8 years shredding with Norte = Leadership

Left to right: Laura Webb, Stephanie Baklarz, Courtney Greening, Sami Maldonado, and Gwen Urbain

8 years shredding with Norte = Leadership

Today we shine a spotlight on Liderato Youth Council President Gwen Urbain. Gwen is a senior at Traverse City Central High School and has been riding bikes with Norte since 2014. She now rides on Norte’s Varsity team and is president of the Liderato.

As we begin registration for a new year of youth programs, we sat down with Gwen to talk about her experience representing Team Orange on the trails and in the community.

Norte: How did you begin riding bikes and being involved with Norte?

Gwen: When I was little, my dad would take my brother and me riding every Wednesday on the Vasa. Around 2014, my brother and I would ride the VASA Domingos with Norte. I just loved the sport.

It wasn’t until Varsity started that I became more into training. So, I’ve been getting into the more competitive and local pro level for the past four years on Varsity.

N: What are some of your memories of riding with that core group on Norte Varsity?

G: All the seniors on Varsity right now were that base group when Norte started. We were the first generation of Norte. We’re all going to graduate this year, and it’s super sad.

When Varsity started, we became more like a family and would ride outside the program. Some of my favorite memories were the summer of freshman year when we’d go down the Boardman Trail to hammock and swim. So we’ve made these special memories outside of Norte because Norte bred this little family that we have.

N: You’re currently Norte’s President of Liderato Youth Council. When did you start on the council?

G: I was there at the beginning of Liderato, in 7th grade. It was all about getting together and eating pizza, and brainstorming ideas. Our first focus was a paved trail leading to East Middle School (Three Mile Trail Project).

N: What have been some results of those brainstorming ideas? 

G: It’s not about whether or not you can create something incredible. It’s about developing the skills to create different ideas and different goals. So Liderato is producing a bunch of young people who can do great things in the future.

N: As you move into graduation and go off to college, what are you looking forward to from Norte in the coming years?

G: I want to see more girls involved in the sport. We had maybe two girls and ten boys in Varsity when I started. At first, I was like, ‘Oh, they’re boys, they’re allowed to be faster, which is why I’m not as fast as them.’ And then my dad told me, “if you start beating them, they’ll start talking to you.”

That’s how I got over that hill — by realizing that as long as you train, you can totally kick their butts. And that’s how I made some of my best friends.

N: Do you have anything to add? 

G: I love how Norte encourages youth in all the different ways, in both leadership and being on a bike. I’m looking forward to seeing others come out of Norte’s programs.

Gwen is currently exploring colleges that will allow her to continue riding and cross country skiing at a competitive level. In addition, she plans to study psychology and neuroscience and pursue her interest in music.

Learn more about our youth bike programs and the Liderato Youth Council.



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Yes, it’s a fantastic year ahead. 💪

Yes, it’s a fantastic year ahead.

As we roll into the New Year, I’m thankful for so much. Over the past two years, the collective stress of the pandemic has helped many of us evaluate what’s important. It’s been no different here at Norte.

We have experienced steep growth during this time. Our goal for this year isn’t only to go big — as we always do — but to hone our craft. In 2022, we will offer the best experience possible for everyone that connects with Norte.

We’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be fancy to be fantastic. For example, a used bike can lead to many adventures. Used bikes provide a powerful experience of joy, courage, and empowerment. Of course, we can still get excited about new wheels (that’s the power of N+1, after all), but our programs aren’t about that, nor is it what drives us. Norte makes a difference because we focus on the laughs, the skills, and the connections along the journey.

Everything Norte does will strengthen our connections and elevate our impact this year. At the Wheelhouse, John will keep our library fleet rolling and develop strong relationships with riders and volunteer mechanics. Also, the Grand Traverse Regional Kids’ Bike Library expanded rapidly in the last two years. We look forward to Lauren deepening the community connections the library creates in addition to engaging our valued volunteers.

Norte’s youth programs will continue to offer stellar opportunities to keep children moving and exploring. Troy and Abby will develop an adventurous curriculum that rewards our riders and our coaches from this year to the next. We are looking forward to the marvelous stories from riders in our Bikes for All, ABC, Summer Bike Camp, and more.

The stories and “Norte moments” make Gary and Aaron eager to share Norte news. They will use these stories to advance walk and roll initiatives in northern Michigan and encourage us to get out, keep moving, and engage with our community. And Wes and I will use them to build relationships and connect peoples’ passions with the power of their donations.

We’re at a special time for Norte, and this year is full of opportunity. If we compare Norte to a bike, we’re a well-tuned classic. It’s not fancy, but it doesn’t need to be fancy to be fantastic. We are strong because we work as a team with our volunteers, partners, and supporters from across northern Michigan.

As we flip the calendar, join us. Keep Norte rolling steady and strong as we settle in for the long ride ahead.

With Gratitude,

Jill Sill

P.S. It’s Winter Walk Wednesday time. Let us know if you want to take a walk together




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Much Joy to You! 🎁

Much Joy to You! 🎁

Along with Team Orange, I wish you and yours a happy and healthy holiday season.

It is a true joy working in tandem with you to provide happy, healthy, strong experiences and deep community connections for all.

With you, our impact is mighty and expanding — thank you.

Much joy to you,

Jill Sill and the Norte Staff



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Helping to create countless opportunities

Helping to create countless opportunities

Because of the continued support from people like you, more young people experienced the empowering gift of riding bikes in 2021. They learned to stay active and connected to their community. Thank you!

