Making tracks

No cycle track at camp? Design your own!

Outdoor Educator David Gregory describes a very different building project and the benefits it brings for those students participating.

A new experience

Until the other week, I’d only ever run a “building” activity during a residential camp where students built something and then by the end of the session, they dismantled it. Most of this was for initiative activities such as raft building, where part of the exercise was for teams of students to create a working raft from scratch and cross a river with it.

Usually, no matter how good the rafts might be, everyone ends up drenched. However, last week the activity was mountain biking and since the campus didn’t have any mountain bike tracks on it at all, we had to start from scratch.

 

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Designing from scratch

This was both a fun activity, but also a great learning experience for me to see the different team dynamics as the students designed and built something from scratch that was going to be a permanent fixture on the campus. We started off in the classroom where the students worked out all the key features they wanted for the track.

There were obstacles, drop downs, water features, berms ( a kind of ridge or raised area) and even criss-crossing of the track back on itself. This last feature, I had to overrule mainly for common sense reasons, as some of the students didn’t quite understand that riding a mountain bike opposite ways on a single track had the potential for disaster.

Building the course

With a few different design ideas in mind, we headed out. It wasn’t long before the boys attacked the course with various tools, scratching out the basic shape with rakes and shovels then angling each twist and turn to make sure enough speed could be gained to be able to clear objects or power through the berms. There were already a couple of massive fallen trees scattered about the place, so they were easy spots for various rollovers to be built.

I’d imagined that at the start of the day, we would’ve made it an hour in and I’d have had a group of students leaning on shovels complaining about how boring this was and they just wanted to ride their bikes. Instead, I had some of them not even wanting to stop for lunch, as they continued to pour endless amounts of energy into building the track.

What I loved about this was the fact that they’d taken complete ownership of the build. The teamwork was natural and completely unforced, which can often be the case in initiative games. The other instructor and I ended up just being there for safety and to move large objects with the tractor when asked. The reality was that it was the students’ mountain biking track, not ours, which made a massive difference and after six hours of endless toil, they had a ridable course with two rollovers, a few muddy berms and a winding boardwalk with step ups and drop downs.

On track

With their tools finally down, the boys jumped on their bikes and one after another, rode around and around and around the course. Cautiously, at first, they checked out each part, however, as they became more confident, they cleared each rollover faster and enthusiastically ripped around the corners with style.

As the light faded, we managed to tear the students away from the track. The only discussion over dinner was about how they were going to extend the track even further and make it even better.

What was so wonderful about this, as opposed to other team building activities I’ve done, was the fact that the students were so passionate about it. What they were building wasn’t just going to be torn to pieces at the end of the day. It was and is going to last well beyond their time at camp and this seemed to instill a deep pride in them for what they were doing.

All in all, it was a wonderful day, which started out with an idea and ended up with a cohesive team and one awesome mountain bike track!

 

David Gregory

David is an experienced outdoor education teacher from Australia who’s worked on various domestic and international programs for over 16 years. David has planned and led outdoor education programs for students from primary age, through senior school. David’s a keen snow skier and outside of the outdoors he enjoys museums and art galleries, his favourite being the V&A in London.

For more about David’s work see www.davidgregory.com.au

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