A Forest Full of Trees

textures-21Over the past couple of weeks it has been an incredible privilege to meet with folks from several different entities within our Clemson Area “bubble” to talk about programs for youth and families and share perspectives about what might be beneficial for our community and how to support each other. During a meeting today, I became aware that I was experiencing a parallel of what I hope individuals experience when they take part in Upstate FORT programs.

Noticing What You Notice:
As I stood in the north forest with a small group of folks I noticed the rich, dense smell of wet dirt and leaves. I listened to the birds excitedly moving about from treetop to treetop. I felt the warmth of the sunshine as the sun rose higher and shade drew back. I noticed the thought of regret float through my mind that I had not loaded a bike on the car before leaving the house.

Would I have noticed these observations on a typical ride through the forest? Possibly.

Recognizing The Experiences of Others:
Listening to the others in our small circle, I was introduced to multiple viewpoints different from my own. We were all sharing the enjoyment of a beautiful day in the forest. The individual with the forestry background talked about the trees in such a way that I thought, “I wish I knew more about the trees.” The individual from our local botanical garden shared thoughts about birds and plants that inspired me to think, “I wish I could identify more than a handful of birds and I would like to pay more attention to the plants.” I followed the gaze of the individual studying parks and recreation and learned they had noticed one of the dogs a man was walking with seemed to be lagging behind.

Would I have been aware of these different experiences of the forest without being in this particular small group of people? Probably not.

Slowing down and trying something different made my personal experience more valuable and mindful. Sharing the experience with a small group of others, and tuning in to their unique perspectives, was inspiring. I hope the folks who participate in Upstate FORT programs walk (or ride) away with a similar growth in awareness of their own experience and the perspectives of others. I hope they see the forest beyond their favorite tree.

#MoreKidsOnBikes

bike-and-helmetRegistration opens today for our Intro to Mountain Biking program in partnership with the City of Clemson Parks and Rec department. We could not be more excited as we anticipate meeting new kids and watching them acquire a new skill set that will last a lifetime. We are passionate about bikes for dozens of reasons, but here are a few of our favorites:

  • Biking, like swimming or running, is a lifer sport. For youth, the adventure sports hold great appeal and longevity. Once you learn the basic skills, you have everything you need to continue the sport for as long as you like.
  • For the average recreational rider, the entry cost for biking is relatively low when compared to expenses related to other athletic endeavors. Plus, with a bike you get the added bonus of a transportation resource to school, employments, or social events. Not only are bikes incredible social equalizers, they are also infrastructure solutions for communities small in land mass with growing populations (looking at you, Clemson, SC!)
  • We all know that the benefits of fitness for school age kids include increased fitness and academic achievement as well as occupying the social “danger hours” between 3:00 and 7:00 PM. What you may not know is that, by in large, adventure sports are also as safe or safer than traditional rec league sports. Yep! Fewer injuries per 100,000 kids participating.
  • Biking offers the same benefits as other forms of exercise in regulating emotions. In our group rides and instruction, we also stress the merits of trip awareness and tuning in to the experiences of others around you to increase safety and offer support and encouragement.

Sessions start next month. We look forward to growing the number of skilled, empowered, connected youth riders in our incredible community!!

Resource:
Hickey, R. W. (2016). Action Sports. Parks & Recreation, 51(5), 24.

Wounded Knee weBEASTs

Last year we teamed up with like minded friends and started an informal club for young mountain bikers. We call this group weBEAST (I’m a sucker for a good acronym – Biking Experiences And Skills on Trails). The goals were simple: get out and bike with kids, and begin to create some local legitimacy for mountain biking as a youth sport.

This past Thursday I was lucky enough to ride along for a nice 5 miler down the Dam Road Trail (yes, the kids relish the opportunity to say this over and over and over) to Rocky Extension, up Dalton Road, down Wounded Knee, up Issaqueena Road to Indian Springs, and finishing with Hardwood back to the horseshoe parking area where we had started from. This trip always includes a long break for play at Willow Springs. All kids riding have a parent or mentor adult riding along. It has been a while since the last time I rode with this group, and though Drake has describes several times how much they have improved I was still blown away by their level of skill. These kids (and parents!) are killing it out there.

The last time I rode up Dalton Road to Wounded Knee with these kiddos there were tears, y’all. It’s a long steady uphill and it can be discouraging! Not this time, though. Everyone made it to the top pretty quickly, and when they needed to step off and walk they did so with confidence. Everyone waited until the whole group could start the downhill, cause that’s what friends do.

I’m amazed we are getting out for weekly rides in January. Looking around the other day, I could barely recognize in these kids the riders they were a year ago.

The Confluence

The footbridge at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in NC (also part of the Appalachian Trail. Note the blaze on the right.)
The footbridge at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in NC (also part of the Appalachian Trail. Note the blaze on the right.)

In June 2016, Drake and I were standing in the middle of the footbridge that crosses the Nantahala River in Western North Carolina on NOC’s campus (where Drake worked for over ten years, back in the day). We were reveling in the joy of a day well spent. Our daughter, Laurel, had chosen an adventure with friends instead of a birthday party, so we had just taken four joyful, screaming eight year-old girls on a river trip (in Harry Potter glasses, no less). They were playing at the waters edge by the take out and we were enjoying the birds-eye view from the bridge.

A few minutes later a large group arrived at the take out looking pretty familiar. They were a mixture of current students and alumni from a therapeutic boarding school we had worked at a few years back where we started their weekend adventure program. Their adventures have since grown to include awesome alumni experiences like the one we were witnessing from the bridge. And then we got another blast from the past, when a former student who is now in college walked up in his employee shirt and took some time to catch up. He is in college now (hard to believe!) and wanted to tell us that he works there in the summers because of the trips he took with us years ago that introduced him to rafting and the combined peace and thrills of southern whitewater.

Personally, we had been struggling to find our next professional chapter. Neither of us were in jobs that were a right fit. And then, standing on that bridge, it suddenly all made sense…not crystal clear obvious sense…but sense, nonetheless. Sometimes your calling creeps up on you, because it has been standing right behind you quietly waiting for you to notice. In the scope of a few minutes we knew we were headed back towards working with kids and their families in outdoor and creative adventures. The seeds were sewn for what is now Upstate FORT (Family Oriented Recreation and Therapy). We are discovering as we go, but excited to be on this journey. We know from experience that when we play, learn, and grow together good things are bound to happen.