This year Norte’s youth bike programming taught 1,200 young riders. They learned the joy of exploring one’s community, hitting the trails, pushing themselves, and that bikes are for all. Some basic numbers:

Over the last 12 months, we expanded services to more trailheads and communities. This growth happened because hundreds of people care about Norte’s vision of happy, healthy, strong communities. For example, in Glen Arbor, Coach Ryan Schut saw an activity gap after school let out in June. So he gathered a team and made Summer Bike Camp happen along the lakeshore. In Emmet County, Coach Brad Miller dreamed of a Norte Mountain Bike team riding at Nubs Nob. He climbed the heights and attracted 40 riders in the first season. We had similar success stories from Northport to Kalkaska and across northern Michigan.

Our bike programs build enthusiasm and responsibility with every turn of the crank. It happens partly because of the impressive teenagers on our youth council, Liderato. These 30-some young adults have grown up with Norte programs; they are now leaders. In 2021, they stepped up more than ever to teach the next generation. They rode as coaches and invested in their community. They always put in the time and shine when we need them the most.

Norte also delivers outstanding programming thanks to more than 160 volunteersThese volunteers help coach our spring and fall programming. They also help with weekly Bikes for All and balance bike meetups. All told, program volunteers put in 2,400 hours of work on bikes. They are helping children expand their horizons. And doing so while in perfect balance riding bikes.

We recently heard from Sarah Payette (image above) who included a story with her donation. “Our Guatemalan son, age 17, learned to ride a bicycle this year, thanks to Norte. This gift gave him increased independence and a life skill he never expected to have. We are grateful for Norte’s work in our community that goes far beyond teaching Juan to ride a bike and gave him a gift of freedom and confidence. Keep up the good work.”

It’s stories like these that capture the enormous impact of Norte. It’s not about bikes. It’s about creating opportunities for everyone to grow into themselves and become active members of their community. 

Your donation makes a difference — this year and for years to come. If you believe in the power of active living and creating more connected communities — and families — invest in Norte today.


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Dreams can come true!

Dreams can come true!

A better-connected community starts with dreams. What do we wish to see? Experience? Create? Turning those dreams into reality comes down to grit — engaging and representing. How much are we willing to work for our goals?

Norte is working every day to help northern Michigan realize dreams of an active-for-life community that encourages healthy movement by design. For example:

We’ve met with neighbors at city halls, in parks, and along busy roadways. Currently, we’re at the table for two major street projects in Traverse City: East Front Street Reimagined and the Reconstruction of Grandview Parkway. These projects are once-in-a-generation opportunities for improved access, safety, and placemaking.

After a considerable public engagement process, East Front Street plans shifted from a proposed 2022 construction to a later date. This pause will allow time to secure funding and improve the plan for all users.

The parkway project is imminent. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) plans to reconstruct Grandview Parkway from Division Street to Garfield Avenue in 2023. MDOT will present details to City Commissioners on Monday, December 13, at 7 pm. You can review limited information on the project website. Look for more information in the City agenda when it comes out on Friday.

To MDOT’s and the City’s credit, they’re engaging with each other. They also continue to meet with stakeholders on ways to reflect the values of the community better. As a result, there have been positive changes to crosswalks, adjacent paths and trails, and traffic calming in the way of narrower lanes. And the new proposed crosswalk at Grandview and Front Street is long overdue.

Monday night’s presentation to the City Commission is the next best chance to influence those details. So we encourage everyone to take part in the meeting and weigh in on what you’d like to see.

Some items to consider:

  • Enhanced crosswalks on both sides of intersections
  • Protective bollards along sidewalks next to traffic
  • Actual plans in place for spots where people and automobiles share space

And support your local representatives on the commission. Elected officials can elevate your voice and represent your interests. If it comes to it, they can ask for a delay of the project until it’s something we can all be proud of. Email them support before and after the meeting: citycommissioners@traversecitymi.gov.


At the top of this email is an image of a crosswalk in British Columbia. It’s a model of how a city can prioritize people on foot, bikes, and other human-powered devices. It’s inviting. Too often, our hopes remain a dream, but we can have these designs in northern Michigan when we engage and represent.

Norte can help you realize your dreams for your community. What’s on your mind for 2022? How can we help? Reach out, let’s take a lap at the Civic Center, and make a plan. Email our Advcoacy Director, Gary, at gary@elgruponorte.org and learn more at Norte Advocacy.

And, consider an investment in Norte’s advocacy efforts with a one-time gift or as a sustaining donor. Norte is putting in the work for northern Michigan communities, and we can’t do it without you.




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Finding your passion and giving back ❤

Finding your passion and giving back

Yesterday, the Clubhouse was full of the giving spirit on Giving Tuesday. We joined forces with Ann and Maya Tisdale to put a little orange under Christmas trees in northern Michigan to celebrate.

They are authors of Mighty Miss Maya — a story of building confidence and independence. Maya’s story inspires young and old and people of all needs and abilities. These are core values of Norte, and it was an honor to host her last night for a reading. If you missed it, check out the recording when you have a chance — the giggles at the beginning are worth it alone. 🤭

In the morning, Norte staff got busy wrapping for afternoon delivery of dozens of books. We dropped the orange packages off to three incredible community partners — Single MOMMBig Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Michigan, and Child and Family Services of Northwestern Michigan. Each organization will distribute to families in our community.

We invite you to join us in the season of giving. The need is great in northern Michigan, and there are many worthy efforts. The above organizations could use your help.

At Norte, we’re looking forward to closing the year ready for success in 2022. You can be part of that with a donation before the end of the year

In the spirit of Maya, Norte is helping people #Seeithenbeit. Norte moves people to experience their communities in new ways. And to give back. We do this with youth programs, community events and encouragement, and advocacy to help everyone keep moving and stay active.

Despite the uncertainty of the last 20 months, we are confident of one thing — Team Orange remains strong. In 2022, we will continue to build that strength to deliver on the promise of happy, healthy, strong communities.

Would you please join us in this effort and help make the magic of Norte happen for all?


