Pedaling the world, bringing it home

Posted on 10/6/2011 in IMBA
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Eagle woman and local riders work to improve bike trails

By Larry Grossman

 In 2007, Leslie and Chris Kehmeier became inspired to change their lives. They sold everything they owned except their bicycles, quit their jobs, and did their own version of an around-the-world bike trip.

 
On the road

 Over the next 14 months they visited 14 countries and not only saw what the world was like outside of the United States, but also where the bicycle fit into the world picture,  something they found very inspiring. When they returned from that trip, they realized they wanted to continue following their passion for the two-wheeled form of transport, and they both found jobs in 2009 with the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) as one of two Subaru IMBA trail care crews. For the next two years, the couple traveled around the country as the “Johnny Appleseeds” of sustainable trail building, community development and mountain bike advocacy.

 The Kehmeiers documented their travels around the world via a regular blog called “Bicycle Geography”. It documented in both word and picture the couple’s experiences with the bicycle as a means of transport, in addition to their experiences with the food, people and personal changes they experienced during the journey. Bicycle Geography was a fascinating view and documentation of what life is like on the road while riding a bicycle.


Bringing it home

 The couple recently found themselves having moved back to Eagle, because, as Leslie says, “It’s probably the best place in the world to live.”

 The Kehmeiers say they really admire the cycling community in the Eagle Valley, and in particular the mountain biking community. They want to be a part of it, in fact, and they are eager to take what they have learned over the course of the last four years and apply it to making the local community an even better place to live and recreate responsibly.

 Leslie Kehmeier said that working for IMBA has taught her the value of communities unifying and coming together to form local chapters. This way, IMBA’s national organization can deal directly with the local chapters.

 Eagle County riders just recently formed their own chapter, the Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association (VVMBA). The group, spearheaded by local bike shop owners, trail blazers and involved riders, has been working to maintain and improve trails, as well as build new ones.

 Jamie Malin, one of VVMBA’s leaders and owner of The Kind Bikes and Skis in Edwards, said the group is currently working on several new trails in the area.

 “Our number one priority right now is the Avon to Singletree singletrack,” he says, referring to a nearly completed four mile trail spanning Singletree to Avon.

 The VVMBA is asking for volunteers to meet at the end of Nottingham Road each Tuesday evening as long as weather permits at 5 p.m. to help with the completion of this project.

 “We need as many volunteers as possible to show up on Tuesday nights,” Malin says.

 IMBA has also been a driving force on Vail Mountain this summer, working more directly with the ski resort to build fun and sustainable mountain biking terrain. Local riders and resort crews have been working on “flow trails,” carefully designed and manicured trails that minimize erosion while allowing riders to improve their descending and handling skills while keeping a huge smile on their faces.

 One such trail, “Big Mamba,” has already been added to the front side of Vail, and a second flow trail is in the making.


Local riders unite

 Kehmeier sees a great opportunity in the Vail Valley if all of the local active groups can work together towards a common goal.

 According to Kehmeier, the most important aspect of local alliances with IMBA is the ability to reach out to the decision makers and the land agencies, which leads to the preservation of trail access. Working with local authorities also opens the potential for new trail access, and helps provide the tools and resources to get these trails built properly, ensuring the use of these trails for many lifetimes to come.

 The larger and more reliable the local volunteer work force, the more likely VVMBA is to get assistance and projects done, Kehmeier says.

 The proof is in the singletrack. Communities such as Salida and Leadville have seen an explosion in the number of miles of singletrack because those entire communities have embraced the “chapter” concept, gotten organized, and they have been able to reach out to land managers with both goals and positive attitude – and now they have vastly improved trail systems.

 Kehmeier encourages everyone to step up to the plate and help.

“You can find any way to participate in your local chapter by attending a meeting, help fill membership orders, going to a trail work day or simply baking cookies for a work day crew,” she says.

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