It was good to get out of the house last week. Well, I was getting out of the house a lot lately because I had been actually working for a change but I haven’t been riding. My “day job” had evaporated about a year ago so I’ve been picking up some gigs here and there but nothing that you could remotely call “full time permanent”.
A buddy of mine suggested that I hook up with him and do a ride with his daughter’s mountain bike team and because I had a break during my work I figured what the heck.
I missed the initial hookup with the team at Live Oak Park in Berkeley but by sheer chance I bounced into the coach who said that the NorCal team was meeting up in Tilden and were going to ride there. For once I was glad that I wasn’t on my single speed.
We humped it up to Tilden and I sucked wind all the way up. I felt the time off my bike every pedal stroke to the park. We eventually made our way to the trailhead and while we could see a lot of parked cars that had bike racks on them we didn’t see any riders.
Rather than waiting around we decided to scout around to see if we could find any one. After weaving our way around some trails we could see where some riders had just been but no riders. Nuts.
At some point during the ride I told the coach that I used to be young and slow but now I’m old and slow so at least I’ve been consistent.
Well, Tilden’s a fairly big park and the chances of finding a group of hard charging riders at any given point wasn’t going to be easy so we worked our way back to the trailhead and waited.
A short time later a group from the Berkeley High mountain bike team showed up and they were happy to be reunited with their coach. The girls caught their breath then the pain started – technical trail climbing drills.
One by one the team members made their way up a rocky embankment while the coach gave words of encouragement and an occasional push up the hill. Tires slipped, riders stalled but no one fell and more importantly no one had an intellectual meltdown on the trail.
When I think back to how I was introduced to mountain biking it reminds me of the story how my dad was taught to swim. At some point during my dad’s childhood his family had moved from Ashton Idaho-to-Idaho Falls. He had talked about going to the park in Idaho Falls near the falls and that his father grabbed him and tossed him into the river and told him to swim.
Well, my initial mountain bike experience wasn’t nearly as traumatic it was very much a “sink-or-swim” situation. I had just bought my first mountain bike and my brother and I hooked up with a friend of ours who had been riding form the dawn of mountain bikes. We road up a steep, rocky single track in Novato and got to the point where the trail tilted downward at a dangerous angle.
My brother and I looked at each other with dismay because the trail would have been difficult to walk down let alone let alone having some novice riders trying to negotiate their way over rock drop offs, roots, and a section of trail that incorporated a bit of dried up water fall.
By some small miracle we wound up being able to make our way down the rubble strewn footpath of death and not crash our brains out.
(A word to the wise; never get coached by a rider who goes by the name “Faceplant”).
While I had learned how to point a bike at an object and not flinch I had never developed the skills to be a particularly graceful rider on one who possessed an overabundance of finesse. I’m more of a point and hang on kind of guy.
As the riders made their way up this dust covered rock outcrop they were given a breakdown on what they did correctly and other things they may need to work on. In essence they were all given a life preserver rather than a shove off the deep end.
After the skills clinic the coach decided to add some climbing to the workout. Pretty soon I found myself slipping backwards in the line of riders as the trail gradually tilted upward. Even though my heart pounded wildly, my breath became labored, and sweat poured into my eyes I’d be darned if I were going to get off an walk.
Through a great deal of effort and pigheaded determination I pulled myself up the hill and met up with the other riders where they regrouped. Sure, I was the last up the hill but I’m glad I didn’t either topple over like Arte Johnson or throw up on my bike.
The girls, however, were in great spirits and looked as if they could do a couple more laps around the park and not be any worst for the ware.
But despite my heavy legs, lack of form, and slow decline into soggy middle age I can see that the future or mountain biking is taking shape before my eye.
“Last Child in the Woods” author Richard Louv wrote:
“Our society is teaching young people to avoid direct experience in nature. That lesson is delivered in schools, families, even organizations devoted to the outdoors, and codified into the legal and regulatory structures of many of our communities. Our institutions, urban/suburban design, and cultural attitudes unconsciously associate nature with doom—while disassociating the outdoors from joy and solitude. Wellmeaning public-school systems, media, and parents are effectively scaring children straight out of the woods and fields. In the patent-or-perish environment of higher education, we see the death of natural history as the more hands-on disciplines, such as zoology, give way to more theoretical and remunerative microbiology and genetic engineering. Rapidly advancing technologies are blurring the lines between humans, other animals, and machines. The postmodern notion that reality is only a construct—that we are what we program—suggests limitless human possibilities; but as the young spend less and less of their lives in natural surroundings, their senses narrow, physiologically and psychologically, and this reduces the richness of human experience”.
“Reducing that deficit—healing the broken bond between our young and nature—is in our self-interest, not only because aesthetics or justice demands it, but also because our mental, physical, and spiritual health depends upon it. The health of the earth is at stake as well. How the young respond to nature, and how they raise their own children, will shape the configurations and conditions of our cities, homes—our daily lives”.
There’s grown evidence if children aren’t develop an appreciation of outdoors when they are young they won’t when they come of voting age.
With the exception of the three adult chaperones no one else was of voting age. As more young people introduced to the outdoors the more likely they will continue with that love as adults and not only will they help the sport grow but help preserve the open spaces we have come to love and appreciate.