I've known of this organization for a few years and wanted to see what they're about. Last season I attempted to sign up for a day, but the dates never seemed to jive with my schedule. Today it finally worked out. I also thought it would be a good experience for Ian, since for a 10 year old, he's a pretty experienced rider. I thought he'd be a good role model, enjoy riding with other kids, and learn something from the experience as well.
Trips for Kids partners with the Cascade bicycle club, our huge local club - actually the largest bicycle club in the U.S. So when Ian and I rolled into the park at 9:30 AM, that's who met us - nice guy Eric from Cascade. After introductions and some chit chat, while waiting for the kids to arrive, we helped unload bikes, pump up tires, check quick releases, and test ride a few bikes for safety sake.
Yup, Cascade is a big club, complete with own van - says so right on the side.
Loaner bikes lined up and ready to roll. All decent mid to lower priced quality rigs, donated from various sources.
With the bikes all ready to roll, we waited for the kids to arrive. And waited, and waited. They finally arrived about an hour late, but no big deal. Turns out the chaperone, a nice woman in her 20s or so, took a bus from downtown Seattle to the park, then walked about 20 minutes to where we were located - with 9 kids in tow. A bit of a trek. The kids were also a bit older then I expected, all teenage boys, high school aged - from some organization located in the Central District of Seattle. This organization gets the kids out on camping trips and other outdoor activities. Pretty cool. This was their first ever mountain bike ride.
During the introductions, discovered they were all originally from China or Vietnam. Seemed to be nice, polite kids - but certainly teenaged boys for sure. Also discovered some of them haven't been on a bike - any kind of bike - for a few years. This should be an interesting afternoon....
Eric the ride leader, gave 'em all the info to get started - trail rules and safety reminders. Eric and I assisted in getting helmets securely fastened, gloves on, bikes matched to riders and seat heights adjusted. After a quick brake and shifting lesson, we all roll to a large field to practice shifting. The group rolls in a circle, with tips being offered by Eric and I. They all seem to get the idea - sort of. After a few laps, time for some singletrack action and we head for the woods.
Eric takes the lead, with my son Ian right behind him. I ride sweep behind all the riders. Within 5 seconds of hitting the trail, kid in front me literally hit the trail, courtesy of front disk brake induced endo. Ouch. He gets up, dusts himself off and appears to be okay. A pretty good fall. Bike landed hard enough on the WTB saddle to completely bend the seat rails. Yikes. Welcome to mountain biking kid. I pull off a cave man repair on the saddle by bending it back into place by hand - not perfect, but good enough to continue riding. We catch back up to the group in no time.
We ride at a slow pace though a few of St Ed's trails. I continue to ride sweep, with Endo Kid in front of me, and I offer riding advice as needed. I've spent way too much time on a bike, past and present, so witnessing older kids starting from ground zero on the mountain bike learning curve, was a bit of shock. No real clue on shifting, getting weight off the saddle, what lines to take - or anything experienced riders do without even thinking about it. Interesting to see, but a little painful as well.
We stop and regroup often, Eric giving advice and challenging the riders to ride over a small log and other obstacles. The kids who were shy and apprehensive were starting to loosen up and have fun. They're doing well enough, that we elect to skip the lunch break, additional drills session, and continue to ride a bit farther. We head down the trail for further adventure.
While climbing up a short steep section, Endo Kid launches his rear derailleur into the spokes. I tell him to stop before too much damage occurs. I check out the tangled mess - sweet. I get the chain back in place, then notice the very bent derailleur hanger. Having nothing to lose, I bend it back out by hand, expecting it to snap off - amazingly it doesn't. Even more amazing, it shifts correctly afterwards. Yes, I am the master cave man mechanic. Tools not required.
Bikes lay in bushes, while we search for cell phone that popped out of one kid's pocket. A trail walker found it and all was well. A teenager without a cell phone? Not for long. Where are the pictures of the actual kids? Not allowed to take any, rules and regulations and all. I think the world has become a little too paranoid - no? In any case, no pictures allowed, so none taken.
The ride continued with no more additional endos, exploding derailleurs, or escaping cell phones. Eric challenged the new riders to complete a short wooden plank section, and one kid pulled it off. Well, Ian did as well - but he's had a little practice. I blew it with all eyes on me riding sweep - whoops. Yes, I am the expert.
The last Eric challenge was a short uphill complete with small log crossing. One kid cleaned it, only the 4th newbie ever to clear in all of Eric's trips. Not bad. I pumped up Endo Kid with all my alleged tips and even set him off in the right gear. He came oh so close to also cleaning it. Nice smile on his face made up for it though. Ian also cleaned it, showing some of the older kids how it was done - making bike geek dad proud. Nice job.
We all shared the last short climb back to official Cascade van, and the new riders dismounted their trusty loaner steeds. At the end of the ride, Eric held a "cookie circle", where we all sat in, uh...circle - just like the name indicates. As the bag of cookies went around, everyone had to mention what they were most proud of, and what was the most exciting part of the day.
Various answers ranging to being proud of actually sweating, to climbing a hill, to clearing logs. Many said the most exciting part was going fast down hills. Yup, that's pretty universal - welcome to the club. Many thanked us for the experience - that was cool.
While the gang retraced their 20 minute walk to catch the bus back to Seattle, Ian and I helped load bikes and other gear. I removed the damaged saddle from Endo Kid's bike, soon to be sent to the nearest dumpster. Also taped a note on the 'bars to replace the derailleur hanger ASAP. Don't want a busted seat rail or snapped hanger to ruin the next kid's ride. After some more nice conversation with Eric, Ian and I jumped on our bikes for the short ride home - mission accomplished.
Would I volunteer again? Sure, it was fun - but you need some real patience. Compared to a normal mountain bike ride, you're crawling along with many stops to kill the flow. Add in mechanical mishaps, crashes, giving pointers, and all the other guidance required - you're going to dig doing this or not. As I mentioned, it was pretty amazing to see these kids arrive with such little riding skill. But it was also very fun to see the improvement in all the riders, even with such a short ride.
With a few more rides, they would improve even more and maybe even become actual riders. If an afternoon out cruising the trails gave any of 'em the riding bug - that would be great.
Even if that never happens, but they still think back to this afternoon as a fun experience - it's all good and worth the time. Plus, you can't help but to learn some things yourself in such a shared experience. It goes beyond bikes and that's perhaps the best part.