Meet The Dirt P.A.C.K.

Vermont’s first family of mountain bike racing is putting the West on notice this summer.

It’s June 17 in Missoula, Montana, and Austin Beard of Middlesex, Vermont is gearing up for tomorrow’s race. The Missoula XC course is described on the race site as “pure evil”—a 5K trail built for UCI-sanctioned, World Cup-style cross-country mountain bike racing: steep climbs, bermed corners and gaps.

“I’m psyched and excited but kinda scared, too,” says Austin, in a phone interview. “I’m not really sure what it is: Will I crash? What will happen? It’s all those things.”

Last November, at the finals for the Triple Crown Enduro Series in New Hampshire’s Highland Bike Park, Austin had had a good race, securing second overall for the series. After the race, while doing a few “party runs” he took a jump and crashed, landing him in the hospital for three days with a lacerated spleen and concussion.

Since then, he’s gone on to race in the Sea Otter Classic —the California event that draws many of the nation’s top riders—and a Root 66 race series opener and four Kenda Cup East series races in Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusets. In the next two months, he’ll compete in four races (2 of them are multi-day) across the country, from Missoula to Mammoth, Sun Valley to Snowmass, including the USA Cycling National Championships. In total, he expects to do almost 20 events this year.

Traveling and racing alongside him will be his identical twin brother, Carson, his father, Phil Beard and his mother, Kelly Ault.

Austin Beard is 12 and a half years old, an identical twin, and the “A” in the Dirt P.A.C.K. —the name of the first family of Vermont’s mountain bike racing scene has given its team. As part of the Bicycle Express Racing Team, based out of the Northfield bike shop, Bicycle Express, and a host of gear and clothing companies, the family has become a regular fixture on the Eastern mountain bike race circuit, with all four competing in both cross-country and enduro format events.

“This is the only family with an operation of this level that I’ve seen on any racing circuit,” says Noah Tautfest, owner of Bicycle Express, their primary sponsor and himself a professional racer who finished 12th at last year’s Canada Cup.

“What they’re doing this season is insane. They are all really strong, they are really passionate about the sport. And” he adds, “it’s the boys who are pushing the parents. They just can’t get enough of it.”

This past winter, on Thursday nights, as many as 15 Bicycle Express Racing team members as well as other road and mountain bike racers would gather at the Beard/Ault home in Middlesex to do a round of indoor training, a who’s who of central Vermont Cat 1 and Pro racers. “The boys would be right there keeping up with us,” Tautfest recalls. “And then they would add in their own workouts.” After, Phil often cooked dinner for the whole crew.

Last winter, Austin wrote on the family blog that he did “a Crossfit workout once a week and some nights I do 50 pushups and 150 mason twists.”

“They’re like mini World Cup athletes,” Tautfest notes. “If you see [world champion] Nino Schurter doing something on his ‘Hunt for the Glory’ video, a few days later I’ll see Instagram shots of Austin and Carson doing it too.”

The twins’ drive, athleticism and training ethic isn’t so surprising if you consider who their parents are.

“I’ve tried about 30 different sports, and for a long time I was really into triathlons,” Kelly says. She raced the Lake Placid Ironman and then moved into XTERRA (off -road triathlons) where, in 2009 she was the Northeast Regional Champion in her age group.

Phil Beard had been a road racer, competing in the Green Mountain Stage Race at least ten times, but soon after the birth of their twin sons, the couple began spending more and more time riding mountain bikes. “I pretty much hung up my running shoes,” Kelly says. This past year, the couple (both now 45) raced Cat 1 in the USA Cycling National Championships for both cross country and enduro. Kelly was first in the cross country event in the 40-45 age group and third in the enduro event, while Phil was fifth in the enduro.

“One of my first memories was cheering my mom and dad on at races,” says Carson. He got on a bike at age 2.

Carson is sleight and lanky, with a tussle of dark hair, an upturned nose and a quiet, serious manner. His brother looks so much like him it’s easy to mix them up. “I also remember the time we got off training wheels,” Carson adds. “It was really cold and I didn’t want to do it but my brother did so we both tried it.”

And it’s been that way pretty much ever since. “The boys are competitive with each other but they constantly help and push each other,” says Kelly. “We’re almost always right behind each other,” Carson confirms. “I’m better at the technical stuff but he’s better at sprinting and climbing. But if I’m tired and I see him sprinting, then I pedal harder and faster to keep up.” Who wins? “Whoever is feeling better that day,” he says.

