Camp: It’s Like Riding A Bike


   Children’s happy voices announce the coming change. It’s a transformation which happens every year on the Opening Day of Gwynn Valley.   Static to kinetic energy. In a few hours, the “bicycle barn” emerges from a hibernating state, with mountain bikes suspended carefully from the ceiling and helmets aligned like guards across the wall.  Quiet all around and large front doors closed.   The first campers of the summer have signed up for Discovery Program focused on mountain biking skill progression.   Helmets are quickly adorned while basic bike operation is reviewed by instructors.   Suddenly each bike has momentum, with the takeoff stage often awkward in the loose gravel, such as any beginning can be. Muscles loosen and confidence builds, lower legs propelling dirt from the back tire while upper arms twist a bit to capture fluid control. 

             A trail system courses through Gwynn Valley, each offering unique features and varied difficulties for riders.  Beginning riders benefit from the predictable surface of the soccer field, where gearing and brakes are trialed.  A simple game of follow the leader produces smiles.  A venture down the main driveway of camp, past the lake and up a slight incline is the first real challenge.  The pinnacle of this hill is draped in the shade of old hemlocks and white pines.  The children rest at this spot, resolute after conquering the hill, and illuminate the space with confidence and pride. 

            Gravity is tested as riders cruise quickly down the driveway.  Onlooking cows and horses are ready and patient audience for the bikers.  More advanced trails await eager riders.  The flow trail is a network of steep switchbacks, testing balance and bike handling skills.  Blacksmith trail initially may seem rather mellow.  However, roots, rocks, drops, and uneven trail challenge intermediate riders.  Main camp trail is a worthy goal for intermediate and advanced riders.  It’s trail entrance is tucked near the stairs of Hillside with steep trajectory continuing up the east side of the valley.  Pounding hearts, aching legs, and groans of effort portray the personality of this trail.  Once at the top…the greatly anticipated downhill of Main camp trail follows.

             Some in the mountain biking program are as young as seven, only recently taught how to bike by parents.  Advanced riders are often 17 years old.  The personality and ethos of Gwynn Valley are evident in classes of mixed skill levels.  Advanced riders assist younger riders.  Teamwork, patience, and group success are the product of this age dichotomy and chemistry. 

             The vernacular of mountain biking skills is seemingly complex.   Braking, gearing, and cadence are the fundamentals.  Balance skills, climbing techniques, drops, and ratcheting are more advanced skills.  Trail scanning, in my view, is the most important.  Mountain bikers are taught to scan the trail ahead during forward movement.  The mind and body must learn to anticipate and react to challenges in the trail.  Rocks, trees, roots, and small drops constantly require assessment and rider reaction for successful and safe passage.  The journey forward, often over rough terrain, is the substrate of mountain biking; it is why children want to try.  Confidence in trail scanning and mountain biking perhaps translate to life scanning for children.  Anticipation and positive reaction to the inevitable challenges in life are practiced on the mountain bike trail.  The supportive environment of Gwynn Valley reinforces the lessons and nurturing our campers receive at home.

             Confidence and pride live here.

David Adams