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Home is where the love is ♥️

Home is where the love is ❤️

There are many definitions for the simple word “home.” One definition is a place where you feel in control and oriented in space and time. Another describes home as the primary connection between you and the world. Robert Frost wrote that “home is the place that, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

For me, home is even broader. It is Lake Michigan, the Sarett Nature Center, a walk through a forest that is thick with the smell of hot pine, time with a dear friend, or my mother’s homemade strawberry jam. Home is a feeling of deep connection.

The annual Iceman event is a home for me. The shared tradition of braving the weather, cheering on racers, and countless hugs from those I see once a year — it’s all comforting.

In this sense, home is a sense of belonging. It is a smile and a nod when crossing paths with a stranger wearing an orange Norte hat or shirt. Home is where we are encouraged, empowered, supported, and welcomed without pause. Home is that moment when we hear “go Norte” from someone as they pass by a Norte bike train.

When you recognize and value your home, you also want to invest in the space where these aspects of home may flourish. We proudly call the Grand Traverse County Civic Center our home. We have two buildings — the Wheelhouse and the Clubhouse. The latter is a building that’s been repurposed many times. First, it was storage for a Zamboni, then a police station. Now it functions as Norte‘s community bike shop, storefront, and administrative center. A basic, 500 square foot, cinder block building is home to a lot of Norte magic.

Recently, the Clubhouse received a minor facelift — a sealed floor, new countertops, and fresh paint — and now it feels much more like home. The changes will give staff a fresh, clean, and inviting place to greet visitors, collaborate, prepare programs and bikes, encourage new riders, and strike up conversations that become actions.

This mini-makeover provides a new sense of ownership and empowerment to help us deliver on Norte‘s promise. It represents an upgraded home that Team Orange — volunteers, coaches, business champions, donors, and the 1,200 plus annual program participants — can be proud of. Moreover, it sets the stage for a transformative 2022 full of opportunities.

I invite you to swing by and see us soon. We’ll show you our polished Clubhouse and take a walk around the park and community Team Orange calls home.

See you soon,

Jill K. Sill
Interim Executive Director

P.S. A huge thank you to Steve Crumb, Brian Pugh, Paul Deyo, Abby Havill, and Lauren Dake. They put magic to work upgrading the Clubhouse. Watch for an open house in December or stop by anytime during our winter hours.

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Friends ✅ Memories ✅ Cowbell ✅

Friends √ Memories √ Cowbell √

Thanks to the herculean efforts of so many marvelous volunteers, last weekend was a truly memorable 2021 Iceman. Our Liderato members and volunteers stepped up to help make the weekend a true celebration of bikes, community, and connections.

It all began at the Iceman Expo, where we introduced Norte to a few thousand riders and connected with countless old friends. Thank you, Iceman Cometh and National Cherry Festival, for inviting us.

Saturday started at the Timber Ridge to cheer on the many first-time racers sporting Norte jerseys in the Slush Cup. It sounded like every minute a Norte racer was crossing the finish line. Big thank you to up.bike for hauling our Norte gear the day before with their Adventure Hub.

As the Slush Cup ended, racers tearing up the full Iceman started to roll in, including our own Wes Sovis and Lauren Dake — great job, Team Orange. Also crossing that finish line was Asher Schwartz and Paxton Robinson, both 8-years-old and the youngest riders ever to go the distance in the point-to-point race. Congratulations, Asher and Paxton!

We wrapped up Saturday helping cheer on nearly 400 Sno-Cone racers. Thank you, volunteers, for keeping the race running smoothly, handing out medals, and ringing those cowbells for the young ones. Undoubtedly, memories and family traditions have begun.

Norte followed all of that up with a full force Sunday cleanup crew at Timber Ridge (thanks, Liderato) before heading over to the Vasa Trailhead for a ride with some pros. Norte Rides with the Pros was the first of its kind. Norte riders, a crew from the West Michigan Coyotes, and their adults rode with 2021 Iceman winner Cole Paton and U-23 National Champion Savilia Blunk. We learned some skills, quizzed Cole and Savilia, and generally enjoyed a miraculously pleasant 60 degree November day on mountain bikes. Thank you to Cole and Savilia’s sponsor, Orange Seal for spending the day with Norte.

A big thank you to Janna Goethel and Brian Beauchamp from TART Trails for helping to promote and organize the ride, and to Tim Jenema from Northern Michigan Mountain Bike Association, who spoke about NMMBA’s work transforming the VASA Bike Park. And, another huge thank you goes out to Mike Erway Design, title sponsor of the Ride With the Pros — donuts always go over well!

Whew — who’s ready for Iceman 2022? 


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Fostering Community with Team Orange

Fostering Community with Team Orange

Community is all around us, but sometimes it takes a guiding hand to connect us to it. That’s the lesson that Will Unger — mountain bike racercoach, and Liderato Youth Council member — has learned in seven years growing up with Norte.

It all started for Will in fourth grade, with Adventure Bike Club (then called Bike Más).

“At first, I was completely new to riding,” said Will. “I was actually a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to make it to East Bay Park, about a mile away.”

Will said part of the problem was that he had no concept of where — or how far away — East Bay Park was.

“I made it to the park that day, and I haven’t looked back since,” he said. “Through biking, I not only gained the physical ability, but I gained an awareness of my community.”

That awareness would grow as Will graduated from Adventure Bike Club to competitive mountain bike racing. Encouraged by his father, Bill, who coached Norte’s varsity team, Will rode with Norte as his mountain bike skills grew. He first took on the Iceman Cometh Challenge in 7th grade and has finished the grueling race three times.

It was a natural progression for Will to turn his passion for riding into coaching and then advocacy.

“I think my first foray into (advocacy) was the proposed Three Mile Road trail,” said Will. “When I was in sixth grade, we rode up Three Mile Road to attend the township board meeting, just to be present and make sure that our voices were heard.”

