took the time to speak through the challenges and concerns. I realized that he, like me, prioritized his kiddo. As importantly, we really connected on the philosophy of how important these moments are in our children’s lives. That stuck, and I went from crazy to hell yes!”

Sarah: “I know that when RJ brings up an idea, he’s already been thinking about it for a while. So, I started (with an intake of breath and raised eyebrows… I probably didn’t do a good job of hiding) with the trust that this was important to RJ in some way. Especially when at one point, he shared that this may be one of the last times that pulling Ollie in a trailer could happen (we’ve managed to sneak in a few others, but that’s the thing; you don’t always know when the last time of something so meaningful and symbolic will be). 

There were a lot of layers to this as it wasn’t in our backyard. It required traveling in the COVID era. It required multiple flights and a drive. It required thinking about car seats and what the race organizers would think and then a broken rib added to the mix. On our bikepacking trips, it usually takes two adults to do all the adulting things. I did wonder how this would all go down in a race format, in an unfamiliar place, with a single parent. 

But, in the end, this was going to be a really special thing for Ollie and RJ to do together, and we both believe in the shared things we do as a family, but also the ways that we have our own relationships and moments with Ollie.”

Along for the ride
  • Along for the ride
  • Along for the ride
  • Along for the ride

RJ: Our family bikepacking trips had become an opportunity for Ollie to ground himself. Unexpectedly, it was on these trips he progressed with things like eating, pooping, and communicating. They were a catalyst for growth. It was amazing the little things that stuck with him and the curiosity triggered by our new surroundings and intimate experiences together. Apparently, you just need exposure to a little soil, water, and some sunshine.

Sarah: “Our family bikepacking trips offer the chance to slip into “biological time” vs. the “mechanical time” that we live in most of our lives. It’s the connection to each other and to places, the stripping away of a lot of the “extras” in life that are both creature comforts but also distractions and complicators. It’s the chance we have to be a trio, to slow down, to remember what our bodies are capable of, and hopefully, to pass along care and curiosity for places and people to Ollie as we go.”

Morgan: ”Our kiddo has put in over 4,000 miles in the jogger with mom and likely as much with me behind the bike. It is what she knows, and like Ollie, I am sure they have no idea how lucky they are. To see the world open up to them across the miles of mountains, deserts, winters, and summers. We’ve laughed and cried and most importantly loved a ton, with the wind and the dirt in our faces.”

  • Along for the ride
  • Along for the ride

My broken rib one week before the race was certainly a hurdle, but in the end, it was Sarah who convinced me to go. “You know you will regret it if you don’t try.” There may have been ulterior motives here, but I appreciated the push. Sarah has always been incredibly supportive of my endeavours and adventures, even if sometimes they expanded outside of her own comfort zone. Bikepacking and racing aren’t viable without total buy-in from our partners. It’s can be a real selfish endeavour, but also a healthy one if there is good communication and suitable compromise.

RJ: When I originally considered doing a solo ride or an event with Ollie, I hadn’t intended for it to be a film or document it, as I felt it would be too much of a distraction for me on my own and I wanted to be present in the experience. But when we committed to the Rexy, the idea of filming percolated and the logistics were realistic for someone to follow us and film. That’s when I immediately thought of Brady Lawrence.

Brady: I first met RJ in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. I was filming the first edition of Nelson Trees’ Atlas Mountain Race, and RJ was one of the racers. We ran into RJ as he was walking his bike through the desert. His rear derailleur was broken and he had been walking for an entire day to try and reach a town. He walked a total of 100 miles. It was one of the wilder things that happened while filming the race, so he definitely left an impression.

When RJ reached out and told me about the Rexy project, I was immediately in. I love making cycling documentaries, but there are already so many good ones that it can be difficult to find a new and exciting story. I had never heard of anyone trying to do a race while towing their kid and felt pretty confident that whether they were successful or not, the process was going to be fascinating. Cycling is also one of the cornerstones of my relationship with my dad, so I was excited to dig into another father-son dynamic.

RJ: My rib, or shoulder, as I continued to describe it, got worse and worse through the race. By the halfway mark I had lighting bolts screaming down my arm and into my hands. I was used to that kind of pain from long hours of over-gripping the handlebars, but this was different, and I was definitely concerned that it would worsen but wasn’t really sure how exactly it would stop us. I just needed to manage the pain and save face for Ollie’s sake. I didn’t want to alarm him in any way, and he was very keen on picking up clues.

Sarah: Doing a few video chats beforehand, they were both so excited, so that was contagious and palpable. I probably admittedly felt a bit of FOMO, not being part of such a cool memory and part of Ollie’s life, but that’s just an ongoing part of life as he grows up! I felt pangs of worry that RJ would push himself too far and would have a lot of recovery to do, but I always knew that Ollie would come first, and was probably being both a hilarious court jester, and likely flashes of being a bit of a pain along the way as three-year-olds have a unique ability to be.

Along for the ride

RJ: In the middle of the night, I could feel the fatigue setting in and the impact of pulling the trailer on my legs. I really just wanted to crawl inside Ollie’s trailer and cuddle with him in our sleeping bag. I was so proud of Ollie. Of course, he had his moments where he was bored and just wanted to go “home” – as he does when we walk to the park for ten minutes – but he maintained his sense of humour and his curiosity and wonder. The three-year-old had his wits together, it was the 47-year-old I was really worried about.

Brady: I know that RJ is up for a challenge, so I was mostly just astonished at how all-in Ollie was throughout the experience. I kept expecting him to throw some sort of tantrum or refuse to get back in the trailer at the aid stations, but every time he just strapped himself in and rolled along. I have no other reference points, but I would be shocked if most three-year-olds would’ve been game for this.

