kingdomexperiences

Backwoods Benediction

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.

“Nothing Compares to the Simple Pleasure of Riding a Bike” – JFK

By Quinn Campbell

Mountain bikers get so wrapped up with the start of the season. New bikes, new gear, new trails, more training during the winter– there’s an agitated frenzy that surrounds the cycling community as we wait for the snow to melt and the trails to dry. Normally, I’m as guilty as anyone, chomping at the bit to touch tires on dirt and begin spinning the pedals. But this spring has been different, and I’ve been, admittedly, a little lazy. My trail bike is still sitting in a box at my house, waiting to be assembled. And before too long, I’ll spend an afternoon upstairs in the shop, prepping my brand new bike for the next six months of abuse, routing cables into my new frame, sloping sealant into squeaky clean tires that haven’t punched through mud holes or broken loose across abrasive Vermont granite. But that hasn’t happened yet because I’ve been so infatuated and blissfully distracted with my reconnection to the most basic, youthful aspects of riding a bike.

This spring I’ve put countless hours in atop my dirt jumper. Out of my three bike quiver the dirt jumper most closely resembles my very first bicycle. Bare bones– one speed, one brake, bald tires and a short travel fork. It pales in comparison to the sleek lines of a carbon framed, well engineered full suspension trail bike, but the notable lack of expensive, high-maintenance parts, make me think a lot less about the bike itself and a lot more about the ride. It’s simple to step outside the house and leave directly from my driveway. There’s no Strava to turn on and clipless trail shoes are replaced by my most comfortable pair of well worn Vans. Riding shorts, jersey, gloves, and backpack are all left behind– I won’t be going farther than a few miles. Without needing to prepare for an afternoon in the saddle, load all my gear into a car and drive to the driest spring trail system, I’ve been able to get out frequently, and it’s just goofy, unhindered childish fun.

Rolling out the driveway I’ll cruise through familiar village backstreets, bunny-hopping curbs, hunting for natural jumps on driveway corners, manualing over speed bumps and wearing away any remaining tread with long skids. It’s been a good reminder to ride for fun this season and focus more on the trails beneath my tires than what bike I’m on or how fast I rode. Tune out the distractions and throw a leg over your bike for no other reason than because you love to ride.

Ode to Winter – Jane LeMasurier

It’s always this time of year in New England when the weather courts us with thoughts of summer — each day patches of matted brown grass grow greener and larger. Road salt is in full seasonal fade. “Come out and play,” I hear it say to me. Those first few spring rides outside on the road offer the most brilliant feeling of freedom. Of freshness. Of newness. Of a dirt season in the near-distance.

It’s also this time of year when I want to say, hold up. Am I really ready for winter to be over? It takes winter to appreciate spring, that’s for sure. But what can be so fun about donning winter gear to go out for a ride knowing I’ll be snot-nosed, teary-eyed, and frozen in a matter of minutes? Sure, a little discomfort can actually make us feel more alive. It can make us slow down and take a look at what’s important. Like fingers, for example. As bikers, we need ‘em and I never notice my fingers more than when I’m starting into a downhill on a cold winter ride and they’re nearly uselessly frozen. Why would I embrace this? Why hold on to this?

I went for a mountain bike ride in the woods behind my house a few weeks ago. The snow had frozen into a thick undulating layer of hard crust and a dusting of new snow had fallen overnight, making the ground grippy and fast. It was 20 degrees and overcast, which usually affords me about a 30% chance of getting outside to ride. But I motivated, geared up, and decided to give it a gamble. I started to follow a summer trail I’d built that leads out from our land. The ground was sufficiently firm, but not icy, and the trail was recognizable. I set to follow it out to a tract of power line land and then turn around and ride back. But despite knowing the trail from memory I missed a turn without noticing. I just kept riding, straight ahead through the woods, with no trail under wheel, just firm packed snow, like concrete–and wavy, like a wading pool. Suddenly the woods were free game, a biker’s paradise! I could ride any line my handlebars could fit through. I spent two hours alone out there in a state of playful joy. Leaving no tracks, no trace.

The next day the temperatures rose above freezing and the snow thawed. The following day it snowed half a foot. My bike playground had vanished, just like that.

For a brief afternoon, those poor winter conditions lined up perfectly. Right there in my backwoods a whole world of new riding opened up to me, offering an experience on a bike in New England woods that I’ve never had, nor can ever have, in the summer: so unrefined, pure, and fleeting. That’s why, when the birds start to sing songs of dirt days to come I say, hold up. Am I ready to move on from this?

Please, Winter, and your motley goods: don’t go too soon.

Beat Those Pre-Race Nerves!

Battling pre-race nerves is not always an easy task. For some, channeling nerves into excitement and adrenaline comes naturally. Yet sometimes these nerves can be debilitating – they cause anxiety, fear, and flooding thoughts of self-doubt that normally don’t exist. Here are some tips to help overcome the harmful effects of pre-race nerves:

1.) Remember that racing is no different than training. It can be hard to do this with the added competition and atmosphere of a race. Try to keep your race routine as similar to training as possible. There’s no need to do anything “special” on race day that you wouldn’t do on a normal training day. Doing so can lead to added pressure to compete well.

2.) Visualize. Visualization is powerful tool and is shown to stimulate the same parts of you mind your that are used when actually performing the actions you visualize. Imagining yourself ride sections of the course the way you want will give you confidence, because in your mind you have already mastered them.

3.) Engage in positive self-talk. Positive self-talk can be used to combat doubtful emotions and thoughts that may arise from nerves. Find a mantra that speaks to you and the kinds of things you are trying to combat on race day. Remind yourself of the things you are good at so that you can channel those strengths in the race, and feel confident beforehand.

The key is to learn how to make your nerves work for you, instead of against you. If you let your nerves control you too much, they can become crippling and debilitating. When channeled properly, however, they can create a powerful source of adrenaline that can help you go even faster on race day.

Moriah Wilson

Quinn Gets Excited for Summer!

New England winters are arguably more brutal than those of any other location in the United States. The unfortunate combination of length, temperature, and severe vitamin D deficiency make spring– and the beginning of bike season– that much more tantalizing.

February has graced those of us here in East Burke, Vermont with a surprising number of pow days, and I will admit, they make the heart of winter substantially more bearable. But no matter how many turns I carve on soft groomers, or cliffs I jump in hardwood forests I can’t replicate the excitement of bike seasons first pedal strokes.

By late April, Darling Hill, sleepy and trimmed with feet of snow in the winter, is replaced by a bustling scene of locals and tourists who’ve pulled their bikes from the shed, oiled their chains, and made their way to the Kingdom Trails. There’s a constant, palpable excitement which presents itself through customers face splitting grins and muddy shins after the morning’s first miles.

As opening day wears on, my excitement will grow exponentially, and for the last hour in the bike shop I can hardly contain myself. I sneak glances at the clock. Thirty minutes, ten, five, and the first “open” sign of summer is rolled up and brought inside. With the jitters of a six-year-old on Christmas eve I’ll tie the familiar laces of my riding shoes and plot a mental map of the trails I love so much. Threading my handlebars through the shop’s door frame as my cleats settle securely into the pedals, I’ll crank towards the trail head and into the new season. There will be countless afternoons during the summer that start just like that, but for now I’m waiting in anticipation of opening day, sucking wind on a stationary bike and wishing the turns I make in the woods were atop two wheels and a ribbon of dirt.

Quinn