Like a lot of people, I was feeling pretty stressed out and overwhelmed in the year 2021. After a year and a half of lockdown, my cabin fever was through the roof. So, in November of 2021, I bought a bike. I hadn't ridden much since I was a child, but I knew I wanted to get out of my house and get moving. But I didn't know where to start, so I went looking for group rides. Quickly ruling out training clubs that rode at 20-25 mph and expensive multi-week tours scheduled for the following summer, I narrowed in on one ride that was affordable, nearby, and seemed both welcoming and challenging: Decemberg.
The early winter ride to Camp Reinberg, 40 miles to the northwest, started from very near my house and ended in heated cabins with showers. It was a longer ride than I'd done in a day, and I had basically no camping equipment or bike packing gear, so I was nervous but still excited when I woke up the day of the ride. Stepping out into a 30 mph gusting wind made me question my choices, but as soon as I pulled up to the bike shop starting point, I knew I'd made the right call - everyone was warm and welcoming and stoked to ride. There were riders of every experience level and gear ranging from top-end panniers to milk crates and zip ties. We set off directly into that raging wind and freezing rain, and by the time we rolled into camp after dark, I knew I wanted to do it again and again.
So when the email came out announcing volunteer training, I couldn't sign up fast enough. And in the dead of the long Chicago winter, planning for the season ahead definitely helped keep the stoke alive. I'd learned that you don't need all the fanicest, lightest, newest gear (but that some things - like sleeping pads! are worth splurging on) so I worked on learning how to make some of my own stuff sacks and bags. I poured over route maps of the area and read about past rides. I went to every monthly hang and met more and more of the fantastic volunteers and riders and friends of OOFD. And I started counting down the days until the first OOFD ride I would be guiding - The Good Land, a two-day ride to Milwaukee. Fortunately, there were lots of opportunities to stay plugged in to the community, including making the largest batch of veggie chili I've ever attempted for the season kick-off fundraiser and Hootenanny at the Hideout!
When the day of my first official guide trip rolled around, I was definitely feeling nervous - would I bring the right gear? Did I know the route well enough? Would I be able to make my nature and history "spiels" engaging? Could I even keep up with the group? Luckily for me, my fellow guides Jordan and Maggie were seasoned pros and made sure everything ran as smooth as possible.
Over the course of the summer, I was a support guide on three adult rides and two family rides. Each was an amazing experience, and each had its own challenges and thrills. But what I loved the most about all of these rides as a volunteer was how supportive OOFD is for the folks who guide. As program leaders, Breanna and Glenn are constantly looking for feedback and ways to improve and fine-tune the rides and the experience. At the same time, guides have autonomy to make game-time decisions to make the ride the best possible experience for the folks we're guiding. And every group of guides I've ridden with has been committed to that team spirit, working together to fix flats, or change routes, or make breakfast, and all supporting and encouraging each other. I learned so much on every single ride from the amazing guides I was paired with - every single one an amazing rider, chef, cheerleader, strategist, and educator all at once.
I also loved and appreciated how OOFD keeps growing - building new routes, like SWIMI, and new programs for families, especially our adaptive program. I was able to participate in policy writing sessions, and though I hadn't even been through a full summer with OOFD, I felt my voice was as heard and respected as anyone else. And OOFD invests in volunteers, offering first aid training and mandatory reporter training to help guides develop and learn.
I got to finish the year off by guiding on the most epic weekend trip I've ever been on and the absolute highlight of my summer: The Ride to Valhalla. This 4 day 3 night tour of Door County was the most perfect way to wrap up an incredible summer, and an absolute pleasure to guide on from beginning to end. Some of the most perfect weather, amazing food, stunning roads, but most of all - the fun and camaraderie of doing it all together.
So why should you volunteer for OOFD? Sure, you get to go on more rides for free, but it's so much more than that. When I bought my bike last year, I wanted to get away from everything. I was riding to outrun stress, pandemic blues, everything frustrating and confining in my life. But OOFD gave me something to ride towards, over and over. An adventure, a bonfire, a party, a jump in the lake - I wasn't just getting out of my house, I was getting into a community. The volunteers you'll be riding side-by-side with are really what makes OOFD such an incredibly special place - and one that will always have room for more!
Rachel went on to the one of the three Rookie Volunteers of the 2022 OOFD Guide Crew and even is the lead guide for the 2022 Decemberg ride in a couple weeks! Can't wait to see all the amazing goodness she no doubt will continue to contribute to the team in 2023 and beyond!
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"To immerse , educate, preserve & advance the history, culture, trails and native habitats of the Lower Lake Michigan Basin Area"