Monday, January 14, 2019

Women Involved Series: Caroline Washam

Photo Credit: Katie Holdon
Hi! I’m Caroline Washam, professional downhill mountain bike racer, mountain bike skills coach, and content producer.

I fell in love with bikes when I was 10 years old. That's when I bought my first BMX bike with allowance money and started racing in Raleigh, NC at the local track.

Starting out racing against the boys, it took me a whole year to manage six 1st place finishes to move into the "girls" category.

Since then, racing -- whether it is Downhill, Dual Slalom, Enduro, XC, cyclocross, or Xterra Triathlon (yup, I did that once) -- has always been part of my life.

For me personally, having a goal I am working toward helps me be my best self. Every time I go for a ride, pick up some dumbbells or hit the streets for training, I see progress. Biking is cool like that, there's always room to improve and progression is addicting.

In 2019, I’ll begin my fourth year of professional downhill mountain bike racing with my sights set on Crankworx events, World Cups, and World Championships. At 30, I’m getting the opportunity to accomplish my big, crazy dreams.

Racing fulfills the part of me that needs to push my own body and mind to the limit. MTB skills coaching feeds my soul. Mountain biking is so much more than racing or going fast, it is about community, connecting to nature and mental health. After attending my first skills clinic at Rays Indoor MTB Park in 2013, I realized a few things:

1. Even after racing for 15 years, I still had so much to learn (and I shouldn't feel embarrassed about that)

2. There was a HUGE community of women who liked to ride bikes just as much as I did,

3. I wanted BIKES to be my job.

So, I found a job in bikes with Liv Cycling (Liv/giant at the time) as a demo driver, got my PMBI Level 1 MTB coaching certification later that year in Whistler, and started spreading MTB stoke immediately by coaching at Liv-sponsored events.

After moving back home to North Carolina in 2015 and assuming the role of Content Contractor with Liv, I took the opportunity to start my own mountain bike coaching business: Spoked, LLC. My goal is to fuel a passion for mountain biking by bringing people into this awesome sport and showing them what they are capable of!

Learn more about me and my little business Spoked, LLC here.
Social Media:

With your #bikelife experience, how would you say it helped you be your best self?
My #bikelife started at a young age. When I was a kid racing BMX, I never thought I could make a career out of cycling. I thought, “Well, it’s either I become a Pro BMX racer or I go to college.” I chose college, and pursued two degrees in Journalism and Photography. But, little did I know that cycling would continue to find its way into my life. When I found mountain biking and the collegiate cycling team at Appalachian State University, it was like I found my purpose again. Cycling was a part of me, and from then on my best decisions came when I chose bikes over other paths in life. Mountain biking has giving me so much: health, passion, community, and the ability to see the world!

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What did you learn and what made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
My first mountain biking experience was not a good one… I was in high school and although I was a nationally competitive BMX racer, I had no idea what I was doing on the local cross country trail. I borrowed my Dad’s mustard yellow Specialized Hard Rock (completely rigid) bike and headed out to the trails with some of my BMX friends and their parents. I came home bruised, bleeding and with a very sore bottom. I swore I was never going to get on a mountain bike again. Flash forward to my junior year of college when the school’s mountain biking team actually found me! I had hung up my BMX bike after my first year of college to focus on my studies, but when an old professor told me about dual slalom I decided to bring my Gary Fischer hardtail out to the next race. To my surprise, I won that race and figured this mountain biking thing wasn’t all that bad. Downhill racing took me a bit longer to figure out, but I loved the challenge, the friends I was making, and the places that I saw collegiate racing taking me. Bottom line: bikes are so much fun!
Tell us more about racing and why you feel it's important for women to participate-
I’ve been asking myself the same question since I was 10 years old: “Why don’t more women race bikes?” I’m not going to pretend I’ve discovered the answer to that question, but I’ve seen so much awesome progression to help more women get into the sport recently with NICA, collegiate cycling, support for women’s events from awesome companies like SRAM and Liv Cycling, as well as the great work done by my fellow female mountain bike coaches across the country. As more women are welcomed into the sport of mountain biking, I would love to see more women give racing a try. The thing is, at least for me, mountain bike racing isn’t about trying to beat the competition; it is about challenging yourself to do something you previously thought was impossible. The more women we have out there pushing their own boundaries, the more we can elevate the visibility for women in this sport and consequently encourage companies to put more dollars behind supporting women and creating better cycling products for women. The result is a better cycling industry for everyone.

Plus, did I mention how FUN racing is?!

Do you have any tips or suggestions for someone who is planning to do their first race?
Find out what type of race is best for you. There are so many different types of races! Do some research to determine what type of racing fits best with the type of riding you love to do. Sure, I started out racing downhill, but that’s probably not the best route for everyone to take. Maybe a short track cross country race would be a good place to start if you are new to the sport and want to test out racing without getting too far out into the woods. If you love the downhills more than the climbs, a local enduro race might be right up your alley. Are you super-fit, love to climb, and looking for an adventure? Maybe a MTB stage race is for you!

Ask questions! No matter what type of race you are doing, the mountain bike community if full of amazing people with big hearts who would love to help you get into the sport. Don’t be afraid to ask your local bike shop, local mtb club, or your friends who ride about the race you’d like to do. What are the trails like? What kind of gear do I need? Is my bike appropriate for this type of racing? What category should I sign up for? There are no stupid questions!

Be prepared. Being prepared for your first race is the best way to ease your nerves. And, that doesn’t necessarily mean training hard for months before the race. If the race is local, try to check out the trail before the race so you know what to expect. Brush up on your skills by taking a mountain bike clinic and give yourself time to practice what you’ve learned before the race. Take a Fix-a-Flat clinic at your local bike shop and become a little more confident diagnosing bike issues. Get a tune-up on your bike at least two weeks before the race to make sure everything is working properly. Going into the race with a working bike, proper gear, and knowing what to expect will help you tackle your first race with your best pedal forward!

Just have fun! Don’t set any expectations or demanding goals for your first race. A great way to have more fun is to sign up for a race with friends that you ride with, but if you don’t have any friends to sign up with – make some at the race! Enjoy the experience, stay positive, and celebrate at the finish!

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
Both! I started riding clips when I was 12, about two years after I started racing BMX. Because I started so young, clipping in and out was pretty natural for me when I started riding mountain bikes. However, I also had this deep-seated fear that without clips I would be a horrible bike rider. After I received my first mountain bike coaching certification, I knew I had to get over this fear. And, it was hard. I had developed a lot of bad habits over the years, like pulling up on my pedals when jumping and riding with my toes down over rough sections of trail. I definitely slipped a couple of pedals during the process, but it was all worth it. I am a firm believer that being able to ride trails with flat pedals makes you a better rider, even if you ride most of the time with clips. It teaches you proper technique and helps you learn how to pump – instead of power – over obstacles. Nowadays I use flats for coaching, dirt jumping, or pump tracking, but I still always race and trail ride with my clips because I believe I can go faster with them.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I have certainly had my fair share of crashes. I want to stress that most of the time falling down does not result in severe injuries. Bruises, scrapes, and scabs are the norm. Sometimes big gnarly crashes happen, but most of the time they are avoidable.

In February 2014, I was riding alone near Pasadena, California on an unfamiliar trail. That might sound like the start of a scary movie, but at the time riding alone on unfamiliar trails was totally within my comfort zone. As I climbed up the narrow trail with a steep drop-off on my right-hand side, I was distracted, tired, and I wasn’t paying close attention to the terrain. I clipped my handlebar on the left hand of the trail and was shot off the right and down a 15-foot embankment. I broke my hand in 3 places, broke my scapula, and separated my shoulder.

Physical healing is just one element of recovering from a crash. The hardest part of physical healing is time. You have time to think, time to be hard on yourself, time to get depressed or stuck replaying the accident in your head and how you could have done something differently. That time away from the bike and thinking about the accident can leave little mental scars that will show up every now and then, but what the time away also does is make you appreciate what you love about mountain biking. I’ll never forget my first mountain bike ride four months after that accident. I was riding the easiest trail ever, going super slow with tears streaming down my face; I was literally sobbing with happiness.

