I’ve been an officer with Trips For Kids Santa Cruz for some time, but the August ride was my first ride with the kids. It also became my first time as tip co-leader when the trip leader had a family medical emergency, on top of many hours that she’s spent coordinating large and successful midweek rides, and simply found herself maxed out.
I was terrified. I’ve done many daunting things from technical rock climbing to public speaking, but with the sudden sense of responsibility I was more anxious than I’d been in a long time. But, everything worked out. We went on a ride with five kids from Tyler House, a residential home for substance abuse treatment. We all had a good time, and the kids were utterly appreciative. Here are some things that made it work.
With beginning riders, you can and should keep it easy. After the plans crystallized to take the kids to Nisene Marks, I panicked because I’m not familiar with the technical mountain biking trails there. My boyfriend pointed out that I was forgetting what it’s like to be a beginner, and that the fire road would be the appropriate level of difficulty (as well as being easy to navigate). If it proved easy for some kids, they’d get a sense of satisfaction, which is what we’re going for. In particular, kids from group homes can be carrying significant emotional baggage, and can’t always bear much frustration. All of these things are true. It’s also true that there are many benefits to having a partner who’s smarter than you are!
Our experience serves us well. I reused the ride plan that John had used in July with a different group. We rode up the fire road to the bottom of the incline, locked up the bikes for a short hike to the Loma Prieta epicenter, and rode back downhill for lunch. The kids loved the variety, and the fire road was in fact the appropriate level of difficulty.
Having a healthy number of volunteers gives you options for dealing with the unexpected. Our ride left the Launch Pad with two trip co-leaders, two volunteers, two counselors from Tyler House, and five kids. One girl simply didn’t want to ride; she tried, but was too scared. When you don’t know what kind of baggage a kid is carrying, you have to respect his or her limits. In this case, we were able to leave the girl with a counselor while everyone else went riding. And even though the group split into two subgroups of the faster and slower riders respectively (as is typical), we had enough adults to look after each group.
Kids tend to be agreeable when they’re having fun. After the ride, it was something to behold: five teenagers helping clean and put away the gear, set out lunch, and clean up afterwards. They were all cheerful and agreeable. Without any prompting from their counselors, they all thanked us. We’re always prepared for kids to not be so agreeable, but our experience with this group is actually pretty typical.
The upshot is that we can always use more volunteer ride leaders, and even if you don’t think you have what it takes, you’d be surprised. Are you worried that you can’t ride well enough? If you can ride on a fire road, you can probably ride well enough. Are you worried that you don’t have the proper training or skills to work with the kids? Given that there are other ride leaders on the rides, common sense and basic interpersonal skills will get you farther than you’d think. You don’t have much time to spare? All it takes is half a day, once in a while. As the saying goes, many hands make light work.
The rewards are plentiful. These kids have had hard lives, but when you see them laughing together, you know that a burden has been lifted for a while. One kid, who’ll soon be leaving Tyler House, volunteered repeatedly to come help out on future rides. Endorsements don’t get much stronger than that! These are kids who are growing up in our community, and our future is intertwined with theirs. Consider getting involved, because it’s probably easier and more rewarding than you’d guess.