Around that same time, Will joined the fledgling Liderato Youth Leadership Council, where he still serves today, advocating for better trails and infrastructure for his community. Will and his Liderato colleagues are focused on developing a new, world-class trail system at Hickory Hills. That’s meant attending a lot of meetings — and poring over a lot of trail maps.

“We are actively working to turn those lines on a map into actual trails, with jumps and everything,” said Will. “Currently, my role in that project is to provide the preliminary guidance for trail etiquette, the signage, and how all of these user groups can interact seamlessly and minimize conflict.”

Will calls the Hickory Hills project his “baby” and said he would love nothing more than to see the project “shovel ready” before heading off to college.

Will is a junior at Traverse City Central High School this year. As he ponders his future — and whether or not he’ll race the Iceman again — he works at Wild Card Cycle Works (year one Rad Champion), surrounded by bikes.

“I’m very appreciative of how Norte has impacted my life, “he said. “It’s not necessarily just the physical strength and learning to be a great bike rider. It has also given me what I need to grow as a person. The time with Norte has allowed me to be better connected with my community.”

It’s a community connection, he says, that will last a lifetime.


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Our scary fabulous coaches bring the magic

Our scary fabulous coaches bring the magic

There’s no blueprint for what makes a great bike coach. We have a few requirements, of course, but ideally, Norte‘s team of coaches mix personalities, skills, and approaches.

We hire coaches based on the skill sets of being good with young riders, an affinity for bicycles, and a solid navigational prowess on two wheels. We then split off into various groups — ranging from Northport to Petoskey — once the season begins. Then, if we’re lucky, there is magic and innovation that no one expected. And, this past fall, when we needed magic the most, our 54 coaches delivered.

A few magical highlights stand out for me.

  • First, there was the wizardry of the quiet craftsman. Coach Brian turned his woodworking skills into a wild scavenger hunt on the trails. Mountain bike riding is a thrill on its own. But when you throw in a treasure hunt, and those trails begin to sparkle. Thank you, Coach Brian.
  • Second, our super speedy Coach Wes, who wins bike races in his “downtime,” turns completely uber playful when he’s coaching and invents ingenious games and drills to keep our young riders engaged and asking for more. Who wouldn’t like to play a game called “A Discombobulating Sequence of Events?” Thanks, Coach Wes.
  • Third, Coach Abbey, who is undoubtedly one of our most energetic coaches ever, brought it every single week. And, long before Halloween was on our minds, she led a team dressed as a giant taco. Because, of course, it was taco Tuesday. Thank you, Coach Abbey.

These are only three highlights. This past season, every coach brought something unique and went above and beyond. And, this fall, we needed all of it.

At the start of the season, Norte faced monumental staffing changes. Collectively, we got to work. There was a mission to deliver, and children, parents, and a community to show up for. Thank you, everyone, who bravely answered the call for Team Orange.

The process of a successful bike season is a lot like riding the trails at Glacial Hills — the possibilities are endless, and the flowing hills and corners leave us thrilled. So, as we wrap up the fall season, we start to look towards 2022 — a year full of dirt, bike grease, and loads of creativity and fun.

I can’t wait to see what our fantastic coaches do next.

Coach Abby
Program Coordinator

P.S. It’s never too early to think about spring. So if you’re interested in serving as a lead or assistant coach, give us a shout, and we will start the process. 


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More voices always begin with your own

More voices always begin with your own

We created the Explore Academy to help teenagers change the world, beginning with their community. One alum from 2020 is already making good on the promise. Audrey Michael is a senior at Traverse City West Senior High and is the first student to serve on a local government board in northern Michigan.

“I’m the student liaison, an official of the board. I just don’t have voting rights,” said Audrey about her new role with Traverse City’s Downtown Development Board. “I am allowed to contribute to debates, and I’m in closed-door meetings.”

Audrey will serve a one-year term as a student liaison through a partnership with Government for Tomorrow, a nonprofit with a mission to place more students in meaningful roles in local government. “This position is one of Government for Tomorrow’s biggest accomplishments, and we couldn’t be prouder of the student we recommended to fill the spot,” the organization said in a Facebook post about Audrey’s new position.

Government for Tomorrow selected Audrey from a pool of over two dozen fellow students who applied. She thinks she stood out because of her involvement in local theatre and extracurricular activities, and her enthusiasm for public engagement and interest in local politics. She credits the Explore Academy for introducing her to the role that local boards and representatives play and the positive change that they can make.

“I want to encourage youth involvement because we have a lot of tourist, art, and outdoor attractions, but still, I don’t think there are a lot of things focused on kids or teens,” said Audrey. “So encouraging changes that will positively impact people of my age group. The more people involved, the more likely decisions will fit into what people want.”

Audrey encourages the current students in the Explore Academy to seize the opportunity. “Get the most out of it that you can,” she said. She highlighted the new ideas, people, and creative ways to see the community introduced in Explore Academy as opportunities to get involved. “Take advantage of those opportunities.”

Certainly, Audrey is taking full advantage of her experiences. In addition to serving on the DDA board, she’s active in local theatre and music and is in the process of compiling her 17 years into her college applications.

Here at Team Orange, we appreciate her energy, dedication, and willingness to represent something bigger than herself. We couldn’t be more proud of her and look forward to working with her to see more voices involved in making lasting change.



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Riding through time with Norte

Riding through time with Norte

My family’s early years with toddlers and young children had a predictable rhythm — often involving an excursion timed to the season.

For example, on Christmas Eve, we walked or skied in the woods late at night. We’d set out orange slices, popcorn, and cranberries near pine or spruce tucked in the woods for the animals. Then, when the snow melted, we took puddle walks on the campus of Northwestern Michigan College to let the kids splash and play until they were muddy and soaked.

