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The Tutor on the Trails

The director of Mt. Tam Bikes' Summer Mountain Biking Camp reminds us that Mill Valley's kids are more patient than we think.


As director of ' Summer Mountain Biking Camp, Ryan Loften helps hundreds of Mill Valley kids each summer navigate the ins and outs of Marin's countless biking trails, from the simplest to the most technical. Along the way he teaches safety, skill and discipline, and offers them the support and advice that would normally only come from a very cool big brother. And yes, he does have a twin. Ryan’s twin brother, Adam, runs the popular .

MVP: How long have you lived in Mill Valley?
RL: I’ve been here since 1984. We grew up in a house back in the canyon on Cascade, up 100 steps with no parking. My dad bought the property and built the house, but we couldn’t move here until we could walk up the steps. I was four. As a kid it was a chore. You’d better be home when mom drove up with the groceries because she wasn’t going to carry them on her own.

MVP: Did you go to school here?
RL: Oh yes, I went from to to . We were the types of kids who never met strangers. We just talked to everybody and having a twin brother helped – I always had a partner in crime.

MVP: Where do you live now?
RL: Lovell Ave., right by Old Mill School.

MVP: Do you like the neighborhood?
RL: Yes, it’s close to the house I grew up in, but being in the sunshine and not in the redwoods is really nice.

MVP: Where do you like to go in Mill Valley? 
RL: I love the library. I love my house. We’ve got sunshine and we have a wonderful garden going; lettuce, kale, chard, beans. My house is split into three units and we’re all involved in the garden. We consume our garden.

MVP: You’ve also traveled quite a bit.
RL: Yes, my brother and I traveled for a year in 2003, we went all through Europe and overland through Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel to Egypt. And then in 2005 I left again and did a year long bicycle tour by myself through Nepal, India, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. You meet so many people when you are traveling alone, especially on the subcontinent. You have to go out of your way to not meet people. Life is lived along these roads.

MVP: You came back in 2006 and then what?
RL: I started working for Bryce. His shop (Mt. Tam Bikes) had just moved to Tam Valley. Adam (my twin brother) already had his Future Filmmaker camp going and that was sort of the inspiration for Bryce and me to start a mountain biking camp.

MVP: That’s neat that you and your brother both have entrepreneurial businesses going that came out of your passions.

RL: It’s almost by default. I never thought that I would become a small business owner. If anything, living here I had gone through periods of being overwhelmed and thinking, 'How am I going to fit into this community. How am I going to stay in Mill Valley?'

MVP: So you wanted to stay here?
RL: Oh yes, It’s so beautiful and there so many great people here.

MVP: Plus, you love to mountain bike.
RL: Yes.

MVP: So it’s been five summers? And now the camp seems to be packed.
RL: Yes, every year we’ve filled up but this last year was our banner year. We were almost full before the summer started.

MVP: What do you do when you’re not running the camp?

RL The camps also run over the holidays and winter break. I also do private mountain biking sessions and childcare. I always have something going on. I like working. Plus living here, if you want to rent a nice place, you have to keep working.

MVP: You have an interesting perspective because you are with a hundred or so Mill Valley kids every summer, and they are away from their parents. How are they?
RL: The kids are great. Whenever I get a kid who does have behavioral issues, I realize how many there are that don’t.

MVP: Have you ever had a kid in camp where you thought, 'Oh no, I don’t want to see this kid again.'
RL: Not really. I have never had a child whom I would not let come back to the camp. I mean, I might have been one of those kids at times. I had adults who were so patient and understanding with me in my life that I try to be patient and understanding too. I hope I can even lend these kids some perspective. I’ll call them out on their behavior. Usually I’ll just pull them aside and try to talk in a constructive way from their point of view. Then I need to let it go and not mark the kid as 'bad.' I’ll just ask them, 'Hey, have we solved this? Ok, then let’s let it go.' Kids appreciate that. They don’t want to be put in that category.

MVP: You must have some serious rules for safety.
RL: With our program, we have to have a lot of boundaries for safety if nothing else. If someone’s behavior is off it can take the entire group down. I’ve become better at talking to the kids and taking different approaches. I’ll tell a kid, 'You have trouble listening. When you go to school this year, you need to be on your best behavior for at least the first three weeks. If not, they are going to call you out and label you the bad kid. You’re going to need to work extra hard at first so you don’t get that label. Don’t let that happen to you.”
Sometimes I think people just need to be straight with these kids and often no one is. They want praise. They want to be good. Even kids that are caught in a cycle, they want to be good. They’ve sometimes just given up because no one believes in them.

MVP: Have you ever had any scary accidents?
RL: We’ve had plenty of skinned knees and elbows. This summer we had some stitches. It’ s par for the course. We talk a lot about crashing and the realities of mountain biking and taking it seriously. We talk about staying present and how every time you ride a trail you need to make a plan.

MVP: What do you wish that parents in Mill Valley knew about their kids?
RL: Know that your kids are more patient then you would ever know. That’s what helps me to be patient. They’ve got people telling them what to do all day long, day after day. That would be hard even for an adult. These kids are pretty darn patient.

MVP: Well, Mill Valley is lucky to have you working with our kids.
RL:  I’m lucky to have Mill Valley! It’s wonderful here. To be in an economically privileged area where parents will support a camp like this. I love Mill Valley. It’s beautiful and safe. It is so wonderful to know your community and have them know you.

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