Monday, July 25, 2016

Women on Bikes Series: Becca Margulies

I grew up in Southern Oregon with a bike nerd for a dad, and fell in love with riding bikes when I was 13. Bikes were a huge part of my life in high school – and probably kept me out of worse trouble! I rode mostly mountain, but also spent some time on road bikes with my dad, and raced cyclocross for a few seasons. I moved to Bellingham, WA for college, mainly because I wanted to be close to Whistler. At the time, I had no idea Bellingham had so many trails and riding opportunities.

I sure got lucky! During college, I took at break to attend the Mountain Bike Operations Program at Capilano University in Sechelt, BC where I learned a ton about trail building, guiding & coaching, tourism for mountain biking etc. I’ve worked in bike shops as a mechanic and sales person, and was part of the sales team at The Kona Bicycle Co. until I recently decided to follow my passion for graphic design.

The opportunity to earn a PMBI Level 1 Certification has been a great excuse to volunteer as a coach and team manager for the Whatcom Composite High School Mountain Bike Team. The team is part of the Washington Student Cycling League, which is an amazing youth mountain bike organization based out of Seattle, WA. I enjoy coaching and teaching mechanics skills, and have had some great opportunities within the Bellingham riding community to plug in!

I most love trail riding, downhill & dirt jumping.

When did you first start riding a bike?

I was seven before I could roll on two wheels alone, and I was pretty casual about it until I was 14. Then, I didn’t want to go anywhere without my bike!

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?

I love the physical and emotional benefits of riding, as well as the community that results when you get a bunch of people together who all love to be on bikes. The challenge to progress - get faster, jump bigger, be stronger overall - has kept my interest. Throughout college I rode with a group every Tuesday evening, and we always joked about it being our version of small group therapy. I know I’m not the only one who get’s cranky when not riding enough!

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?

I don’t seek out competition much anymore. I’ll race for fun & camaraderie though! I used to love racing downhill, but had an injury that made me reconsider. It came down to my mom telling me I wasn’t allowed to hit my head anymore. She MADE me tell her how I was going to change my riding to prevent this. Though annoyed at the time, this afforded me a good look at the situation (and for that I’m grateful). When I raced, I found that I had higher expectations for myself than I was willing to train for (mentally and physically). I admire those who can take on that pressure and excel at racing! I still love to challenge and push myself, but cutting out competition took the pressure off.

Just this last month my friends talked me into racing the Sturdy Dirty women’s enduro at Tiger Mountain – just for fun of course. Holy crap what a good time that was! There were all levels and ages of riders – all enjoying the trails and camaraderie despite the weather.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?

My first singletrack experience was the day before the annual Spring Thaw in Ashland, OR. It was the summer before I stated high school, and my dad had asked me if I wanted to race the nine-mile cross country event next day. I said sure! He took me out to the trail and we rode just a few miles so I could know what to expect. It was a fun, mellow ride, but not an accurate portrayal of what the race would be like. The next day was much more intense! The race was mostly a blur of adrenaline, an absolute whirlwind. It was challenging, humbling and exhilarating all at the same time. I think I was surprised and pleased I could ride that far - though I do remember being pretty frustrated at the section of downhill I had to walk.

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
Whenever I feel nervous about riding a feature or section of trail, I like to recall the wise thought that it’s OK to go around because it will be there tomorrow. I find that the more I see a feature, the more I just look at it, the more I become frustrated with it – eventually I’ll make myself do it. It may seem silly to others, but sometimes I have to see a jump half a dozen times or so (even if it’s within my skill level) before I feel like I can do it!

Clips or flats? Any suggestions or tips for either/or?

I ride flats on my all mountain and downhill bikes, and clips for commuting. I’ve tried clips on my mountain bike, but I much prefer flats. I love jumping, and feel more comfortable on flats, being able to take my feet off so easily. It’s certainly personal preference, and I understand the appeal and efficiency of using clips.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I’ve broken my left collarbone twice, and have had many other minor things that have forced me to take rest time. I find that it takes awhile to bounce back to full confidence on the bike once healed up, but I do think it’s worth taking the time to ease back in and not over-do it. When I’m injured and not able to ride, I find that other interests play an integral role in keeping my sanity intact.

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 is a huge one. I’ve heard pros say it’s something they’re always working on – which definitely makes me feel better about the state of my cornering... At one point, I had a major disconnect as far as knowing what I needed to do, but not being able to get my body do it. Some MTB instructors use the analogy of having a flashlight in your bellybutton and shining it around the corner. I thought about this as I was riding, but couldn’t get my body to respond. When brain and body finally decided to work together, I really understood why this works so well! I still need to remind myself to do it though – once wasn’t enough to ingrain it. It can take patience and a lot of practice to master specific skills. Even if a skill isn’t do-able yet, I like to think about the mechanics of how a skill works (over and over again) to help solidify the concept.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
There’s a mental aspect to riding that I struggle with, especially with new trails and jumps. If something is new to me, I tend to be timid even when I know I can do it – because I want to avoid sitting on the sidelines healing from an injury. Riding with close friends that have a higher skill level is really beneficial for me. I can follow them into sections of trail I want to work on, and kind words of encouragement usually help too! Another tool I love to think about is the “catalog”. Anytime I ride a technical section of trail, tight corners, drop, jump or other feature I try to take a mental snapshot and add it to my “catalog”. When I encounter a new trail feature, I can then draw up the item in my index, compare it to other features I’ve ridden, and that usually helps it to seem a little less daunting!