In spring, we picked strawberries, ate until we were full, and made jam that never lasted long enough. In the summer, we spent afternoons jumping waves and eating popsicles. Then, finally, we gathered all three children and the dog out for the fall for an annual picture in front of sunflowers. Their daily growth, now apparent when marked by the towering stalks. These seasonal markers contributed to the rhythm and joy of our home.

However, one seasonal marker held our attention and excitement more than most. And that’s the Iceman Cometh Challenge, which happens every second Saturday of November and is quickly approaching.

Austin, now almost 18, and Avery, nearly 16, first rode in the Sno-Cone race in 2009. Packed with other riders at the starting line, I can still see Austin’s wide-eyed look before the crowd yelled, go, go, go! He looked at us for reassurance; we proceeded to smile and cheer for him to use his pedal power. Then, when it was Avery’s turn to go, her little legs kicked into gear with a determination and ferocity we didn’t know she had. I ran behind her on the course, cheered her on, and felt my heart swell with pride and excitement. We had similar excitement when our youngest, Ella, hit the racecourse in the years to follow.

How can people so little be so assertive, courageous, and strong?

The collective energy at the Sno-Cone race rivals the cheers for the professional riders. It is empowering to witness bravery in the face of a new experience and inspiring to see sheer determination from children. And the encouragement and genuine joy rippling through a crowd of parents, siblings, grandparents, and strangers are palpable. These moments are powerful, memorable, and kept us returning.

With growth, time, and practice, Sno-Cone racers become Slush Cup racers and, eventually, full-on Iceman racers. Our family has every race plate and medal from these years, marking time progression like the photos in front of sunflowers.

Iceman is the largest mountain bike race in North America. With 5,000 riders annually, this event is a highlight for many in the Norte circle. So if you have a young rider itching to roll for the first time, there’s still time to register for both the Sno-Cone and Slush Cup. And we will be there to help.

Norte and Liderato, our Youth Leadership Council (many themselves experienced Sno–Cone riders from years ago), are going all in this year with our support. You might see us helping set up for the race or chatting with racers at the Grand Traverse Resort the day before the race. Then, on race day, we will be assisting and cheering on the Sno-Cone racers and cleaning up the next day.

It’s going to be a happy, healthy, strong weekend to remember. Join us at Iceman!

Thank you!

Let’s ride,

Jill Sill
Norte Interim Executive Director

P.S. As I looked through photos of our Iceman experiences, fond memories came rushing back. I wonder if some of you might share some of your memories with us. Do you have an early photo of one of your children in their first Sno-Cone, Slush Cup, or maybe their first epic run from Kalkaska? Please share it with us on social media leading up to the big race on November 6. The whole Norte team would love to go back in time with you.


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Meeting the Challenge — Exceeding Expectations

Meeting the Challenge — Exceeding Expectations

I remember the day it popped into my head: “I think I’ll ride my bike around Lake Michigan.”

Maybe you’re picturing it right now: an oddly-shaped oval around the big lake — a clear blue vision of wide-open water, sandy beaches, and bustling summertime Midwestern culture. And, a lot of road. It’s an easy thing to imagine, no?

It seemed impossible. Impossibly long. Impossibly expensive. Impossibly dangerous. But then I thought of my mother.

My mother was a CEO and a runner. A world traveler and a grandma. She did all of those things 100 percent. So when she died unexpectedly seven years ago, she had one final lesson: if there’s something in life that you really feel like you need to do, don’t wait. 

So in May, with the support of my family, I loaded up my bike with food, water, and a ridiculous amount of camping gear, and I hit the road. It didn’t take long to realize things would be much more challenging than I imagined. On the first day, I encountered a washed-out bridge, an unexpected detour, and a series of steep, sandy hills. I was legitimately lost a few times, ran out of water once, and pushed my body to the point of trembling exhaustion. Every night I stared up at the ceiling of my little tent, wondering how I would get through the next day’s ride.

But I kept pedaling — along the western coast of Michigan and the dunes of Indiana, into Chicagoland and then north to the endless verdant pastures of Wisconsin. I swam in the cool waters of the big lake. I watched one of the most incredible sunsets I’ve ever seen — a shimmering haze of pink and violet over the dunes of Van Buren State Park near South Haven. And I connected with old friends, new friends, and family along the way.

A week or so into the month-long tour, I realized my legs didn’t hurt anymore, and I was no longer bothered by headwinds, rain, or heavy traffic. Instead, I was now a dirty, sweaty vagabond with a ridiculous amount of camping gear, taking everything in stride.

As the miles ticked away under my tires, I found my reasons for taking the ride changed. It was less about the easy-to-imagine accomplishment of riding my bike 1,000 miles around Lake Michigan. Instead, it was now more about the journey itself — the lessons learned, the confidence I had found, and the new understanding of the places I was traveling through. A bigger, more grueling, and solitary version of Norte‘s Summer Bike Camp.

Towards the end of the trip, I took the ferry to Mackinac Island. My family visited every year when I was a child. I didn’t remember much about the island, but as I rode the ferry across the Straits on a cool, clear morning, I remembered this — my mother loved this place.

As the island came into view — an emerald forest ringed in soft sand, surrounded by the clear blue waters of Lake Huron — it made sense. Even with the tourist kitsch of the main street, time slipped away, and as I stopped at the top of a knoll overlooking the lake and breathed in the clean air and the history. At that moment, I felt my mother was there with me and heard her loud and clear:

If there’s something in life that you really feel like you need to do, don’t wait.

