La Thiule – Mountain biking.
After a fantastic two weeks of military training in Germany for Annual Camp, 20 officer cadets and training staff embarked on a one-week adrenaline filled training expedition mountain biking in La Thiule located in the Italian alps. The expedition aim was to bring potential officers out of their comfort zones; to experience risk whilst simultaneously allowing them the opportunity to develop new skills.
The first day of the expedition involved the issuing of safety equipment, bikes and also splitting into groups based on level of experience with the majority of cadets opting for the complete beginners group with little to no experience of downhill riding. As the novice group started to learn and become more comfortable with the bikes it was time to leave the road to join the ‘slightly’ beaten tracks of the bike park. For many of the cadets the first days’ blue route came as a bit of a shock as the rocky and unpredictable terrain raised levels of fear and saw the vast majority taking a fall or crash of some sort cushioned by the safety equipment provided. As day one progressed, the realisation that the sport was much more physically and mentally demanding than expected was beginning to be very well understood.
The second day consisted of very much the same; practicing downhill technique and attempting to stay on the bikes! The beginner group also had a challenging uphill cycle to another one of the resort’s blue routes for a fresh venture involving long stretches of scenic track with some short technical bursts. For almost all the cadets the second day saw the number of falls drop and a massive improvement to technique, speed and also confidence in completing rocky technical challenges with many now opting to tackle them rather than detour.
On the third day after a practice run on a well known blue route, the beginners moved towards a greater challenge, which seemed near impossible on day one, a red route. With the increased difficulty and sheer amount of mental grit it took many to get down, emotions were high and resilience was certainly required in order to keep getting onto the bike as many falls were seen on this day due to the step up in difficulty the red graded track provided. Although the third day was by far the most mentally and physically exhausting, it was certainly a day of definitive use of the skills already developed and was incredibly exhilarating to see the improvement of all officer cadets at conquering what had seemed impossible on day one.
The fourth day involved visit to La Pila, another bike park located in the area. La Pila came equiped with it’s own set of challenges and proved to be a much more speed and turn orientated area requiring concentration and control. The group became much more confident at conquering red routes with morale increasing ten-fold throughout the day. The last day of mountain biking involved returning to La Thiule conquering routes that proved difficult during the week with much more speed and confidence. With everyone extremely motivated from the previous day, very few falls were seen and the group began to have some sort of ‘style’ as we battled the rocky challenges! After an adrenaline fueled five days of mountain biking the groups came back together for an exciting teambuilding exercise of white water rafting through the Alps as a perfect wind down from the previous five days.
For myself, the mountain biking expedition proved far more challenging and much more enjoyable than I anticipated. It was exhilarating to be a part of an adventure training exercise that consisted of so many beginners and that pushed so many people out of their comfort zones in ways they’d never experienced before. After the week’s expedition I went home with a new found love for a sport I had never tried before and cannot wait to get back onto a bike with NUOTC in the very near future!