I’m still afraid of narrow trails with steep drop-offs and exposure. But when I find myself in those situations, I stop, breathe, and focus on the trail ahead. I remind myself that I have the skills to ride that trail, I am focused and I’m ready. Crashing is part of mountain biking, but learning from those mistakes is how you become a better rider.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Bunny hopping and getting over logs in the trail! First of all, it took me 15 years to learn how to do a proper bunny hop. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true! I didn’t understand the concept. I thought a bunny hop was the same thing as a level lift. So, I used my clips, I preloaded and I hopped up, lifting both my wheels at the same time. When I finally learned how to do a proper bunny hop (lifting my front wheel first, then scooping my pedals and shoving my bike forward to lift the rear wheel), it made getting over obstacles so much easier.
Finally, I could get my front wheel high enough to make it over logs on the trail!

You became certified in PMBIA 1 instruction- what inspired your decision?
When I was a demo driver with Liv Cycling, the company gave me the opportunity to travel to Whistler to get my certification so I could teach clinics at events. I leapt at the chance to get certified as a mountain bike instructor. Ever since I attended my first clinic at Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike Park in Ohio, I had dreamed of being able to make the same impact on the community that the instructors made on me in just a couple of hours.

What I didn’t expect was how much my own riding would improve by becoming a certified mountain bike coach. I learned so many things I was doing wrong and have become more consistent and controlled in my riding. Since then, I’ve gotten my PMBIA Level 2 certification in drops and jumps.

What has been one of your most inspiring coaching moments?
You know how I said that it took me 15 years to learn how to bunny hop? Well, two years ago I taught a pump track clinic to a group of about 14 women. We spent three hours working on wheel lifts, cornering and finding flow. It was an awesome day! At the end of the clinic, one of the women asked if I could teach them how to bunny hop. With a sigh, I said, “Ok, but I don’t want anyone to get discouraged if they don’t get it. You’ve all be going hard for hours and this is a skill that takes time to learn.” 15 minutes later, every single one of my students had gotten their wheels off the ground. I can’t explain it, and that certainly isn’t always the case when I teach bunny hops. It must have been the collective stoke and positivity of the group… but I will never forget that moment.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Of course! The awesome thing about mountain biking is there is always something you can improve upon. There is never a moment when racing or riding that I’ve said, “Oh yeah, I did that perfectly.” It all goes back to the basics: knowing how and when to brake, when to get low, when to unweight, when to push your weight back or get a little forward, how to twist your hips to pivot around turns and obstacles, knowing where to look and how to choose a line. I wouldn’t say there is one specific skill or type of obstacle that I find challenging, the challenge is putting it all together and having the confidence in your own abilities. Messing up, sliding out, casing a jump, braking before a drop instead of sending it the first time… these aren’t things that I let bring me down, instead they are reasons to keep going. For me “failing” is a reason to push back up and try it again.

Tell us about your coaching business, Spoked LLC and what your plans are-
Spoked, LLC is an outlet for me to impact the community around me. I’m so lucky to have the support of some awesome companies in the industry like SRAM who invite me to teach alongside other awesome coaches throughout the year, and I LOVE making an impact at these big events (like Sea Otter, Crankworx, etc). However, I know there is a need for mountain bike skills coaching right here in North Carolina and the surrounding states. With Spoked, I put on clinics in the region and work with local mountain biking groups or municipalities for their events. I also just want to be here for anyone to reach out and ask for help. I’ve loved working with individuals on a one-on-one basis and with small groups at their local trails. Though my main focus in 2019 will be racing, Spoked, LLC isn’t going anywhere. I plan to continue to play a significant role in the Southeast mountain bike community for years to come.

What has been the best part of establishing your own coaching business?
The reason why I do what I do is to grow the community of mountain bikers right here at home. I love seeing that dream come to life. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching women at the beginning of their MTB journey who have now become leaders in their own communities. It’s humbling to know that I’ve played a role in shaping their lives and establishing a growing group of shredders in the Southeast.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Is everything an appropriate response?

Seriously, I love EVERYTHING about mountain biking. I love being outside, the adrenaline, the sweat, the dirt, the taste of a cold beer and Mexican food after a good ride, I love the confidence riding has given me, the strength (both physical and mental), and at the same time the humility to laugh at myself. I love riding alone, sharing rides with my dad, brother and husband, and constantly making new friends on the trail. I could go on and on…

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I'm so grateful to have the support of some of the best bike and components companies in the industry who keep me riding and racing the bikes of my dreams. In 2019, I will be riding all Liv frames for downhill, dual slalom, trail, and road. I couldn't do what I do without SRAM/Rockshox/Truvativ (drivetrain, brakes, suspension, handlebars, and stems), Schwalbe (tires), Industry Nine (wheels), Flat Tire Defender (tire inserts), Joe's No Flats (sealant, bike wash, and lube), and HT Components (pedals).

Why is it important for women to be involved in the cycling industry?
Cycling isn’t a sport for just men, so why should the cycling industry be run by men? Just like in any industry, workplace diversity is so important in the cycling industry. The only way we are going to have fresh ideas that get more people on bikes and create better products for all cyclists is by companies and organizations reaching outside of their bubble… and that doesn’t mean just hiring more women, but it’s a good place to start.
What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I feel like a lot of times strong women who have found cycling on their own and who feel comfortable in their communities see a question like this and think… well, there are no boundaries for women getting into cycling. Certainly, I didn’t have any boundaries getting into biking when I was 10. I was lucky. I had super supportive parents, my brother paved the way by starting BMX racing first, and I was a bit of a tomboy. I felt comfortable on my BMX team as the only girl, in fact, it made me feel pretty cool to be different. But, not all women had the luxury to be introduced to cycling at an early age or feel comfortable being the minority.

Let me flip the question to, “What deters men from getting involved with yoga?” Obviously, there is something… because every yoga class I’ve ever been to has only 0-20% men in it. Maybe it’s because men don’t feel all that comfortable working out in a room full of women, or maybe it’s because most men were raised to believe that lifting weights is the manly way to work out and yoga-type exercises are for girls, or maybe it’s because yoga studios and products aren’t marketed to men…

So, what deters women from getting involved with mountain biking? Most women don’t feel welcome in a bike shop or group ride when they are surrounded by men, most women weren’t given the opportunity to mountain bike at a young age or were made to feel like it wasn’t for them, and in the grand scheme of things mountain biking is still mostly marketed toward men.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Luckily, a lot is already changing.
NICA and Little Bellas are doing AWESOME work to welcome more girls into mountain biking at a young age. This is huge and soooo important. Yes, mountain biking is for girls! Women’s Ambassador programs sponsored by Liv Cycling, SRAM, Bell JoyRide and others have created female mountain bike armies that welcome women into the sport and give them the resources they need to stick with it. Women’s MTB Events and clinics have created a community and helped women gain confidence and improve their skills. Heck yeah!

So we are making huge strides by creating spaces where women are NOT the minority in the cycling industry and beginning to do better by bringing young girls into the sport early to create life-long cyclists. I think the industry can still do better by investing more money to create better bikes and gear for women, supporting equal funding for women’s racing across the board, and giving women equal coverage in industry media and within brand campaigns.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
When I first started riding mountain bikes in North Carolina, I had a handful of female biking friends. That number has exploded in less than ten years. Now, it isn’t unusual to show up at the local trails and see several other ladies out riding. That inspires me. I hope by continuing to race downhill (and doing some crazy things on the bike) and coaching I will continue to show women what is possible and what we can do when we lift each other up.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I love animals! During my childhood, I had three cats, two dogs, two rats, two snakes, two hermit crabs, a hamster, and some fishies. My first solo pet was a bunny named Jelly who I adopted while in college. My husband and I currently have two rescue cats named Greer and Grom who make near-daily appearances on my Instagram Story feed. @caroline.washam for all the cute, weird and funny kitty antics.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Women on Bikes Series: Zoemma Warshafsky

I feel like I'm still a beginner mountain biker because there's always so much to learn! When do you ever advance from beginner? I've only been mountain biking for about a year and a half (started spring 2017), but wow how I've progressed. My husband (at the time boyfriend) bought me my first mountain bike. He's in the Coast Guard and was in Hawaii for 6 months. The first day when he got back, we went to look at mountain bikes. The second day we bought a beautiful Scott Scale Contessa. Previously I'd only ridden on the road and had been doing road triathlons for about 6 years and was a good road biker, but had very few bike handling skills. The thought of riding off-road on bumpy, rooty, rocky, twisty trails scared the crap out of me. But I was getting a little bored and burnt out of road tris, and mountain biking was a great new challenge! My husband Alex has taught me everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything (how to go over a curb, how to brake, how to shift my weight, etc, etc) because I had no idea how to do anything at all!

It's been so amazing learning something so challenging with the person I love the most in the world and to have him believe in you more than you believe in yourself. If it wasn't for him, then there's no way I ever would have tried mountain biking and kept trying to get better at it. Now our weekends are spent out adventuring on the trails.