Morgan: My perspective watching the race unfold was one as a proud dad, seeing another father make such a commitment to the odyssey for his son. It was one of empathy for dad and kiddo. For dad, knowing how absolutely freaking hard this was. Seriously, Rexy is a monster of a route, and having pulled Quinn across most of it, I knew RJ was being truly tested. And for Ollie, knowing all that he would get to see in this truly unique high desert environment.”

As a race creator, I worry about every single rider under my watch. But with RJ and Ollie, it was even more. This was someone’s child – the same age as mine, and they were never far from top of mind for me that day. Due to my intimate knowledge of the route, I also followed along in my head on where they were and what they had accomplished, and more importantly, what remained ahead. Sometimes, this made me smile – other times cringe!

  • Along for the ride
  • Along for the ride
Along for the ride

Having the small film crew of Brady and Ben really elevated the experience. They were such great humans and made Ollie feel special. Any time we crossed their path, he would call out to them and grin ear to ear, and then we lost them he’d start asking, “Daaaaaad. Where are our friends?” It was beautiful and sweet. It’s important for me to see Ollie bonding and having those kind of interactions with other people.

Brady: Ben and I were driving around and filming for roughly 30 straight hours, and due to a combination of no restaurants being open late in that area of Utah and a late-game decision to chase down RJ and Ollie, we only ate snacks the entire time. It’s always challenging to drive on remote roads and track down a single rider, but doing it on only trail mix and potato chips certainly didn’t help. Ben was a real trooper.

Filming bike racing can feel sort of repetitive, so for me, the highlight was how open RJ was to having me around constantly in the lead-up to the race. I was able to do some real vérité shooting and just observe Ollie and RJ’s relationship. The lowlight was getting a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, pulling out the spare tire, and realizing it was just a donut and not a full spare. I rented the car from a 4WD place called Rugged Rentals, so was quite surprised. It was not fun finishing the shoot on a tire that’s supposedly only good for 50 miles.

  • Along for the ride
  • Along for the ride
  • Along for the ride
  • Along for the ride
  • Along for the ride

RJ: The trip was always more than the race; it was the trip itself. The experience away together as a dad and son. There really hadn’t been a time that Ollie and I had traveled on our own, and spending time together, outside of the event, was just as important.

Sarah: Our bikepacking trips have made us, as parents, really aware of his personality. I’m constantly amazed how aware he is of places, and his memory for places is uncanny. We’ve started little traditions, such as his adventure box and a little journal so we could have a place for stickers and a memory from each trip. Whether they are long-lasting or not, I hope they make an imprint on him, and even if he doesn’t remember, he can carry with him as part of this really important stage of his growing up. I hope he learns how to be safe and feel safe. I hope he learns the kindness of people and how to pass that forward. And I hope he learns to be confident in taking care of himself and others, to be self-sufficient and resilient.

Along for the ride

RJ: As we neared the finish line, I had a sudden surge of emotional energy. The terrain had shifted. I looked at the clock and distance and I thought, “Wait a minute, we can make the time cut off!” I jumped on the bike and pedalled hard. The gravel road was trending down, and we were flying. That’s when I heard Ollie call out from behind me, “Dad, I need to go pee!” Weirdly, this was a pivotal moment for me. All of the my competitive nature washed away as I slowed to a stop. Whether we made the time cut off or not was irrelevant. What mattered was that we were out here together, sharing in a challenge, sharing in an adventure. We took our time with that one last pee, marking the terrain, the experience, and place. I felt calm and at peace. When Ollie was good and ready, we loaded back into the trailer, made sure all his lights were working and his toys were in the right place and set off into the pre-dawn darkness to roll over that finish line together.

Morgan: RJ and Ollie were the end of the pack, rightly so with such a load, so I was able to drive back down the course a few miles from the finish to check in and encourage them along. It was 5 or 6 a.m., dark, and desert cold. RJ had that 200-mile stare that only an ultra-distance athlete knows, focused much more within, than looking out. It was quiet. I moved ahead to the finish, and when they crossed the line, it was just him and I and the camera. It took RJ a moment to realize it was done; he had finished. We hugged, and I cried with gratitude and pride. We shared words as athletes and more importantly as fathers. Ollie was fast asleep, and RJ said the one thing that I could totally understand: “I am completely trashed, and in about 10 minutes will wake up and be ready to go!” I knew that was going to hurt.

I grilled RJ a double cheeseburger, and as my head finally hit the pillow I heard Ollie’s laughter as the sun broke the eastern sky. Anyone. Kid, man, or woman who can laugh and giggle after a 200-mile, 24-hour gravel ride, is strong of both body and spirit. Ollie was a rock star.

Brady: “The big takeaway is that kids are resilient! As you can see in the film, Ollie is such a personality the entire time. We obviously weren’t with them for the whole race, but at every aid station, he was either helping out or just hamming it up for the staff. I don’t think I’d do something like this if I ever have a kid, but you can be sure that the process has shown me that bikepacking trips with a young family are very doable.”

Along for the ride
  • Along for the ride
  • Along for the ride

Sarah: When other families ask about doing their own adventures, I’d say to start if it’s what calls you… start “safe,” and be ready to never have everything you think you need.

RJ: Parents and families who want to experience bikepacking together don’t need to do races or travel around the world. Our adventures started in our own backyard, riding local trails and spending the day outside, having picnics, building rituals of cycling somewhere for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Adventure comes in all shapes and sizes, and all those experiences, big and small, add up to countless memories together. Just get on your bikes and explore.

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