Women on Bikes Series: Paula Brown

It's fantastic to find other women who are involved with cycling and blogging-all of us help spread the stories and experiences that can help inspire other women to ride!

In fact, Paula had read a blog post of mine that reminded her of her own experience-which is how we connected. A story really can bring people together.

What inspired you to start blogging about your bike riding adventures?
When the Red Dirt Divas get together for a ride (or even when I ride solo), there always seemed to be something I wanted to say or talk about afterward, things I didn’t have time to say during or after our ride or that popped into my head at that very moment and didn’t think about again until I was home.

When I started riding on a regular basis, my mind and heart just seemed to OPEN up, I wanted to do more for myself and others, see more, talk more, say more.  
And people were taking so many great photos and I loved taking pics too – I just felt so inspired to start a blog!    

At first, I started thinking my Red Dirt Divas page would become the Red Dirt Divas web page, then some of my friends encouraged me to start a blog to talk about not only the group, but my own journey, my own struggles and successes and how much cycling has changed my life for the better. 

I’m still not convinced people read blogs often, their lives are too busy, but I figured why not try?!  Plus, I’ve always kept journals or diaries in my life (a homemade diary I made starting at age 7, I still have it).  I could see my blog as a type of journal that may inspire others in some way?  It might inspire women or empower them to know that it’s ok to get out there and make mistakes, and to fall even.  And it’s ok to fail, that’s how we learn.   

What have been some interesting things that have happened since you started blogging?
The blog is only two months old I think?  One of the most interesting things that happened, I read a blog by Josie on Women for Bikes, and one of her posts reminded me of mine about setting goals.  Other than when I ran 5ks, which I haven’t done in many, many years, I was actually setting cycling goals and sticking to them! So I wrote Josie, and was happy when she responded. I have already told some of the cycling community here about her.
(We hope she will visit!)      

The other thing that happened, which I believe is more about biking and community than about blogging:   as I mentioned above, it seems words and feelings just pour out of me. I feel more open and loving, which I believe is a result of my bike riding and the loving cycling community I’ve become involved with. All of this seems to be feeding me in some way… maybe feeding my soul as corny as that might sound; these things seem to be opening up lots of new opportunities for me and maybe even a whole new perspective on the world.      

When did you first start riding a bike?
I don’t remember my exact age – maybe 8?  I remember being young and free and FLYING down the hill where we lived, loving that feeling of flying (I felt similar when I rode a horse really fast). I didn’t seem too concerned about crashing my bike then, and I don’t seem too concerned about it now. Later, I recall being a teenager and having a major crush on a guy who lived about a mile or so away. I would ride down the gravel road when I thought he would be returning from work, just so I could see and talk to him. I remember still… he drove a red pick-up truck. I really looked forward to him rolling down his window to say hello. Even though we didn’t talk for very long, I always thought he would eventually ask me out. He did not.
(Oh, and I didn’t wear a helmet then, but you won’t catch me today without one.  I remember my hair was long and flowing, and now it is cute and sassy!)   

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
I can’t speak to exact motivations as a kid.  Maybe I wanted to ride away from whatever chaos was at home, I also hiked a lot then. I think it was for adventure?  Escape?  Freedom? I imagined a lot …  like I would find things in the creek bed, or find an arrowhead or lots of money; I remember finding pieces of old dinner plates from an old home foundation, the house itself was long gone (I still have some of those plate pieces in my “treasure” box). As an adult, some of those same motivations repeat today. I ride for adventure, escaping responsibility (who knew being an adult would be so hard???), feeling the freedom of the wind on my face, and when I’m riding, I feel like I can conquer the world.  

Have you competed in events? If so, what were your reasons for competing?
I wouldn’t say competing with others in events – but again, I am fairly new at riding as an adult.  I ride more for myself, the camaraderie experienced in group rides, and I like riding solo too. My reasons are above, plus I like the feeling of independence and the ability to see beautiful landscapes on my rides. I really soak in the scenery and love what I see. 
When I’m riding, I like to compete with myself for my fastest downhill speed (they call me “Downhill Diva” for a reason!), or trying to increase my endurance. I’ve ridden in two 40-mile organized rides, and started my first Metric Century (a 62-mile ride) when I broke my ankle (currently in recovery).

