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Boot Camp – Mountain Bike Style

September 28, 2016
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screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-7-45-10-amThere are currently over two million registered service members of the U.S. Armed Forces who are constantly putting everything on the line to ensure the safety and freedom of Americans, as well as other citizens of the world. They’re always there, doing the unthinkable and often unmentioned, while we carry out our daily lives in comfort and free of fear. It’s difficult to fathom that this number is actually just the tip of the iceberg, considering there are generations of military men who have already served and are still lifelong brothers and sisters of the U.S. Armed Forces. We rip down our favorite trails and give out handfuls of high-fives at the bottom, but it’s often easy to forget about the men and women behind the scenes who make it all possible. There’s nothing wrong with doing so, as it is the freedom our service members have fought for, but as we drool over the freshest bike components and argue about which internal rim width is the most appropriate, many are out there ensuring that not only we Americans, but others as well, will be able to do so for generations to come. It’s time we give back a lot.

semperfi-1What more do you need? The private ranch in Novato, California, offers endless shuttle laps, 40-plus-mph descents, professional athletes, an inspiring group of service members, and a mix of California rain and shine.

The years of combat may be behind them once they retire from active duty, but that is when the true battle often begins for many service members. While some challenges can be seen on the surface, many others lie far deeper and can be difficult to cope with, let alone overcome. WTB, as a company and team of professional athletes, partnered with the Semper Fi Fund to put on a three-day mountain bike skills camp where service members, mostly Marines, had the opportunity to get tips from some of the sport’s fastest riders. Jason Moeschler and Mark Weir, both athletes of the WTB/Cannondale OverMountain Team, took 16 service members to a private ranch in Northern California for a weekend of rowdy trails, massive smiles, bonfires, RC trucks, Mach speeds and two-wheel drifting through corners.

semperfi-15Comfier than a couch: Old Blue was one of the numerous shuttle options available to the service members. From the mouth of Mark Weir, “It doesn’t go any faster when you lay the pedal down, but it sure gets louder!”

JASON MOESCHLER

MBA:

What is the Semper Fi Fund?

Jason:

Simply put, it is an organization that saves lives. It provides the men and women who have fought for our country with the support they need to recover from the traumas they’ve experienced as a result of their efforts to keep us safe. Team Semper Fi actually helps service members to recover through sports like mountain biking. They even set up a couple of guys who were double amputees with their three-wheel, hand-pedal bikes. Check out the Semper Fi Fund website for additional details about what the organization is all about and the programs they have to benefit recovering service members.

semperfi-14Doubled-up dual slalom: When asked if he was nervous, Danimal looked down and said, “What else have I got to lose?!” Now that is a positive way to look at things!

MBA:

How did you get connected with them to pull off this event?

Jason:

Mark Weir and I met Sam Tickle, the director of Team Semper Fi, when he was the featured athlete in the EAS 30 Sports in 30 Days Challenge. The mountain bike challenge was held out at the ranch in Novato, California, and Weir, Ben Cruz and I were the hosts. I think Sam was impressed with our scene and our trails, and it must have left a lasting impression upon him. He probably realized that it would be a good destination and experience for the service members and reached out to Weir to make it happen. Weir brought in the team sponsors like WTB, CamelBak, Cannondale, Lagunitas, Fox and HiBall. Then we were ready to roll.

MBA:

The event took place in Novato, home of some of the best riding in California, if not the world. What was on the trail menu for the skills clinic?

Jason:

First of all, it’s difficult for me to call it some of the best riding in California, but I’ll speak to it anyways. As many know, I prefer areas where all the singletrack is legal and there aren’t so many restrictions, but the ranch provides reprieve from all of that because it’s privately owned. We’re extremely fortunate to have access to the ranch, which we’ve always used for WTB product testing and Team WTB athlete training. We’ve had the liberty of building the trails exactly the way we want them to be with no oversight from any trail organization or government agencies and, as you can imagine, this breeds a special type of trail that a rider will never find in any other location. This makes the ranch a truly unique experience. Of all the trails out there, we decided to take them on the east side, which is the side that was used in the development of all of the new WTB tires you see today. The trails feature very steep off-camber sections and sections where riders can reach up to 50 miles per hour if they are brave enough to do so—and they certainly were at the Team Semper Fi Mountain Bike Camp. There are also whoops, deep loam sections, lots of roots and, overall, very, very challenging terrain. We also took them out to Stafford Lake Bike Park where we focused on riding technique on the pump track and dual-slalom course.

semperfi-6With a little help from my friends: Give him a push in the right direction and Danimal will show you the proper line. His attitude and positive outlook on absolutely everything keeps spirits high.

MBA:

Were any of the service members riders before they went to the event? Or, were they mostly beginners looking for a new sport to get into?

Jason:

All of them were riders. Some were skilled enough to keep up with Weir and I on the descents. For others, the trails were at the absolute peak of their ability. But by the end, all the riders had shown huge improvement.

semperfi-5Sun’s out, tongue’s out: Dan “Danimal” Riley has a way of taking a challenging trail and turning it into something that looks easy. The way he handles his three-wheel cart and throws it around is impressive to say the least.