Keep the rubber side down,

Aaron Selbig
Norte‘s Systems and Communications Director

NOTE: Norte is hundreds of people with stories like Aaron‘s. People who see a challenge and dive in, motivated by sheer grit and a lifetime of experience seeing them to the end. All of them exceeding expectations. Let us know. What’s your big challenge

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Norte is…

Norte is…

Norte is a story, and if you receive this newsletter, your story is part of it. Maybe your story began from the beginning when Ty and Johanna Schmidt founded the organization. Perhaps you were on the first bike train. Perhaps your story started yesterday when you discovered you could rent a balance bike for your five-year-old—and we can even add a bell to it. It’s been eight years, and the Norte story includes thousands of people and countless smiles.

Norte is mighty. Norte is multitudes of staff, volunteers, supporters, mentors, partners, and young people. That’s how the gears of system change turn. Each part, however modest, is critically important to the healthy achievement of the mission and the drive to do something transformative. Norte is you. Norte is all of us.

Norte is also a promise: a promise to empower active-for-life kids, including kids at heart, and build happy, healthy, strong communities. Team Orange looks forward to delivering on that promise, so let us know how we can help.

Join us as part of Norte‘s story — What’s your role?


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What are your healthy habits?

What are your healthy habits?

We spend a lot of time here at Norte encouraging healthy habits.

One of the best healthy habits for kids is walking or rolling to school. That’s because the rewards for this daily habit have cascading benefits for kids and the community. The bell rings, the bike train begins, and students arrive at school fired up, ready to learn, and, before they even sit down, they have an accomplishment in the bag.

But healthy habits are not just for kids. So today, I thought it would be interesting to ask the Norte staff what three habits they practice—or try to practice—to apply the mantra happy, health, strong to their lives. I received a mix of responses with some intriguing insight into the reward mechanism that their habits generate.

Abby Havill, Program Coordinator

  1. Walks in the woods with my dog (Good boy, Topo).
  2. Mountain biking and alpine skiing
  3. Deep, deep breaths

Aaron Selbig, Systems and Communications Coordinator 

  1. Go ahead and eat the ice cream (just not too much ice cream).
  2. Make some family time every evening—eating dinner together, playing Quiddler or watching “Game of Thrones.”
  3. Running. I wasn’t always a runner; I was inspired much later in life by my mother, who ran to keep fit and clear her mind. She died seven years ago, but her legacy lives on, and these days, I run for the same reasons she did. After a few miles of running, I find myself entering a sort of transcendental state. When I find my rhythm, the miles slip away effortlessly, and I feel like my mother is running along with me.

John Deely, Wheelhouse Manager

I always try to show myself a little love every day with a handful of healthy habits.

  1. I try to eat well-prepared and healthy foods. I never drink alcohol or other things that contain too many chemicals or sugars. It’s boring, I know.
  2. I try to do yoga every morning (I use a YouTube channel called “Yoga With Adriene“), and the typical practice is about 25 minutes.
  3. I ride my bike or go to the gym at least five times a week, without fail.

I do other things, too, like mental exercises such as focusing on mindfulness and practicing gratitude in all things.

Wes Sovis, Donor Relations Specialists

  1. I exercise six days a week. Running, cycling, strength workout, rollerblading with my dog—doesn’t matter. I try to move for at least an hour, six days a week.
  2. I also try to make sure I get at least 8.5 hours of sleep per night.
  3. I eat a vegetable once a week. 🥕 [That’s probably not enough, Wes.]

Lauren Dake, Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator

  1. Building a run or bike ride into my daily errands—yes, I regularly run down the road with packages for the post office.
  2. Taking time to get together with friends—whether a morning paddle, walk, or glass of wine. We try to get together once every few weeks.
  3. I set the alarm for the same time every day for consistency. There’s not much of it around the house, but at least we wake up at the same time! ⏰

Jill Sill, Interim Executive Director

  1. I take the time to drink loose leaf tea. Tea made this way tastes so much better to me. This simple step requires that I slow down a bit in the morning. 🫖
  2. Podcasts have become my companion during busy days. They’re my insight into the world, other people and times, and their unique experiences. As a result, I feel more informed, more connected, and more empathetic.
  3. Saying “what are you hopeful for” when I can tell my children are going to ask for something. This little question allows them to share what they want openly and to feel heard. This practice is all in the name of conflict reduction, and honestly, that is a pretty healthy habit!

As for myself, I start the day with a warm ceramic mug of coffee while sitting on the front porch clearing my mind—I sometimes even forget to drink the coffee. Then, as with Wes and Abby, I share the affinity for taking a hike with my dog. Her free spirit always lifts mine. And, lastly, when I’m stressing, I need to jolt my consciousness away from worries—it can be a walk or deep breathing, or maybe playing loud music (maybe dancing), putting an ice pack on my head, or sneaking in a ten-minute midday nap—anything to reset the day.

What are your habits? What are the ones you’re working to improve? If you want, reply to this email. I’d love to hear about it.

Enjoy your day,

Gary Howe
Advocacy and Communications Director



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Giving back, rolling onward, creating smiles 😊

Giving back, rolling onward, creating smiles

Eight months have sped by since I joined Norte as the Donor Relations Specialist. Over that time, I’ve taken in so much; learning the ins and outs of a new database system, meeting dozens of new and exciting people, and, after a few frostbite-inducing shifts, learning that the Norte Clubhouse does have heat and a thermostat.

It’s been a whirlwind and a challenge, but for all the right reasons. I like my job. And I know why. Part of my job is to connect Norte‘s donors with our mission and help them see the impact their contributions are making at the community, family, and individual levels.

I get to show supporters the power of kids coming together and pushing themselves to their limits, trying new trails and distances, and smiling the entire way. It’s because of our scholarship fund and kids’ bike library that many of those children can join us, and it’s our donors who make both of those programs possible. So it’s a treat sharing those positive vibes and stories with our donors.