I needed a creative project recently and noticed that most of the content online about mountain biking is by experienced riders that are mostly male. I wanted to write about learning to mountain biking from a beginner's perspective (and add another female face to the mix), so I started my blog The Unexpected Mountain Biker. Hopefully, it will encourage more people to get out on the trails, no matter their skill level or confidence. Because if I can do it, then anyone can!

Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
The last place I ever thought I’d ride would be on trails, but when my husband suggested it, it sounded like a fun challenge. I warned him how terrible I’d be, but he was okay with it and has stuck with me every step of the way. Even though I rode barely faster than walking speed for my first ride, I loved it. I love learning new things and working toward improvement, and mountain biking offered all that and more. All the challenges, obstacles, and sense of adventure (not to mention all the time I could spend with my husband being active) made me really fall in love with mountain biking.

Your husband was very supportive of your mountain biking, what did he do that worked well?
I would never have started mountain biking without Alex and I definitely would never have gotten as good as I am without him. I think the biggest thing he’s done is believe in me more than I believe in myself. He’s probably the most patient person in the world and will wait forever while I session something, no matter how silly the obstacle. Also, he is sort of lazy in that he never really cares how fast he goes or how much of a workout he gets in, so he was happy to just bop along behind me as I timidly felt out the trails. Really importantly, he encourages me to try scary things and push myself. He’s my teacher and is great at breaking down skills into their fundamental movements so I can learn them. He’s my biggest supporter and best friend and there’s no one I’d rather ride with.

Any tips or suggestions for folks wanting to introduce someone to mountain biking, especially if it's a significant other?
I think the most important tip is to view someone learning to mountain bike as a long-term investment. Alex knew I wasn’t going to awesome overnight, but knew that if he put the time into it, I’d get faster and have better skills and then we’d be able to ride more technical and challenging trails. His investment has definitely paid off! It’s much more fun to ride with others, so if you can put in the time and effort to teach someone, then you’ll both have more fun in the long term.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
ALL OF THEM!!!! Despite the fact that I had been road riding for 6 years, I had almost no bike handling skills. I didn’t really ride bikes as a kid, so I never developed that innate balance and confidence on a bike. So I basically had to learn how to ride a bike. I had to learn how to ride up and down curbs (which still scares me), how to turn (still struggle with), and pretty much everything else you can think of. I think me making Alex break down the skills into their basic movements and body positions were essential. And Alex demonstrating them a million times and him not letting me give up when I got frustrated. I don’t think I could have ever learned them by myself.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Can I say all of them again? I much better at going over the little stuff, but now the curbs have turned into drops and the turns have turned into tight switchbacks. If I only rode things that I was capable of riding, then I’d get so bored. Though I love to challenge myself, riding things that are outside of my comfort zone can get frustrating quickly when you feel like you’re walking more than you’re riding. But that’s where sessioning becomes so important. If I mess up on something, then well session it until I can confidently conquer the obstacle. But if I’m getting tired or just want to ride, then I’ll try to do the more intimidating parts and if I can’t then I’ll say next time and walk over it and keep going. It’s good to stop and work on things, but it’s also good to just ride. And if I’m not having fun on a ride, then it’s probably time to call it quits for the day. Because what’s the point of riding if you’re not having fun?

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
One day I’ll ride clips… maybe. But for now, it’s flats for me. I get scared too much on the trail riding on flats that clips would probably be an even bigger mental block because I’d be too nervous that I wouldn’t be able to clip out in time if I were attempting a more difficult section. I really like the freedom of flats and I don’t think the benefits (more power climbing, more traction on technical sections, more peddling efficiency) would benefit me much at this point in time. I also like being the only person at an off-road tri in skate shoes. I think I make a good fashion statement.

For folks who are nervous about giving mountain biking a shot, do you have any suggestions on how they can go about creating a positive experience?
The only goal you should have when you’re starting to ride is to have fun. If you’re not having fun, then you’re doing something wrong. Who cares how fast you’re going? Who cares what you have to walk over? Who cares how long your rides are? But if at the end of your first ride you don’t have a smile on your face and a sense of accomplishment in your heart, then rethink why you want to mountain bike. Be proud of yourself for doing something challenging and celebrate all your accomplishments, no matter how small. Also choose your riding partners carefully. Some experienced riders aren’t as good at going slow and working with beginners because they want to ride hard and long. That’s fine, maybe you can ride with them in a while if that’s your style. Choose someone who is encouraging and patient and has a fun attitude, but definitely ride with someone else or a beginner group where you can have lots of support around you.

Tell us about your first mountain bike race! What was the experience like?
There’s a trail about a mile from our house and they were doing a race there so I figured I’d do it. I did a 5k running race that morning because it was also less than a mile from my house. So my legs were a little tired to start. The trails are super, super rooty and twisty, so not really the most fun trails, but I knew what to expect and there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do. I had practiced the week leading up to it on two sections (one they didn’t even include because it was “too difficult”, psh!) and I knew I’d be fine skill wise. I was the only female there, but I knew a bunch of the guys doing it since we ride with that group a lot. I wanted to race in the Women’s race, but I did the intermediate one because it was the same distance. It started off down a fire road to try to spread everyone out. And I was with the group for the little sprint, but I let everyone go in in front of me because I didn’t want to slow anyone down and I knew they were all faster than me. I was just doing the race to do it since I hadn’t done one before. I was alone for most of the race and I didn’t come in last only because someone wiped out and I passed them. It was kind of boring being alone and I missed riding with Alex. I don’t think I really like mountain bike races because I’m not super comfortable going that fast, but I want to go fast because I’m racing, so it’s kind of pointlessly stressful. I much prefer off-road triathlons where not as much pressure is put on the bike portion. I also kinda prefer riding just for fun and sessioning things and exploring new trails. I also really want to get into cyclocross races, which I think I’ll be terrible at but I think they’ll be silly fun.

What has been your favorite event to participate in so far?
My favorite event for mountain biking has been the XTERRA Myrtle Beach Triathlon. I LOVE that trail. It feels like you’re riding a roller coaster the whole time. And I’m not afraid to go fast on that trails because it’s so smooth and flowy. I got to see my mom and Alex several times on the bike portion, which was awesome. And the best part was that my dad did! He’s the one that got me into triathlons, but he’d only ridden a mountain bike once before. So when he came down for the race, Alex and I gave him a crash course on mountain biking. He’d been having some injury issues, so I wasn’t sure how he was going to do, but he did the whole thing and loved it! I also got 6th female overall and 1st in my age group. I really hope I can do it again next year.

Why do you feel should folks try at least one mountain bike event?
I don’t think people need to race. You can get enough pleasure and excitement out of regular trail rides that racing isn’t necessary for having fun mountain biking. But if you need an excuse to push yourself or a reason to get up off your butt, then a race is a great motivator. If by event you mean anything bike related, then I think a skills clinic is probably the best event you can go to! It’s amazingly helpful to learn from someone and to be with a group that wants to learn. Lots of bike shops offer skills clinics and I did one recently and it was a lot of fun. I learned a lot from it and definitely want to do others in the future. You can also meet new people to ride with!
What was your inspiration to start blogging about your mountain biking journey?
Before I started blogging, I saw that most things online about mountain biking were by experienced riders and mostly male. But I thought I had a different viewpoint given that I’m still learning and could encourage people to ride by sharing my ineptitude and eventual successes. The experience of beginners is very different from that of experienced riders. Also, most of what I saw online was people succeeding, not everything it takes to get there. So I wanted to share my journey of learning to show it’s possible to get better. I also wanted to add another female face to the mix.

What has been the best part of sharing your experiences?
The best part has been seeing how many people view my stories even though my reach is so small. I’m only a few months into blogging, so my following is pretty small. But when I share my posts on Facebook, people somehow click on it! I thought after a few posts, people would stop, but (knock on wood) they haven’t. I think it shows that reading how people face challenges is something that a lot of people can relate to, whether they mountain bike or not. Also, it’s been pretty cool seeing that people from all around the world read my posts!

