Mountain Bike Summer Camp!
Words by Anna Maria Diaz-Balart, Photography Lucia Deng
The only thing better than summer camp, is a women’s mountain biking summer camp. Especially if you have been wanting to try mountain biking for ages, and are scared, and don't have a mountain bike. Early one saturday in June I drove out to Mountain Creek Bike Park in Northern New Jersey to attend a camp being taught by Kathi Krause of Dirt Rock and Root Training. I was 60% terrified, 30% excited, and 10% freaked out about driving a car (something I don't often do as a New York cyclist). What followed was scary and awesome, and a million times more rewarding than anything I could have imagined.
I grew up in mountain free Florida and have only ridden road and cx bikes in the New York City area. I felt a bit like I’d landed on a foreign planted when I arrived at Mountain Creek. From its imposing alpine exterior (it moonlights as a ski resort) to the parking lot full of monster pick up trucks and bikes that looked more like motorcycles than bicycles, this was certainly nothing like central park laps! Everyone looked like extras in a 90’s remake of Michael Jackson’s thriller, sporting baggy, day-go matched sets paired with elaborate body armor. Everyone except me, who stood there lost and confused, and kind of naked in an all black Rapha kit. More importantly, everyone else looked like they knew exactly what they were doing, and I was struggling with the rental lockers.
I rented a great GT cross country mountain bike. It felt like it weighed a million pounds, and the squish of the suspension was so weird!!! I met two other campers at the rental shop, who like me were nervous as well. I jammed my stuff in a locker, put my bidon in my back jersey pocket, and was off to join the other women and coaches. I saw a few familiar faces in the crowd, but this did little to calm my nerves. They raced Cat 3 mountain bike, and I didn’t know how to shift the gears on my rental.
After a morning spent doing round after round of drills, I started to feel a little more confident. My fellow campers were all much more experienced than I was, but the skills drills really demonstrated that cyclists off all levels can benefit by practicing the basics. More than anything, all of us benefitted immensely from the caliber of coaches at Dirt Rock and Root Training. Kathi Krause had invited Karen Eagan and Sue Clifford to coach alongside her and the result was years of top level experience, varied styles of coaching and explanation, and an excellent ‘teacher student’ ratio. Expert eyes were on us constantly, it was no surprise that the group progressed as quickly as it did.
While the camp ended up separating into two groups for downhill and cross country, we all worked on similar skills throughout the camp. Foot position, body position, balance, descending, climbing, front wheel lifts, rear wheel lifts, braking, cornering and climbing. As a super beginner I spent a lot of time pushing my bike through the woods, I got overwhelmed a handful of times, I fell twice, and I might have cried a teeny bit. The tiniest things were all battles, but by day two I could recognize poison ivy and I had a fancy backpack I could drink water out of.
I also zipped through some beginner trails feeling like I was on a human powered roller coaster. I felt my bike lift into the air, I flew around berms, I got through rock gardens, and did front wheel lifts (more than once!) My heart raced and I went from having the ‘I survived that’ feeling to having the ‘that was awesome, lets do it again!!!’ feeling. And for the first time in a long time I felt my eyes tear up because what I was doing was so awesome and thrilling and fun, and so outside of something I thought I could do.
My only regret is that I hadn't tried mountain biking sooner. I can't recommend attending a camp enough, and if at all possible, try to seek out a female coach and women’s camp. Its supportive and inspiring in ways I can’t even explain. I came away from camp determined to find a mountain bike and to relish being a beginner all over again. Bring on the spills and scrapes, the aching arms from pushing through technical trails, because I’ll keep crying in the woods as many times as it takes to keep that ‘rainbows exploding in my heart’ feeling alive. Besides, I'm pretty sure my oversized Oakley Jawbreakers are there to keep my woodland sniffles private.
Join in on the fun at NYC's first Women's MTB Clinic on July 25th located at Cunningham Park in Queens, NY! Pre-Register at Bike Reg before July 22nd.