What do you love about riding your bike?
This is not easy to sum up, because I love EVERYTHING about it – the physical benefit, being outdoors, camaraderie, challenge, adventure. I’m in awe of how progression works, and the results of accumulated experience are incredible. It’s fun to note others progression and share in their joy of hitting new features or technical sections!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?

There are times in my life where I’ve had one bike that I rode everywhere. A trail bike can accomplish so much! These days, my favorites are a trail bike, DH bike and steel dirt jumper.

You used to work in bike shops, what were your jobs?

For my first bike shop job I was hired as a mechanic, primarily to build new bikes. From there, I was able to work into more technical repairs, and even try my hand at working the sales floor. Mechanics was my preference – but do not be fooled, because in no way was I mechanically inclined when I started. It took a lot of time and practice. I was worried about what others thought of me if I messed up or didn’t know something, but for the most part the people I worked with were helpful and understanding.

Were there challenges being a woman working in a bike shop?
There were definitely times where I felt my opinion and experience wasn’t regarded as seriously as I thought it should be. At times, I felt like it was easier for my male co-workers to gain rapport. On the other hand, having the opportunity to work with female customers was extremely rewarding!

Why should women not be afraid to seek employment in bike shops or the bike industry?
As women, we often times offer a different perspective and experience than men. I think this is incredibly valuable. Over the past handful of years, I’ve certainly noticed more and more women riding trail bikes, shredding bike parks, dirt jumping – and not surprisingly working in bike shops and the bike industry as a whole.

You are a PMBI level 1 certified- what inspired you to get involved with coaching?
Personal experience has been my main motivator to coach. As a high schooler I had the good fortune to be on a snowboard team (not mountain biking, but another alternative to traditional school sports). The experience of being a part of such a community and having dedicated coaches had a big impact on me. The coach for the girl’s team was an absolute shredder, and we all looked up to her! I want to be a part of providing bike related programs for youth, and especially girls, because of the positive impact bikes have on individuals and entire communities.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I don’t think we’re as eager to throw caution to the wind as men are. Call it lower testosterone levels, or self-preservation, we’re generally more cautious. Not to say there aren’t exceptions.

It’s nice to have buddies to ride with, and I understand that going riding with a bunch of guys who are already experienced mountain bikers can be pretty intimidating. As the number of women riders grows, more and more groups are being formed with opportunities for riders of different skill levels to ride with each other. There are also a handful of women’s only skills clinics that take place in many locations across the country. The organizers of women’s groups & clinics in Bellingham and beyond are doing a fantastic job of creating controlled, supportive opportunities for women to build their skills and ride with others.

What do you feel could happen in the industry and/or locally to encourage more women to ride?
There are more and more women’s riding groups, events and clinics in our area than ever before. It’s truly inspiring to see others take on such efforts, and it’s a huge asset to our local community. The best part is, these things are happening across many communities and it seems that it’s all just continuing to grow!
Whatcom Composite High School Mountain Bike Team.
I'm fourth from the right, and our head coach Evan is to the left of me (if you're looking at me).
Just for the record, the boys chose hot pink for our team shirts!
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Simply seeing others enjoying their bikes, building skills & real connections with other riders are big inspirations. It’s exciting to have breakthroughs in riding, and witness others overcome the same obstacles.

Tell us a random fact about yourself –
I once had the chance to weld my own dirt jump frame! I then proceeded to break it (but not myself) riding in a skatepark!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Women on Bikes Series: Sonia Pond

I'm a hospice nurse by day, biker of anything with 2 wheels by night and weekend. My inspiration comes from my family of cyclists and the wonderful community we have here in the Twin Cities. Mountain biker, road racer, fat biker, and cyclocross dabbler. You name it, I'll be there with a smile! My motto: life is too short to go a season without a bike.

I have been trying to keep up with my brothers since I could crawl. I biked with them and my parents for fun my whole life, until last year when I started racing. I regret not getting into race scene sooner, but my fear of failure and "losing" held me back. Luckily, last year I joined Midtown Cycling after encouragement from my brother Joe, where Randall Huskamp insisted I try a crit. The challenge, community, and my family/friends pushed me to race more road and mountain bike races.
Now with my boyfriend Chris by my side, we are able to share many experiences around cycling and racing.

Less about win vs. lose and more about seeing what I am capable of. "What if I fall? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?" Sometimes it feels like both.

This year I joined Kingfield Women's Race Team for road racing and Freewheel Bike for mountain biking. Utilizing the amazing knowledge and resources of both teams is helping me do things I never thought possible!
When did you first start riding a bike?