MBA:

What skills do you focus on with the riders, and what are the limitations for some of these Marines?

Jason:

The skills of the riders really varied. Some we took all the way back to a beginner, high school mountain bike skill set where we explained body positioning, proper braking and shifting techniques and fundamental skills, such as looking where you want your bike to go. Other riders needed no skills training. They simply wanted to follow Weir, Bradford or me. (Aaron Bradford helped throughout the camp as well). Their way of learning was following us and seeing what we do on these tracks we know so well. One of the unique limitations for this group was their general lack of fear, even if they crashed. Their response was to get up, keep riding and not hold anyone up, which showed us they’re a different brand of tough and are certainly cut from a different cloth.

If anything, I’d say that we realized some of our own limitations by riding with them, especially Dan “Danimal” Riley and Chris “Fez” Fesmire, who were the double amputees on the three-wheel bikes. We had no idea what they were experiencing on the trails because we’ve never ridden those types of bikes before. All we could offer them was the experience of the ranch and the scene we’ve created there. They handled the rest on their own.

semperfi-10Fully committed: Danimal was unable to resist an offer to ride the tandem mountain bike with Mark Weir. How was the offer made possible with two prosthetics? Easy—camouflage duct tape.

MBA:

Do you see the “never say die” mentality with these guys on the trails?

Jason:

These guys are not scared of anything. While out on the trails, many of them discussed how they would be happy to go back and contribute toward the effort of defeating ISIS. They’re not scared of the battlefield, and therefore certainly not scared of a trail that might be too difficult to ride. They’re trained to overcome any obstacle, since in their world failure might mean death. No one was more relieved than me that they handled riding as well as they’ve handled other obstacles, with no casualties on our watch.

semperfi-720-inch ain’t dead! Christopher “Fez” Fesmire may have been the only guy on the mountain rocking 20-inch tires, but he did so with speed and finesse.

MBA:

What kinds of equipment were the guys using? Obviously Cannondale was a part of it, but they don’t make a hand cycle that we know of yet.

Jason:

Some guys brought their own trailbikes, so there were a variety of brands out there, but most were excited to try out the Cannondale Jekyll and Triggers from the demo fleet. There were a couple custom, three-wheel, hand-pedal cycles available that the Semper Fi Fund sourced as well.

semperfi-9All in line, ready to ride: Six service members and six mountain bike racers seems like a pretty good ratio when it comes to hands-on experience learning new skills on the trail.

MBA:

Tell us the coolest and most memorable story you experienced during the event.

Jason:

Watching Dan Riley, one of the double-amputee service members, charge a trail like you could never imagine, lose control and go off the edge of a real steep hillside, doing multiple barrel rolls still connected to his three-wheel bike until the brush and trees finally stopped him. I’ve never lost someone off a hill like that. I stopped at the edge and helplessly watched him go down. Within moments of the crash landing, he was laughing it off. When we got to him, he was literally cracking up. We helped him up and back onto his bike, and he pedaled away like nothing had ever happened. It made me remember something he said when I first met him at Weir’s house. When asked whether he was ready for something like this event, his reply was priceless as he looked at his prosthetic legs and said something like, “Why? What’s the worst that could happen?” with a huge grin. Watching him also laugh this off was one of those déjà vu moments.

semperfi-11Lap after lap: Before the group noticed the easily pedaled cross-country climb, the top of the dual slalom was reached via a loose and steep gravel climb. That didn’t stop Danimal and Mark Weir from charging on!

MBA:

WTB made some pretty sweet saddles for this event. Can you head out and buy one yourself? Does it benefit the Semper Fi Fund?

Jason:

Yeah, we’re really excited about the custom Volt saddles that will be sold direct from WTB.com in early August, with a portion of the proceeds directly benefiting the great work the Semper Fi Fund does. This saddle might have more meaning than any other saddle cover we’ve ever designed. It’s about so much more than a cool look or a nice fit. It’s our small way of supporting the bravery of the service members and their ongoing journey toward recovery.

semperfi-3Stars and stripes: WTB is producing a limited run of this special-edition Volt saddle, and it will be available this summer. A portion of the proceeds goes directly to the Semper Fi Fund to ensure experiences like this are possible in the future.

MBA:

What else should we know about the Marines who rode, the fund or anything else that happened at the event?

Jason:

Although some of the Marines had no visible injuries, a lot of them had severe psychological trauma, such as PTSD and TBI. From the outside, they appeared completely normal, but once we got to know them and they started telling their stories, it was clear these guys had been through stuff that would completely destroy a normal human. Some of the guys who had the most physical damage seemed to be in the best headspace. They had the attitude of, “What’s the worst that could happen? Am I going to lose another leg?”

It gave them a really fearless and positive outlook on life. Some were saying that they were never as active as they are now. I’m so grateful to Sam and the Semper Fi Fund for facilitating an experience like this for our service members. I can’t imagine a better way to enjoy one’s freedom than riding bikes, and no one has earned the opportunity more than these guys. It was awesome to have been a part of such an experience.

semperfi-4Watch for roost: Ben Cruz made his way out to the ranch to add to the ridiculously fast crew of racers. Good luck trying to hold onto his back tire.

