In 2006, biking gurus Sarah Tescher and Chad Cheeney took the first pedal strokes towards developing life-long cyclists one ride at a time. The founding of the non-profit Durango DEVO Junior Development Mountain Bike Program has become a prominent youth program in our cycling crazy community of Durango, CO. Each year, over 900 kids and 70 coaches hit the trails around our local area and beyond. The program introduces kids to the bike at the wee age of two as they kick and stride their way around town. As the years go by and they grow up, these kids have the opportunity to experience quality coaching from some of the best in the business in virtually every discipline of cycling. By the age of 19, their final year of eligibility for the program, these kids are well versed in the ways of the bike. Some of them have gone on to be collegiate national champions or even Olympians, like Howard Grotts, one of the U.S. mountain bike riders for the most recent 2016 summer Olympics.
Durango DEVO—Developing life-long cyclists one ride at a time.
A young shredder during DEVO’s bike parade to celebrate its 10th anniversary.
Two years ago, I was offered the opportunity to coach and work with the “Explorers”—a group of middle and high schoolers (the Ramblers and the Trailblazers) who seem to shy away from the competitive side of cycling and gravitate towards more unstructured play on the bike. The Explorers are the brainchild of Durango cycling fixture Russ Zimmermann, and they offer kids the opportunity just to be kids. A typical Explorers “practice” includes some bike skill building, like how to corner or descend, and then we’re off to ride the “Tunnel of Doom” or to find the “secret” tree house (which we’ve managed to fail to locate numerous times). All of this is usually followed by a game of Camouflage and then a mad dash back to Buckley Park where parents are waiting to pick up their sons and daughters. We cram a lot in during the little over two hours we have with them each week.
Taking a break to take in the view during a weekly practice.
Our spring season kicks off with a “Top Secret” Training Camp where all upper age groups and divisions come together for a weekend of mountain biking fun. In early April, the DEVO administrative staff and coaches travel to an undisclosed location and set up a giant canvas tent as a basecamp as well as prep a jump course for the 100 or so kids who will be in attendance. This is a weekend designed to elevate the stoke for the upcoming season—and boy, does it accomplish its mission. For two and half days, it’s non-stop fun with group rides, yoga sessions, amazing meals donated by local sponsors, bike jumps and tricks, bonfires, armloads of free stuff, and of course lots of fun. I came away from the weekend marveling at the experience and the new community I was being welcomed into.
It’s a jam-packed day of fun at the “Top Secret Training Camp.”
The Explorers heading out for a day of exploring.
Time to get your jump on.
Both the spring and fall seasons are typically eight weeks in length. One of the highlights of both Explorer seasons is an overnight bikepacking trip. During our weekly practices, we prep the kids for the upcoming adventure. Topics include everything from bikepacking gear and how to pack to administering the “pocket knife” test for those who wish to bring their own cutting object for carving their s’mores sticks. At an early age, these lucky kids are learning to experience the natural world from two wheels while being self-sufficient.
The Ramblers excited for the bike adventure ahead.
With our bikes loaded and an attitude for an adventure, we depart Durango for the weekend looking to laugh, learn a few things, ride some miles, and once again, have some outdoor fun. This past spring, I ventured out with the Ramblers as we were shuttled up above town and then rode a few miles to a sweet campsite overlooking the Animas Valley below. After setting up tents and hanging hammocks, we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the forest looking for the treasures of the land—the hidden spring, the lily-covered pond, and the weather-worn teddy bear stranded in a tree (if it could only speak, we could learn its story and how it came to end up in that aspen). After a cooked dinner over an open fire and some storytelling under the starry skies, it was off to bed. It is amazing what a day of activity and fresh air can do for kids and adults alike.
A new DEVO mascot discovered in an aspen tree.
Brats cooked over a backcountry fire.
A great way to end the day.
Waking up to blue skies, we broke down camp and headed out to our watering hole to tank up for the ride back into Durango. Nearly all downhill, the kids loved the ride back into town. Of course, along the way, we had to swim in a pond, ride some sweet singletrack, thrash through some cattails, and pull some thorns from our legs as we bushwhacked around the pond. We arrived back in town just in time to finish off the rest of our donated cookies from the best bakery in town before parents were there to pick everyone up. Everyone slept well once again and most likely, were a little sluggish at school on Monday.
The crew patiently waiting for their slow coaches.
The Ramblers rippin’ some singletrack on their way home.
Beyond the capstone weekend bikepacking trips in both the spring and fall seasons, the summer is an opportunity for more extended trips with the high school crew. Perhaps the best trip I took last summer was the five-day off-road ride the Explorers did from Durango to Telluride. The goal of this trip was to ride fully self-supported through the San Juan Mountains to experience Pearl Jam as it rocked the valley as part of the Ride Music Festival. All of our tickets for the concert were complimentary in exchange for a service project of helping to clean up the concert venue. What an adventure!
The Trailblazers heading towards Telluride and an unbelievable Pearl Jam concert.
DEVO co-founder, Sarah Tescher, and Explorers Coach, JB doing what they do best.
It was fun to be out with the Trailblazers and see how after just a few years of being exposed to the world of bikepacking how self-sufficient and knowledgeable they are in the outdoor world. After four dusty days on the trail, we rolled handlebar to handlebar down the main street of Telluride subtly announcing that the Durango DEVO Explorers had arrived. The gleam in the eyes of kids was inspiring as the realization began to set in on what they had accomplished through some hard effort and perseverance. While the rest of the concert goers showed up in their vehicles, this group of teenagers could be proud of the fact that they had arrived at the concert under their own power—just one pedal stroke at a time. There is little doubt DEVO is not only developing cyclists one ride at a time, but also the next generation of bikepacking pioneers.
The Explorers rolling deep into Telluride.
The objective of the trip—to see the man himself, Eddie Vedder.
Our service project in return for an amazing evening listening to Pearl Jam.
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I grew up in a military family where we moved 13 times before I left for college. Consequently, I have the continual urge to explore and travel having climbed, kayaked, and biked all over our amazing planet. My passion for the outdoors drives me to seek out adventures which often times combine multiple modes of travel or activities (i.e. biking to a wilderness area and then backpacking in to climb a high peak). "Keeping life simple" is a guiding motto of my life and for me, bike travel epitomizes simplicity.