I started riding bikes when I was around 5. I had a little trike before that so I could at least pretend to be riding. My parents, brothers, and I would ride almost every day in the summer, sometimes even venturing down to the river bottoms nearby or go on trips around Minnesota. It was a great way to spend time together as a family. I stopped riding after elementary school, and picked it up again in college when I decided to get out of the lacrosse scene. My dad used to pick me up from the U several times a week and we would tear around Theodore Wirth single track before my next class.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
Definitely my family and the friends I have met over the years through cycling. My family meets up several times a week to mountain bike (and fat bike in the winter!). My parents encouraged me to buy a road bike after a bad break-up, and my brother Joe guided me to get into the road riding community last spring. From there, more encouragement came to race and do challenging rides.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
That’s a hard one! I’ve definitely learned to love the longer mountain bike races, though I am still inexperienced. I love that it is all up to me. There is time to make mistakes and recover, but I also have to concentrate on getting enough nutrition and hydration. I also love that I can’t just let myself sprint the whole time! That is the big challenge for me right now. I have to learn to save my matches because it’s going to be a long haul!

What tipped the scales and had you participate in your first race event?
My dad and my brother Joe have always been my guiding lights. They believe in me when I have a lot of self-doubt. I imagine my first race was one of the Freewheel Time Trials down in Murphy singletrack. It must have been in college or shortly after. I didn’t like racing much because I hadn’t learned how to learn and grow from not winning. My brother Joe and I had been riding up at Cuyuna 2 years ago when someone told us there was a race the next day. Neither of us had done many races. I remember thinking I had never ridden 21 miles, so opted for the 15 mile race though that distance was a real challenge for me at the time. We both did really well and felt so proud!

Last summer Randall Huskamp paid for my first criterium race at the state fairgrounds. I didn’t want to waste his money, so I pinned on a number and managed to stay with the pelaton! Since then, I’ve learned how to use each race to continue to improve and be inspired by the strength of others.

Do you have suggestions for those who are on the fence about entering a competitive event? Especially if they are worried about being last or “losing”?
Just do it! I regret not doing it sooner, letting the fear of failure hold me back. “What’s the worst that can happen?” I ask myself. Everyone is out there trying to do their best, and you should too.

You joined two teams this year, tell us about them and why it’s fun to participate with a team-
Kingfield Racing is a women’s road racing team out of Kingfield Crossfit and Endurance in Minneapolis. They are an amazing group! Road racing can be really brutal and grueling sometimes. But there is no better feeling than having teammates alongside you in the peloton. It’s fun going to races and having smiling faces there to take some of the pressure off. Growing up playing team sports, I also love the fact we can work as a team to meet our goals! My brother Joe told me last summer, “maybe someday you can join a women's team”. I never imagined I would…I feel so lucky to have met this group and have them inspire me every race and ride.

The Freewheel Mountain Bike Team has also been such a blessing. The resources available have been really valuable to helping me as I train to achieve some of my goals with the endurance mountain bike events. Kevin has provided some great information and mentorship for my brother Joe and I. There is so much to learn, and the more we can learn from the elite, the better! I’ve even had a few cheers of “go Freewheel!” at the past few races, and I feel so proud to represent a company I believe in!

Overall, what have you learned about yourself since you started participating in competitive events?
I’ve learned I am stronger mentally and physically than I thought. If I hear of something I want to do or see, I have the confidence to do it.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
I do recall going to Lebanon Hills when I was younger, and flying into the woods on a technical section. I was done with mountain biking after that, until after college like I mentioned. It is really hard! Once I returned, I remember the fun darting through the trees at Theo. There was lots of crashing and some tears but my dad stayed patient and made it fun for me.

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
Lately, I have been trying to visualize my race before I start. I picture how I will start, how I will climb, and how I will finish. It helps me to think I have a plan and strategy. I still get nervous though. I’ve found the more races I do, the less nervous I get for the smaller or shorter races.

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, I use clipless pedals! I don’t remember when I made the switch. I am resistant to change, but seriously, the power difference is amazing, and it has helped me learn to accelerate over obstacles and rock gardens. Instead of thinking “I’ll just take my foot out and scoot over this section” I learned that I better keep pedaling to get over it before I tip over. You can use it as motivation to get over the tricky parts. However, if you are bruised and battered, switch over to the platforms for a bit and let yourself heal. Then try again!

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’ve been pretty lucky (knock on wood) to not have anything stand out in my mind. I used to crash a lot several years back, once I picked up the pace and was still learning how my bike handled the speed. I would come home bruised and bloodied every day. My dad would tell me to just keep going. It’s a phase all mountain bikers go through. Once you’re on the other side, you learn how to crash and protect yourself (most of the time), and also become more in sync with the bicycle and the input you are feeling from the tires and suspension. AKA whether you need to slow down!

