One of GOAT’s most frequent trips is mountain biking. It is a lot of fun, but it is also our most challenging trip. There are lots of places for us to bike around the upstate, but our favorite is Gateway Park in Traveler’s Rest. It has a nice field for us to give our beginner bike clinic on, a trail through the woods to get the kids used to biking off the pavement, a pump track to learn bike mechanics on, and a flow track to build confidence. The versatility of Gateway also means that all of the kids end up biking the whole time because they are able to express some autonomy over what they want to do after we finish the basics!
A s can be expected, the kids have varied responses to biking. Some of them love to bike around their neighborhoods and feel fairly comfortable on a bike. On the other hand, some of our students haven’t been on a bike in years and are really uncomfortable. This is why biking is the most challenging because there is such a range of skill levels among the kids and our guides want to make sure everyone has a great time. The kids who are uncomfortable on bikes need lots of one-on-one attention and encouragement, which is one of the most meaningful activities as a guide but it can make engaging larger groups more difficult.
For example, one of our biking trips last week was with the Éleos middle schoolers at Gateway. For those of you who are unaware, Éleos is a sibling organization with GOAT under the non-profit called Lead Collective. GOAT tends to take at least one trip a week with the Éleos middle schoolers, so our guides get to know the kids pretty well. This day I happened to sit next to a girl I had never noticed before on the bus. While it’s not rare for kids to miss a few trips, I learned from Grace, Éleos’ program director, that this girl had just moved into the neighborhood, and it was her first day at Éleos. While this girl seemed to be very shy, I learned that her name was Tamara and that she was nervous about mountain biking. Like I said before, this feeling is not uncommon, so I brushed it off letting her know that we would have a clinic and teach her everything she needed to know. Little did I know just how nervous Tamara really was. During the clinic, Tamara would not take her feet off the ground no matter what Holden, the guide teaching the clinic, asked. Eventually, I started to talk to her and tried to convince her how safe it was and that she could just put her feet down any time she felt unsure. Unfortunately, that did not help to sway her fears, so I offered to jog alongside her while she rode, promising that I would catch her if she fell. That did the trick, and the next thing I knew I was running laps with Tamara as she learned to brake, change gears, quick stop, and perform the proper riding position.
By the end, Tamara was riding like a natural, but she still just didn’t feel comfortable. On our lap around the trails at Gateway, she would ride on any flat section but the second she started to speed up due to a downhill section she would stop and walk the bike until she reached level ground again. As I mentioned previously, this is pretty typical of students new to biking. We never force them to do anything that they are afraid of, though we encourage them heavily, so Tamara kept that pattern of riding and walking throughout the whole trail. When we finished the trails and moved to the flow track, I was positive that Tamara wouldn’t even try it; however, I wanted to see if I could get her to try it at least once. I told her that she could go down as slowly as she wanted to and even demonstrated going through the course while using my brakes the whole time. This didn’t quite convince her, but it definitely increased her comfort level. As time passed and she saw the other kids going down and having more fun, I could tell she wanted to go but was still nervous. Then our photographer, Emily, said that she would go down the track if Tamara did it. This was the little push she needed. She nodded quickly in response as her eyes widened with a balanced mix of joy and nerves. Any hesitation shown during the morning was quickly forgotten as Tamara went down the track faster than I did the first time I went down it! While she was biking back to the top, I was prepared for that run to solidify her fear of the track, but that was not the case. Instead, she was grinning from ear to ear and did not stop going down the rest of the morning. In fact, we were almost late to lunch because she kept wanting to have another run. As I walked with her to the bleachers where we ate, I knowingly asked if she had fun and she declared mountain biking to be “one of the best things ever,” going on to say that she wanted to come here every day and even spend her birthday at Gateway! What a difference a day can make! Tamara started the day full of fear, but she didn’t allow that fear to stop her from trying something new. With the help of the GOAT guides, Tamara got out of her comfort zone and now knows just how much she enjoys mountain biking. She was also able to develop relationships with me and the other guides that helped her as she grew in her trust in us. Sometimes you just have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable!
You can see the proof of how much fun Tamara had going down the run. Just look at these pictures that Emily snapped of her huge smile while going down the flow track!