Friday, January 2, 2015

Women on Bikes Series: Sequoia Young

Sequoia Young is a first year at Antioch College. She plans on majoring in environmental science and continuing her education on the path to becoming a deep sea research scientist. 
She is an avid touring cyclist and feminist. Also loves pomegranates and is actually willing to do the work to eat one. 

Follow Sequoia on Twitter! 

When did you first start riding a bike?I don't remember learning, because I was so young. I know I rode in a Burly trailer behind my mother before I rode my own bike. I also had a tag-a-long half bike that attached to my mom's bike and I could pedal and balance on but was easier than riding my own bike.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
The thing I love about biking is that it's an enormous spectrum. There are the people who own a bike and can ride it but rarely do, people who commute but don't consider themselves cyclists, there are people like me who love riding and have toured once or twice, and there are professional racers and tourers. Bikes range so much, too. You can get a $50 Walmart bike or a multi thousand dollar racing bike.
Cycling to me is the best way to relax, enjoy myself, and unplug from my bustling life. I occasionally will go on rides with other people, but I prefer to be alone, so that I can think and wander off the trail and go at my own pace. Riding is one of the only things I can hold sacred as my own, something I do at a level none of my friends do.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
During my 550 mile tour, I was averaging 40 miles a day. I didn't really train, since I knew I could easily pump out 40 miles. What I didn't think of is that consistently doing that for two weeks eventually puts a toll on your body. I was exhausted, tight, and sore.  It makes it sound like a miserable time, but it wasn't. It was amazing. Towards the end, both my knees starting hurting really bad. I had to take a day off at one point because of the pain. I stopped at a drugstore to get ice packs and a brace. I remember limping around the store, trying to find things and just thinking 'I'm five miles from today's destination. Tomorrow, I can rest. I just have to be able to walk to the register.' 

I'm fine, though. I'm a strong believer in the body's ability to heal itself. I didn't bike at all the next day and felt much better. The most lasting issue of my tour was that at one point, I had my bike propped using the kickstand and because of the extra weight, it fell. My laptop was on the pannier that hit the ground and the screen cracked a little. Now, in college, when people ask me about it, it gives me another opportunity to talk about my tour, though!!

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
I'm going to take this a little broadly.

When I started out my tour, I had WAY too much stuff with me. I like being prepared, but that often translates to over-packing to absurd levels. So, for people planning their first tour, I cannot stress enough that packing light is important. So much of the things I brought with me-- just in case!-- I never used. A lot of it I ended up dumping half way through and mailing to my final destination. Packing light also will allow you to go faster for longer before you get tired.

Something else I had to learn to deal with was riding in a way that was physically healthy for me. I have chronic back pain and some shoulder issues. By the end of my tour, my whole back was a mess of knots and aches. Having a bike that fits well, knowing how to ride it, and keeping in touch with what your body is telling you in really important.  

You like to tour, what do you enjoy about that style of cycling?
I may be a little biased, but I believe touring is the best way to cycle. I've always wanted to be that girl who takes a gap year to backpack across Europe or who spontaneously decides to go get lost and find my way home a couple days or weeks later. Because of my back pain, backpacking isn't really an option for me. Plus, I get bored walking. It's slow. It's ineffective. 

Bike touring is amazing. I can go anywhere in a relatively short amount of time. I bike to college, for heaven's sake! It's a way to travel, to have a destination, but also to have an incredible time doing it.
I'm not into the racing scene. It's highly competitive and expensive. I don't think I'd be a good racer. I love watching, definitely, but it's not something anyone who has a mostly functioning bike can just start doing.

I've played with mountain biking a little. It's definitely fun and finding a good single track and using it for biking most of the year and skiing the rest is exhilarating but  (and don't think I'm a bad environmentalist for saying this) all you're seeing is trees. Sometimes a pond. Occasionally another mountain biker or runner. When you're touring, you can see the world!

Do you remember how you felt on your first long-distance ride?
My first truly long distance ride was actually just this summer. It was one of the only training rides I did for my tour. I biked to Madison, WI from Oconomowoc, WI. It's about sixty miles and I bonked on the way there. I did an overnight with a friend who lives in the city and had a beautiful ride the next day coming back. 