One of the most rewarding experiences has been working with our local business community through our Business Champions program. These businesses, big and small, donate to Norte annually to support our scholarship fund and keep our programs rolling. You know all those smile-inducing pictures from our Bikes for All meetups this summer? Those don’t happen without 4Front Credit Union stepping up to say it’s essential enough to sponsor — they even showed up with ice cream for everyone a couple of times this summer. How about our Balance Bike Meetups? We could not have a fleet of balance bikes on hand for use without Traverse Dental Associates.

When I talk to business owners, I’m floored every time by their willingness to give back. This past year is a testament to the strength of northern Michigan, and I invite you to join me in supporting the businesses that support Norte. I’m reminded every day that we’re in this together. “Buy Local” may be a pithy slogan but supporting local businesses has profound impacts that go far beyond a single transaction.

I consider myself very fortunate to work with so many great coworkers, volunteers, and donors. As I continue to grow into this job, my goals for the organization only get more ambitious because, with such a wonderful and generous community around us, the only thing limiting us is our imagination. So, with your continued support, we’re going to turn up the heat and accomplish some cool stuff. I can’t wait to be part of it.

Rolling ever onward,

Wes Sovis

P.S. If you’re ready to donate to Norte, consider that a $150 donation covers a scholarship for one eager child gunning to join our Youth Mountain Bike Team. A $75 gift is enough to cover a child’s participation in Adventure Bike Club. Shoot me an email if you have any questions. 
📷 Above: Coach Wes bringing the energy this past spring.


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The Magical Mixture of Goodness Ahead

The Magical Mixture of Goodness Ahead

Twice this week I’ve heard: “This is my favorite season — for sure.”

I couldn’t agree more. With the cool evenings, clearer air, the excitement of fall, the season is full of opportunities. Here are three recent experiences that left me eager to flip the calendar to September.

Last Sunday, I took my four-and-half-year-old daughter on a mini bike camp. It was the first time she could do this without her pesky older brother, and it was pretty special. We hit the playgrounds, the splash pad and ate snacks — lots of snacks. The topic of riding bikes to school came up more than once. Her imagination took over as she considered her options. It turns out there’s a lot of places she can, and will, ride her bike.

This past Thursday, I joined volunteers John and Dawn in Kalkaska for the back-to-school Blazer Bash. We went to fix bikes as part of the third Norte TuneUp. While I was bringing yet another Mongoose back from the brink of death, I had a chance to get to know its owner, an energetic 6th grader. A few years ago, she won the bike for perfect attendance. Entering high school this year, she’s fired up to ride it back to school, but first, her Mongoose needed lots of love. It was a delight and rewarding to play a part in that excitement for the new school year.

While turning wrenches underneath the orange Norte tent, we overheard many animated students talking about their new teachers and who else was in art class with them. It was contagious. The excitement of going back to school never gets old. The back-to-school season is full of excitement for students and teachers, and what better way to take advantage of that energy, plus the fantastic late summer weather, than to extend your day by riding bikes with friends?

Recently, I discussed the upcoming riding season with a youth mountain bike coach, coach Joe. He said something that rang so true for me. When he’s helping Norte recruit coaches, he tells his friends that being a youth mountain bike coach is the easiest job out there. Of course, the job comes with some challenges, but he’s right. The hard part is taken care of because the young riders arrive at the trailheads stoked to be outside after school, amped to be meeting new kids, and their adventurous spirits naturally guide them to exciting new places. It’s a magical mixture of goodness, and it makes coaching easy, enjoyable, and memorable.

Thinking about it, I’m also stoked to get out there and explore.


Coach Ben

P.S. Are you ready to experience the joy felt by coach Ben and coach Joe? Our paid coaches and volunteer assistant coaches make a difference in kids’ lives. Here’s how you can get involved as a paid coach or volunteer assistant.



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A big, exciting world awaits you

A big, exciting world awaits you

Believe it or not, northern Michigan is part of a global revolution. Worldwide, citizen advocates are engaging with their communities and questioning how public space is allocated. The central pivot is how places should prioritize people versus their vehicles? Which comes first when we develop master plans, construct budgets, or design streets? This discussion happens in large cities like New York and Bogotá, and in villages like Elk Rapids and Kalkaska.

Planner, engineer, and global advocate Janette Sadik-Khan often says that streets are the front yards for children. To develop independence, confidence, and a spirit of exploration, they need to open the front door and experience the world. As a community, it’s our job to ensure that they not only have the encouragement, tools, and skills to do so safely but that they are protected and encouraged by design. This happens by prioritizing children in those community plans at all levels — states, cities, townships, and districts, like a neighborhood association or a downtown authority.

We also need to directly include children and young adults in the process. After all, when reconstructing a street, we are making a generational commitment. If you’re 18 today when they rebuild a street, you’ll be 50 years old when it’s rebuilt again. Yet we often redesign for our current needs rather than the next generation’s. When we ask the younger generation what they need and how they see the world, we move closer to achieving something worthy of 2051 and beyond.

This fall, Norte will host the third annual Explore Academy to empower more teens to engage and represent in how their community is developed. It is both an introduction to the built environment and its impact on our lives. It requires students to imagine a part of their community and improve it. In the past two academies, participants have identified small needs, like a missing bench in a park, and complex structural problems, like the multiple disconnects created by a major high-speed highway in your community.

Each class has explored the built environment with a curious eye. Both previous years (2019 Report2020 Report) were willing to provide constructive opinions and find praise when they saw something well done. Our trust is that they take the experience forward as they continue to become part of their community.  As one student from 2019 recapped, “The strength of Explore Academy is to show teenagers that they are part of the community, have a voice, and can help to make it better.”

