Ramping up

Local mountain bikers share their stories and set their sights on more


Braden Dennis

Seniors Aaron Coorts and Rylan Miller ride their bikes at Two Rivers Mountain Bike Park in Jamesville, MO.

Loose gravel, dirt mounds, rock bluffs and the cold, unforgiving water. Mountain bikers face these obstacles every day for the thrill of adventure. Nixa only has a few mountain bikers, but the local trail park Two Rivers invites anyone with a passion for nature to explore what they have to offer.
Senior Aaron Coorts has been in love with the outdoors since a young age, but started mountain biking about three years ago. He spent his youth traveling to places like Alaska for weeks due to his parents work, which began his passion for nature.
“I actually moved here a while ago and we found out that Two Rivers bike park is really close to our house and I just started going out there,” he said.
Biking started as a once-a-while activity, then blossomed into a hobby.
“I get distracted sometimes,” Coorts said. “I definitely would rather be biking, then doing school right now.”
He must find a balance between school, work and biking in order to stay afloat. Compared to urban biking or BMX biking, Coorts said he enjoys the isolation of mountain biking.
“On a biking trail, I like being outside of the city — out in the woods,” he said. “There’s a lot less people and the jumps can be bigger out there. It’s more fun to do.”
Embracing nature comes easily to Coorts. Though it is exciting enough biking alone, Coorts enjoys riding with his friends as well — even if that means yelling to one another from their bikes or dragging each other back home because of an injury.
“For one, it is a good thing to do with friends,” Coorts said. “Also, just the feeling you get after you do a certain trail or do a certain trick and land that — just the feeling of accomplishment you get from that is really fun.”
Coorts has succeeded in conquering all of the tricks at Two Rivers, so he has moved on to bigger trails out of town, and even competitions.
“I’ve done a downhill race,” Coorts said. “I got 7th out of like 20 or so. I was in the Expert Mens’ class. I kind of just like hanging out with friends, but it’s fun to compete too.”
Coorts’ good friend, senior Rylan Miller, competed with him and placed a few seconds behind Coorts. After everything they have gone through, Miller said he has been taught one thing.
“Resilience: just to keep riding and trying after you’ve kind of been beat up,” Miller said.
Like any sport, biking has allowed the boys to establish what they enjoy doing while making connections with people who share the same interest.
They have had the opportunity to build their own trails/tricks.
“It’s just cool to be able to build something from nothing and be able to ride it and change it,” Miller said.”
Coorts and Miller go on camping trips in order to bike a new trail. One time they, along with their other friends, ventured down to Arkansas, but rain made many of the trails unavailable. However, they wanted to stay until the next day in order to ride.
“We called around to all the campsites and there was just nothing open,” Coorts said. “We didn’t want to pay for a hotel, so we just kind of drove around and found this one spot on the side of the road that was kind of on Beaver Lake. We were just camped on a beach. It was pretty cool. It was fine for a while. We went to sleep and then a few people came down, but they just milled around and then left. After a while, the sheriff actually came down and was like ‘Yeah, you’re not really supposed to camp here, but it’s probably fine.’ We’re probably not going to camp there again.”
These mountain bikers have experienced their own versions of crazy high school memories. Adventures and injuries have led them to where they are.
“I haven’t broken anything yet — which is really surprising,” Coorts said. “I try not to think about that, but it’s going to happen at some point. I’ve definitely had some bad falls where I probably should’ve gotten stitches for it.”
He and Miller encountered serious injuries together in a single day two summers ago.
“I was riding a trail with the other guys, riding a berm I had ridden hundreds of times and my front wheel washed out,” Coorts said. “I slid on my face for about 10 feet and was winded. I’m pretty sure I had a mild concussion because the colors in my vision were inverted for a few minutes.”
He was left with blood dripping from his forehead to his chin, scrapped up arms and mud caked all over his body. Miller experienced a fall that day as well.
“We came back to keep riding [after taking Coorts home] and I was going down a hill — this was when I had a pretty crappy bike,” Miller said. “I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I went off this rock drop and I was going way too fast and went over the bars and broke my collar bone, got a concussion, and got stitches in my arm and knee.”
Despite getting hurt, both boys have continued to push themselves further.
“I’m at a point where I’m outgrowing the stuff Two Rivers has,” Coorts said. “I would drop in on the biggest jumps just kind of as a warmup and ride those the whole time. I want to progress even further. It helps to have other people around. Especially people that push you.”
Fortunately for Coorts, there’s a new trail park coming to Fellows Lake in Springfield, called Dirt 66. The new park will be focused on about 700 miles of connected trails, but the first phase begins with 7 miles. The park is scheduled to open in January.
“The elevation profile in phase one of Dirt 66 is predominantly intermediate, but there will be some advanced areas,” Executive Director of Trail Spring Jessica Pearson said. “We’re adding opportunities when we find them: if there’s a natural rock outcropping or an opportunity to add some interest like an option line. … There will be some boardwalk built, some rock armoring, so there are some features that will be imported or built into the trail system as well.”
Dirt 66 will have plenty for both urban cyclists and downhill bikers. Trail Spring would like to gain popularity in the younger demographics in order to prepare for the future. They spotlighted the importance of being in nature during the continuing spread of COVID-19.
“I think that it has been so unfortunate on so many levels, but if it has been any type of silver lining to it, it’s been a renewed interest and appreciation in the outdoors and people getting outdoors and observing and enjoying the natural environment,” Pearson said. “We have been really happy to have Two Rivers bike park as an outlet for people to enjoy the outdoors — kind of escape the day-to-day stress and worries associated with all of our current climate.”