Creating Experiences in the Northeast Kingdom and Beyond
For Collin and Caitlin Daulong, mountain bike instruction is about more than teaching wannabe downhillers to get some air. It’s about building skills, providing an encouraging learning environment, and ensuring the safety of all riders. But most of all it’s about creating experiences.
When Collin and Caitlin started Kingdom Cycling and Experiences, a mountain bike instruction and touring company in Lyndonville, Vermont, they started it with a vision to be something different from the typical MTB company. They put a lot of thought into how to create a positive experience for their clients. Teaching skills is important, but it’s also about “how do you make people feel comfortable, how do you listen to understand rather than to just have a response ready,” says Collin. “What differentiates us is that we look for those nuanced pieces.”
A Marriage of Passions
Collin and Caitlin, who are not only business partners but married life partners, bring to their business venture some unique qualities that combine to make their parts stronger than their whole. Collin is the experienced mountain biker with a strong science and mechanical background as an exercise science major and former bike mechanic, as well as a deeply philosophical thinker. Caitlin has a passion for travel and tourism. As a high school graduate, she up and went to Europe against the advice of her family, attending American University in Rome and living in Italy for seven years. As someone relatively new to riding, she brings the perspective of a novice rider to their endeavors. Caitlin is also the marketing strategist and is “insanely smart,” says Collin, with the long range vision for the future of the business. In fact, the original idea for Kingdom Cycling and Experiences—to marry a passion for cycling with a passion for travel—was Caitlin’s brainchild.
“I had this view on life that you had to fit in this exact box,” says Collin. “Jumping into the business was super challenging. It challenged a lot of beliefs I had about it. But I trusted Caitlin and believed in her vision. I have a ton of energy and she has a super high vision.”
They dipped their toe in the waters and registered their business in 2015, but it wasn’t until 2017 that they fully dived in. It was a case of “ready, fire, aim,” says Collin, because they quit their day jobs before running the numbers for their new business. When they did, it was a chilling eye opener. It was a sink or swim.
Scary vs Dangerous
In retrospect, doing things the way they did—diving in and quitting their day jobs before Kingdom C & E was fully established—though scary at the time, worked out for the best. Collin referenced a quote by Jim Koch, founder of Boston Beer Company (brewers of Samuel Adams beers) differentiating between things that are “scary” but a good gamble and worth doing and things that are truly “dangerous.” Koch has made this analogy—scary but not dangerous is rappelling off of a cliff with a rope that can hold the weight of a car. Dangerous but not scary is crossing a steep snow field on a beautiful, sunny spring day: It seems like a nice day, but the risk of avalanche is quite high.
Caitlin and Collin’s idea for a business was scary: There were no guarantees of success, and although they had a small safety net in the form of supportive parents, they had no seed money, no startup loan, nothing but their own smarts and drive. But what would be truly dangerous to their long-term health and well-being would have been to take the safe path. To carry on in their secure but limiting day jobs, trying to make a go of Kingdom C & E on the side, but never devoting enough to it for it to succeed.
What they found was that the inevitable challenges that came up turned out to be their greatest points of growth and evolution. Right out of the gate, they were met with some local competition and the realization that as newcomers to the area they were at a disadvantage. Not to mention, mountain bike instruction and guiding is by nature a seasonal business. How do you make enough money for a year’s worth of expenses on six months of billable hours? “There were a lot of challenges. There was a lot of self-doubt, a lot of compromises we had to make,” says Collin.
Then there’s the challenge of starting a business with your spouse. Successful marriages require good communication and teamwork, “and when you add in the element of business, it creates this whole other dynamic,” says Collin. “You’re not only working on things romantically, you’re working on things professionally. It’s strengthened our marriage. It requires a lot of boundaries and being able to respect one another professionally as well as nurturing that romantic side as well.”