A look at the race results shows how close they were last year: Carson took third in the Vermont State Cyclocross Championships, the Kenda Cup Series, and the Root 66 series and first in the Enduro Triple Crown. In the Sea Otter Classic, Carson, then 11, was 20th (racing against 13 and 14 year olds) and finished 8th at USA Cycling Nationals in his age group.

Austin took first in the Vermont Cyclocross Series and second in the other three events regional events. At Sea Otter, he was one place ahead of his brother, at Nationals, one place behind.

Identical twins, riding identical bikes (Kona King Kahuna carbon hard tails) the boys have a remarkable training advantage.

But the main advantage is that each has the ultimate training partner: someone just as fast, strong and as motivated, someone who is on the same schedule and at the same races.

“We fight sometimes but most of the time, we get along pretty well,” says Austin. “Without my brother, I might think, ‘Ok, I can relax’ and I’d probably do a lot less training. But if he says ‘we gotta do this,’ we do it.”

At the Sea Otter Classic this past spring in Monterey it was hot and both boys were running low on water. “Carson came up next to me and hoarsely whispered ‘water,’” Austin writes on the family blog, “He put too much maple syrup in his water and became super dehydrated because he couldn’t process all the sugar without water. I gave him my water bottle (which had too much sports drink in it) but he didn’t care, he drank some of my already rationed water. He was still dehydrated and we had already passed the water station.”

Carson fell back and Austin pushed on but, as Austin continues, “toward the end I looked back and he was right behind me.” Racing in the 13-14 year old category, the two 11 year olds finished the 15-mile course in 19th and 20th places out of 48.

“Nationals, I’m coming,” wrote Austin after the race.

While to some parents the race schedule may seem like a giant stride beyond being soccer moms and dads, for the Ault-Beard family, traveling and racing is part of their family culture and lifestyle every day life.

“If anything, Phil and Kelly try to dial it back,” says Tautfest.

Both parents have worked in education, Phil Beard as a substance abuse prevention counselor and Kelly is the public engagement director for the Vermont Early Childhood Alliance. She has also worked for the Northern Forest Alliance/Appalachian Mountain Club and as a freelance writer. An avid blogger, she launched the blog, to chronicle their adventures riding in Vermont, and racing up and down the East Coast, and now, out west.

“What I love about Vermont is the chance to be out in nature and the sense of community we have here. If anything, that’s what I want to share with my kids. Being on a mountain bike, you get out in the woods and get to places you may never see otherwise,” says Kelly.

In the winter, that can mean trading the bikes for backcountry skiing or in other seasons, hiking and camping. For this summer the family plans to camp and visit the West in between races.

“We’d never been across country before,” Austin says. “In the Badlands [of South Dakota], I saw my first canyon. Wyoming was all hills and grass and in Minnesota, you could just see forever.”

As they travel and race, all four members of the family post on blog their own versions of the events and adventures. And all four are expected to give back to the team and the community.

Carson’s and Austin’s versions of teaching a bike safety course hosted by the Bicycle Express Racing team to younger kids at Northfield Elementary School are poignantly funny. “Some of the kids were improving by a lot. The next day, the kids were a faster on the track,” writes Carson.

Austin writes: “On the first day I thought they would bike and listen to me because I’m a kid too. I was wrong. The instructor said to take them on a lap slowly. The older kids wanted to go fast. One of the kids didn’t even listen to me and was going around the track as fast as he could!”

Listening to the boys talk about racing or their equipment, it’s hard to remember some times that they are 12-year-olds and not seasoned pros. “It won’t be long before they move up to Cat 1 racing,” predicts Tautfest. The boys can already outpace their mom on some rides and have their dad in their sights.

“I can’t tell you how many times we’re out on a course and I hear, ‘Whoaaaaa, that kid just passed me,” says Tautfest. “Already they are the top racers in their age brackets on the East Coast. If they keep it up, they could be Olympians.”

Back in Missoula, it certainly looks that way. On Father’s Day, June 20, the DirtPACK Instagram account was filled with pictures of podiums. Phil Beard took fourth in his age group in the Cat 1 men’s division. Kelly Ault (the oldest in the category by 7 years), placed fifth overall in the Cat 1 open women’s division. And in the Junior boys (age group 10-14) Carson Beard was third. Just 40 seconds ahead of him, Austin placed second.

Back home in Vermont, Noah Tautfest had been following his Bicycle Express Racing team members closely. “Yeah, they all killed it in Missoula,” he said with pride as he shared the results.

“It’s great to see those boys out there using their energy to race bikes instead of sitting home and playing Xbox.”

Update: Phil placed 2nd in the 40-49 age group at the National Championship, Carson and Austin took 13th and 14th respectively in the 9-14 age group and Kelly took 3rd.