EDIT: A few weeks ago I unfortunately had my first road race crash. The worst part for me was and continues to be the pictures in my head of my friends/teammates bloody and hurt beside me. Since then, it has been a struggle to “get back on the saddle.” My teammates are encouraging me to get back out there as soon as I am healed to get over the mental block. The sooner I prove to my mind I can do it again, the better. My strategy will be to try to stay with the peloton and to keep a smile on my face the whole time. I’ll keep you updated on how it goes! I also think it gave me a reminder to respect the intensity of our sport and the racers around me.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
I used to have a tough time with off-camber root sections and rock fields. Practice makes perfect! Flying through tight trees and fast downhills doesn’t come naturally to most people. But the more you practice, the more it will become second nature. It’s helpful to visit the same trail or trails as you are gaining skills. You know where the roots, rocks, and tight sections are. Then you can move on to less familiar trails and get used to sighting out the trail as you go!

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I think hills have always been challenging for me! As I’ve worked on my endurance, I am able to recover quicker after a hard hill climb. But that doesn’t mean I don’t dread the next one…I try to push that out of my mind when I am hyper-focusing on a tough technical section or hill. I whisper “concentrate” to myself or even sing an upbeat song in my head!

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love being outside and the ability to make it a solo event or a group activity. It can be whatever I feel like that particular day. It gives me choice and freedom in a world where so much is out of our control. It’s my time to make life about me!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Trek Lush: My first WSD mountain bike and I finally gave up the 26er. Kevin at Freewheel picked it for me. I love how the 650b wheelsize climbs and tackles obstacles. And the full suspension is so smooth. Sometimes it feels like it accelerates through corners without me even pedaling! It feels like we were meant to be!

Trek Silque: My beautiful roadbike! I picked it because it has pink accents. Oh, and it’s light. It’s fully stock, is a smooth ride, and light as can be. We have been on some amazing rides and races together. It never disappoints on the hills and sprints. Straight off the showroom floor.

Trek Farley 5: A reasonably priced fat bike that I know has the reliability of the Trek name. Wow this thing is fun…I’ve never spent so much time outdoors in the winter before I owned a fat bike! The frame and components are light, what gets heavy is the wheels and tires. A few upgrades for next fat season.

Fatbiking! Many people think fatbikes are heavy and cumbersome. What have you learned about fatbiking and why do you enjoy it?
Mine is a little heavy and cumbersome. However, that can be a huge advantage coming into the road and mountain bike season. Besides that, I learned through fat biking that winter in the Midwest is an absolute gift. At zero degrees, looking through the lense of your goggles, watching the snow fall, and you are tearing through the snow storm with your best friends. Now that’s paradise.

What do you enjoy most about having a partner who loves biking, too?
I feel like the possibilities are endless for what we can do together! We can talk for hours about the rides or races we had, what races we want to do someday, and the mountains we want to visit. It’s a great thing to share with my best friend. We can literally go anywhere, anytime, and be able to hop on bikes.

Do you have any tips/suggestions for couples who want to bike and/or compete together?
Be prepared there might be some stress from one or both sides just from adding the aspect of a hard ride or race! Luckily, Chris keeps me really grounded going into a tough trail or race. He believes in me 110% and is able to keep things light and fun.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
It’s scary. And it’s a male-dominated scene. However, take advantage of that fact to ride with and learn from anyone you meet, male or female! Some of my favorite riding buddies are guys that have encouraged me yet push me to hang on every time I go with them. Though some riders may be threatened or doubtful of a female on “their ride”, by the end they are usually asking me to bring friends next time! Every time we ride with guys, we are breaking barriers for the next ladies that show up.

What do you feel could happen locally and/or industry-wise to encourage more women to be involved?
More women’s rides and women’s clinics! Though I have never been to one, I look forward to helping this summer as Freewheel organizes a clinic. I adore Martha Flynn’s efforts to bring Little Bella’s to Minnesota. This is the future of women and women cyclists. I have so much respect for each and every person involved in those efforts. As the years go on and things settle for my race schedule, I look forward to joining in on their work (and fun!).

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Biking has changed my life for the better. I want other women to have the feeling of community, improved self-confidence, and overall enjoyment of having a passion you can do anywhere, anytime, with others or by yourself. I don’t know what I would do or be like without biking, I want other women to experience it too!

Tell us a random fact about yourself:
Between cycling races, I race motorcycles too!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Lessons in Mountain Biking- You Are Enough!

Today I have a tale of two rides, both completely different yet both similar in that they provided me some valuable lessons.

It was a Friday, July 1st and I had just come home from a day of working at Decorah Bicycles. Travis had to go out to his mom's to mow her lawn as she was out of town. That said, I had some free time to myself to do whatever it I'd like to do.

I sat down on the couch with a simple salad and watched the latest video of Ambitions featuring Emily Batty. In the episode, Emily talks of some of her low points during racing- being able to hear another woman talk of being frustrated when her results aren't what she was expecting is good to hear. There are times when I'm too much of a perfectionist when it comes to my general riding- it might not be a race, but there are similar feelings. Emily stays determined- because riding is what she loves; as do I.
The decision was made. Ride my bike.

