Monday, January 30, 2017

Women Involved Series: Anne St. Clair

Originally a Pennsylvania native, Anne St. Clair migrated west on a cross-country road cycling adventure--eventually landing in Breckenridge, Colorado in 2006. Her love of bike-touring and her first mountain bike ride in Moab launched her head over heels into a decade-long career as a mountain bike guide based out of Moab, UT with a race resume in gravity and ultra-endurance events. Having guided over one hundred multi-day bike tours across the western U.S.

Anne's greatest joy has been sharing the ride experience and encouraging lifelong trail exploration.

Anne also works as an instructor for the VIDA MTB series, as a coach for Maverick Sports Promotions MTB Junior League, and as a volunteer for the Cycle Effect as well as a guide for Magpie Cycling. During the winter months, she teaches avalanche education for the Backcountry Babes and works as a lead backcountry ski guide and snow safety director for Powder Addiction cat-skiing. Anne is excited beyond words to see women in the mountain bike industry making waves, and she is grateful for the opportunity to contribute through her involvement with VIDA. Most importantly, Anne is a Cancer, her spirit animal is a buffalo, and her favorite breakfast is huevos rancheros.

Tell us about what inspired your #bikelife-
Growing up, I had little exposure to the cycling world. However, having competed as a gymnast, I was accustomed to training as an athlete. My initial footing into 'bikelife' was inspired by my transition from gymnastics into more lifelong activities in college. Having studied abroad for a semester in London and having traveled throughout Europe, I realized I had seen little of my own country. On the mend from several knee surgeries, I felt desperately out of shape, and as a college senior, I was unsure of what to pursue post-graduation. I ended up cycling 4400 miles across the U.S. with twenty-five other students from New Haven, CT to Seattle, WA. By the time I reached Seattle, I knew I wanted to continue bike-touring, and I began a decade-long career as a multi-day mountain bike guide based out of Moab, UT that following summer.

Tell us about working as a mountain bike guide, what does the job entail and why have you enjoyed it?
I would be hard-pressed to summarize everything the job entails. I think what sets it apart is how dynamic and rewarding the work can be. It's never the same ride twice! And, in addition to the sunsets, singletrack, and dessert every night, the best part is sharing an experience with people when they are most inspired, alive, and engaged.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
In the last several years, rather than rolling up to a start line, I have been more inspired to challenge my competence on long bike-packing adventures. However, I am a huge supporter of racing and think it's great for the sport. In fact, another one of my (many) favorite summer gigs is working as a race crew member setting up courses for race events such as the Firecracker 50, the Summit Mountain Challenge series, and the Breck Epic. From this, I'd have to say my favorite event is watching the local junior girls (who I coach in our Mountain Bike Junior League) race in the Wednesday night Summit Mountain Challenge series. Seeing their grit and progression is so inspiring! And the race event I just won't miss is the all-women's Beti Bike Bash in Colorado!

What was the motivation to start participating in events?
During off-weeks from guiding, some of my fellow co-guides were high-tailing it to races, and I started tagging along. I started racing more gravity-fueled events because those races were the best match for the bike I was riding and for the skill-set I was motivated to develop in Moab. My first endurance race was a last minute compromise when I couldn't find a partner to join me for a 70+ mile ride in the remote desert. I didn't want to tackle the route solo for my first attempt, so I was ready to give up on an endurance challenge. Then, I heard about a 12 hour race that same day just a few hours away. I figured the race would be a more fun option for a long ride, and that's how I ended up racing my first solo 12 hour race--and I ended up in 3rd place! 

Do you have any suggestions for those on the fence about participating?
Anything can happen! The race accomplishment I am most proud of was at a race I never would have entered without the insistence of a good friend. I had only raced a handful of times in the beginner or sport category, and this event only offered a 'Pro' category. If I had listened to my own insecurities, I would have never signed up, and instead, I won! Anything can happen, and it can be anyone's day. That's why we race! 

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
Exhilarated! My first ride was in Moab with a highly skilled group of riders. I felt so accomplished having survived. There were rocks, and I rode OVER them! Then I learned that we had ridden one of the more beginner trails in the area. I was amazed, and I was hooked.
If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
There were so many trails in Moab that I found intimidating, but I focused simply on riding my bike... a lot. I pedaled mellow trails to build my confidence, technical trails to push my skills (or just watch other people with skills while I walked my bike), and group rides to be with friends who made it more fun. Riding is the key to building confidence... so keep it fun and go ride! 