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love the freedom that a bike allows. It’s a vehicle that can take you to some spectacular places as long as your legs keep peddling. It can take you to places that you’d otherwise never go. It takes you into nature and away from the stresses of life. You can go almost anywhere on a mountain bike!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
You can never have too many bikes right?? For off-road riding, I have a Diamondback Clutch 2, Scott Scale Contessa, and Fuji Cross 1.3. For on-road riding, I have a Fuji Aloha TT and Felt ZW76. And for commuting, I have a 20+-year-old Specialized Hard Rock. (Alex has the same number of bikes). I won’t talk about my road bikes since this is about mountain biking (but I miss riding them!). My first mountain bike was my Scott, which is a hardtail. After we were apart for 6 months, our second day together he bought this bike for me. I had no clue what to look for in a mountain bike, so he was helping me find one. I rode it and it felt good and it was a good deal, so we got it! It was a great starting bike and was great for me to learn on. Then I started getting tired of dealing with stupid little roots, so when I finally felt I had learned enough on a hardtail, I got my Diamondback full suspension. Alex has the guys version of this one, and when he was away, I rode it and liked it, so when I found an awesome deal online for it, we go it! It’s a super fun bike to ride and feels very reliable and comfortable. My ‘cross bike was more of an impulse buy because I found a good deal for it online and it had pineapples on the fork (very important factor in my decision). I want to get into gravel riding and ‘cross races, but there’s just not that much where we live now. But when we move next year, there should be more opportunities to ride it. And I really want to because it’s a very solid, fun bike!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I don’t think there’s a lot that deters women from road riding since it’s become more mainstream (except access to good, safe roads, which is pretty hard to find). But mountain biking is much more male-dominated than road riding. I think the things that deter women are lack of exposure, fewer friends that ride, and most importantly lack of confidence. I really didn’t even know what mountain biking was or had any desire to try it before Alex. Very few people that I knew mountain biked and because I had no handling skills on my road bikes, I would have been afraid and completely lost to try mountain biking on my own. It’s hard to get into a sport where you don’t know anything about it and there’s a pretty steep learning curve. So having someone or a group to introduce you to the sport is essential to trying it and staying with it. I think these barriers apply to both men and women, but I think women may struggle with self-confidence more than men and are more likely to let it hold them back. But everyone is scared and self-conscious while mountain biking, regardless of their gender. So don’t let your fear or gender hold you back! Being female means absolutely nothing about how much you can enjoy mountain biking and how skilled you are. Mountain biking is for everyone, no matter their gender, age, skill level, exercise level, etc.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think something that could really help would be to feature more women riders on YouTube channels. Most (almost all) of mountain biking videos are of males, but showing that women are involved and active and badass would probably inspire more women. And showing that it’s okay to mess up and not be the best would probably show that you don’t have to be a daredevil to pick up the sport. Also having “bring-a-friend” rides would probably be really helpful in getting more women out there. It’s intimidating to arrive at a ride by yourself, so if you go with a friend, then you’ll probably be more comfortable.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I am inspired to get everyone riding regardless if their male, female, young, old, black, white, whatever! I just want to see more people on the trails having fun. I want to help people overcome their fears and see their happiness at their successes. There’s no better joy on the trail than seeing someone clean something they were struggling with.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I rode with training wheels until I was around 10 years old when my cousins made fun of me and I finally rode without them.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Women on Bikes Series: Leah Barry

I'm Leah Barry and I love riding my bikes off-road! My love of dirt began as a little girl and was reignited as an adult when I discovered cyclocross racing in 2015. After trying triathlon but discovering I really only liked the biking part, I competed in Afterglow, a late-season, casual, cyclocross race. I raced on my single-speed commuter, with a slick back tire, and despite wiping out in the mud (or because of it?) I fell in love. I love racing the Chicago Cyclocross Cup each fall, and competing in various gravel races such as Barry Roubaix and Rough Road 100, but had wanted a mountain bike for as long as I'd been riding. I decided this year would be the year I finally go for it, and ended up falling in love with the Jamis Dragonfly.

On June 8, 2019, I plan to put my mountain bike and body to the test at the Sancho 200 in Traverse City, Michigan, riding 200 miles of scenic terrain. Until then, I'll enjoy my Dragonfly racing short track at Big Marsh Bike Park, riding the pump track, and hitting whatever trails I can throughout the Midwest.

Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
I had a mountain bike as a kid and enjoyed the ability to ride on dirt and grass, but I think I really became interested in mountain biking as an adult once I had discovered cyclocross and long-distance gravel riding. In adventuring off-road with my cyclocross bike, I’ve occasionally encountered sections of trail that were too rough or technical to ride, but with a mountain bike I can easily monster-truck over every root, rock, or log in my way. The confidence gained through technical, off-road riding has helped me grow in so many ways, and being an FWD ambassador will help me share that with others!

Tell us about the world of CX and why it's so dang fun!

Cyclocross in Chicago is basically a big, all-day party with your friends. I fell in love with CX racing in 2015, and raced my first full season in 2016. The Chicago Cyclocross Cup (CCC) is one of the biggest CX race series in the Midwest, featuring courses that run the gambit from technical climbs & descents at Dan Ryan Woods, to beach-racing in December at Montrose - but the crowd is what makes cyclocross so fun! During races, it’s not uncommon to hear an especially creative heckle, or be handed a beer or treat (Pro-tip: Don’t take the giant marshmallow when you’re huffing and puffing on lap 4)

Tell us about your favorite CX event-

I think my favorite CX event was racing Bloomer CX last year in Rochester, Michigan. A technical course featuring MTB singletrack and a steep, muddy, double-runup on the side of the Velodrome, my parents and grandmother came to the race, even bringing a cowbell! Coming from the CCC, where the crowd-noise can be a big factor, racing a small event where the only cheers were from my family was something special, and coming home with podium cash is always a plus!

Tell us about Sancho 200 event you plan to do. What inspired you to choose that event?
I’m from Michigan, and just about every year since I was born my family has traveled “up-north” to the Leelanau Peninsula to vacation with family friends. The region is beautiful, and when I heard there was an ultra gravel event happening there, I knew I had to check it out. Despite being a small event (limited to 100 participants, only offering the 200 mile distance), the race organizers offer two aid stations and drop points - something that really encouraged me to check it out, as drop points are a chance to swap bottles, change to clean clothes, and take a mental reset. I’ve never ridden 200 miles at once before, and have been consulting friends who have done Kanza, online race reports, and other resources to figure out how best to prepare myself for the event. I have no clock-based goals for the race, my only goal is to SUPERMAN MY BIKE AT SANCHO 200 because why not slap another ridiculous goal on top of riding 200 miles? Truly, I just want to finish the event, hell or high water.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I ride clipped in on my CX bike, and flats on my MTB and commuter. I personally feel there is a time and a place for both, and appreciate the nuances and quirks that come with each. When I’m mountain biking, I appreciate being able to make fine adjustments in foot positioning that I get with flats; I also like playing with my MTB at the bike park and pump track, so it’s just easier to stomp onto a flat pedal and take off on the pump track vs. fuddling around with clipping in. I ride Raceface Chesters on my MTB and Crankbrothers Eggbeaters on my CX.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
In mountain biking? Not anything too challenging to overcome (yet) - however, I went down hard on my first group ride and that was pretty embarrassing. The group ride I showed up on ended up being mostly cat 1 & 2 women, really strong riders, and I’d only gotten my mountain bike about three days prior, showed up late, hadn’t adjusted my tire pressure, etc. We were cruising through a section of a few steep dips into gullies that are designed to help drain the trails, and are lined with flat rocks at the bottom to assist with that task - I ended up focusing too much on the tree at the edge of the gully, and gave it a big hug, landing on the rocks with my butt and praying the woman behind me was able to stop in time. I was a little embarrassed, I felt like I wasn’t up to the level to be on the ride yet and maybe was holding everyone up, but what I realized as the day went on is EVERYONE FALLS mountain biking and even if you don’t see them do it - they’ve done it a million times before; the most important thing is you get up and keep going! I finished the ride and felt really proud of myself, but was definitely sore the next day!
Photo Credit: Robert Clark
When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Cornering used to scare me so much! I’d scrub off so much speed I’d fall off in the corners and lose a lot of places, I was so scared of hurting myself (and my bike!) but one day, one of the mechanics at Bike Fix in Oak Park told me “Your bike is a tool! Use it like one!” and it helped change my perspective. Are my bikes expensive? Yeah, but a derailleur hanger is pretty cheap and it’s WAY MORE FUN to shred through corners than to timidly pull through them.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Manuals/getting my front end up are still a pickle for me. I developed a bad habit of using my clips to lift my rear on my CX bike, and have been working this summer to drop it, spending more time practicing popping my front end and bunny hops on my flat pedal bikes.

For folks who are nervous about giving mountain biking a shot, do you have any suggestions on how they can go about creating a positive experience?

