“Text and Photos by Joshua Murdock”
On Fridays during the summer at Peaceful Valley Scout Ranch, most campers are freely visiting program areas to finish remaining merit badge requirements and councilors are preparing for their weekly attempt at beating the campers in Colter’s Run – a relay circumnavigating the camp. But a select group of scouts forgo the relaxation afforded by the final day of their week-long visit to Peaceful Valley and embark on a long-distance mountain bike ride as part of the Cycling Merit Badge.
Known for its beautiful views, solitude, and rolling terrain, Peaceful Valley is home to some of Colorado’s best mountain biking east of the Front Range. In fact, each spring before campers arrive, a popular mountain bike race attracting hundreds of riders is held on the trails at Peaceful Valley.
Scouts traveling to the ranch from around Colorado, and often from states as far as Texas and California, have the unique opportunity of experiencing Colorado mountain biking at its finest through the Cycling Merit Badge offered at the camp. Beginning on Monday of each week with a relatively non-technical two-mile ride, scouts ride progressively greater distances each day of the week, culminating in a 15-mile ride on the camp’s doubletrack and singletrack trails each Friday.
At 9:30 a.m. on Friday, July 3, a hot and sunny day typical of summer in Elbert, Colorado, scouts assembled at the the Fort Laramie Adventure Lodge to begin their ride. After councilors Seth, Joel, and JC checked the scouts’ bikes and made sure each scout had enough water and food for the ride, the group pedaled up the dirt road leading away from the camp and into the forests and fields to the south.
With a mixture of smooth singletrack, doubletrack, and dirt roads through fields, as well as sections of rocky, technical singletrack in the forest, the ride offered ample opportunities for scouts for practice their mountain biking skills. Some of the skills focused on included smooth pedaling technique, proper braking, and descending skills. The rockier trails gave scouts a chance to test their abilities to ride technical obstacles.
The ride took nearly four hours with stops, and the three scout councilors were nearly omnipresent – coaching, encouraging, and mentoring campers every step of the way. Carter G., of Loveland, Colorado Troop 81, said that the ride was “not too hard,” but that the advice from Joel, Seth, and JC throughout the week had helped him greatly improve his abilities. Fellow Troop 81 scout Cody A. said that even though he frequently mountain bikes, he was challenged by the distance and terrain covered on Friday’s ride.
After encircling Camp Dobbins, Camp Dietler, and Magness Adventure Camp, the group of campers and councilors returned to the Fort Laramie Adventure Lodge tired, dusty, and ready for lunch. But there was also a sense of accomplishment permeating the quieted scene of scouts stowing their bikes in the lodge. For many scouts, the ride had been the longest off-road cycling experience of their lives and some had never truly mountain biked until that week. Seth explained that scouts in the Cycling Merit Badge often feel pride in “conquering things that seem unconquerable.”
The long ride each Friday is designed to make memories, said Seth, and it did just that.