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.

Loosen Up and Let it Roll: Tips for Descending Better!

By: Jane LeMasurier

A few years ago I went riding with a friend who was a much better technical rider, but someone of about the same fitness level. I’d stick with him no problem on the climbs and flats. However, within ten feet of starting into a descent, he would pull away from me. It felt like in a single pedal stroke he’d be gone, bounding off over rocks and through tight trees like a deer in the woods. Naturally I would start to pedal harder. But no matter how much physical effort I put into going faster, I couldn’t catch him. On a particularly long and rocky descent, I came barreling to the bottom of the trail, my forearms on fire, my tires smashing into rocks, huffing and puffing, only to see my friend sitting and resting on his bike, as if he’d been waiting for hours. He said something to me at that moment that I will always keep in mind. He told me that I needed to realize that going fast downhill isn’t like going fast uphill. He told me to loosen up and let it roll.

So, here are a few simple tips to loosen up before you descend:

Start with the Hands: You obviously want a good grip on the bike and a quick trigger for the brakes, but if you’re clamping down for dear life, that sends a fear signal to your brain, which can tense your entire body. The same is true for how you position your body over your bike. Stay rooted to the bike but give it space. The more you try to control the bike, the rougher your ride will be. Open your knees and let the bike move underneath you. Give the bike some room to perform! If you give the bike space to maneuver as it’s been built to maneuver, you’ll ride happier with more finesse. Certainly staying loose and relaxed is just as much a frame of mind as it is a body position.

Follow A Better Rider (and ride their line): I’m a visual learner, so following better riders down more and more technical lines has improved my riding significantly. Ask a faster friend to slow down so you can stay on his or her wheel. Just as important as it is to watch someone pick tougher lines, it’s important to learn how to see your own line. This means scanning the trail both directly in front of your tire and off in the distance. Scanning between the two visual points will help you prepare for what’s immediately underneath you as well as what’s coming up. And don’t be afraid to take a moment on your ride to turn around a try something again — a bridge, a rock garden, or a rolldown, for example. Getting out and riding technical terrain is the first step to improving, but slowing down and looking at the terrain, or having a friend encourage you to ride it (and be there in case you fall!), will help you relax and improve your descending.

Go Faster: Really. The slower you go downhill, the harder the technical features become. At slower speeds these features require more balance and more skill to ride them. I’m not encouraging reckless abandon, but a little confidence to let it roll faster than your comfort zone will actually help you ride downhill with more success!