Go slow and go with a group! A group ride is a great opportunity for beginners to not only have a guide to local trails (so you don’t have to worry about getting lost!) but also gives you a line to follow, and someone to cheer you on when you session that big log that’s challenging you!

What do you love about riding your bike?
What I love about riding my bike is first and foremost, riding my bike: the simple fact that I have an able body to do so is a gift I am always grateful for. The thing I love most about riding my bike offroad is technical, low-speed handling skills (ratcheting tight spots, off-camber riding, riding over obstacles, riding sand). As children, I feel like we have a ton of opportunities to feel that “I did it!” sensation when doing something tricky, but we do not get that as much as an adult - however low-speed handling skills give me that little boost, especially when I overcome something that was a major challenge for me before.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have three bikes I ride on a regular basis and one 1994 Trek Singletrack that is in need of restoration before being enjoyed. The bike I ride most is my daily commuter, a steel, single speed CX bike. It’s a Retrospec Amok that is covered in stickers, geared for cruising, and most enjoyed riding no hands down side streets. I’ve been bike commuting from Chicago to Oak Park for about 4 years now, and this bike has been my partner through all of them! My other CX bike is an aluminum Fuji Cross 1.3, a copper-colored beauty with a carbon fiber fork (printed inside with pineapples!) that has brought me so much joy and really opened up the world of off-road riding for me; I’ve taken this bike everywhere from gravel events, to CX races, to long road rides, and have loved every minute I’ve spent piloting it. The newest addition to my stable is my mountain bike, a Jamis Dragonfly Sport. I spent a lot of time shopping around, comparing different mountain bikes, and contemplating what my goals were before settling on this model. While I’ve completed events on my aluminum CX bike with 35c tires, I wanted something a bit more plush for a 200-mile day at Sancho 200. The ability to switch the playful 26” wheelset that came stock on the bike with a 27.5” wheelset gives me the option to roll a bit faster on such a long ride.
Photo Credit: Jennifer Aguilar

What inspired you to want to be involved with Fearless Women of Dirt?
I’ve read Josie’s blog since late 2016, when I started racing more seriously and noticing all the cool women hanging out together - I wanted that! I started reading whatever blogs I could about women’s cycling (Pretty Damned Fast, Saddle Sore Women, Josie Bike Life, to name a few). I was on a very small, coed team at that point and was having trouble making headway in meeting other rad women riding bikes, so in April 2017 I left that team with the explicit goal of getting more connected with the Chicago women’s cycling community. I began attending a variety of rides offered by shops and teams, with the Women’s Monthly “WOMO” ride being integral in helping me meet people who I’ve become friends with now! My confidence and circle of friends have grown tremendously, and I want to share that with other folks (especially those who are into off-road riding!).

What benefit do you see from establishing a women's mountain biking community in your area?
I definitely can’t take any credit for establishing a women’s mountain biking community in my area! We already have some AMAZING women leading educational clinics through REI, SkunkWorks Racing & Half Acre Cycling women leading Lady Dirt Days (a series of group MTB Rides for femme folks), and other teams have tons of women competing in races at the local and national level as well. However, I’d like to be able to help build on all the hard work they’ve done by facilitating and organizing group rides, particularly for beginners, that start late enough that people can rent bikes if they don’t have one, and incorporate some basic skills education before hitting the trails. Having a community of women encouraging one another and doing tough stuff together is the best way to build confidence and friendship!

Why are you excited to be a Fearless Women of Dirt Ambassador?
I’m excited to be able to facilitate women exploring on bikes in a new way! I’ve been leading our BFF Beginner Ride this summer, showing new group-riders around the city of Chicago, and I look forward to being able to do so when it comes to hitting the pump track or the trails. Like I’ve said a zillion times already, I think the confidence and perseverance that comes with riding off-road is something that can change anyone’s life for the better!

You are on Team BFF- tell us about the team and the camaraderie you have-
Wow, where do I start? I LOVE MY TEAM, I LOVE BFF BIKES! When I first started racing in 2016 for a different team, I was encouraged to “chase the BFF girls because they’re strong”, and so I did - setting the target and beating some of the same people every race. When I left that team, I began looking for group rides near me, and the BFF Bikes shop was just down the street! I joined the Hammertime Sunday training rides and suffered every week, but got stronger and got to know the women I’d been trying to beat just a few months prior. Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! After racing “indie” (no team) for 2017, but spending almost every week of the CCC hanging at the BFF tent, I decided to make it official and join up. Joining BFF has been one of the best decisions I’ve made, the team is composed of some of the most badass, self-motivated women I’ve ever met, and they constantly inspire me to push harder and go farther.

Recently, I brought to the team my desire to fill a gap I’d observed in Chicago - the lack of a CX practice for women/trans/non-binary folks exclusively. The resounding support I received excited me, and we host practices every Saturday morning (BFF WTFNBCX), giving folks a space to practice and improve their skills without the nit-picks that have become one of my biggest peeves of being around Men Who Race Bikes (what pressure are you running? Are those clinchers? Isn’t that aluminum a harsh ride? Are those stock wheels?). Each week, we work together to fine tune skills ranging from remounts & dismounts, to high & low-speed cornering, off cambers, starts, and hill work, on up to the fundamentals of bunny hopping; at the end of practice, we engage in a peanut pursuit, or hot laps race (depending on what we’re working on that week) with the winner taking home a lobster-shaped cake.
Were you nervous to join a team/group? What helped you alleviate those fears?
A little, but the benefits outweighed the nerves! I wanted to make absolutely sure that the team I chose was going to hit all the pros and cons I’d laid out after leaving the first team I was on. I wanted a team with a large presence of women, especially at cyclocross races, that was friendly, welcoming, and felt open to new members. I spent a lot of time riding with and getting to know other women from other teams and waited until nearly the end of the 2017 cyclocross season to make my final decision.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking? (or CX?)
The cost is a huge, HUGE, barrier to so many people - including myself. Bikes are expensive, even a “cheap” bike is going to be an expense in the long run. Is it cheaper than a car? Of course! But particularly for a bike that has little day-to-day utility, such as a mountain bike, it can take a long time and a lot of figuring out what you enjoy before you’re ready to drop the money on a bike you may only ride 3-5 times a month. I waited years before I was able to justify the cost and the space taken up in my apartment, and I am so glad I have a mountain bike now, but truly I think this is the biggest barrier to women - not just mountain biking, but cycling as well.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Part of BFF Bikes Racing Team’s ethos is to “be an excellent ambassador to the sport of cycling”, which boils down to being a friendly, welcoming face to all sorts of cyclists. I make an effort to approach new racers I may not have seen last year, and invite them to hang out at our team tent at races, or come to our practice. I try and be the person I would’ve wanted to meet when I first started racing, a welcome wagon to the wide world of the wonderful Chicago women’s cycling community. I feel that’s the best thing I can do locally. Nationally, I think there needs to be more access to women’s mountain bike rides and clinics. It’s more accessible and friendly than riding with a bunch of dudes, and a great way to make friends!

Tell us what Fearless means to you-
What does fearless mean to me? As someone who has struggled with anxiety, and, in the past, let it completely dictate my life - I define fearless as “feeling the fear, but doing it anyway”. I refuse to allow my life to be ruled by past traumas and hurts warping my perception of the current experience. Acknowledging that the anxiety I may be feeling is colored by past experiences has allowed me to enrich my life in wonderful new ways - I connected with some amazing folks in the Chicago women’s cycling community and found a great team and support system, I’ve hit skills and ridden lines I would’ve been terrified of just a couple of years ago, I’ve gained the confidence and beat down “imposter syndrome” to do something I’ve wanted to do for years - get more women into cyclocross. So, yeah, I don’t think fearless to me is about being “fearless” as in free from fear, it means you take a moment to acknowledge it and say “fear and anxiety, you’re not making the decision, I am!”

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
The people who’ve encouraged me to ride! I wouldn’t have gotten into bike commuting without the encouragement and support I’ve received from my partner, Frank. After my first crash, I was hit and run pretty severely, requiring major dental work and a new fork for my bike (that I’d only gotten a few months prior), he found me a fork, installed it, and encouraged me to keep riding. He woke up at 4:30am to watch me race my first (and only) triathlon in the rain, suggested I try cyclocross, helped make me the bike handler I am today and has been one of my greatest supporters since I was just a baby biker in the city. Not everyone has that, so I try and be that person for the women I know by being a steady wheel to follow, a wrench when you need it, and a competent and patient teacher of what I know (and unashamed to direct to youtube when I do not).
Photo Credit: Joe Frost

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have a lively sourdough starter that I’ve kept for almost three years, and I bake at least one loaf of bread on a weekly basis. Baking bread began as a form of self-care through a particularly difficult winter and has become a special ritual for me.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Women Involved Series: Lora Glasel

My journey started 8 years ago. I sustained many injuries as an endurance runner and my friend told me to check out road riding as a way to satisfy my need to participate in an endurance sport but to also keep me from continually fracturing bones :-)

My first experience trying to be involved in this world was lacking. I bought a road bike from a local shop because it was the only one they had at the level I wanted in my size. I borrowed a friend from a helmet and hit the road completely un-educated.

