When Stephen Janes watches his 10-year-old son, Jubal, riding a mountain bike, getting dirty, searching for salamanders in a creek or exploring the woods near Asheville, he sees the fun and the wonder that all kids should have.
That’s one of the many reasons Janes, 41, started the Western North Carolina chapter of Trips for Kids four years ago. The nonprofit, which works to provide mountain biking trips and environmental education for children who would not otherwise have the opportunity, begins its summer season June17. The program is part of the international Trips for Kids nonprofit that started in California 25 years ago.
Janes partners with local youth organizations such as the YMCA of WNC, the I Have a Dream Foundation housed at Pisgah View Apartments, the Boys and Girls Club of Henderson County and, new this year, the Henderson County Parks and Recreation Department.
Those groups provide the children and the transportation, and Trips for Kids provides the bikes, the helmets and the staff to teach children mountain biking basics, safety, etiquette and sense of adventure.
“The goal of Trips For Kids WNC is to get city kids outdoors on mountain bike outings and teach them about the environment, how to use a bike and helmet, biking etiquette, how to treat other trail users, how not to litter, how to have respect for the environment and each other,” Janes said. “We ride for one to one-and-a-half hours, stop and look in the creek, learn about stream ecology. We want to broaden their horizons.”
Since its start, the program has served more than 500 youth from elementary school to early college-aged students, and has caught the attention of some big names in the biking world.
This year, Asheville resident Brent Bookwalter, a professional cyclist with BMC Racing Team and three-time Tour de France competitor, and his wife, former professional cyclist Jamie Bookwalter, are holding a fundraising bike ride to benefit Trips for Kids.
The inaugural Bookwalter Binge Charity Gran Fondo will be Nov. 1 in Black Mountain, with challenging 86K (53-mile) and 30K (18.6-mile) routes, as well as a gentler 10K (6.2-mile) course through Buncombe, McDowell and Rutherford counties. Brent Bookwalter will ride in the Binge, as will Janes.
“Their goal is to raise funds for local school bike clubs. They approached me and asked if I wanted to partner,” Janes said of the Bookwalters, who have lived in Asheville for three years. “That was really cool. I think having them professional cyclist couple in our community is a huge benefit, bringing awareness to cycling. Having them involved in the community is even better.”
Jamie Bookwalter, who just retired from professional racing, said the couple volunteered with Trips for Kids last fall and had so much fun they felt compelled to help the program expand.
“We had a really great experience with Trips for Kids. We really enjoy hanging out with those kids. They were having such a fun time,” Jamie Bookwalter said. “We were wondering how we could help them move forward, and we wanted to see how we could get an after-school biking program in every school. We wanted to give back to the community while we can.”
Jamie, who has a master’s degree in forestry from the University of Georgia, is now dedicating her time as a contributing writer to a textbook on bark beetles and nematodes and to organizing The Binge. The all-day ride will have three different routes – 86K (53-mile), 30K (18.6-mile), and 10K (6.2-mile) - starting and ending at Pisgah Brewing in Black Mountain.
“It’s a ride, not a race, but if people choose to do so, they can race on the climbs,” she said. “There are three major climbs and they will have timing chips on their legs. We’ll have prizes for the highest fundraiser and the fastest male and female climbers.”
This will also be a chance for local riders to test themselves against 30-year-old Brent Bookwalter, one of the best cyclists in the world.
He just completed the famous 21-stage Giro d’Italia bike race in Italy, where he placed fifth in Stage 20. In 2010, Bookwalter finished both the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia. In 2011, he helped teammate Cadel Evans to his first Tour de France title. Last year, Bookwalter competed in his third Tour with BMC. The team has not yet announced if he will ride in this year’s Tour, which starts July 5.
Jamie said there will be other professional cyclists taking part in the Bookwalter Binge, all in the hopes of raising enough money to start up more school cycling programs.
“I would like the money raised go to a more disadvantaged or underfunded communities, where a lot of the kids don’t have access to bikes or to safe riding areas. It’s really a program close to our heart,” she said.
“To plant a seed for biking and safe riding now, hopefully they’ll want to continue riding into their adolescence and adulthood. It’s a way to exercise that doesn’t seem like a chore, especially when so many children in North Carolina are overweight, this is an important and a worthy effort to try to introduce children to a type of exercise they can do throughout their lives.”
Father and son
The couple hopes to join more trips after the racing season, but they are in expert hands with Janes as Trips leader. He is an accomplished cyclist who grew up cycling in Texas, France, Bonaire (a Carribbean island) and Charlotte, all before age 16, moving around with missionary parents.
He attended Toccoa Falls College in Georgia, and then went on to work in the child mental health field. He has ridden his bike the entire 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway, across the country from San Diego, Calif., to Wilmington, and likes to compete in endurance mountain bike races including the mulit-day Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race in Pisgah National Forest, and the Off Road Assault on Mount Mitchell. Janes and his wife, Rhonda, moved to Asheville 10 years ago.
Janes’ job with Trips for Kids allows him to spend more time with his son than most fathers do. Jubal comes along with him on all his trips as an “apprentice,” helping to load and unload bikes, helping the other children understand the gearing, and serving as another set of eyes on the eight-10 children who come on each trip in places like Bent Creek Experimental Forest, DuPont State Forest.
“I’m thankful to have the flexibility to be with my son and have him along with me and get to enjoy watching him riding his bike,” Janes said.
Janes reaches children through community programs such as the I Have a Dream Foundation, which works with children in Pisgah View Public Housing to reach their education and career goals by providing mentoring, tutoring and enrichment and tuition assistance for higher education.
Executive Director Jazz Cathcart has been partnering with Trips for Kids since the biking program began. He walks with children down from the Pisgah View Apartments in West Asheville to Carrier Park to meet with Janes. It’s a two-minute walk that might as well be 100 miles without Janes’s program.
“We bring 10 to 12 students, and Trips for Kids brings a trailer full of bikes, helmets, water and granola bars. We ride up and down the greenway for an hour and a half and enjoy the time with each other. It’s an incredible part of our program, and it really does enrich what we’re doing,” Cathcart said.
“The vast majority, if not all of our kids, don’t even own bikes. Their parents don’t have the money, so there’s no value to buying a bike, and also you run the risk of the bicycle getting stolen. They really love the opportunity to ride every week, and it’s great exercise as well.”
“Riding a bike is a sense of freedom,” Janes said. “It teaches confidence and it teaches respect. It’s getting outside of the city where there are snakes and possibly bears, and birds and trees and plant life. It broadens their horizons and makes them realize there is more out there in the world than just ourselves.”