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Rides and Riders - Reflecting on 2020 from the Trails

As 2020 heads towards a close no doubt we're all reflecting on what was a very different, unexpected and for most people a very challenging year. One of my team from my adult job mentioned that 2020 had been incredibly difficult for him and that he was keen to leave it behind, looking forward to a better 2021. My reply to him was fairly simple - that any year where I'm still breathing is actually a really good year for me.

While that may sound very cliched, it's a genuine thought - and not just because of what I get away with (or perhaps not quite so much now) on my bike. Your mind is capable of taking you to some very dark places, full of depair. For those that have fought their way out of those prisons, the memories of those times I suspect never quite leave you and so you learn to live in the moment and appreciate the smallest of things. So despite, like everyone, having had to face a few challenges through this year, I can look back and see a lot of good that has happened as well.

The 2020 Lost World Fund Raising Ride for Friends with Dignity - Everyone made it there and everyone made it back

Certainly one of my highlights this year was the Lost World Friends with Dignity Fund Raising ride, but not just for the ride itself. From this particular activity I witnessed first hand the generosity and compassion of a good cross section of the mountain biking community. Liv Nerang joined in and raised money for the cause at their social weekend ride as well as donating some bikes which was going well and truly beyond. And there were also a number of people who donated directly without participating on either rides resulting in a bit more money than I had certainly planned or thought possible to raise.

I did have grand plans to do a few more fund raising rides through the year. Unfortunately adult life managed to get in the way of a lot of things and the exercise of coordinating something with a charity took a bit more effort than I realised it would. But with any luck, I might be able to organise another one or two in 2021.

The smile on Fiona's face hides the determination to push through her fears to become a more confident rider.

Despite not running as many sessions this year I still happened to meet a few new faces on the trails - 143 to be exact. That's not quite as many as last year. But given I had a fairly relaxing three month break courtesy of COVID, it's actually a lot more people than I had expected to join me out on the trails.

When it comes to riders that stand out in my mind, it's generally the attitude of a student that really grabs my attention. Either through demonstrating remarkable resolve and determination or just having a passion for learning - it's these traits that remind me of why I enjoy coaching so much.

One of the new faces that stand out for me this year is Fiona. Starting out as someone who was a bit nervous about a number of mountain bike related areas, Fiona persevered to push through her fears and build up her fitness and confidence over the course of the year.

Despite not having been on a mountain bike for very long, Shafiq demonstrated a passion for learning new skills that saw him improve very quickly.

Of course, you do meet people that seem to have a natural flair for riding. If said rider also has a an open mind and a passion for learning new skills, you end up with someone like Shafiq out on the trails. Shafiq had only been riding for 4 months when I first met him but he took to learning new skills like a duck to water. I really couldn't help but smile when I watched Shafiq corner at the third session of the Core Skills B-Line program - he was determined to get his handlebars as close to the ground as possible!

Gina's second ever ride out on the trails saw her getting the hang of front wheel lifts.

Ordinarily I don't recommend that riders who have never been out on a mountain bike trail join the Core Skills B-Line program. But, after a brief conversation with Gina I realised she was the outdoorsy type and that provided she had a strong mind, she would get through the course without too much difficulty. And I have to say, Gina's ability to overcome her nervousness at riding on the trails for the first time, learn new skills AND ride to and from Mermaid Beach was simply amazing.

Noel challenged himself by doing the Intro to MTB Skills, Core Skills B-Line and Core Skilla A-Line programs back to back.

Noel on the other hand took the more traditional route of starting out mountain bike riding by first building up his confidence on the Grade 1 Intro to MTB Skills course. I'm pretty sure that he enjoyed riding so much that he decided to build up his off road riding skillset as quickly as possible and completed the Grade 2 and 3 courses straight after that - nine weeks of skills development. As much as he probably enjoyed the act of learning so many skills in a short space of time, I've no doubt he really challenged himself as well - evidenced by the many photos of some entertaining facial expressions I have of Noel throughout all nine weeks.

Kevin's mountain bike journey has been one of consistent improvement

Onto some familiar faces (at least for me) starting with Kevin. When I met Kevin last year he was determined to overcome some confidence challenges by steadily building up his skills base and it's been great to watch him progress. He's come a long way with his riding from when he started through just being consistent with his riding and skills practice.

I don't get too many people on the Core Skills A-Line program on a hardtail.

Esa is in this post for two reasons, but I'm only going to mention one of them - she knows the other one. Jumping, dropping and riding down Barneys is intimidating for a lot of riders at this level, let alone someone on a hardtail. But Esa showed everyone on her course just how capable hardtails can be, tackling pretty much everything. Esa is a reminder to me that we're all capable of doing amazing things if we just believe that we're able to do just that.

David's mountain bike can only be described as a "classic" I think - still, however, it's eminently capable!

I'm no stranger to riding a vintage bike out on the trails and seeing exactly what they can do. Mind you, I think it takes someone with a very different (perhaps special) mindset to really want to take out a vintage bike in Nerang. David is one such rider, proving that it's not the bike but the rider that makes all the difference in mountain biking. That is, at least until the vintage bike breaks (I'm sure David's was close at some stages through the course!).

Having twenty kids descend on us for the Active and Healthy Juniors Session was pretty intimidating!

20 riders doesn't actually sound like much.... until you see them descend onto you like a giant mob. To be fair, having their parents present as well probably made the group seem a lot bigger than it actually was. Suffice to say that there was a lot of traffic around in this class. But, Philippa and I managed to pull this one off without anyone running into each other, while simultaneously actually teaching some skills as well!

Don't let the photo fool you - this is steeper than it looks.

Last but certainly not least is Gwyn, who I suspect has the largest number of entertaining riding face photos in my collection of students. Ironically, in this shot where she's riding down a reasonably steep shoot, she has an aura of calm as she descends down this technical terrain. The photo itself does hide the fact that she may have ended up in the bushes on the other side - but I did mention about focusing on the good moments earlier on, didn't I? I know Gwyn as one of the most determined and disciplined students to have come on my courses. She's regularly out on the trails practicing what she's learned to become a better rider and I'm pretty sure that she crashes a lot less than her husband, Sean does. Or maybe it's just because she's more sensible. Either way, Gwyn's progress over time has been impressive, made more so by knowing the work she's put in to be better.

So there's a little bit of a snapshot of what I was fortunate enough to be a part of in 2020. Admittedly, the year hasn't ended up the way I would have planned (with a broken wrist) - but I guess that was really just a matter of time. And the lesson learned from that particular experience - respect the tree roots! I hope you can all reflect on 2020 and see some of the good things that you may have experienced through this very different year. Enjoy seeing the near year in and I'll catch some of you out on the trails or perhaps even elsewhere in 2021!

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