Honestly, I'm glad I bonked that first day. It was scary, for sure, but it taught me to watch myself. I knew what bonking was, and I knew to drink enough water and consume enough calories but it really didn't click just how much I needed. In sixty miles, you burn around 2000 calories. That means you should consume 4000 throughout the day. I probably ate 2500 that day. I thought I was just really out of shape, but it wasn't that. Sixty miles isn't hard for someone who is fairly in shape and is comfortable on a bike if you give yourself the whole day. You just have to take care of yourself.

If you had nervousness at all, what do you do or think to overcome it?
I really wasn't too nervous. I know I was lucky that nothing very drastic happened during my tour. My repetitive stress injuries in both knees were probably the biggest problem. I also at one point accidentally biked over a bungee cord in the gutter of a road, which puncture both my outer tire and my tube. I had met the friend I was staying with that night earlier for lunch and she had offered to drive my panniers to her house to lighten my load, which means she had my spare tube. I called her and she picked me and my bike up. It could have been a lot worse if she wasn't able to do that, but people are so kind, I'm sure I would have figured it out.

On that note, I want to talk about how this tour restored my faith in humanity. On my first day, I dropped my phone and the screen shattered, rendering it totally useless. I had been using it to navigate, so I was moderate screwed when that happened. The next day, I wrote up cue sheets for my whole day and promptly got extremely lost. I knew I was supposed to be heading towards Lake Michigan and then following it south, so after trying and failing to find the path that was supposed to get me there; I just went south east until I hit Milwaukee. Part of me getting lost was going through some not-so-nice neighborhoods and I think I rode over some broken glass because when I got to the city, I realized my back tire was totally flat. I ended up needing to get it replaced because there were too many punctures to just patch it.
Then, I got lost again leaving the city. By the time I made it to the town I was headed to, it was dark. I found the road and went up and down it looking for the house number. It wasn't there, so I eventually knocked on someone's door and asked if she knew where the house was I was looking for. She was so sweet; she brought me inside and looked it up. Apparently, there were two separate roads with the same name. She packed my bike into her car and drove me to my destination. I mentioned in front of her to the friend I was staying with that I had broken my phone, which is why I was so late. The next morning, she knocked on the door, holding an iPhone. She gave it to me, insisting that she upgraded a while ago and didn't need the old phone. It was so kind and really don't know how I would have finished my tour without her.

Do you have tips or suggestions for people who want to start touring by bicycle?
So many!! Firstly, do it. Don't get too caught up in worrying about how you're going to get time off work or find the extra cash. Don't stress the small things. Just back some food and a rain coat and adventure, even if only for a couple days. 
Again, packing light is key. Not only is it nice to have to worry about less stuff, but it it kind of embarrassing when you see other tourers with half the junk you have.

Start small. My first tour was two weeks. Anything more would have been crazy, but I think to start off even shorter, just so I could know what to expect would have been nice. I want to start doing four or five day tours, because it's just long enough to have a great time while still not being too much work.

Couch surf, either with couchsurfing.com or warmshowers.com. The first is a general site for people looking to crash for a night or two. The second is a community of bike tourers looking for and offering places to stay. It's amazing because a lot of them have bike tools or gear if you need it but they also understand what you're doing and can engage in your trip in a way most people can't. Both are free to participate in, which keeps tour costs low.

Eat and drink enough. Bonking is scary. It's dangerous and it can totally derail your day. Stay healthy and take care of your body. I would do a power bar every hour and then big (I mean BIG) meals three times a day.

Have a safety net. This is particularly important for first-time tourers. Because I went to boarding school in the midwest, I had friends along my whole route that I was staying with. When I blew my back tire, I was able to call for a ride. When my knees hated me and I could barely walk, I was able to stay somewhere for two nights. Just know your tour won't go as planned, and that that's what makes it amazing.

Document it. I spent so much time biking, I didn't stop and enjoy the view very much. I wish I had taken more photos. I did, however, keep a blog (squidventures.wordpress.com) which I already, a month later, am grateful for to go back and remember what I was doing and how I felt. All my friends and family really appreciated it too.

