The past 10 days have afforded me an in-depth look at the newly instituted Wilderness Program discipline, mountain biking. Thanks to the vision and hard work of a number of students and staff in the Program, there now sits in the freshly cleaned and stocked bike room a fleet of almost two dozen Giant and Scott hard-tail mountain bikes. To complement the bikes, the Wilderness Program also purchased an equal number of top-of the line helmets and biking backpacks.
Last Saturday, September 14th, I had the privilege to sit atop one of these finely tuned machines and join a group of my peers for the first official Mountain Biking 101 trip, hosted at Catamount Family Center in Williston. I met my friends and fellow WP instructors, Steve and Jenn, along with five other SMC students, at noon in the Dion Center to load up for the inaugural trip. We each grabbed a bike and helmet, which had been sized to us a few nights prior during an intro skills session, and piled into a school van for the 20 minute ride to Catamount. Thanks to the very reasonable hour of departure, the van was alive with excited conversation and discussion about the rides to come. Upon arrival, we quickly geared up (pun intended) and reviewed some of the skills covered during the intro session. Within 15 minutes the fresh rubber of our tires was bouncing across stones and dirt towards the winding single-track trails hidden in the woods of Catamount.
Our group spent the early hours of the afternoon warming up on the comfortable twists and turns of “Pure Bliss.” This trail is flat and relatively smooth, providing the perfect place to practice fundamentals such as the ready position, cornering, and maintaining speed throughout a run. After a few laps on Bliss, we pointed our tires towards a more advanced trail titled “Cliffs of Insanity.” Nowhere near as intimidating as its name, Cliffs presented the pleasant challenge of burmed turns, steep dips, and some rooted sections. Building confidence with every pass, we finished up the first half of our day by heading over to one of the more technical of our early trails. “Porcupine,” as it is called, presents a challenge to beginners and experts alike thanks to the numerous rocks and roots scattered along the length of the trail. Throughout the navigation of all three trails, Steve and Jenn provided each participant with instruction and encouragement, reminding us to have fun pushing our limits without going to the point of discomfort.
With our bikes growing more and more comfortable underneath us, our group stopped at the van for a quick granola bar refuel before heading over to the other side of Catamount for an entirely new set of trails. We spent another hour and half hooting and hollering our way through drops and switchbacks, sunlight peering through the canopy to dapple the trails in front of us. We even pushed our energetic limits with a few tough climbs. By the time we called it a day, every single face had a smile on it, every pair of legs rippled with pleasant fatigue, and every person had seen improvement in their riding. I was no exception; my first day of instruction-oriented mountain biking had kindled my passion for the sport. I was ready for more.
Luckily, I got just that in the week to come. Within seven days, I had the opportunity to go to Catamount twice more. Friday the 12th was spent riding as the subject for the students of Professor Jon Hyde’s Adventure Film class. I returned to the now familiar turns of Porcupine and Cliffs of Insanity to take some laps in front of the camera. I was by no means a professional (far from it), but my comfort level had increased, and I was able to navigate each trail successfully and more quickly than I had on Saturday. The Adventure Film students even had the chance to try the trails out for themselves, and yet again I wasn’t the only one smiling as we loaded up the cars Friday evening for the return trip to SMC.
Now with two solid days of biking at Catamount under my belt, it was only natural that I would want to complete the “charm” of a third time. The very next day, Saturday the 13th, I joined one of the IMBA-certified Mountain Bike instructors, Ian, in leading a fresh crop of students for a second Mountain Biking 101 trip. I was amazed how much I had improved since my own trip as a participant, and the insight I gained on that side of the handlebars made it much more rewarding to help out my peers who were familiarizing themselves with the sport. Ian and I took the group to the same three trails I had first been introduced to, explaining and demonstrating the skills that had served me so well on the original trip. Yet again I was lucky enough to see a set of WP Mountain Bike inductees grow comfortable on their bikes, pick up new skills, and leave at the end of the day with smiles emerging from their mud-spattered faces. Looking back at all the fun, challenge, and education from the three trips, I feel absolutely confidence calling the WP Mountain Program a successful addition to the SMC community.