Trails will save your life! Matt Baatz makes no lesser claim. As John and I were looking for our next #SeroStory, we came across an article on the Green Mountain Trails Association’s website. The powerful text speaks about our chronic disconnection to nature and how trail riding will help you be healthier and reconnect with your environment. It was obvious to both of us that we had to find the writer, find what compelled him to write this piece. That’s how we ended up in the small hamlet of Pittsfield VT, riding with the guy who found flow in his life by building flow for others.
Matt was living in Flagstaff, Arizona, deeply dissatisfied with his life when he decided to make a big change, quit his job and go on a journey to find his purpose.
“I was in a strange situation. At a crossroad in my life. I spent a year teaching English in Mexico. I was bleeding money and it wasn’t a sustainable way to live. I came back to my parents and it felt like I was going around in circles most of my entire adult life, but I knew I had to make a compromise on the professional front. The good jobs are in places where I hate living and where the cost of living is through the roof. How can I get around that, at least temporarily.”
Determined to not have to depend on his parents, Matt tries to think of alternative ways to live. Vermont is tempting. Not too far from his family, the liberal state also fits his outdoorsy personality.
“Unfortunately, the work situation wasn’t easy there, especially right after the recession. I thought maybe WWOOFing would be an option. I could learn some skills at an organic farm and maybe find home in Vermont. It was late fall at that point so I felt like I had no chance of finding a place that would still be looking for people.”
Browsing through the website, Matt notices an ad for an organic farm looking for year-round staff.
“This place was doing a bunch of things, weddings, hiker’s hostel, animals that need care in the winter time and they also were looking for someone to maintain the mountain bike trails. I thought Hey! I always wanted to work on trails.”
The response to his application is almost instantaneous. “When can you get here?” Shortly after, Matt discovers the quaint little farming town of Pittsfield and the work that lays in front of him.
“I get up the first day, they issue me a garden rake a pair of loppers and there you go, Good Luck! Noodle’s Revenge had just been cut-in a few weeks beforehand. The landowner stops by and says to me – I want world-class trails!”
With a mountain as his canvas, Matt slowly grooms and improves the trails to his liking. He also learns a lot in the process.
“Here I am, I was given the keys to the trail system and I could almost do whatever I wanted. It was great. I tried stuff. Trained, got some trail books from the IMBA site, kept working at it until things worked. Nobody was really paying attention so it was great.”
Nobody at the farm seem to care all that much, but not many riders either and that bothers Matt a little more. He wants the trails to be used. One day, he hears about two guys writing a mountain biking guide book about Vermont trails. He jumps on the opportunity an invites them to try out his network.
“They had never heard of Pittsfield. They came down and were pretty impressed. They wrote an article and it got the most views they had ever had. Maybe a week later, there were 3-4 cars in the parking lot. I was so excited! They called it the field of dreams for mountain bikers. That was the turning point. People started to notice. We went from unknown to little known and it just kind of built from there.”
Today, Matt keeps building trails in Pittsfield. It’s been 8 years! He feels immensely fortunate to have found a place where he senses a feeling of purpose and belonging.
“I feel really good about having moved here. It’s one of those fortunate things that turned out to be the exact thing I was meant to do although I didn’t know it at the time. I had to discover that. It’s not like I was out looking for this situation but once I found it, it really resonated with me. Everything feels right.”
His goal is to create a trail network that provide riders with an enjoyable experience and allows them to connect with nature.
“A place that makes a person so happy, healthful and connected would also engender a bond, a desire to protect it and everything that touches it. That caring, one could imagine, would spawn the sort of lower impact development that would protect it. Malls and sprawl stand no chance against people who truly have grown to love their community.”
His personal experience with anxiety is what, in the end, led him to seek the life he found in Pittsfield. His belief is that everyone needs and longs to connect and we tend to fill this void with overconsumption, overwork or addictions. In his case, the void was felt deeply. As he puts it himself, feeling like a canary in a coal mine. But the canary has found its nest, and you can to.
“Remember the place you went as a child, your own forest hideaway, where you climbed trees, skipped across rocks, daydreamed by a waterfall, chased butterflies, spotted deer, skinned your knee, ran amok down twisty paths, got lost and then barely made it home before dark? That place still exists.”
Go get it!