Frequently, at the end of an interview the person will give me the name of someone they feel I should speak with, because their bike stories are impressive. This week not one but two of my interviewees pointed me to an event being held at the Kelso Conservation Area, called Trailblazing Festival 2011. Trailblazing was organized by a group of mountain biking enthusiasts called Mountain Bike Ontario (MTB ON) and is the first of its kind offered in the province. MTB ON’s goal at the event was to raise awareness of mountain biking in all its forms.

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On Friday, there was a trail-building school. On Saturday, there were skills sessions and clinics offered throughout the day, which allowed all ability levels and disciplines to get acquainted with the sport. Joy Ride 150 set up a huge field of bike skinnies, teeter totters, drops, lines and jumps.

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Sacred Rides was taking regular groups into the woods along the escarpment and training them on braking and cornering, climbing and descending, and some of the technical skills required for some serious mountain biking. Silent Sports was offering downhill clinics. Gorba (from Guelph) had what they called Training Wheels group rides through the area. Several campsites were reserved for guests and a movie night was being provided, to build community. And finally, IMBA headed out on one of their Epic Rides Sunday morning at 10AM.

I wandered around the hub festival village for a couple of hours, visited the booths and chatted with volunteers. I met a couple of the Wild Bettys, an all-female mountain biking organization. I’m really looking forward to hearing Miranda’s bike stories! Then, I ran into some of the good people at the Joy Ride 150 booth, where we swapped stories from the interview I had with Shannon Bentley  this week. Later, I headed over to the IMBA booth where I met Jason Murray. Jason and I have been playing email tag for weeks now, trying to find a suitable time for an interview. When he told me he was busy on the weekends, I thought he meant for, you know, work. Sometimes, that’s exactly what it is, but today he was supporting the event (he’s one of the MTB ON board members). It was really neat to finally meet him in person.

Someone suggested I watch the downhill cyclists ride the ski lift and so, camera in hand, I climbed halfway up the escarpment and sat in the long grass, photographing people and their bikes as they were gently transported up to the conservation area.

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Typically, two cyclists would ride one lift together, their bikes riding on the lift ahead, in plain view. Trail cyclists could go directly into the woods using a trail on the other side of the village, and lots of groups were walking in together, all the while watching for bikes screaming out and back down to the village. As hot and noisy as the village was on the side of the hill in the field, so much cooler and almost silent were the woods, by contrast.

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At the end of the event, I was lucky enough to speak with the organizer Thai Pham. Thai grew up in Ottawa, which has a big mountain biking scene and some amazing trail systems. He moved to Toronto for work a 11 years ago. Thai came here under the impression that the Toronto area has no mountain biking, there being no hills (clearly he hasn’t been to my neighbourhood) so he sold his mountain bike. He was blown away to discover the Don Trail and King City, but still decided against getting a bike. And then, one day a friend invited him to do the Haliburton Trails. By the next weekend, he had a bike. Hot and spent from the long day at Trailblazing, Thai still couldn’t resist describing how mountain biking makes him feel. “It’s not about where you are, but about what you are doing.” Apparently, a good deal of the doing was taking place at Kelso yesterday: Thai was holding a box that contained the paperwork for 500+ registrants.

At the moment, the mountain biking community is somewhat regionally based, with large pockets of passionate members.There are several trail communities and a similar number of downhill communities, all working to promote the sport and to attract the political and financial support required to make it really viable here. Like the downhill, Nordic cross-country and skate-skiing communities, mountain biking is an outdoor adventure sport. The one thing skiing has that mountain biking needs is greater acceptance (translating to more participants) mostly because ski lessons and training are more accessible. He believes that events like Trailblazing will bring all the mountain biking communities together, promoting the sport as a single voice.

MTB ON is also attempting to make Ontario a better place to ride by developing new trailbuilding initiatives. Ontario already has two great networks in the preliminary stages: the Barrie corridor (which includes Hardwood Hills) and the Collingwood/Blue Mountain region. Thai points to Quebec City, where the province is already solidly behind the tourism aspect of the sport and Kingdom in Vermont, where a group of landowners have developed private tracts into viable sporting venues for public use.

And did I know there was a big mountain bike training program for kids being offered at Erindale Park this summer? Well, now. I may be travelling to Mississauga this month to check that out. The entire event was, as my friend would say, coolio.

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