I threw on some riding clothes, grabbed my Trek Carbon Lush, and hit the road. I decided that with the busy holiday weekend I'd stick to my usual "fitness loop" of trails and call it good. The fitness loop of trails consists of: IPT, North 40, Gunnar, East Pines to West and loop backwards, Upper Little Big Horn, Fred, and Luge. It’s a set of trails that I love and enjoy riding in a habitual fashion; it doesn't get old.

There was something different about the ride; I had increased focus and determination that evening. There had been a lot on my mind the past weeks and I felt that it was time to “ride it out.
I also had been enjoying my time on the Lush recently and I felt that it was time to really see what the bike was made of. Last season when I rode her (Trixie is her name) I felt our “relationship” wasn’t quite there. I had a great time with her, but I wasn’t used to the twitchy nature of the bike. Earlier this season for my first non-fatbike ride on Trixie, I went over the bars. Let’s just say I was questioning if Trixie would be a bike that I would gravitate to on a regular.

On this ride, my attitude was completely different...we became one. I know that sounds incredibly cheesy, but it’s true! It’s that moment your mind and body seem to blend with the bike: you move fluidly, you ride fast and nothing trips you up. You are completely in sync and it feels absolutely amazing.

I found a way to push myself beyond my usual comfort zone when it came to speed and I made my lungs feel worked. It felt fabulous. For someone who started riding with exercise induced asthma that was easily triggered by any exertion; to be able to ride the trails with such speed felt wonderful. It was extra special because I hadn’t used the inhaler prior to riding.
Growth, progress, and healing were in my thoughts.

I knew that I had found a balance within myself…a sense of clarity and sureness of my skill. At the end of the Luge I looked at my computer and saw my best average to date- 10.4 mph. I was in shock! I have topped out at mid-9, and I have been extremely proud of that accomplishment. In reality I wondered if I would ever be able to hit above 9 on our mountain bike trails…well, by golly I sure did!

That ride reminded me of my passion, granted, that passion is fairly new but it is incredibly strong. I can’t put into words how much I appreciate my body being able to do what it does when it comes to mountain biking- not just living life, but thriving too.

Then a couple days later during our Sunday group ride, I was given another lesson…
My legs were tired, my breathing was suffering (allergies), and all energy that I had pretty much wilted away after our first climb. It was a ride that left me questioning myself and my skill set multiple times.

One of the beautiful things about our group ride is that Travis will sometimes choose routes that under normal circumstance I would never do. He likes to push the boundaries of my comfort zone, regardless if we have friends riding with us or not. I’m one that still battles feelings of frustration if I can’t clean a section when there is an “audience” and today was one of those days where dabless rides were not occurring in high frequency for me. Rattlesnake Cave to Lower Randy had me almost hyperventilating and my self-conscious feelings grew as Adam rode closer. “Please don’t hear me!” “Please don’t ask!” “Please, just keep riding!” were swimming around in my head as I worked to try and curb my erratic breathing.

In Death Valley, before our trek up Rocky Road, I announced that I would ride in the back. Adam had been courteous to have me in the middle during our ride, and most days I would say that I’m fine with that. Today was a day where I couldn’t let go of the nagging thoughts - “I’m tripping him up.” “I’m holding him back.” “I can’t keep up! Why can’t I keep up? I’m too tired to keep up. Dang, he’s close behind me, I have to go faster! I can’t.” I insisted that Adam ride ahead, that way he and Travis could bomb down the rest of the trails so I wouldn’t focus on not being fast enough or skilled enough. It would alleviate unneeded pressure; I just wanted to finish the ride.

As I rode behind, I felt a sense of relief and acceptance. Perhaps for a moment I wondered if they would be thinking “Gosh, she’s so slow today” or feeling annoyed that they had to wait up for me. However, I reminded myself the mentality and focus of our group ride: we always wait up and we always make sure riders have had enough rest time before we continue forward. We do this willingly to ensure everyone has an enjoyable time; I let the worry go.

The performance anxiety and the frustration over my body drifted away and I came to accept what the ride was. A reminder that there will be days when I’m just not feeling strong, but that doesn’t mean I’m not “enough.” The days when you need to slow down are there for a reason, maybe we don’t know the reasons why at first- but they remind us to not be so gosh darned hard on ourselves.

It's okay to say "Today isn't my day" just as much as it's okay to feel on top of the world for having one hell of a good ride. 
The rides you have, good or bad, do not define you as a person. They are moments in time, lessons in life, and experiences to appreciate- even if they weren't the best. Remember this on the next ride you have that doesn't go quite how you want: You are enough.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Women on Bikes Series: Melissa Putzer

I am 45 years old and have been racing for the last ~20 years. I did not grow up as an athlete. I’m a small build of 5’4” and 119 lbs. I hated gym class and really didn’t ride a bike and I certainly didn’t race!
My entire foray into biking began with Chequamegon. I've done mountain biking, crits, time trials, cyclocross, Fat Biking and Ironmans but I didn't grow up as athlete at all. I'm heavily involved in my local community to support cycling advocacy. 

I did my very first mountain bike race that spring at Black River Falls, WI.  My husband and Jeff Curtin (who is now the Vice President and Chief Council of the company that work at) drove over in the LBS's van.  I recruited a buddy of my husband's to go with me because I was afraid of getting lost.  The race was supposed to be 8 miles for the beginners. And my husband pep talked me that I'd done that before and I'd be fine.

