A mountain-biking milestone

This weekend marked the 6 month count down till I set sail from Bell Harbour Marina in Seattle, USA, for the official race start of Leg 7! That means that as I sit and type this post, 6 months from now, I’ll be into my 3rd day aboard Punta del Este. I wonder how I will be feeling and what the weather will have subjected us to? It’s hard to process that I’ll be in the Pacific ocean sailing down the Western seaboard of America, given I am currently in the thick of wrapping up two academic research projects, have just taken on a new allotment plot nearer to my home and, like many other people, am feeling the onset of winter.

Saturday 2nd November was the 6 month milestone to be precise and I realise now that I spent it in a very appropriate way (no conscious planning on my part). I was mountain biking in a beautiful woodland near Warminster with 30 young people in torrential rain and high winds. Like many of the young people, I had never done any mountain biking, so I was just as nervous as them initially. It seems very apt that my 6 month countdown was marked by doing a new outdoors activity that challenged my own confidence on a bike (mountain biking is absolutely nothing like road cycling I now realise!), saw me having to be a positive team player and motivational, despite feeling wet, cold, tired and hungry myself. It was a day we all had to exercise determination, a positive attitude and just get stuck in as a team. I was participating in my role as a programme volunteer with Youth Adventure Trust (YAT); a youth development charity I choose to spend a week’s annual leave and some of my weekends involved with from March – November each year, as the work they do is simply brilliant in my opinion.

YAT are a Wiltshire-based charity who have recently expanded into Somerset and rely heavily on volunteers. YAT provide a 3-year programme built around using the power of the outdoors to transform the lives of vulnerable young people aged 11 – 16. The aim is that over 3 years these young people are inspired to: build resilience, develop confidence and self-esteem, learn valuable life skills and achieve their full potential through an outdoor adventure programme. There’s a camp for each year of the programme – Forest Camp, Mountain Camp and Coastal Camp – as well as day-long activities scattered over weekends throughout the year called Explore Days, Pathway Days and Activity Days. Although I inform YAT at the beginning of each year which weekends and camp dates I can cover, what I love is that until the day I never know who the young people I am going to be spending my time with are, nor what activities I am to do with them. Like many of the young people YAT serve, I have participated in lots of new activities that I would never have done outside of YAT: coasteering in Purbeck, raft-building in Swanage, canyoning in the Black Mountains, mountain biking near Longleat, surfing in Pembrokeshire…

The Youth Adventure Trust’s 3-year youth development programme

Although we are all naturally a  little bit apprehensive when we undertake a new activity, by the end of the day, everyone has enjoyed themselves and feels proud to have pushed themselves to try something new. I am always amazed by those in my group on Coastal Camp who are afraid of water and not confident swimmers, but who quietly push themselves to jump off a rock into a heaving swell by the end of the session. They inspire me every time and this weekend was no exception! One girl in my group was not confident on a bike at all; never mind having to mountain bike uphill in thick muddy tracks! We started the day all getting used to our bikes by cycling around a tennis court, whilst she simply stood in the corner and stared at her bike with a big frown on her face. Somehow the instructor managed to coax her onto her mountain bike, but she was not confident and quickly lagged behind. The fact that there were high winds and torrential rain did not help, but despite this, she plodded on at the back of the group, occasionally pushing her bike. Another young person who was not in his comfort zone either, promptly vomited over his handlebars once we all re-grouped at the top of a track. The next section of the route did nothing to entice either of them into the activity either, as the heavy rain meant that each dip on the forest floor became a good pool of very muddy water that came over our feet and peddles and the tracks had become sticky, thick mud slides, which threatened even the most confident cyclist’s balance and challenged even the strongest thighs to keep turning those peddles in the resistant grip of mud. Mud was everywhere! The young woman by this stage was getting quite fed up and had long since given up being in the saddle. She huffed and puffed and heaved her bike through the mud and occasionally threw her mountain bike down in frustration. But despite this, she and the young lad who had vomited both completed the course and returned to the scout hut covered in mud, having free-wheeled down the hill back into Warminster with the rest of the group. Neither vocally complained, nor gave up, shouted, swore or cried. They stayed with their group and quietly gritted their teeth. They really impressed me. Their grit and resilience was impressive. During those challenging moments at sea aboard Punta del Este when my own energy levels take a nose dive or seasickness threatens to stop me from fulfilling any of my onboard duties, I need to recall these two young people and summon the same grit and determination that they did whilst mountain biking, for they NEVER gave up and stayed with their team.