Words by Andrew Howieson
I was fortunate my folks moved in 1998, when I was seven years old. The new house, which was ultimately an empty, unfinished "renovator's dream" with a coating of dust on the living room floor and cigarette burns in the carpet, happened to be down the road from a rundown BMX track. The jumps were more representative of piles of dirt, rubbish, and weeds; empty fuel drums and tires stacked up, landfill dumped from various construction sites meant the ground was equal parts bricks and rock as it was dirt. It was probably an eyesore to the local community, a forgotten corner in a reserve down a gravel road. That corner changed my life more than I could have imagined.
My actions to date, all the paths I've chosen, my thoughts, my friendship circles, and my dreams for the future were all influenced by that BMX track. I can still remember the cold cans of coke we would drink under the shade of the gum trees, picking the dirt and gravel out of my knees and palms, test running jumps for the first time—memories I'll cherish forever.
My life and the path it's taken has ultimately come down to chance. You could argue endlessly about whether it was fate or coincidence, but at the end of the day, it's just lucky that the forgotten, derelict BMX track was at the end of the gravel road. It blows my mind beyond comprehension as to what my life would look like and where my path would have led without that opportunity. I'd like to think I would have taken a positive path - hung out with the right people and stayed on the right side of the law. Perhaps I'd be working a corporate job, putting in the overtime during the week, Friday Arvo drinks, hungover Saturday, a lazy Sunday and back at it Monday, ready to do it all again. All just to afford my car repayments on the BMW I leased to impress my coworkers and clients.
I certainly wouldn't have stood on top of Mt. Barbour with Wade Simmons and Andreas Hestler after having caught a helicopter up there with my bike. I wouldn't have ridden through the beautiful backcountry of New Zealand with the group of mates that I did. I wouldn't have ridden picture-perfect singletrack amongst old-growth forests in Tasmania. I wouldn't have the strength and vitality I do now. I wouldn't have been involved with various companies and organizations sharing this wonderful world with others. I wouldn't have met my life partner, Rachel, if it wasn't for my bike. Something that started so casually, so seemingly innocuous at the time, has created cause and effect to lead me to this life I live and a life I wouldn't trade for anything in the world.
Several summers ago, a few of us in our local mountain bike club, the Yarra Ranges Mountain Bikers, put together a kids' ride program. Nothing too formal. We meet every second Monday during daylight savings/summer at our local trails in the central highlands of Victoria and take a group of local kids riding for an hour or so. It's free, and the idea is to help facilitate accessible outdoor experiences for kids and teens who may not have anyone in their life who can introduce them to mountain biking and help them grow in that space. I'm so lucky the stars aligned in a way for me that opened this path, and I love the thought that our actions with the club may change some of these kids' lives forever.
As spring approaches with the sun and warmth’s return, I'm incredibly grateful to reflect on all the amazing people in my life who have been introduced to me by something so simple (although that's becoming more and more debatable) as the bicycle. I can't wait to regroup with the riders from our kids' program to see how much they've grown as riders and to progress that further.
We are currently on the cusp of creating a world-class riding destination in the Yarra Ranges. Government approval has been provided to create the largest singletrack network in the southern hemisphere, with World Trail awarding the build contract. Growing up, I didn't have access to mountain biking. I didn't know it existed. If those six or seven derelict and dodgy jumps changed my life, imagine what a sustainable, accessible trail network in some of the most beautiful forests on earth will do. The future is brighter than ever. I can't wait to see what the investment into more accessible mountain bike infrastructure will do for our club and our riders, our kids' ride program and, more importantly, our larger community who just simply don't know about mountain biking yet.