Applying for the Trail Care Crew position was exhilarating. We can recall the many hours spent talking about the adventures we would have on the road, all of the new places we would see and the people we would meet. We went over and over our qualifications and experiences that we were sure would impress the IMBA staff, but despite our confidence, the notion of “life on the road” seemed too good to be true.
Then, the call came. We scheduled interviews and were whisked away to Boulder shortly after. Four months later, we were picking up our IMBA Subaru (the “IMBAru”) and trying to fit all our belongings for the next two years into the Outback. If you’re not good at Tetris, you soon will be.
Life as a Trail Care Crew Team & The Working TCC Weekend
Life as a “TCCer” is special. It’s one that only a handful of people have experienced so far, and like nothing else you’ll ever experience again. Everything you thought you knew about road tripping will change, and everything you’d hoped you would never have to experience while trapped in a car with your significant other will happen. It’s inevitable. But remember, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel the country, spreading the word of “dirt church” and riding mountain bikes with your best friend.
Your weeks will go something like this (in a nutshell): you’ll roll into town in your fancy IMBAru to meet with the weekend host, present various slideshows to all sorts of audiences, partake in group rides, eat lots of food, and have a stellar time teaching the IMBA Trail Building School.
Your host will be your contact throughout the weekend. We try to spend as much time with them as they ask for. This is something that takes some getting used to but, honestly, each weekend you have to be willing to give all of your time to the group that you are working with. Remember, they are excited to have you. Answer their questions with a smile and do your best to make yourselves available for all group rides and activities. Over time, this does get exhausting, so we recommend reserving Mondays just for you in order to recover from the weekend’s events. We call them (as lovingly passed to us from a previous crew), Trail Care Crew Mondays.
Your schedule and presentations are pre-determined by your host and coordinator so, honestly, that part of the weekend is super easy. Show up on time, smile, share your knowledge and be passionate about what you’re preaching. The IMBA Trail Building School is the Ace of the weekend and typically your largest turnout. Something we learned early on—and which is probably the best advice we can give—is that you must be confident, even if you mess up or accidentally leave something out. The group typically feeds off of your energy and confidence. Sell it, and have fun!
Sometimes Trail Building Schools can be a bit like herding cats, and people will challenge you from time to time. Moving mass amounts of people from a classroom setting to the field can be intimidating. Again, keep your bearings and be confident that you can lead the group. Once you’re in the field, the rest is just implementing what you’ve taught them. There will be questions and troubleshooting and people who want you to know how experienced they are (not always in a good way), so just keep that confidence up and stand by your decisions.
Group rides are inevitable, and lots of them! Don’t feel like you have to ride every time, or even every mile, and be firm about how you feel, but try to do at least one ride with each group. It really is a bonding experience, and the locals enjoy showing off their trails to the IMBA folks! Honestly, we would recommend taking advantage of every riding opportunity you’re offered. Riding that particular trail could be the only opportunity you get to do so. We have learned over the last two years that no two trails are the same! Don’t miss out.
Beyond the Trail Care Crew Weekend
Aside from your scheduled weekends (Thursday-Sunday), there will be time to explore or just relax, whichever you choose. Monday through Wednesday is your travel and recover time. Like we mentioned before, we typically take Monday just to relax and do whatever we want. Tuesday and Wednesday can be used for whatever you see fit: riding, laundry, sightseeing, etc. Just remember to get your weekly paperwork completed and make it to your next visit starting on Thursday.
On another note, being TCC isn’t all about traveling, playing in the dirt and riding your bike. Clearly, it’s serious business, too, and there’s a bit of office-type work involved that you must stay on top of. Each week, you are required to maintain a blog of your weekend’s events, create a trip report to send to specified (IMBA) Boulder office staff, create a Flickr link with the weekend’s pictures (that you should have been taking throughout the weekend) and send a thank-you letter to all attendees.
You are also responsible for your expenses and are required to manage receipts and build a monthly expense report. This work doesn’t take much time at all, but keep in mind, with TCC also comes writing and blogging skills. Throughout your contract, you will also be asked to write articles or pieces for IMBA’s newsletter or for various other projects.