What would be your favorite competitive biking event?
Tulsa Tough 40-mile Gran Fondo, Tulsa, Oklahoma, but again, I haven’t competed in many yet. I felt like I was really doing well in that ride, a great pace, and I had trained well for it (until the last 5-8 miles were all hills, now THAT was really hard!  But I loved it).  

What kind of riding is your favorite? (paved, gravel, mountain, etc.)
So far, I’ve ridden mostly on paved roads (just a little on gravel so don’t know enough about that yet, but have a feeling I will love it too). 

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride? (If not a mountain biker, how about first commuter ride, paved trail ride, gravel, etc.)
Nervous – (road bike).  Inadequate (mountain bike); I couldn’t keep up with others or barely even ride solo 10 or 12 miles to the lake and back.  Maybe it was because I had gained a lot of weight, maybe it was riding a mountain bike on the paved roads, it all seemed too hard!  But I kept trying and riding.  So when I bought my first road bike, I thought, this is it! 
This is the answer to ALL my riding problems. I should be able to keep up now with others, right?  Nope. I still had some work to do. After a few attempts riding with a group of girls and still not having much success on my road bike – or at least, I was too hard on myself to recognize my successes but am sure I was having them – I decided I needed to become “one” with my bike, alone. So I got to know my new road bike, one-on-one to the lake and back, learning the gears and how the bike fit me, then I started riding with one other girl who was much more of an expert than me and she taught me a lot. Only then did I feel triumphant and confident enough to really ride my bike, and to keep riding, and riding, and riding to this day.
If you had nervousness at all, what do you do or think to overcome it?
I realized the nervousness was mainly all head trash or talking to myself negatively. And the fear from not wanting to fall, which for some reason seemed stronger than the fear of getting hit by a car, though I realize that’s a possibility too. Once I fell, I realized it’s not so bad, so I got back on to ride again and again. I realized I would RATHER ride and fall than not to have ridden at all (sound like a familiar quote to you?).  Riding makes me happy! That’s the bottom line. That happiness FAR outweighs any fear for me. 

Do you use clipless pedals? If yes, what are some tips/suggestions for beginners that you would share? If no, are you thinking of trying it out at all?
Yes, and I love them! I never dreamed I would be wearing padded spandex shorts and shoes that have clips on them, but I do.  This past winter, a friend loaned me a trainer so I could ride indoors, and that’s when I started practicing clipping in. Clip in, clip out, clip in, clip out.  Just kept moving my heel in and out of the clip and it seemed pretty easy! I kept doing that until one beautiful day, the sun was shining, and I decided it was time to ride OUTSIDE! So I clipped in to the pedal while riding with a friend and told her “I’m clipping in for the first time so it may be a little rocky for me.”  She said there was no rush, and the ride was successful, no falls! I continued to clip in and rode for about 3 months or so before my first fall.

(Like many others, the fall occurred while just standing still on my bike; we laugh about it now!  When you think about it, you really don’t fall very far from your bike if you’re just sitting still). 

If you are a commuter what are some of the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?
I rarely commute but wish I did more. I am still trying to figure out why I don’t, but it mostly has to do with the weather (too hot, no shower at work, or too cold, maybe I’m just lazy and don’t plan well enough in advance), and it seems I’m always wanting to run errands after work (that would require more than I could carry on a bike). 

Do you commute even if the weather isn’t ideal? Why or why not? If yes, what do you do to make it more tolerable?
No, not commuting much yet.  But I do ride in not-so-perfect weather. It gets pretty hot in Oklahoma. I haven’t been riding much in the winter, but did buy the appropriate winter apparel, just in case I felt I could brave the cold. That hasn’t happened yet but there’s always this year! 

Have you had a bike biff? If so, how did you recover on a physical/mental/emotional level?
I had a little road cycling accident on July 20, 2014.  I had organized about 8 Divas to ride that Sunday during the Rapha #womens100 challenge… with what ended up being about 7,500 women from around the world riding a metric century on that day; it would have been my first 62 miles. I was so excited! I had driven and mapped the route the night prior, just to make sure I had all the turns written down correctly for our Manbassador (a Diva’s husband offered to follow us in his truck with a bike pump and bottled water if we needed it!  Yes, we are lucky). The crash happened when my front tire hit the back tire of the girl in front of me who turned her bike without notice, and I went down and broke my left ankle (fibula actually).  
I ended up getting back on my bike, determined to ride 62 miles but I didn’t get very far, maybe another mile. 

