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Meet the Trail Community: Mountain Biker

Posted by Anna Roth at Dec 01, 2017 04:30 PM |

Mountain biker Melissa MacKelvie wants everyone to find their connection to nature. It's empowering, and builds the community of people who care deeply about trails.

We've highlighted trail users across Washington state. Hear what hiking means to them, and the future of their on-trail pursuits.

With a mother who rode horses and a father who took her hiking as a child, Melissa MacKelvie’s passion for being on trail ran deep in her bones. Then eight years ago, she discovered a new way to be outside when her now-husband introduced her to mountain biking.  

smiling-candid_anna-roth.jpgMelissa smiles on Trail 140, her favorite on Mount Spokane. Photo by Anna Roth.

“When [my husband and I] met, he had this huge mountain bike and he was like, ‘Ride this! You can go off these jumps!’ And he had grown up in Yakima, building these huge, sketchy jumps, but I said ‘No … I want to start with something a little easier.’

" Then when we started dating, my dad offered me his old bike. It was this huge, heavy bike from the ‘80s. My husband saw it and was like, ‘No, you can’t ride that one!’ 

So they started looking for a suitable starter bike, and they found one for sale on facebook. It was $800—a men's bike.

Melissa's first bike was old and heavy, but her new one is a bit nicer. Photos by Anna Roth.

“It was so heavy, so it was kind of a pain to climb. But I rode it off and on while I was in college (at the University of Washington) then I moved back to Spokane four years ago and really started pursuing it. I went to an Evergreen East Mountain Bike Association (EEMBA) meeting; they’re open to the public. They offered help and support so I decided to go for it. Being with those people encouraged me to climb (ride uphill) and work on other skills.”

She found it the perfect blend of a physical challenge, exercise, and submerging herself in nature, but her childhood spent on trail with her family had instilled an appreciation for trailside sights she retained.

“Part of what I love about mountain biking is what you get to see. I love riding downhill and the strength that I’ve gotten from climbing, but I also love pulling off to the side and checking out plants. I take lots of photos. I’ve seen a lot of wildlife—even a couple bears on my rides. And it gives me time to think.”

Melissa points out a lone larch during our interview. Photo by Anna Roth. 

Sharing Skills and Teaching Others

Now, Melissa works for the same organization that helped her four years ago. She’s Evergreen East Mountain Bike Association’s outreach coordinator, organizing fundraisers and events. For the past three years, she’s helped coordinate Spokatopia, an outdoor festival put on with Out There Monthly and the City of Spokane Parks and Rec.

The outreach events are intended to build awareness and to be a resource for people new to mountain biking. They teach the public about trail etiquette, offer recommendations on where to go, and classes to improve their technique. Whether riders want to develop technical skills, get some downhill time in, or simply bask in nature, there’s somewhere for everyone to explore near Spokane.

“We have educational seminars where we teach people how to ride, how to develop more technical skills or just feel more comfortable. We want to be the group that people contact to learn about trail etiquette. And we want to be the group that other trail users contact with concerns or questions.”

eemba-detail.jpgEvergreen Mountain Bike Alliance helped Melissa develop her mountain biking skills. Now she helps others get out. Photo by Anna Roth. 

And EEMBA gives back. As responsible trail stewards, they work with the county, state parks, and private landowners to maintain access and do trail maintenance on the networks they use. Melissa explains how interactions with the public, even brief ones, can strengthen relationships.

“Whenever you’re out on the trail you’re an ambassador for your user group. I try to keep that in mind. I want to be the type of person who someone talks to and says, ‘She was really nice and helpful’.”

Like so many of the folks I’ve met in Spokane, Melissa is involved in more than one trails organization. In addition to her work with EEMBA, she’s an outdoor recreation guide for the city of Spokane Parks and Recreation, through which she gets to work with the Friends of Mount Spokane and Washington Trails Association. She gets a sense of fulfillment in sharing the skills she’s developed and empowering other trail users. And she understands that what resonates for one person might not be the answer for everyone.

“Maybe it’s not mountain biking! Maybe it’s kayaking or hiking. The important thing is that [you] find what works for you, what gets you outside to experience that sense of empowerment you get from being outdoors and being able to rely on yourself.”

tracks_anna-roth.jpgExploring different ways to recreate can expose you to a variety of viewpoints and cement your understanding of the importance of conservation. Photo by Anna Roth. 

“Being an outdoorswomen has taught me a lot.”

Melissa’s eyes light up when I ask what it is she likes about mountain biking specifically. She says it’s taught her to respect her body and appreciate what it can do for her, pointing to how rewarding it is to complete a difficult trail knowing you did it all by yourself.

“I adore mountain biking and the sense of accomplishment that it’s given me. People might think as a woman I shouldn’t be doing this ‘dangerous’ thing. But I shred. And every time I go mountain biking, I’m so proud of what my body can do.”

That confidence has rolled over into other aspects of her life. She feels more comfortable hiking by herself, and is willing to push herself to learn more each year.

“[Mountain biking has] taught me so much. You fall down a lot, but you get back up and back on the bike and try again.”

pushing-bike_anna-roth.jpgIt's important to get back up if you fall down. Photo by Anna Roth.

When she’s not biking, Melissa’s inspired by podcasts about adventurous women. She takes encouragement from them, just as her work at EEMBA encourages others to find their place on trail.

It’s important that everyone find what speaks to them outside because it helps build the larger community of trail users. Melissa understands this well; as the outreach coordinator at EEMBA, she interacts with lots of people who are brand-new to the outdoors.

“It’s easy to get into a bubble. In the outdoor recreation industry, we sometimes forget not everyone has had the same experiences we’ve had. So making the outdoors accessible to other groups of people is very important.”

The way she sees it, when someone gets involved in mountain biking, they join a community. Then maybe they try a few different things: kayaking, hiking, trail running.

“Those are all more communities they interact with. The more positive experiences in the outdoors a person has, the more they’ll learn about conservation. That’s something I appreciate with the work I do. Seeing all the different user groups is inspiring. Without a strong community, I don’t think the conservation movement would have such a strong voice.”

Which is why you can find Melissa hard at work spreading knowledge about mountain biking. She wants to help provide every opportunity for anyone who is interested in getting outside to do so. And maybe, once they’re hooked, they can join her on one of her favorite rides—Trail 140 on Mount Spokane.

“Some of my first experiences mountain biking are there. During the summer, it smells like pine trees and huckleberries. I love it up there.”