From the outside, mountain biking seems to be an individual sport; just you, the bike, and the trail. However, for Carlmont students, the sport is deeply social. Groups of riders hit the trails together, watching out for each other in case of injury and enjoying each other’s company.
“It’s basically like a family,” said Julian Francis, a junior. “Everybody’s so close and connected, everybody knows everybody.”
Francis has been riding since sixth grade, when his babysitter first took him to the trails behind Carlmont. These trails, along with the local Water Dog Lake Park, are a popular haunt for avid riders, many of whom are high school students. In addition to jumps, ramps, and other obstacles, the Carlmont bike park features a close-knit community of riders.
“[The atmosphere] is very uplifting,” said Matthew Schnapp, a junior. “Everyone is hyping everyone up if we get to something challenging, whether it’s mental or physical.”
For many riders, going to the trails is an opportunity to meet new people. This has been especially true for new students at Carlmont. During a school year with few opportunities for social interaction, it has become difficult to make new social connections. For freshmen Max Minkovsky and Zach Chuang, mountain biking has been a way to get to know other students, even if they can’t go to class in person.
“As we progressed and were acquiring more and more skills, we started to meet and ride with more and more people,” Minkovsky said. “The use of Instagram also helps, as I have met some people through DMs and we have become friends that way.”
For Chuang, the social aspect of biking is one of the most important parts of the sport.
“My favorite thing [about mountain biking] is that I can ride with my friends,” he said.
Mountain biking, like almost every other sport, is not free from the effects of the ongoing pandemic. The sport actually saw a boom as many riders, including Chuang, started a new hobby to fill up the long hours in quarantine. However, with cases spiking across the county, riders have to be careful not to contribute to the spread of COVID-19. Many have limited the groups they ride with to just a few close friends in order to protect the health of themselves and their families.
The virus also threw a shadow over the local mountain biking community’s most important event of the year: Hucksgiving.
Held in memory of local rider Nick Aguilar, the event takes place annually on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Despite concerns about COVID-19, locals still hit the trails of Carlmont to honor the memory of their friend.
“This year, it was a little bit different. Everybody was a little bit skeptical about COVID-19 and all of that stuff, but we still made it happen,” Francis said.
Throughout all of the challenges this year has posed, the trails at Carlmont have remained a haven for students, fostering the connections that quarantine and distance learning have denied.
“You’re always riding with people, you’re always meeting new people, even now,” Francis said.