Then they announced that they had to reroute and lengthen the course to 12 miles.  He still told me I'd be out there for about an hour and that it would be okay.   He went off with some higher level category before me.  Well, they had to modify the course  again and it was double the distance.  16 miles - further than I'd ever gone and the same distance as my big event in the fall.   OH God, what did I get myself into?????  

Off I went with Andy by my side.  I couldn't stop laughing because as soon as they said go there was a cloud of dust and everyone was gone - it was like a Bugs Bunny cartoon.  I was pedaling as fast as i could and I could see NO ONE except Andy, my recruited company.  My husband caught me right before the finish line and opened with "what happened?"  This didn't go over well.  What do you mean what happened?  I have been pedaling the entire time!!!!!  He didn't know I'd done double the distance.  I was hooked and my racing experiences have only gotten better and better.
I don't hang out and drink wine in the driveway with the other moms in my neighborhood, I really don't have girlfriends that eat lunch with at work or go clothes shopping with but I have a ton of women that I've met solely thru the bike and every one of them is a strong, independent woman.  If I had to call a female to go dress shopping I'd be hard pressed to find a willing candidate BUT I could probably assemble a peloton of 50 women in a few hours to do a ride.

What I think I like most about biking is all the wonderful people it has connected me to and to know that the 45 year old version of myself would crush and the 25 year old version of me.  I serve on the board of a local bike club and do everything I can to inspire and draw more women into the sport.
I love that biking is lifelong sport.  This year I am training for the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race.  I've attempted it twice before.  The first year I failed to understand the time cuts and got pulled at the first station, not tired but failing to realize that the relaxed eat and move forward approach that can get you thru an Ironman won't cut it for Leadville.  The 2nd attempt I was pulled off the course and deemed retired by the Search and Rescue crew after literally being blown off my bike with hail at 12,000 ft and facing rain ,12 hours into the event making me  so cold that my hands wouldn't grip my handle bars - I was 14 miles short from finishing.

Not being athletically inclined in your earlier years, what inspired you to take up riding vs. another type of sport or activity?
That is a fabulous question!  One I've never thought of before but is easy to answer.  I never felt the kind of positive energy and community from any other sport that I have cycling.  I mentioned that my first commitment and spark to riding came from watching at the start line of the Chequamegon Short and Fat.   Seeing those people all on the start line and their smiles was what hooked me.  I've explored lots of different cycling - road racing, Ironmans, time trials.... cyclists are just different from runners, bowlers, soccer players to me they have more of sense of bond even when their interests are very different.  Every cyclist has seen an inattentive driver, experience an unscheduled sprint from a dog or a crash of some sort.  I don't feel like you get that sense of commaradarie from other sports.  A sport like bowling can't help you commute to work, play in the woods and offer you a competitive outlet all in the same week.     

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
Every time you come back from a ride your brain is in a different space than when it left.  I think different when I ride.  Riding is just something I look forward to.  It's enjoyable so to me that's a  much different motivator than just running or other exercise to keep extra pounds or stress away.  Sometimes my brain is sorting thru everything I have do when I get home, other times it's enjoying the scenery, when I'm hurting in a race I count or pray, when I'm happy in a race I tend to sing in my head and if I'm really working hard all thoughts stop.    

Your first experience at Chequamegon Leadville did not go as planned, why did that experience cinch it for you and keep you coming back for more?
It was my first attempt at the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race in 2012 (Not Chequamegon) that didn't go as planned.  I immediately knew I needed another crack at it because poor clock management on my part wasn't a test of my true ability.  I wasn't tired or ready to be done - I knew I had more to leave out there.  My second time when the 12 hour clock ran out after making all three time cuts - I absolutely had given it my all and I was at peace.  The first time I cried in a porta potty by myself.  There were no tears the second time because I had left every drop of my ability and soul on the course.  The conditions were brutal - I'd never been blown of my bike before nor had I eaten hail like a snow cone because it was coming down so hard.  Both happened to me in 2014 at Leadville.  My third attempt this year will be one of two things - third time is the charm or three strikes and you’re out.  I think I can still improve on my training and hopefully some luck with conditions will come my way too.

For those not familiar, could you tell us about Chequamegon and why it's such a fun event to attend-
Hmm, this makes me smile - Chequamegon is magic for many reasons.  The mainstreet in Hayward, WI is quaint and fun.  The announcer in the morning has this melodic booming voice.  It's cold - sometimes colder than the Birkie Ski marathon start but the fall sun usually makes an appearance later. There's the Bakery, the Candy Store, Riverbrook Bike Shop in a massive 100+ year old historic library --- this mainstreet goes whirring by you on the start.  Then once you hit grass it's hard to not laugh when you see bikes going everywhere set to the William Tell Overature or Flight of the Bumble Bee playing from a loud speaker.  Everything gets quiet, really quick once you hit the Birkie trail hills and towards the end the signs for those who can still process information will keep your head wondering with things like - Flying Monkey's Ahead and Sasquatch Crossing.   It's just an endless parade of suffering and joy all wrapped together.  The newbies are constantly asking is this Seeley Fire Tower?  Is this Seeley Fire Tower?  Seeley is the big climb with about 11 miles to go.  BOY - the guys on top of Seelley have life figured out because they're enjoying a beverage AND they've figured out how to "test" the durometer of the backside of spandex clad racers while being thanked!  IF you're on your bike at the top - not an easy feat and it's loose, steep and congested - they'll ask if you want a push.  I always gladly take a push.  My husband has told me he's never been asked if he's wanted a push - that's too bad because it really perks you up.