MARK WEIR

MBA:

What is the Semper Fi Fund?

Mark:

The Semper Fi Fund provides immediate financial assistance and lifetime support to post-9/11 wounded, critically ill and injured service members of all branch- es within the U.S. Armed Forces, as well as their families, which ensures they have the resources needed during their recovery and transition back into their communities. Since 2004, the organization has issued more than 113,500 grants, totaling more than $126 million in assistance to over 16,000 of our heroes and their families.

semperfi-17

MBA:

How did you get connected with them to pull off this event?

Mark:

My good buddy Sam Tickle and I became friends back on Team EAS, where he completed a challenge where he participated in 30 different sports over a 30-day period. We hit it off during that single day and have stayed in touch ever since. When he became involved with Team Semper Fi, he gave me a call and asked if we wanted to host an event based upon recovery through sport. We’re already planning the next one!

semperfi-12The boss man can ride: Sam Tickle, associate director of Team Semper Fi, not only was a big part in organizing the event, but also showed plenty of skill on the bike. He met Mark Weir years ago when he completed a challenge consisting of 30 different sports in 30 days.

MBA:

The event took place in Novato, home to some of the best riding in California, if not the world. What was on the trail menu for the skills clinic?

Mark:

The type of skills training Jason and I do is much different from most. We are a team effort. Jason is the man when it comes to explaining what’s happening on the trail and what it does to the bike.

Things like off-camber riding, gear selection, body position and looking ahead. These are things Jason is really good at, as well as being an all-around incredible rider with more finesse than most of us. What I do is describe how the bike and trail feel in different situations. Being able to drift a corner or float sections of the trail is not just a skill. It’s also a repeatable feeling that can become intuitive. I have ridden these trails for years. The feeling I get when I ride them has a lot to do with my mental state at the time. I was hoping to share the good feeling you get from flowing a trail so these warriors can go back to that feeling when they leave the ranch. I want them to have a place they can go to release and do so with the skills we taught them in the short time we had.

MBA:

Were any of the servicemen riders before they went to the event? Or, were they mostly beginners looking for a new sport to get into?

Mark:

We had both levels of riders. From guys who have only ridden a little to ones who ride every day, work at bike shops and even race. We were lucky to have Aaron Bradford along for the entire event, and he helped us with some of the really fast guys. Ryan Beamish, one of the service members, is a super ripper from Arizona. He works at a shop and simply brings the heat when the trails point down-hill. Aaron and Ryan ripped endless laps together, and when we got to the Stafford Lake Bike Park, they must have done 30 runs down the dual slalom. It was rad to see them tearing up the course right next to each other.

semperfi-13

MBA:

What skills do you focus on with the riders, and what are the limitations for some of these Marines?

Mark:

We focused on building skills through repetition. Limitations for these guys are different from those faced by
the rest of us. Some are missing limbs, although others may have non-visible limitations you might never know about unless you really got to know them. Their attitude was always ready to learn, and whether their injuries affected them at times was hard to see. We had one guy, “Big” John Fernandez, consistently crashing down the steep chute on the first day, and he ended up hitting 47.5 mph three days later. Progression through repetition!

MBA:

Do you see the “never say die” mentality with these guys on the trails?

Mark:

Yes! And sometimes it made us all really, really nervous. The type of nervous where your stomach is wrenching the entire time you watch, but you can’t look away.

MBA:

What kinds of equipment were the guys using? Obviously Cannondale was a part of it, but they don’t make a hand cycle that we know of yet.

semperfi-16

Mark:

Yes, we had two hand cycles. To say these guys are impressive is an under-statement. They had the tracks dialed, were drifting through loam and were even getting up on two wheels in the corners. Super fun and unique to watch!

MBA:

Tell us the coolest and most memorable story you experienced during the event.

Mark:

At some point, we had the idea to get Daniel Riley and me on the off-road tandem together. We duct-taped Daniel’s prosthetic legs to the pedals; he held on to the bars and said, “Send it!” What a rush; one I’ll never forget. You would think we would do it once and come to our senses, but we ended up doing it at the ranch and then on the dual-slalom course at the bike park the next day.

MBA:

WTB made some pretty sweet saddles for this event. Can you head out and buy one yourself? Does it benefit the Semper Fi Fund?

Mark:

Such a cool saddle! I can’t wait to get my own. They will be available on the WTB website at the end of the summer, and a portion of the proceeds from each sale will go to the Semper Fi Fund.

semperfi-8One big family: No one person or company can put something like this together. It takes a small group of companies, some race legends and a handful of eager service members to make an experience like this a reality.

MBA:

What else should we know about the Marines who rode, the fund or anything else that happened with the event?

Jason:

The days just got better and better. Friendships did not have to be so rushed. Life moves so fast and can be ended at any time. I feel lucky to have met these guys and know I will never forget them or the time we spent together in a place they hopefully now love as much as I do.


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