Clips or flats? What works best for you and why?
Both clips and flats have their pros and cons, but I am a huge proponent of learning with flats. I rode my entire first year in Moab on flats, and I know it made a significant difference in my progression by allowing me to attempt new skills without hesitation. When I progressed to longer endurance rides, I started to clip in again, and now I'm having a hard time breaking the bad habits I picked up from going back to clips.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Of course. Crashing is part of riding, and certainly all of my crashes have been different physically, mentally, and emotionally. I find that it's so easy to dwell on the drama of the trauma, and it's difficult for me to focus on what's best for my healing in the long run. I think it is important to consider the big picture and that I am in this sport for the long haul. Then, I can better reflect on what I need to ease back into riding enjoyably--because that's what it's all about.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Definitely. In the beginning, I was lucky to get to watch remarkably skilled riders out on group rides without caring that I wasn't at their level. It was so cool seeing what was possible! Eventually I was able to follow some of these riders and learn from trying to match their speed, lines, and body position. Ultimately though, when it came time for me to step it up to more technical moves, it took time. I'll never forget the day I took my first ride down a gnarly downhill trail in Moab. I had been trail running it for years and could never imagine riding it on a mountain bike. On this day, while running, I started imagining riding my bike through the obstacles. There were a few spots where I just couldn't figure it out, and I asked my friend Nancy. She told me the line was just to roll straight down the ledges. The next day, while running it again, I saw it and it clicked! I ran through her door and was like, "Nancy, I see it. I'm ready!" We grabbed our full faces and we were off!

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
The challenges never end, and that's why I love riding. The longer I'm in the sport, the less likely I am to get dragged down. If I'm not riding as fast as I did once or hitting a drop like I have before, I can be okay with that--as long as I'm having fun on my bike. Some days, I might look at a move and think 'I can ride that!' And the next day I might think 'not today.' The key is not to come to unnecessary conclusions about yourself as a rider because you don't feel like riding at the top of your game every time you get on your bike. Go with your flow. There are so many reasons to ride, and progression doesn't always mean bigger or faster... unless I just did something bigger or faster! Ha!

What do you love about riding your bike?
The fact that every time I go riding, I find something new to love!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I am most proud of my $7 townie that I bought 10 years ago at the Moab thrift store. I installed the biggest pannier rack they make and I can haul a week's worth of groceries on it. Those rides are probably my scariest.

I have a Santa Cruz Highball C 27.5 hardtail that I love riding on the multi-day tours I guide in Canyonlands with Magpie Cycling as well on any of my overnight bike-packing trips. There's nothing like loading your camp gear onto your bike and pedaling into beautiful places for a few days.

My Santa Cruz Bronson full suspension bike has been a game-changer for me. I got on their latest model this spring, and the new geometry in combination with an upgrade (for me) in the suspension has given me an extra boost of confidence, and I'm loving it.

I am excited to get on my first Yeti Beti this season! It might give me the extra push I need to throw my hat back in the endurance racing scene.

You also coach for VIDA MTB, tell us about how you got involved with the organization-
I became involved in the organization through an opportunity to join other VIDA coaches in an IMBA (International Mountain Bike Association) instructor certification course. I was motivated to take the course to improve my professionalism and skills coaching for my work as a guide, and I found myself in this incredibly fun crew of women who ride hard and want to spread the joy. I got hooked on the community and there's nothing more fun.
What has been the most inspiring moment you've had since you've been involved with VIDA MTB?
Being a part of this inspiring community. Sarah Rawley is like a magnet for finding women working in the industry with incredible stories, and she surrounds us with them at the VIDA clinics--from female bike mechanics, to professional athletes, to nutritionists, to mountain bike clothing designers! We can all improve on and off the bike, and VIDA has a unique way of motivating us to do that through the experiences of these women in the bike industry. It's definitely more than just wheelies, and I love wheelies! 

What would you like folks to know about the VIDA clinics and why do you feel women should consider attending one?
Oops, see above. I learn something new every time! It's so valuable to spend time re-visiting the fundamentals and then taking it to the next level. And it's even more valuable when you get to share it with rad women.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Gosh, that's a hard one. I think for many women mountain biking is a completely new endeavor they are introduced to as adults, while men generally had more opportunities for skill development hanging out at the neighborhood BMX park as kids. There are certainly plenty of folks on either side of this generalization, but I do see a lot of women who are learning to ride as adults who were never introduced to it when they were younger. Learning something new as an adult definitely takes more grit.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I have seen so many positive changes in the last ten years that I have been involved in the sport. I'm too stoked with how far we've come! There are so many more options for women's specific bikes with higher quality designs, more sponsorships, more races with equal pay, and the women's ONLY Beti Bike Bash! The industry is on the right track.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I really believe in the value of this sport in increasing quality of life, and I am passionate about
helping more women develop the skills to feel capable exploring the backcountry. I recognize that there are so many ways to be motivated by this sport, and there are few things more fulfilling than working to help women find that motivation.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I spend my winters sticking my head in the snow as a professional ski guide, avalanche educator, snow safety director, and snow nerd. :)

No comments:

Post a Comment