Exactly — engage and represent. It’s a lesson for all of us. 👊


Gary Howe, Advocacy and Communications Director

P.S. Explore Academy is open to teenagers, 13-18. Meetups are Sundays from 10:30 am-noon and utilize in-person and online formats in a six-week course. As in the past, students in Mr. Ready and Ms. Paige’s AP Government and civics classes at Traverse City West and Central can meet their community service hours credit through participation n the academy. Students need to check with their teachers for possible credits earned at other schools. Registration is open




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Norte + Schools = Perfect Match

Norte + Schools = Perfect Match

Norte began with a simple problem — getting kids to school.

“What I saw was a river of cars surrounding the neighborhood school my son attended,” said Norte founder and Executive Director Ty Schmidt. “I was just surprised and bummed out that a handful of kids were walking to school, and even fewer were biking. So we decided to do something about it.”

For Ty and his wife, Johanna, doing something about it meant organizing kids and parents into “bike trains” to and from school every day. At the time, the Schmidts focused on their small, grassroots effort; they had no idea there was a pool of federal funding meant to help kids like theirs walk and bike to school safely.

Ty first heard about the Safe Routes to School program from Laura Otwell in 2014. Shortly after that, she helped Ty apply for a $1,000 grant for Traverse Heights Elementary School. That first grant application was successful; Norte was off and running.

“We had never written any grants, and I didn’t know grant writing,” admits Ty. “But then [the next year] we got $25,000 for five TCAPS schools.”

Since then, new Safe Routes to School programs have helped create new program opportunities every year, including a $2.1 million in walking and biking infrastructure being constructed this year in Traverse City.

“It’s seed money. We’ve been going to that pot a long time, and it’s a way to see if things stick. That’s the model we used for Elk Rapids, Northport, Suttons Bay, and now Kalkaska beginning this coming school year,” said Ty.


Max Fulkerson is with the Michigan Fitness Foundation. He helps administer the Safe Routes to School program in Michigan. “Safe Routes to School is a program and a movement,” said Fulkerson. “The idea behind it is to get more kids to walk and bike to school.”

Fulkerson explained the money comes through the Federal Highway Administration. The program targets students from kindergarten through 8th grade. It provides infrastructure improvements along routes to school, like sidewalks and roads, but they also include non-infrastructure programming that Fulkerson calls “people programs.”

Those programs include the kinds of things that Norte does well — teaching kids how to ride bikesproviding bikes to kids who need them, and organizing non-motorized trips to school. Fulkerson said the list of benefits to walking and biking to school is long and includes environmental quality, traffic reduction, and exercise for kids.

“Our lives have become more based on technology,” said Fulkerson. “And so the opportunity to get away from that and to go for a walk or a bike ride is really good for bodies and minds.”

Ty Schmidt agrees that walking and biking to school get kids ready to learn.  “They get the wiggles out, and they just turn on,” he said. “Humans are designed to move.”

Ty recognizes the Safe Routes to School program is still Norte‘s “bread and butter” and plans to use the grants to expand into new communities. “Ultimately, we want to help communities to apply for this funding. Because now we’re good at writing grants.”

The 2021 school year is fast approaching. To successfully roll out our in-school and after-school programs, Norte needs dedicated people to sign up as coaches, volunteers, and walk and roll ambassadors at their children’s schools. Sign up through elgruponorte.org or swing by the Clubhouse to discuss how we can help you help kids stay active-for-life. 



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“I can’t believe how good that made me feel!”

“I can’t believe how good that made me feel!”

️Keep kids moving. At the root of it, that’s what we do at Norte. We know there are cascading benefits to such a straightforward approach. Even 20 minutes a day spent outside running, walking, or riding a bike can transform into a lifetime of healthier habits and achievements. We work with educators across Northern Michigan who see the results every day in the classroom. One such hero is Kip Knight.

Kip is a fifth-grade teacher at Lakeland Elementary in Elk Rapids. Last year, Kip had an idea to provide bicycles to younger elementary students throughout the school day. Homeroom teachers could schedule blocks of time to use bikes to get the wiggles out, and students could also use them during recess. He worked with an 8th grader to design a course (a Girl Scout project for her!) next to the track, which they then mowed and adorned with straw bales donated by Send Brothers and flags by Pro Image Design. For bikes, he looked to Norte.

Thanks to generous donations from the public and local bike shops, like McLain Cycle & Fitness, the Grand Traverse Regional Kids’ Bike Library had a fresh supply for Kip’s grand plan.

“When you give them the gift of riding a bike, you give them confidence and independence,” said Kip. “You can see the excitement and pride build for these students the more they ride.”

Kip also sees improvement in the classroom. When students gain experience riding a bike as a regular part of their week, that confidence spills over into their schoolwork and social interactions. Unfortunately, many don’t have bikes at home or haven’t had much riding practice, even for his fifth-graders. Providing bicycles and time to ride them at school allows educators to create a safe, supportive environment.

“Once we have them out here, we can give up a touch of control. That freedom helps develop trust and mutual respect between students and teachers,” said Kip. He sees that trust as the foundation of a child’s successful education.

Lakeland’s experience has led to many students developing leadership skills as they mentor young, inexperienced riders. For example, one older student replied to Kip after helping a younger class, “I can’t believe how good that made me feel.”

That’s the Norte spirit. Helping others and recognizing how good that makes you feel. So, as we enjoy the last month of summer, we’re also looking forward to once again working closely with our school partners in Northern Michigan. Of course, it doesn’t always look the same from school to school, but the goal remains, keeping kids moving, bringing smiles to faces, and developing those habits that contribute to happy, healthy, strong communities.

In Elk Rapids and elsewhere across Northern Michigan, we’re rolling out after-school fall programmingschool-based education, and plenty of community opportunities to stay active. Thank you to all the educators out there helping to make it happen.

How can we help?

~ Team Orange

Images above: Top of page, Coach Lauren leading a summer bike camp team around Elk Rapids. Middle of page, Kip’s homemade storage rack at Lakeland.



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