Above me, I heard the music from a speaker on someone's bike coming toward me, so I hoisted my bike and self up the side of the hill to wait for the rider to pass.
It wasn't a single rider, instead it was a pack of young men. High School boys out enjoying the trails by bike, whooping and laughing as they made their way down the steep hill. The next generation of riders making use of their free time before school starts; beautiful. As I continued on with my own ride, I began to ponder, because that is what I do. Why do I never see High School girls out here? I envisioned a pack of girls riding the trails with smiles on their faces and laughter filling the air. My battle cry: "Where are all the women at?"
My ride that day was on the slow side, but I was pushing myself with the sheer number of climbs I went after. Even tho I wasn't riding with zeal, I felt capable, strong, and accomplished. All I can do is assume that the parents do not realize that that mountain biking or the softer term: off-road riding, can give their daughters those feelings as well.
There are many factors to consider, but one would be the splitting of the "athletes" vs. "non-athletes." Many times the only sports that young women seem to go into are the ones they either see regularly from example or what their friends are involved in. Volleyball, running, gymnastics, softball, etc. If they did ride a bike, it was generally only on pavement/around town and probably rarely sees the light of day unless it's for cross-training purposes for running.
Then we look at the young women who are simply not interested in athletics because they feel they can't do sports. The endurance and coordination doesn't feel strong and performing in front of an audience is scary as heck. These individuals could benefit SO much from being able to go for a bike ride in the Van Peenen Pines. Anyone who feels they can't play a sport should find a way to get involved with mountain biking.
Since when did we decide that biking off-road was not suitable for females?
Why is riding off-road not encouraged to women more by the people who ride off road?
I remember a conversation with a mother of a girl who was expressing curiosity over mountain biking. The mom had fears and those fears meant that I would not be allowed to take her daughter on a casual off-road ride to introduce her to any of the trails.
I mentioned that her daughter could join FWD and go on a women's only ride with responsible adults and the mom still had too much worry for her daughter's safety. Even with the option to use one of the rental mountain bikes or fatbikes, nothing would sway the mom's fear-based thinking into it being a positive experience for her daughter.
The concept of FWD- Fearless Women of Dirt is to not take your daughter out on the trails and leave her in the dust to fend for herself as she tries to ride the hardest, most technical trails possible. Absolutely not! It's a group that one can align with that will support new off-road riders in becoming more confident on the trails. I want off-road riding to be something that inspires confidence and joy, because I was that fearful woman. I was scared to death of all the supposed "what ifs"- what if I fall, what if I fail, and what if I never get better...patience, practice, and support.
That is what FWD is all about.
First thing is first-
We NEED more young women to be active with mountain biking.
We need more adult women to be active in mountain biking.
We need more young women to see that mountain biking is not gender exclusive.
We need more young women to learn that they are capable of riding off road.
Knowledge needs to be gained- the likelihood of breaking bones while mountain biking is pretty darn slim. I've ridden off-road since 2014 and have not broken a bone.
You do not need to be a "tomboy" to mountain bike.
Young women need to be taught that they are not delicate flowers. They are much stronger than that and they can withstand a few bruises on their shins.
You can potentially get injured in any sport- there shouldn't be such elevated fears over off-road riding. My mom broke a finger playing softball- ouch!
Mountain biking can be done solo or with friends- perfect for the individual that doesn't jive with large group sports.
Young women have a high chance of placing during the local Time Trials- in the under 30 group, one female participated in 2016! Everyone would love to see more participation in that age group!
Mountain biking is a sport you can grow with and challenge yourself with for a long time. There are trails everywhere! It's fun to travel to a different state and ride what those locals ride.
Mountain biking creates new friends.
Your endurance goes up, especially if you ride our trails. It's perfect cross-training for those involved with other sports.
It's community focused- you can volunteer on trail days and do some good for the trails you love.
You'll earn props for being a female out on the trails simply because it's not seen often. People will think you're awesome.
If you are a parent supporting your child with off-road riding by ensuring they have a good quality bike for the job- you'll get kudos from the community for you supporting your daughter with something that will truly change them as a person.
Why do I speak about off-road riding changing lives? Because it does. Because so many women (of all ages) see it as something to be fearful of. They see it as something only men and boys do. They see it as something that will hurt them. They see it as something that they can't do. They shy away from it, even with all of its intrigue, because they are afraid they will fail.
I hated challenging things as a kid, because it discouraged me.
I was (and still am) most definitely challenged by mountain biking- and there have been times I wanted to throw my bike into the woods and say "**ck it." I didn't...because I knew if I somehow broke my bike Travis would be upset. I also knew that's not really what I wanted to do. I'd come back the next day and session some more and accomplish it!
Challenge accepted, confidence acquired...all the more reason to keep working at it.
I've learned determination and perseverance from mountain biking. I'm learning to not second-guess myself and my abilities. I'm continually learning to be more confident with what my body and mind can accomplish. When I was younger, I did not think I was strong- now I think I am strong not only in body, but spirit.
Parents. Listen up.
If your daughter loves riding her bike, she probably would love being able to ride somewhere other than a paved circle or around town- it gets boring.
Your daughter is strong. Your daughter is capable. Your daughter can ride off-road- she just might need a helping hand with a proper mountain bike and someone to guide her.
It never means I will leave you or your daughter high and dry and have it be a game of "catch me if you can."
It does not mean that I will lead them somewhere completely beyond their skill level and say "roll with it."
We are not downhilling. We do not have literal mountains in Decorah...we are not riding like they do in X-Games. FWD is all about building confidence and believing that one can do what they thought impossible. If I can help another girl or woman feel confident enough to ride the Van Peenen Pines solo, that is awesome! It's not a requirement to ride every single trail to "be a mountain biker" but having the knowledge and confidence to ride somewhere other than the pavement makes for new adventures.
When you accomplish that climb you never thought you would make or when you ride a trail for the first time without putting a foot down. That feeling of profound joy, awe, and excitement is completely addictive. Imagine what it will be like when your daughter comes home and tells you of all the wonderful things she accomplished!
Give off-road riding a chance. As the saying goes, the only thing you have to fear is fear itself.