Updated: Oct 18, 2022
“Tú puedes (you can do it),” I yell as Yanely coasts down to the rock roll. We’ve scouted this spot, and she’s watched me roll over it. Now it’s her turn to give it a try. Up and over, she goes, trying out the “peek and push” technique I’ve just taught her. “I did it!” she exclaims and rides over for a fist bump. She wants to ride back up the climbing trail and down the blue line on Cedar Dust to give it another go, but the sun is setting. We’ve got to meet everyone back at the cars to get packed up and leave.
Vamos Outdoors Project is a local non-profit working to build community with Latine youth in Whatcom and Skagit Counties through outdoor education. We at the Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition (WMBC) are one of their long-term partners and support their mountain biking programs. Each year the two non-profits take over 250 kids riding on Mount Galbraith and at the Waterfront pump track. Bikes, helmets, gloves, snacks, transportation, and instruction are provided at no cost to the participants. Each group rides for three to four weeks in the spring, summer, and fall seasons. I am one of those instructors; I also manage the WMBC’s bike fleet and volunteers. I ride eight months a year on our local trails with these kids and feel like the luckiest person in the world. My favorite part is watching our students grow; not only in their abilities but into kind, hilarious, and steadfast young people.
Yanely and I have ridden together since 2019 when I signed on as a volunteer after responding to a handwritten note I found on a community message board. Though only eleven years old, in the past three years she has fallen and picked herself up countless times, sized up bikes three times, and now can ride nearly the whole mountain. This year we raced together in the Whatcom World Cup community races and plan to again next year. She is relentless on the uphill and loves a good overlook and bench. Her three siblings also ride with us regularly, and while there is typical sibling banter, they are always encouraging and supportive of each other.
This year, Kona Bikes donated 16 brand new Honzo, Fire Mountain, and Cinder Cone bikes to replace the aging adult fleet we use for our older participants. These bikes are beautiful! They could not have come at a better time for us. As our returning riders gain skills - and height - we have been stretched thin with appropriate bikes to accommodate the more challenging trails and features they are now riding. Everyone was excited to try these bikes. One group took them straight to the top, commenting on how much more stable and safer they felt. New bikes mean less time in the shop and less cost for us to maintain. They have also resulted in fewer falls, students practicing dropper-post use, and better braking techniques. This program is so much more than the bikes we use, but they are integral to an empowering day out versus a frustrating one.
Thank you to Kona Bikes and the Maxx G Foundation for donating these bikes and supporting this program in many other ways over the past four years. Thank you to our volunteers who commit to riding with us once a week for six weeks each season. Thank you to the bike mechanics who have donated their time, the bike shops who have donated their materials, and our members who have donated money. If I have learned anything from ride leading these past four years, it is the importance of community and how giving back benefits everyone involved. Thank you to the students who show up each week and challenge me in ways I never would have experienced without them.