….I can barely keep my eyes open as I write this
Today I returned to the city after three days at Mono Cliffs with 54 grade 5s.
The experience at this well established outdoor education centre was very different from years past. The focus used to be more ecological with geology hikes to the caves, eco hikes through the woods along the Bruce Trail, exploration of the ponds, orienteering, and survival skills in the woods.
This year’s programs still focus on the environment but are more adventure based. The children participated in archery, instincts for survival games, co-operative games and team building, mountain biking and tree top trekking. The last two activities are completely new and just blew me away. The equipment for the mountain bike ride was top notch and the design of the tree top trekking was awe inspiring and frightening at the same time.
I have owned bikes most of my life and I still ride today. Now I do more city riding and I haven’t been on a mountain bike for several years. About half of the students hiked a short distance through the woods to a cabin in the clearing where Mono Cliffs stores all their bikes and related equipment. The remaining students were at other activities. At the cabin each student was equipped with a bike that was suited to their size, a water bottle and a helmet. They were instructed on how to wear the helmet and how to adjust their seats.
A couple of students who had never ridden before were taken to a clearing with a couple of instructors and were given personalized lessons on how to handle the bikes while the remaining cyclists were lined up and taught about changing gears and braking. Then we all got onto the bikes and rode around in circles for awhile, practising
proper braking, going up and down hills and keeping a safe distance between the bikes. When the leaders felt we had mastered the skills sufficiently we set off for our afternoon ride through the conservation area.
The ride took us into the Mono Cliffs conservation area which is open to the public. The trails started out wide and mostly downhill and when the path became too rocky for beginner riders we all dismounted our bikes and walked for a stretch. The leaders made sure that the children took frequent water breaks and aired on the side of caution with the paths that they chose. As we were going downhill, I realized that the trip back would be a lot of uphill but I didn’t know that we’d be pushing our bikes back up the side of the cliffs. The leaders and the teachers were able to pick up their bikes over the rocky areas but some of the smaller children struggled to get their bikes up the hill. Surprisingly on one complained and they all seemed to enjoy the adventure.
On the last portion of the trip we rode through grassy fields. This is where some of the children wiped out. The paths were very narrow and overgrown with tall grasses, shrubs and trees. There were lots of dips and rocky areas as well. At least when they fell it was usually into the tall grass. I think at this point of the ride we were all getting very tired. Certainly that was what was happening to me and I started to feel claustrophobic on those narrow trails. I fell twice before I finally abandoned the idea of riding on the hilly areas of the field.
When we got back onto the road I got back onto the bike and finished the ride back to the cabin. Other than a few scratches on my ankles I was unhurt and all the children survived the ride with relatively few bruises. Later in the day the lead instructor came to me and apologized for the route she had taken, realizing that it was probably a little too long and technical for our students. The group that had done the ride in the morning had taken a different route and the group that went the next day chose another route. It is early days for this program and the leaders are still working out the glitches and the best routes to take.
All in all it was a great experience for all of us and the two students who couldn’t ride at the beginning of the afternoon were confident cyclists before we headed back to the centre for dinner. On our way back we passed the tree top trekking course and witnessed first hand what we could expect to experience the next day. More about that in the next day or so.