As a New Jersey resident, I feel quite fortunate to be a mountain biker and have such beautiful, rugged, challenging terrain right in my back yard. Riding a mountain bike is my favorite way to enjoy the outdoors, especially in May during National Bike Month. Much of New Jersey’s awesome terrain is showcased in the Campmor H2H Mountain Bike Race Series. Last Sunday was the “Campmor H2H Spring Cleaning” race #2, in the series at Wawayanda State Park in Hewitt, NJ.
It was a beautiful sunny day, and when I arrived, the parking lot was filled with mountain bikers of all ages and abilities. Wawayanda Lake was also filled with fishermen. I am always happy to see many people getting outside using our parks, especially in times when much of our life takes place indoors. I was looking forward to this race, because this course is semi-local to me, and one of my favorite places to ride.
The course started as paved and gravel road with plenty of passing room, and gradually turned to a mix of double track, punctuated with scattered rocky areas. I spent the first few miles up front in first or second position, as I knew the track well and did not want to get stuck behind an unsure rider. Once well into the lap, the course became super rocky and narrow in spots. One spot crossed a beaver pond on a narrow rock bridge. At this point, being familiar with the lines through the rocks was a big advantage. I knew that I was in fairly good shape because of my familiarity with the park. However, a few sections of the racecourse were brand new single-track that I had only ridden a few times. Other spots had been damaged by Hurricane Sandy, re-routed and just re-opened a few weeks prior to the race.
One of the great features of the Campmor H2H Series is the “PayDirt” program. Racers can earn additional race points one time, for doing 10 hours of park sanctioned volunteer trail maintenance, and add them onto their series standing. This program was born right here in New Jersey in 1996. Since then, other states have adopted the same program with great success. What this has done is encourage race promoters and racers to get involved with maintaining the very trails on which they ride and race.
The Wawayanda race promoter, Black Bear Cycling, had built some new trail around Lake Wawayanda and repaired much of the park after Hurricane Sandy, as part of the PayDirt program. On Sunday, we were able to test our skills on these new additions to the trail system. Besides being challenging and rocky, one of the new trails had beautiful views of the lake, and winds through some wonderful natural features. I noticed this on my pre-ride, because during my race it was hard to notice more than 10 feet in front of my wheel, as the trail demanded my full attention. However, near the end of my race, I lost my concentration momentarily and during that time I caught a glimpse of the lake only to also see a woman in my race class chasing me from behind. I managed to pull myself together and get back on pace.
As I neared the finishing stretch of single track, I came across a fisherman walking on the trail with his fishing pole. He heard me bouncing around on the rocks, and pulled off the trail to let me through. I smiled and thanked him, and in that micro moment of my race, I realized that PayDirt was about more than a new mountain bike trail. It was about creating passage into the forest for many to enjoy a sunny spring day like Sunday. I completed my race to earn a podium spot, but my real prize was exercising while enjoying my day outdoors, and knowing that I had helped make it possible for others to do the same.