I have had such an outpouring of community support, but I still get a little bummed about not riding. I was on a roll with feeling fit and athletic again and never happier! Riding made me start thinking about nutrition and how food fuels my body, about what I am putting in my body.  I am trying to remember as “it’s just an ankle,” when others are battling cancer and other diseases. And I’m staying busy enough with other social obligations but today was a beautiful day, and I wanted to ride my bike with all the other Divas. I see them posting about rides here or there, and I just can’t join them (see my blog post about “Acceptance!”).  I’m trying to focus on giving vs. receiving, staying involved with the Red Dirt Divas group, managing our private Facebook page, and writing the blog. Giving kudos to others, reading and sharing articles with the Divas, and organizing or announcing other organized rides coming up soon so beginners and others can participate in those! And I hope to be back on my bike in about 4 weeks.  

What do you love about riding your bike?
Freedom, feeling like a kid again, social interaction with others in the group, looking at the beautiful scenery (pastures, hay bales, cows, goats, rolling hills, sunsets, etc.), or riding solo for some “me” time, time to think and just “be.”       

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have a Trek Lexa road bike, and a Mongoose mountain bike that was given to me by a friend in NC.  Our new local bike shop, District Bicycles, has done a tremendous thing here by getting more people involved with – actually, not just involved, but EXCITED about -- cycling, and they helped me choose my first road bike.  I chose it because the owner thought it would be a great entry level bike for me, it was affordable for me at the time, and it was lightweight! Having been accustomed to my mountain bike, which is very heavy, it was so nice to end my ride tired but be able to lift up my very light road bike onto the porch and into the house. This was a huge bonus for me! So the help from the bike shop, the weight of the bike, the color (a very pretty sky blue), and it seemed to fit me size-wise, those are my main reasons for choosing this bike.  I’ve learned a lot about bikes but have a lot more to learn, like how they are all different sizes, how important the fit is, and so much more. Though this bike has served me well as an entry level bike, I am excited to try others soon! I’ll most likely stick with a road bike, but am interested in trying a cyclocross bike as well, and when my ankle heals, getting out on gravel roads too.     

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
Padded cycling shorts, padded gloves, 2 water bottle cages, jerseys with back pockets come in handy for longer rides (to keep snacks and BLOK or NUUN electrolyte products), and of course a saddle bag (for extra bike tube, CO2 cartridge and pump).  I have two saddlebags, one under the seat and one on top of the bar.  

What do you feel prevents women from getting involved with bike riding?
Fear of cars and accidents, plus intimidation (of doing something new, maybe not wanting to ride with men, fear of looking silly or stupid).  Getting lost or left behind on a route (this was a minor deterrent for me, but it did help to have others to ride with and to learn new routes from; every group I rode with, I learned another beautiful route). All of this fear feeds into lack of confidence or is it vice versa?  These are the reasons another Diva and I started leading the “beginner road ride” training for the Divas, and we had about 15 beginners during our first 3-week series. 
Another beginner series is starting up later this August. And the Diva group itself has grown to 115 from where it started with 5 women back in October 2013. I feel like we are really making a difference here for women cycling (touring)! 

What would you say to encourage others to give it a shot?
It will change your life. You will gain independence, confidence in body, spirit and mind, more self-awareness, and become fit and healthier … and I don’t just mean physical health, but mental, emotional and spiritual health. I think biking has been a holistic solution for me … making me think about food, exercise, mental /emotional/spiritual health, and how it all works together. So maybe cycling is working to benefit me in an organic way?     

Tell us something about yourself that others may or may not know
In the 1990s, while living in Dallas, Texas, I came up with a layout idea and a pretty significant change for transitioning pages within SELF magazine, and they implemented it (I believe it’s still in use today).   The editor-in-chief sent a letter from NYC and asked me to stop by if I were ever visiting, she would love to meet me (I wrote back that I’d love to come interview, but I couldn’t afford to pay my own way.  Nothing ever happened with that).   Also, a couple friends call me a dog whisperer.  I’m not sure I agree with that, but I like the title.  J