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Playing in the dirt — Again

By on April 22, 2019 in Outdoor Fun with 1 Comment
Originally terrified by the idea of a dirt bike camp, Molly Steere came away with confidence to ride with her fellows again.

By Molly Steere

A few years ago, I unofficially quit dirt biking. 

Quit is probably too strong of a word as, at most, I only rode a few times a year. My abilities remained so underwhelming that my son handily surpassed my skill level by the time he was six. Coupled with a body seemingly intent on disintegrating, it seemed best to leave the dirt biking to my husband and son.

However, I’m incapable of passing up any experience that involves a hint of adventure and an opportunity to humiliate myself. 

Last fall when my friend, Donni Reddington, told me she was developing a series of all-women dirt bike camps and needed riders to test out the curriculum, I jumped at the chance. I would make the perfect guinea pig: nervous, rusty and enthusiastic. 

Perhaps Skool of Moto (www.skoolofmoto.com) could teach this 45-year-old new tricks via a boutique day camp.

I had big plans to practice riding before the camp but there was snow on the ground and I kept accidentally going skiing instead. Before I knew it, it was the week before camp, I still hadn’t been on a dirt bike, and when I shimmied into my old riding pants the resulting muffin top left no doubt that I had wintered well.

My dirt bike had long been sold so I wrestled Toby’s Husqvarna 450 out of the shop. It’s way too much bike for a novice who looks like Mary Poppins while riding — upright, stiff, and a little like I was sitting on an umbrella. 

Molly started with flat ground drills, then she and other classmates graduated to climbing hills — with some classmates taking the steeper route. Top photo by Christy Phillips, bottom photo by Donni Reddington

But here’s the dirty little secret of unskilled riders everywhere:  Power can get you out of a lot of situations that inexperience gets you into. 

Of course, that’s only as long as you have the room to employ the “when in doubt, gas it out” principle. If you’re in a tight spot, power at the hands of the inexperienced rider will often amplify the problem and create fantastic YouTube fail fodder.

That’s where slow speed skills come in. 

Donni likes to say, “slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” I kept this in mind as I rode laps up and down our gravel driveway (the only place clear of snow) and tried to reawaken the muscle memory needed for smooth clutch, throttle and brake control at slow speed. 

Mostly, I unintentionally practiced tipping over at 0 mph. This was clearly going to be more embarrassing than I had anticipated.

Luckily, Skool of Moto classes include a Beta (125RR-S or 300 XTrainer) to ride for the duration of the camp. When I arrived at the Saddle Mountain riding area, I met my light, agile Beta 125 named Maria. 

Yep, Donni gave all of the Betas Italian names so the students know which bike is theirs after instruction periods and breaks.

I was terrified by the very idea of a dirt bike camp. Especially when I arrived and saw all of the women I’d be riding with looked like pros. They obviously hadn’t pulled their riding attire out of a tub of gear from the 1980s as I had. 

I seriously considered running away but sucked it up, introduced myself and readied myself to get “skooled.” 

Incidentally, the other riders weren’t all pros (the camps are for women with novice to intermediate riding skills) and they were there to learn, not judge, my riding skills. 

Besides, Donni — a recovery room nurse at Confluence Health when she’s not out improving women’s riding experiences — has the ability to make anyone feel at ease. She’s passionate about inspiring women to become better, safer riders and Skool of Moto keeps the vibe relaxed, non-competitive, and a little bit rowdy. 

Attempting something new or difficult while others are watching is my personal nightmare and I usually have a hard time getting out of my head. 

I was shaking before our first drill, convinced I was going to somehow plow my bike straight into the side of a parked trailer while everyone looked on in horror. But the Skool of Moto staff and students were encouraging and supportive, allowing me to relax and learn.

We spent the morning working on fundamental skills like clutch and throttle control, smooth braking, rider position, cornering and hills. With the small class size (no more than five students), Donni was able to quickly assess skill levels and provide alternate drills/routes as needed. 

She could discern our individual capabilities and nudge us toward overcoming our discomfort or fear. This meant I wasn’t forced to attempt the steep, rocky hill climb that clearly wanted to eat me alive, but I was expected to conquer the hill via an easier (though still intimidating) route. 

That discernment and personalized mentorship nurtures growth in both ability and confidence and is what makes these small camps so effective. 

After lunch, we put our skills to the test on a much-anticipated group ride in the surrounding hills. This was when I could really see the fruits of the morning’s work. 

Drills are rarely a favorite for any rider (the trails are always calling) but with the new confidence in my ability to handle tricky situations I was able to fully enjoy my ride while pushing myself. 

Towards the end of the day, I even got to ride with my boys for the first time in years! It was a day full of camaraderie, honing skills, conquering fears and getting dirty. I left physically and mentally exhausted and looking forward to future rides.

Am I now an expert rider, fearless and ready for any trail? Heck no! 

But I can confidently go out riding with my husband and son and continue to build on the fundamentals I learned. As an added bonus, I look a little less like I should be riding sidesaddle with a parasol tucked under my arm. 

Molly Steere is a local freelance writer and technical editor who rarely passes up an adventure.

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  1. Well written Molly. I am so happy for your success at the clinic and happy that Donni has created a business with something for which she has so much passion. Donni’s mom

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