Instruction, Tours, and International Travel
Kingdom Cycling & Experiences offers mountain bike and gravel day trips and instruction at Kingdom Trails in East Burke, Vermont, to individuals and small groups. Self-guided tours and demo bikes are also available. Multiday trips include weekends of mountain bike instruction in the Northeast Kingdom, a women only weekend called Queens of the Kingdom, a six-day Tour of New England, and international cycling trips including one to Iceland last year and an upcoming visit to Portugal in 2020. Also available is private mechanical instruction, for riders who want to learn how to fix and maintain their bikes.
Mindfulness and Flow
There’s something about Collin and Caitlin’s mindset that sets their business apart from other mountain bike instruction outfits. When we sat down to talk with Collin (Caitlin was ill that day and unable to join us), both Barden and I were struck by how articulate and thoughtful—wise, even—Collin was. He and Caitlin have clearly put a lot of thought into what makes a good mountain biking experience and a positive learning experience, and how to create that for their clients.
Collin talked about the importance of the flow state. What is the flow state? It’s a mental state in which skill or ability level and challenge level intersect, and it applies to any learning environment. As challenges go up, mental states of arousal, worry, and anxiety also increase in relation to the actor’s skill level. If your skill level is high but the challenge is low, you are likely to experience apathy or boredom. But if your skill level is low and the challenge too high, you enter a state of anxiety. Neither of these states is an effective foundation for learning or fulfillment. It explains why some couples struggle to ride together when there is a disparity between ability levels.
The ideal state is the flow state, and it is the intersection of skill level and appropriate challenge.
Kingdom C & E instructors are trained to create a situation that enables riders to approach that flow state. The very deliberate intention is to create experiences for a wide range of abilities and fitness guided by three foundational principles: 1) Positive experiences 2) Appropriate terrain choice 3) Proper education.
When Collin and Caitlin hire new instructors, they look for more than just skill level. In fact, as we’ve talked about on bikekitz before, skill level isn’t the most important thing. “You need some technical skills for sure” to be a good rider, says Collin. “But we end up failing ourselves so much more with the thoughts that we have about ourselves and our riding than what our physical bodies will prevent us from doing.”
“The mental side of it more than anything will give you the biggest gain.” Being mindfully present while riding enables the rider to focus on the riding, and “let the body do what its job is.” A lot of thought and effort has been put into figuring out how to create instruction experiences at Kingdom C & E that emphasize that attitude. “We work on that,” says Collin. “We work on positive self-talk, being present, being able to control the narrative in your head.”
This philosophy and style of teaching aligns with the way many women learn best, and there are a number of other features of Kingdom C & E that are specifically directed at women clients. In addition to the Queens of the Kingdom weekend, Kingdom C & E offers women specific clinics, clinics for kids, and women’s retreats. In fact, 50 to 60 percent of the clientele is made up of women and more than 50 percent of employees are women.
Looking to the Future
The philosophy and business strategy Caitlin and Collin have put into practice has served them well. In the past year alone, Kingdom C & E has toured or instructed over 800 riders throughout New England. As they began to think about what would be a good way to scale their operation, they noticed a need for remote instruction, beyond what they do at Kingdom Trails. They also ran across a lot of mountain bike instructors who didn’t necessarily know how to use their mountain bike instructor certification.
Out of this came a platform called Momentum Masters. This program allows instructors to join Kingdom C & E and be able to instruct responsibly. The program is designed to ensure that instructors have the requisite certifications in mountain bike instruction, wilderness first aid, CPR, as well as a background check and training in safe sport for children where applicable. But on top of that, Momentum Masters instructors are trained in the more nuanced aspects of creating a positive learning or guided experience that are essential to the Kingdom Cycling and Experiences ethos.
“Caitlin did a lot of research into how we could give our own training beyond the mountain bike certification program,” says Collin. She recorded the Momentum Masters online modules that go through how to create excellent experiences. Launched in April, the program has been successful in that Kingdom C & E has been able to offer instruction throughout New England as well as Telluride, Colorado, and there will be an instructor available in Hawaii soon.
Kingdom Cycling and Experiences is a mountain bike and gravel instruction and travel company that is geared toward serving the population of riders—the vast majority of riders, in fact—who are interested in having a good time and improving their skills and confidence level. “We’re not necessarily appealing to the pro, elite mountain biker,” says Collin.