Trail Ramblings: Board Member Spotlight- Jason McLaughlin

Over the years, I’ve come to love all aspects of cycling. My best memories as a kid were all on my bike enjoying the childhood freedom that came with pedaling as fast as I could out of the range of watchful eyes to explore the world out there.

My favorite job in early adulthood was in my hometown as a bike messenger in the busy streets of downtown Salt Lake City, Utah. Growing up just a dozen or so miles from the lift line of the local ski resorts meant you could find me shredding the slopes on my snowboard on weekends, and shredding the busy roads of the city on a big geared road bike on weekdays. I’ve always found riding in traffic to be exhilarating, although I tend to follow the rules of the road much better now.

Those trails don’t maintain themselves.

When I moved to Lincoln I fell in love with the amazing trail system. One year I commuted so much that I only spent $35 putting gas in my car. The mind clearing serenity of my route is something that I cherish.

At one point I developed an addiction to the lattice of dusty country roads that surround us. So much so that I, like many others, pushed myself to finish long multi-century gravel “races” (to me it’s more survival than a race). Sadly though, the nerves in the body I was dealt have caused issues which all but ended those extra-long days on the saddle.

I think I’ve given most all of the cycling disciplines a fair shot over the years and where I’ve found my heart most happy is on a mountain bike riding single track. It’s on the winding dirt ribbons that flow along the hills and bluffs that I can give my body that massive workout I want, but in a fraction of the time.  All while, keeping my craving for speed and thrill alive that I miss so much from flying down those mountains back home.

If it’s not on the Rock Island trail that you see me on a bike, it is most likely at Branched Oak Area 7. Just about 17 miles northwest of downtown Lincoln, on the northwestern edge of Branched Oak State Recreation Area, lays a little slice of single track heaven. Area 7, or BO7 as some refer to it, offers 4+ miles of winding and flowing terrain that takes you from swooping native grass prairies to heavily wooded hillsides of cedars, pines and Osage orange trees, and back again.

Beyond all the pedaling, I also find great joy helping with the building and maintaining of the Area 7 trail system. There’s a great crew that puts in many hours of effort.  The trail has seen some amazing improvements over the past few years. We’ve built new trail that has added flow and distance to the overall mileage. There’s been continuous work done to address erosion issues from run-off, keep the wild grass mowed, the forest canopy pruned and an endless battle against the invasive Russian Olive tree population. Other projects have added new trail features like berms and even a new jump line near an area that was once an old homestead.  You can still find relics of the park’s storied past there.

Bike or no bike, the single track at Branched Oak Area 7 is often the first place I want to be. I truly cherish the time I get to spend there with my family, friends, both, or all by myself.  It’s the perfect little nearby place to get lost from the world.