I spent the next weekend driving around to all the local shops gathering the accessories I needed to be successful and getting little bits of information.

Often times the shops directed their conversations to the male I was with.

I went on a women's specific group ride and no one told me what to do and I ended up getting dropped on a no-drop ride because the majority of the women were training for a race. The first few weeks of my attempt to be a road cyclist were discouraging.

I spent the majority of my life in a director-level position for a chain of regional retail stores. The opportunity for me to purchase an existing bicycle shop with my close friend was presented to us and we decided to go for it. A large part of our business plan included supporting local women. Making sure they have products they can touch and try. Making sure they have people who will find out what their hopes and dreams are and get them the gear they need to be successful. Making sure we cultivated or sought out opportunities for them to participate in this sport regardless of what their goals are.

I am mostly a road cyclist but love mountain biking when I can. I do not race but I love to ride with my friends who are training. I love being able to help people get to the level they want to be at - seeing women succeed at something they never thought that could do is always what I strive for.

We started a women's winter series to make sure these amazing women stay connected with each other and continue to cultivate themselves. We are in our 4th year of the Women's Empower Series. We partner with local professionals to present topics such as:
Whoo-Haa for the New-Haa (all things saddle and pelvic floor)
Mindfulness Coaching with Training
Pain Diversion Techniques for Competition
Round-Table Discussions
and much more

Your introduction to #bikelife was not the smoothest, why did this inspire you to create an environment that could better introduce women to cycling? 
When I started cycling my initial goal was to find something to stay in shape (former distance runner with many foot injuries) but I soon realized that there was this community around the sport I wanted to be a part of. I didn't have the initial resources of someone like minded to help me succeed, explain the gear I needed, teach me how to shift, ride in a group, ride over a root, etc. I wanted to help create an environment where those resources where also available to women, and then cultivate a supportive group around that.

What helped you not feel deterred by the lack of support or encouragement when you first became involved? 
Honestly, I'm pretty stubborn. When someone tells me I can't do something or if there is something I can't figure out I am pretty determined to get the job done with whatever resources I can find. I read books, watched online tutorials, I made a ton of mistakes and learned from them. I knew that I loved being on my bicycle even when I had no clue what I was doing, it could only be better after I mastered some basic skills!

Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!" 
Funny story, the first time I ever rode single track I was on a bike where the suspension wasn't set up properly for me. I bottomed it out on the top of a descent, my foot hit a stump, and I went sailing down a descent too fast for a total beginner and slammed into a tree and broke my wrist. It was another situation where I was determined once I was healed to work hard to do something that scared me or seemed hard. I rode every chance I could and took every piece of advice. Above all, I really love being outside pushing my limits and I wasn't going to let another injury stop me.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I use Crankbrothers Candys. I put them on my first bike and I've used them ever since. There is enough platform that when I was a beginner you could pedal and work your way into the cleat and they were easy to unclip. Whenever I'm attending a skills clinic or working on a new skill I'll sometimes use flats.
Have you had any biffs (accidents) that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome? 
That accident the first time I rode made me very nervous afterward, especially descending. I spent a lot of my rides that next year feeling anxious. I forced myself to trust my bike and use a little speed and over time I become more comfortable descending.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
The best advice I was given was to look ahead on the trail. Initially, I was always looking down at what I was about to go over and by that point, there was nothing I could technically about what was 1 inch in front of me - I crashed all the time at slow speeds :-)

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
This year I've been riding mostly on the road. Both for road and mountain I wish I was better at cornering. I lose a lot of speed in corners because I don't trust I can lay the bike down as much as the bike will let me. I don't race mountain bikes, so I try to just enjoy the time I'm on the trail and focus on technique at times and others I just ride my bike and enjoy being in the woods. Sometimes when I take my mind off of what I'm working on and not overthink it, it just happens naturally.

For folks who are nervous about giving mountain biking a shot, do you have any suggestions on how they can go about creating a positive experience?
Ride with someone supportive and who knows what they are doing and wants to help you out. I spent a lot of time making mistakes and trying to learn skills on my own. Once I started riding with someone who gave me little tips and told me what to do, I became a much better rider much more quickly. And it's always more fun to have a beer and a meal with someone after a good ride in the woods!

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love the feeling of freedom and moving fast on a bike. There's nothing like the feeling of flying down a country road with no stop signs with your best cycling friends. I love the feeling of being in the woods, working hard to get over a feature or get thru a hard section of single track with your mind on nothing else.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I've been on an S-Works Amira/Tarmac for the past 7 years. I love the feeling of that bike - it's stiff but comfortable and seems to fit me like a glove. It's responsive, fast, and a great climber. I just sold my last mountain bike - A Specialized Epic Full Suspension. I've always been a 29er girl, but I'm going to dip into the world of 650b with a Giant/Liv Intrigue for 2019.
What inspired you go the route of purchasing a bike shop with your friend?
It was time to make a career move. There wasn't much upward movement I could make at my current job or in that industry. We really felt that we could make a difference and a great experience for riders in our community if we could open or purchase a bike shop. The Recyclist had been in our community for 20 years and had a great reputation, great brands, and was right on a bike path. Timing really was in our favor and the owner was strictly an investor and wanted to sell. We have now been here for 5 years.

What has been the most challenging aspect of co-owning a bike shop?
I love being on a bicycle and sometimes being a bicycle shop owner or employee means riding your bike very early in the morning or after work when you're tired, so planning balance is important. At times being a female in this industry is difficult and other times its very rewarding. I've been "man-splained" things, spoken to like I am clueless and also treated non-respectfully verbally and physically. Those moments are very few and far between, but it is not something that I expected to run into in an industry that is a little more progressive and fresh.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of co-owning a bike shop?
I have met some of the most amazing people that have absolutely changed my life. The women I ride with have some pretty amazing stories of overcoming obstacles (often times cycling was their therapy). They are strong, determined, and nurturing and I have learned a lot from them. Recently I had a customer, unbeknownst to me, and undergone a tremendous tragedy that was all over our local and national news. I was having the absolute worst day for a variety of reasons the day she came in and was throwing myself a little internal pity party. She bought a bike because she wanted to get into shape. Many weeks later I learned about what she had experienced and that she had purchased the bike, ridden it daily and eventually rode to the area where multiple family members lost their lives as part of her healing journey. This really had a tremendous impact on me and the importance of not taking things so seriously and being able to help people enjoy being on their bicycle is very rewarding, and sometimes it's a bigger tool in peoples lives than you expect. Being able to help people no matter what their story is is rewarding, but if you can contribute a little bit of joy into someone's life thru a bicycle, that's pretty amazing.

Why was it vital that the shop support local women?
I think it's important for the community to have a safe place for women to learn about this sport and support them at whatever level they chose to participate. In my community there is no lack of female cyclists, it's great! Having a place that has the products we need for our bodies, the customer service we need to help figure out what we need to meet our goals with no judgment and the resources to be involved in the cycling community is important if we want to keep women on their bicycles.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
It's intimidating to walk into a shop if you don't totally know what you need or want. It's expensive to get started and not all women feel like they deserve to spend money on themselves for something that is not deemed a necessity to the rest of the world. If you want to race it's difficult for some women to justify time away from their families and they don't have the resources to get involved. If you don't want to race it can be embarrassing to talk to a shop full of fit/racer type employees. From the outside, cycling seems very intimidating. Once you're inside you realize it really is a supportive community.

