It’s a mental and physical tug-of-war when Mercer Island ninth-grader Doodle Auld is in the midst of a mountain biking race.
While pedaling away and attacking the cross country course, there’s a feeling of freedom with the clean air blowing in Auld’s face, but there are moments when his body wants to slam on the brakes.
“It’s a constant battle in my mind to keep pushing even when my body says no,” Auld said. “Once I break that barrier of mental anguish, it is hard to describe. Still, it’s one of the best feelings in the world. Crossing that finishing line is the pinnacle of personal achievement.”
Auld and 14 other riders are embracing the challenge of tearing through courses with gusto as members of the Mercer Island Mountain Biking Team. The locals completed their fall season on Sept. 26 with a race on a Methow Valley course near Winthrop. The club team exited the scene with first-place finishes from eighth-grader Hayden Bond and sixth-grader Zane Shiers, and a second from eighth-grader Quintin Shiers.
At the Methow Valley race, Mercer Island entered riders in sixth through eighth grade and intermediate high school boys divisions, and the seventh-grade girls division. On the girls’ side, Scout Bates notched a sixth-place finish.
The junior high riders competed in five-mile races while the high-schoolers doubled that amount of mileage.
“You get pretty aggressive,” head coach Brian Shiers said of the riders’ game plan. “The biggest thing is it’s a very community type of sport, too, tons of camaraderie and support among the team. It doesn’t matter how fast or how slow they’re going, they’re going to go out there and help each other along.”
Ten-year mountain biker Bond delved into how to deliver a solid performance: “Knowing your skills. Where to conserve energy, where to use it. Staying calm and knowing where you need to be conservative and where you can take risks. It’s also important to know your own limits.”
Bond experiences anxiousness, nervousness and tension while lining up at the start of a race, but then a sense of calm washes over him before heaps of adrenaline kick in during the contest.
Heather Libman and Ian Tubbs launched the Mercer Island team five years ago and Shiers has been at the helm for the last three years, guiding the squad through Washington Student Cycling League contests in the fall and spring. Next on the docket will be the spring campaign, which features races beginning in February and concluding in June.
“I think the best part is that all are welcome. It’s a no-cut sport, every kid gets to challenge themself,” said Shiers, adding that for a lot of kids, sports like soccer or football weren’t their jam and they reached for the independent aspect of mountain biking.
“So they find a home here. It’s amazing watching them grow kind of over the years,” Shiers said.
Sixth-grader Sam Greer, who has been mountain biking for four months, enjoys interacting with his friends and having fun with the sport. One of his keys to success on the course is trying his best and never giving up.
Greer competed in his inaugural race at Methow Valley, and here’s his take on the event: “Before the race, I was nervous. During the race, my teammates cheered for me even though I was near the back and pretty tired. After the race, I felt great and proud that I made it to the finish line.”
Auld has been riding since the age of 9 and said that tackling a trail is like piecing together a puzzle as each turn and decision comes into play.
“It’s that feeling of reward and risk, and how can I get better at what I love to do,” Auld said.
Riders who are interested in joining the team can email MercerIslandMTB@outlook.com.