Where you live right now, do you commute by bicycle? If so, what tips/suggestions would you give to someone new to commuting?
I'm in college right now, so I have no need to commute. I work in town, a couple blocks away. When work brings me a little bit further, I do commute on my bike but Yellow Springs is so small, it's not really necessary. My tips are pretty basic: stay visible, take the whole lane if there are two in one direction and you're allowed to, commute in something that you won't be wearing all day if you're going to break a sweat, wear a helmet, find other people to commute with you...

What do you love about riding your bike?
All of it! Especially after my tour, I've become really emotionally attached to my bike. She's been everywhere with me. I spent a lot of time and money outfitting her for my trip and so riding is really pleasant. I love seeing other people riding too. Especially in smaller towns, when two cyclists pass each other or are riding alongside each other, even if we don't speak, there's a connection, which I think is amazing. The bike community is my favorite community that I am a part of. I love being able to go anywhere and talk to people about my trip. There are a lot of different facets of biking and I've found my niche in the hipster/vintage road bike refurbishing community. It's amazing.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My touring bike (Specialized Vita) is probably my best friend. I genuinely have an emotional connection to her. When I was touring, I was riding the whole day and then a lot of the time, my bike would be in the same room as me during the night, or extremely close by. Now, even though my bike is parked 100 ft from my dorm building, I still don't get to ride her every day and I really miss her.

The other bike I have with my at school is a 1970s Italian road bike (Atala Corsa). My friend found it in a dumpster and gave it to me to refurbish. This is a new thing I'm into but I'm really enjoying it. I love that bike too, and getting to work on it whenever I'm free is the best experience because I'm literally taking a piece of trash-- it was in a dumpster three months ago--   and turning it into something I can bike fifty miles on. There's also something about vintage road bikes that just get me excited. They're beautiful. 

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
I used Ortlieb panniers during my tour, which I cannot recommend enough. They're expensive, but they're worth it because they will never wear out. They kept all my stuff dry throughout torrential downpours with first four days of my tour.

I'm not really into the cycling clothing thing. It's expensive and unnecessary. I honestly don't even use padded shorts when I'm touring. I just wear normal spandex shorts and an athletic shirt. I got all my "cycling clothes" at Goodwill.
During my tour, I wore a Camelbak water bottle/backpack the whole time, which was great. It reminded me to stay hydrated when I didn't even have to reach down to get water, and I was able to keep some snacks in it too so when I stopped for a snack break, they were easily accessible.

I will swear up and down that Brookes seats are the wear to go. I got mine a couple months before my tour and it wasn't really broken in at the start but it is now. I love it. They're so comfy and beautiful and when I get one for my Atala, I'll be a real hipster. 

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
One of my favorite topics to ponder while cycling is why there are so few women who participate. One day, my mother and I did a 30 mile trip in Ohio and counted the number of women we saw. There was only one woman alone. The other four we saw were with men. 

I don't know what deters women from joining the best sport there is, but it's a shame. Bike shops so rarely are staffed by female riders and when they are, it's often because she co-owns it with her husband. Maybe the reason cycling is so male-dominated is because women get intimidated when they don't see any other women riding. 

I've been the only woman working in a bike shop who knew anything about bikes. The other female who worked with me was there as a sales person. I'm so grateful my mother pressured me to learn bike mechanics and she allowed me to become a cyclist, because without her support, I'd probably be sipping pumpkin spice lattes while shopping for a car right now.

What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride?
The bike organization I worked for in Burlington, VT offered female-only bike maintenance workshops and for a short time, one of our branches was run by a woman. I think visibility it the best way to go. We need to know there are women to ride and they're badass. We need to create a space where we can feel comfortable working as a bike mechanic, knowing that the men in the shop won't treat us differently or think we're incapable of fixing a bike.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I am a feminist and a woman and a cyclist so everything I believe points to creating a safe environment for women in this sport. I followed the path to allowing women in the Tour de France closely this year, when we were given a separate race from the men, which was only one day. Maybe this is the heart of the reason so few women cycle. The biggest bike race in the world won't allow women to compete, and gave themselves a part of the back when we were allowed to ride a single day on their route. Women in the tour, alongside men. That's what I want to see next.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
Not only am I a cyclist, but I'm also a black belt in Taekwondo. I want to be a state senator for Vermont and a deep sea research ecologist. I love pomegranates and am actually willing to do the work to eat one.

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