Do you have tips or suggestions for those attending their first Chequamegon?
Pace yourself.  You see many people blow up half way thru.  Many mountain bikers races are for 45 min to an hour in length.  Chequamegon is longer than most mountain bike races.  For me this is more like a 3 hour venture.  You have to pace yourself differently.  The scariest part to me is also the road start.  I have the advantage of road racing which helps but I would advise riding in large groups on the road at some point before throwing yourself into a sea of thousands.  You're riding in a road pack at the start that is 10X bigger than anything a Tour de France riding will see in terms of number - it's good to have some pack riding experience to help you stay out of trouble - like knowing to NOT over lap wheels.   I also like to stay to the outsides on the highway roll out because you have an out - aka the ditch if a crash happens.  OH - and Pirates don't lie!  If a Pirate in the woods asks you if you want rum - he has rum!  For some reason some people are shocked by this.

Tell us about the Leadville 100 and why you chose that event-
The Leadville Trail 100 is a mountain bike race that has a heart soul that goes back to the founder much like Chequamegon.  It has long lasting community roots.  The races there were started by Ken Clouber and unemployed rock blaster from a local mine that had the vision to draw people to Leadville to enjoy its brutal challenging terrain.  Leadville has turned into a mecca for endurance athletes including runners and bikers.  I'm always looking to challenge myself with something new and Leadville just seemed like a natural progression.  I've done 100 miler MTB races in WI, I've done more climbing and distance in challenge rides like the Horribly Hilly Hundreds in WI on the road so the allure of earning a Buckle by getting myself 104 (Yes, it's not 100 miles, its 104) in 12 hours at elevation off road was a natural next progression for me. 

Tell us about the types of riding you enjoy and why-
My favorite is a long mountain bike ride on the fire roads outside of Hayward, WI.  I can go for 5 hours and never pass a single house and not see a single car.   I will still see a dozen mountain bikers coming across the CAMBA single track and redirect a handful of misdirected ATVs.  I like that because dealing with car traffic can stressful and around houses there are dogs, I HATE being chased by dogs.

Can you go back to the first or one of your first mountain bike rides? The first few are many times what will either inspire one to keep riding or they decide it's not for them. What made you decide mountain biking was for you?
Oh gosh yes!  I will never forget trying to ride the northern trails at Greenbush, WI when they were still on the ski trails and hard packed gravel.  I didn't know how to shift.  I ended up on a steep short hill, I didn't shift, I didn't have the legs to just muscle thru, I stood up, lost momentum, stopped, couldn't unclip and literally ended up falling over off the trail into the bushes like some sort of stranded turtle.  My husband came back and opened with - "Do you want to know what you did wrong?"  I replied - NOT NOW!   I wanted a, are you okay?  Can I help you up?  He said he knew I was fine and would get up.   He has never let me whine about anything.  He has always coached me to figure it out, problem solve and get back up.  Those are priceless skills for biking and life.  Mountain biking has been for me because it constantly challenges me.  I've been doing this for 20 years and it's gotten better, by far, but I still find a slippery root or tight twist that challenges me in the single track.  You're always growing and learning as a rider. 

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, I ride clipless pedals.  They are the ticket for better control and power pedaling.  Everybody falls.  Even pro tour riders.  Sometimes you're clipped in just standing around and if your balance shifts to the opposite side unexpectedly, it's hard to save yourself.  Most clip falls are in slow motion and nothing life threatening, just ego bruising.   Some brands of pedals allow you to adjust the tension.  I recommend that type because you can turn the tension way down low.  It also helps to place a dab or two of chain lubricant on your pedals before you ride to make sure they don't get bound up with dirt etc and move freely and easily.  Clip falls happen but the benefits to getting used to them are priceless.  If you're really worried start with them on a trainer or spin bike where getting out isn't a timing issue. 

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 had a crash on the road from a complete fluke.  It was a group ride and I had drifted back to ride with a friend who had fallen off as the lead fast group was starting to turn it on.  My friend told me I should challenge myself and to go ahead.  I was sprinting back to the group when a young rider that had lost his water bottle fell back and didn't know I was coming.  He turned 90 degrees right in front of me, to go back for his bottle, and I T-boned him at ~20mph.  I was knocked unconscious.  I had a black eye and learned that in road crash you lose the skin off anything that bends.  I still road ride but I'm more leery of knowing who is in the pack and staying up front to stay safe.  My husband woke me up all night for a concussion protocol.  If anything this drove me to like riding off road more - I think the crashes there are usually softer and at lower speeds. 