Tell us more about your Women's Empower Series! Who should join? 
The Empower Series is a winter-long women specific series to keep women engaged in their wellness after the weather turns not-so-nice. We have a monthly session where we cover cycling specific topics such as "Whoo-Ha for the New-Haw: A Girls Guide to the Saddle and Everything That Touches It". We also cover non-cycling topics such as mindfulness coaching, pain diversion technique for racing, nutrition, and goal setting. We have interactive classes such as yoga, pelvic floor exercises, Tri 101, and spin class. It's a great way to stay connected with your cycling friends and do something to improve yourself and surround yourself with like-minded people.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved? 
More women working in this industry: mechanics, sales associates, product developers, marketing associates, etc. More training on how to work with all types of customers and to read their signs and figure out how to help them appropriately. For the beginner cyclist, I think it's important to have someone relatable the first time you really dive into this world guide you.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride? 
There is not a better feeling than riding with a group of women who support and encourage each other. The women I ride with inspire me to ride...the community, working together, socializing afterward, it doesn't get better than that.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I love, love, love cheese-ball Hallmark Movies.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

What Mountain Biking Helped Me Learn

The process of learning to mountain bike has gifted me several life lessons along the way. I feel extremely fortunate to have been given the push and encouragement to learn how to mountain bike. It was challenging and pushed me outside of my comfort zone, yet has given me the tools I need to be a better version of myself.

1. To better accept challenges
Let's face it, mountain biking did not come easily to me and it took a lot of repetition for me to gain confidence riding singletrack. Living in Iowa, I can say I learned on challenging, man-made singletrack that definitely intimidates some riders.

I had to accept that these trails were what I had to learn on and to make the most of it, even if it scared me sometimes. Because I was persistent, I managed to build up my skill level pretty quickly. I became more confident in myself and my ability to "read" trails. Sometimes I need to stop and look at what I'm going to attempt to ride, assess it, and then ride it.

Fearless Women of Dirt is a great example of an ongoing challenge that I've taken steps to morph into something awesome for the Midwest. Locally, we do not have an ideal setup to get new riders into the fold without asking them to be extremely patient with themselves and the learning curve. However, Fearless Women of Dirt has had great success in other communities that have more trail options for new riders than we do. This gives me hope that once Decorah has a new trail system- we will have the opportunity for the same kind of success. Until then, I'm not necessarily expanding the local FWD riding community- I've started expanding FWD into other communities.

Going through the process of dealing with my dad's estate is another example. You have to make difficult phone calls. It's a struggle when you call a company and you have to state you have no idea what the process is, but your dad died and you are the executor. Trying to understand the process, in general, is challenging. Eventually, things become a bit easier as paperwork gets filed. You know that in time, it's an uphill that you'll eventually ride and you won't be walking the bike. It takes time and patience.

2. To enjoy the moment
Winding through the trees, climbing up a hill, or standing off to the side of the trail to watch a deer. Sometimes I'm riding, sometimes I'm taking pictures of wildflowers, or I might be looking up at the sky admiring the puffy clouds against the bright blue color. Either way, I'm doing something I enjoy- I might be enjoying it however I want to that particular day.

This year, my desire to ride was minimized because of my loss. I didn't have the same passion for being outdoors because it made me feel sad. The outdoors was my dad's favorite place to be, and even tho it was a way for me to be close to him- I had a hard time doing so. Depression can do that.
What helped me was getting a GoPro camera, and that gave me a "reason" to go outside. I had something to "do" besides ride my bike and feel like crying. Sometimes I did feel like "just riding my bike" so I would. I left the house prepared so I could do whatever it was I wanted, ride bikes, take photos, or both.

3. To be adventurous
Once I became confident riding our trails, I wanted to seek out other areas to ride. We have great trails but it can become a little monotonous riding the same ones over and over again. Mountain biking itself takes a sense of adventure to really dive into it. You have to want to experience something new, even if it scares you.

The courage I gained from mountain biking on the local trails helped me make decisions for adventures. I went by myself up to Hayward, Wisconsin and in 2019 I'm going to take a trip to Arizona and attend the Roam Bike Fest in Sedona. I'm really excited to experience new trails, meet new friends, and let myself have a sense of adventure.

I'm nervous, of course, as I'm not one who really travels much nor have I flown solo. However, I know if I have questions I'll find people who can help. All I need to do is allow myself to have the opportunity- in the end, it will help me grow and feel more confident in other areas of my life.

Had I not fallen in love with mountain biking I know I would not be looking for adventures.

4. To have a voice
I loved writing, but I didn't have a direction, and my journey with mountain biking gave me something to talk about. There was a journey to unveil and I could use my words to make the experience less mysterious. I also utilized my passion for mountain biking to seek out others who loved it, too. There have been so many wonderful interviews shared over the years, and if I'm lucky, I can keep them coming.

I feel telling a story is important and mountain biking gave me a platform to work with. My humble wish is that either with my words or the words of those interviewed can inspire others to find #bikelife.

5. To be patient
In the Midwest, we can have variable trail conditions based on the time of year. There are a couple of times during the year when trail conditions aren't great and you have to adapt to the changing of the season. Winters have changed and can lend to icy conditions rather than snow in some instances. I miss the outdoors and my riding outside is limited to commuting to work rather than on trails. I take to riding indoors, and this year, I'm working on rehabbing my shoulder. It's a process that will require a lot of patience as I've dealt with shoulder issues for multiple years. I ride indoors and catch up on shows, appreciating how I can make my legs feel like jelly after 10 miles. I feel like I've noticed a difference already with my riding. My hope is to regain lost fitness from 2018 and bring back my best self for 2019. More so I can feel healthy and vibrant and really enjoy my time on the trails.

6. To be passionate
When I discover something I'm passionate about, I tend to go "all in" and immerse myself. I want to know everything there is to know about what I am getting into. This can seem a bit extreme because you ultimately find way too many things to purchase to help fuel the fire. I am a firm believer that if you live within your means, why not?

My passion for riding exists because I enjoy the challenge, but I also enjoy the other aspects that go into mountain biking. Trying different things, like gear and accessories to figure out my preferences.  Bikes, tire sizes, tire tread, baggy shorts vs. lycra shorts, hydration pack vs. water bottle.
It's interesting to look at my evolution from when I started mountain biking to the present-day Josie.
This has possibly led me to collect multiple mountain bikes. I look at it like my dad's gun collection. To someone not educated with guns, you could say that they all had the ability to do the same thing- shoot. Why would you need different ones? My dad had multiple different guns in multiple styles because he could. They made him happy. With a couple of my bikes, you could ask me why I need multiple, and my answer would be "Because I can. They make me happy."

7. To be expressive
I look at my bikes as tho they are art, and also as if they have human personalities. To me, they are more than a bike. They are a tool to help me through life. They give me something that resets my mind/soul, they keep me healthy, and they keep me happy. They are loved as tho they are family.
Biking clothes are also a way for me to express what I feel my personality truly is- colorful and vibrant. Fun and likely a little obnoxious. I snort when I laugh (really laugh) and I sometimes talk way too much. I love unicorns, mermaids, narwhals, and manatees. In my world, a shared interest in mountain biking, pizza, beer, coffee, and sparkles makes us the best of friends.

I spent much of my life hiding from my quirks and doing what I could to make sure I didn't seem "too weird" to other folks. During the workday, I keep my appearance simple and approachable, but on the bike for an actual bike ride? I'll blow myself up with as much color as I want. Bright helmet, jersey, shorts, and/or socks...whatever I want. I'll also utilize the opportunity to put together a smashing outfit- like wearing a kit (shorts/jersey that match) or wear something that matches my bike.

In my school days, as much as I tried, I was not "fashionable" even tho I wanted to be. In real life, not bike life, I am truly a jeans/t-shirt/zip-up hoodie person who loves to wear fun socks in secret. In #bikelife I let out my inner diva, if you will. Yes, I'll be that person who matches their wind jacket to the glittery rim strips of their fatbike wheel. I'll wear a helmet that matches my race bike. I'll wear socks that match my jersey. I seriously love putting together my biking outfits!

I feel more confident and comfortable with myself when I'm on my bike, it's something that's given me a way to shine.

8. To better accept imperfections
When you start the mountain biking journey, you will find yourself feeling very humble. There is a large learning curve and it can feel a bit daunting at times. You'll fumble. You'll tip over. You'll realize that you may be able to ride something one day and the next day you're struggling. It takes time to figure out the bike/body relationship you need to have to make certain things work.
Sometimes you'll feel back to square one when you hop on a new bike. I look at each bike of mine as a partner, and you develop a relationship with that bike. You know what you need to do on that bike to get the desired result. A new bike can throw a curveball you aren't expecting (unless you're one of those folks who can hop on any bike and ride it like you've owned it for years.)

There will be perfect riding days and then other times you'll find that you're battling with extremely dry trails (which can be challenging) or slick trails due to humidity or rain (which can be challenging.) Unless you are ride only when you'll have "hero dirt" you'll have to accept that there will be trail conditions that aren't your favorite, but they aren't impossible to ride. In fact, learning to ride in less than ideal conditions will help your handling skills.

