By Jane LeMasurier
I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with three siblings and lenient parents. Given our proximity to the woods and mountains, it was free-range biking for us for many years. Most of our childhood days were spent exploring old logging roads and trails in our backwoods. I have memories of barreling down creek beds with my younger sister, no gps, no map, no cell phone, just a sense of general direction and a couple of quarters in our pockets to call from a gas station pay phone if we could get to one. Things were certainly different back then. And somehow we survived.
Now in my adult life I teach mountain biking classes to kids in my town. I’m just as enthusiastic to teach them bike skills as I am to teach them how to appreciate the woods for the bona
fide joy they provide. I took a group of 12 kids on a ride last fall. We followed an under-ridden and overgrown trail near the school. Shortly into the ride I spotted some ledge just off the trail with a short and steep roll-down section that looked like something we might be able to clear off, scope out, and attempt to ride. So I slowed down, got off my bike, pointed it out to the kids and asked if anyone wanted to try it. They all raised their hands, some with blind enthusiasm, some with slight skepticism.
“But is this even a real bike feature?” one boy questioned.
“Touch that rock. Is that rock real?” I responded. He looked at me, looked at the rock, looked back at me, and smiled.
My sense of safety has evolved from the days of setting out into the woods feeling convinced all would work out for the best. I carry a med pack and bike tools and have an action plan if something goes wrong. And I stick to the trails, because there are trails. But I still carry with me the general feeling that, more than anything, a bike is a tool for exploration, into ourselves and the “real world” of nature. So I climbed up on the ledge and asked all 12 of the kids to climb up with me. We took a look at potential lines and determined a “hard” route and a “harder” route. There was no easy way down. The kids asked if anyone had ever ridden this before. And I told them, judging from the overgrowth, they just might be the first. They looked at each other with big eyes. We cleared away some brush at the bottom of the roll down and then I gave it a go, explaining first to the kids how to pick their line, get into position, and commit.
Over the next hour and a half the pack of us explored this rock: looking at it, walking on it, riding over it, all in an effort to get to know it, to learn how to roll it as smoothly and successfully as possible. The kids couldn’t get enough. It would have gone on, trial after trial, but our class was ending, so we headed back out the same quarter mile of trail we came in, back to where we started, so much further along than when we began.