The good news is, you’re a team, so you can easily split work based on your skill base. We have chosen to split the work in a way that flows best with our abilities. One of us does the blogging, photography, emails and phone calls, while the other handles the expenses. We have found that dividing tasks helps us stay sane and keeps things on track. This goes as far as loading the car, who carries what down from the hotel room, etc. You will find your own rhythm.
When You Call a Subaru Outback "Home"
Aside from being a weekend warrior, you DO live in a car. Let’s talk about that for a minute. There are both pros and cons to this experience. As TCC, you must determine that you will let the good outweigh what feels negative in order to survive. Here is a short list of things that will happen that you should definitely not let rain on your parade!
- You will feel your fitness decrease — This comes with hours in the car. We did our best to stay motivated to work out as much as possible. We both climb and run, as well, so we alternated activities to avoid getting burned out on our bikes, as well as to keep our overall fitness versatile.
- You will feel homesick — This is natural and will fluctuate. Make conscious efforts to stay in contact with friends! We created a joint Trail Care Crew Facebook page and posted on it all the time for our friends and family to follow.
- The car will feel overwhelmingly crowded — We have come to call it the worst Tetris game ever. Everything fits in the car just right, but if any one piece is out of place, when you turn a corner, everything falls or badly shifts. This is a constant frustration for us. Just be prepared for it. Any good road trip has its packing problems.
- Laundry on the road — There isn’t much to say about this. Just be prepared to miss your personal washer and dryer.
- Diet and eating-out debacles — if you eat out regularly now, you will probably adjust fine. We, however, never ate out before TCC, so it has taken some adapting. You will inevitably get “TCC fat”, as it’s jokingly referred to as by past crew members. This is the “few pounds” you’ll put on from the influx of coffee, donuts, beer and restaurant/pubs that come with hanging out with mountain bikers. Don’t worry: over time, you will learn to adjust and increase fitness to compensate!
- Weather — It can’t be controlled, but sometimes, it does rain on your parade.
The amazing benefits outweigh those times when you want to freak out. Keep in mind that this opportunity was given to you and for a reason: because you can handle it. The list of reasons we love Trail Care Crew is far too large to fit into this blog, but here are a few highlights that we hope will inspire you:
- You get to ride your bike everywhere! We are in a new community every single weekend and have had more opportunity to ride our bikes than most people ever will have. Take advantage of it. Keep track of where you ride and the places you travel via the IMBA blog and pictures. These are memories we enjoy looking back on already.
- If you’re a “foodie,” you will love travel. We like to look up specialty food stops and try new things.
- You have tons of free time! We are always hitting up tourist traps on the road. We’ve been to Disney Land, five different Six Flags parks, most National Parks in the U.S, and tons of big cities like Chicago, Las Vegas and New York City. We’ve seen plays, shows, gone on tours and participated in festivals and races. It really is the good life!
- You have fans! It feels nice to arrive in a community and feel the respect that comes with passing on the knowledge you have to a group of eager volunteers.
- Awesome gear: Our sponsors are amazing and they work hard at keeping our program looking good. You will come to be a bit spoiled by this. Respect it and enjoy it.
- The stories you’ll tell: We love going home on vacation to see friends and family. Some of the best evenings spent now are filled with story sharing. We see and do a lot. We get to experience every region in the country and the people that come with it. Trust us, there will be some interesting tales to come in your future.
- Creating a nickname that combines your names together: This is a cheesy, but fun, tradition. We were immediately given JLo, the combination of Jesse and Lori. It stuck, and we love it!
Hopefully this bit of insight into life as a TCCer will help prepare some folks for the road ahead. The aspect of being Trail Care Crew that is the most rewarding is the sense of family that comes with it. Trail Care Crew is a unique position, so once you’ve been TCC, you are bonded with all those who were TCC before you and the other IMBA field staff who roam the country. You can call on them for advice, or even just to vent about living in a car. Each one will always understand and immediately sympathize with whatever issue you may have.
Best of luck to you!
— JLo (Jesse and Lori)