A good mountain biker is not made in a day. It, like any new activity that requires skill developing, takes hours of practice. You have to make the choice to keep working at it and know that you won't have cinematic riding days every time you go out. I still have off days where I'll do something completely stupid! (Like miss my footing when trying to stop by a log to check something out, subsequently falling down on said log, hard, leaving me with a lump on my leg that will probably stick around for 5 months.)

What's true for me is that even if I have a really wonky ride, it's better than not having a ride at all.

9. To appreciate my body
I have struggled with body-love for years. I've had an eating disorder and I know full well that I do not see myself like others would see me. It's something that I'm aware of and if I'm falling into a cycle of not appreciating my body- I can see it and tell myself that I need a break from "me."

I've always known I had legs built to be strong, and cycling helped them become quite solid. My forearms are trim, and I like how they flex when I'm using them to help me get up a hill.
My lungs have become healthier since I've added biking to my life, and that makes me feel a lot better about my overall endurance and fitness.

I have spider veins on my thighs and stretch marks on my lower back and thighs. I don't think about those at all when I'm riding. When I'm riding, I'm appreciating how strong and capable my body feels. It's really amazing to think of everything that goes into keeping a bike upright when you're riding in the woods!

Biking has also brought out my weakness- at times my chronic neck/shoulder discomfort can be triggered and it can be physically and mentally exhausting. I love mountain biking so much that I'm willing to go through the scary and time-consuming process to figure out what's going on and how to better my situation.

10. To be involved 
Biking is good for the environment, good for your health, and can increase confidence in adults and youth alike. I found the emotional and mental benefits of cycling to be powerful and I wanted to make it a mission to share that with other people. I also wanted to create connections and community between women riders and those working in the cycling industry.

Ultimately, I became more involved in my local community and wanted to help other communities find a way to bring women together and bond over mountain biking.

Mountain biking is more than simply riding your bike in the woods- it creates wonder and gives you valuable lessons that transfer over to other parts of life.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Year of Lessons, Hope, and Change

2018 is coming to a close and I feel like my soul is letting out a sigh. It's not an expression of relief more than a release of emotion. I feel it will be some time before I can say I feel relieved of what 2018 gave me.

This year changed me deeply, more than any other year to date. The loss I experienced shook me to my core, and I'm far from over it. My dad's passing shocked me on multiple levels; I was forced to grow and learn during a difficult time. When I would rather hide and avoid, I had to make my presence known. I had to make difficult phone calls and decisions. I seemed to travel into the unknown almost daily, and that exhausted me. Mentally. Emotionally. Physically.

My dad left me everything. Every. Thing. Needless to say, there was a lot of "everything." It was completely overwhelming. He did what he could to provide for me financially, and that pained me. What should be seen as a cushion for the unexpected and a gift of financial security, felt like it crushed my heart. I saw the numbers and cried; the feeling of resentment took over for a short while. No dollar amount could soften the loss and seeing it filled me with disdain.

I had to spend a lot of time down at his place, which made me uncomfortable. I recall being in his house 2 times as a young kid. I remember spending time in the workshop with him. I would say "I'm a carpenter!" as I made holes in a block of wood with an old hand drill.

I remember going into the barn with him, in awe over all of the neat things in there. His home brought me a sense of wonder as a youth until it became something he sought to hide.

I remember walking in the woods and looking over at my dad's property. He'd be home taking a nap, and all I wanted to do was poke around and see what I could see. For some reason, I never violated the unspoken contract of my dad's wish for me not to. I think I was afraid he would get mad at me. Even if we didn't have the best relationship during my older youth/teens, I could not stand the thought of my dad being mad at me.

In the end, my goal was simple: Leave the place better than it was and make the improvements that Dad wasn't able to do. Improvements were made, but it didn't come without complication. At least the finances were there to cover everything. Not everyone can say they got to spend $16,000 on a new septic system, am I right?

In 2018 I learned a valuable lesson in how to say "no."
I removed everything from my plate pertaining to ride commitments. It pained me to do so, but I didn't have a clue with what the year would bring in terms of personal time. With the blank slate, I came to the realization that I have a wonderful capacity of burning my candle at both ends.

I have a tendency to dream big and sometimes that can lead to burnout.

My riding halted. Instead, I spent Tuesdays and Sundays breathing in years of dust and grime. My lungs would burn, I'd blow dirt-filled snot out of my nose, and the next day I would feel like I was run over by a train. It's amazing how awful I would feel the day after cleaning my dad's house, workshop, or barn. On top of that, I would sometimes trigger nerve pain that would radiate down both of my arms.
On a scale of 1-10, it was a 12. Sleepless nights ensued.

I knew I would go into two biking events at my lowest point when it came to fitness. I didn't care. I just wanted to escape! I knew I would push my limits, feel exhausted, and tears would fall. I would also smile because I knew my dad was happy I was doing something I loved. It (sometimes) felt wrong to enjoy life, but I knew that it's what my dad would've wanted.

I kept myself open to taking chances, and with that, found myself accepted as a Specialized USA Ambassador. I feel so excited about the opportunity to work with a company that has been doing awesome things for cycling. They align with my personal values and desire to get more youth and women involved with cycling.

I took the time to make some changes and (hopeful) improvements to the Fearless Women of Dirt ride set up. These changes will allow for a better structure for rides and open me up more for scheduled rides for those new to mountain biking. I would love to have lofty goals and have lots of rides, but I also have to stay true to my personal goals and allow myself time to be "me" after a year of not.

I also made a goal that 2019 would be the year of adventure and committed for myself to going to Roam Bike Fest in November 2019.
I'm on the introverted side, and the thought of flying by myself makes me really nervous. Seriously. The thought of riding somewhere I've never been before and meeting women I've interviewed (or could interview!) sounded too fun to miss. I figured if I planned enough in advance, I could make enough preparations ahead of time that would allow me to do this trip with as little anxiety as possible. I know I'll still have some, but if I can limit it, then I'll be a better human in the long run for this.

Make it to Arizona on my own and make it back on my own? Oh, the confidence it would create! Not that I would go on trips far away often, but I would at least prove to myself that it is doable. I would fear less and find more to be possible. I spent so much of 2018 with stress and fear clouding my world. It's time to put my own spin on things, to find what I'm capable of. Let that small, adventurous part of myself out and enjoy life.

I also started the incredibly challenging journey of trying to figure out what is going on with my arm/shoulder. The doctor visit resulted in a hopeful diagnosis, and also the recommendation of starting physical therapy. The physical therapist ultimately took away the tentative diagnosis and said I'm "complex." I'll be honest and admit I'm nervous...this has been part of my life for so long. I'm exhausted in more ways than one, and there would be no better wish than to figure out how I can be free of the discomfort that has plagued me for years.

This year has been filled with lessons. I've had to learn to adjust, overcome, face, cope, persevere, and mourn. I have had to figure out my own path on the grief journey- it's not the same for everyone. Connecting with a few women who had similar, but different stories really helped. You feel less alone.

I have this life to live and to make the most of. If anything, I learned how quickly things can change. That can be a very scary realization, especially when you're almost mid-30. My dad was doing something he's done probably a hundred times or more. Circumstance did not play out as he thought it would; something like that can happen to anyone. There was a lot of life yet to live, and it didn't get to happen.

For a period of time, I became very afraid of my mortality. I would lie in bed, trying to fall asleep, only to feel panic over thinking about not waking up again. What happens when it's really it? Have I done enough in my life to feel like I've made a difference? Have I done enough to feel happy when it's all said and done? I worried over my dad's last moments- did he have fear? Was there the slightest hint that he was heading into an "Oh sh*t" moment? Did he ever fear death? Eventually, I was able to quiet those thoughts from being so loud.

My dad didn't get to retire. The last few years of my dad's life were filled with pain, exhaustion/fatigue, and quite a bit of illness. It's not to say my dad didn't find happy moments, because I'm pretty sure he did. I could tell there was a sense of tiredness.

When I'm to that point in life, I want to be able to think fondly over what I've done. All of my biking adventures and the lives I touched with my words and interviews. I don't want to sit on the couch and think about all of the "what ifs" and experiences I skipped because of fear. Frankly, I'm sick and tired of that feeling right now.

2019 will have better experiences than this year. I'm very focused on making changes to better my outlook on life. I'm really excited for my new adventures. I feel like Dad is going to be with me, encouraging me to take steps to experience new things. To be brave. To be fearless.

I'm going to find myself in 2019.