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them? Are there skills that still challenge you?
LOL!  Everything challenged me when I started riding.  I had a good teammate, Shelly Gruzynski, who would do things like push me and run next to me when I learned to ride up steep stuff like a local ski hill.  There are funny little mantras that helped me such as - "weight back, no smack" for when I was going down something steep.  Or if I had to lean forward and down to keep my front wheel on the ground climbing the mantra was "boobs to the tube".  Meaning, place your chest closer to your top tube to help with weight distribution.  I was lucky to actually take my motorcycle license test at Road America and a formal road racing class for cycling that taught me a lot about handling.   I feel like I'm riding well in single track when I'm challenging my motorcycle instructor telling me to turn my head before a turn and my body will follow.

How did you discover you were able to do endurance-style events? What made it click saying "I can do this!"-
The LBS had a Tri team in addition to the mountain bike team.  Ironman WI was introduced in 2001 and my husband gave it a whirl.  I watched him learn how to swim and run and do lots of really long road rides.  I had this great social network and I got sucked in.  They were nuts and would do 130mile + road rides.  I went to the local YMCA and had a lap counter - I think its 83X down and back to make the 2.4 miles that equal the Ironman swim distance.  I did that in the pool to know that I could make the Ironman time cut.  What people don't realize is that if you just want to finish an Ironman the time to do so is relatively generous.   You can be a relatively slow swimmer, you can average roughly 12mph on the bike and you can walk the marathon.  I don't advise that approach but the time cuts aren't brutal like they are for the Leadville Trail 100.  

Your husband rides as well- what do you enjoy about being able to share an activity with your other half?
We typically leave the house at the same time but it isn't too often that we ride together for training.   He's a stronger rider than I am.  He will help me on group rides if I'm trying to stick to the lead pack; he's got one of the best drafts around.  Sometimes the downside is that if one of us gets a new bike or a new training tool - there's nobody to question, do you really need a Thompson seat post?  Do you really need carbon wheels?  There's just an echo of hey - me too, that sounds great!  It is a JOY that he gets what I want to do.  Not all couples get that and I know some riders who are up early to get their rides in before family demands start.  Having the same interests does really make things more joyful.  He gets it. He knows where I've been when I come back from a ride and who the characters are from the different social groups - there's a lot to share and that's always nice.

When you were newer to riding, was there any challenging moments on the trails with your husband during the learning stages? Do you have any suggestions for couples wanting to take to the trails together?
WOW - yes, many times!   We learn to laugh and break the tension.  IF we are disagreeing on something, I'll say okay - fine but if we find out I'm right, you're going to have to say those 3 words that mean so much to me and it isn't I love you, it's "I was wrong".  We refer to the episodes as "marital moments" - ending up in the bushes off the trail and him asking if I want to know what I did wrong is a perfect marital moment.  There's something weird about learning things from the person you love.  Some couples can do it, but not many.  Sometimes women learn better from women and guys from guys.  A friend's wife was flustered about shifting and the guys will use technical terms sometimes which doesn't always help and can be overwhelming to a new rider, depending upon their learning style.  I rode with Shelly in the single track, behind her, and would just prompt her to right trigger finger pull, left thumb push - for when she needed to shift.  No big gear, little gear, make it easier, harder - just what she needed to do with her hands.  Her husband missed that and 5 min with me helped her immensely at shifting.  I actually have a coach - it's strange and dumb but he can tell me things and I will listen with no emotional agenda that if my husband tells me - I might be frustrated with him.  It's weird - everybody goes thru "marital moments" or learns to hire a coach.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Clearing my head and feeling strong and capable. 

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
WOW - I think I own about 12 bikes right now everything from a TREK Speed Concept, to a Belt Drive, to a Salsa Bear Grease Fat Bike.  Hmmm - it's a mix of budget, research and emotion.  Sometimes I've gotten a great deal from a local mechanic who needs to have dental work done and is selling a sweet ride.  Other times I'm paid way more to get the color I want - the Super Fly SL - I needed the red on black version, which came priced at the top level.  Fit - the right fit is the universal important factor if a bike doesn't fit you well - it doesn't matter what the color or price is.  Shockingly when I got my first carbon road bike I wanted something unique and rare.  After test riding bike after bike - I couldn't deny that the Trek Madone felt like magic and it didn't matter that it wasn't so rare or exotic.  So does it fit me?  Does it fit the budget (not always)?  Color? How does it feel? 

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Often it's man land.  On the start of the Chequamegon Fat Tire - there are roughly 2000 people in the start gates with me and most are men. Women are roughly 10% of the field.  I'm lucky if I can see another female competitor.  I don't think it is always an inviting atmosphere that says you can do this, let me show you.  It should be and I really try to do that for other women.  I remember standing in Gate 4 on the start line and this big burley guy next to me looks down at me and says have you done this before?  Not are you looking forward to the race?  Nice day?  Are you nervous?  But a bit of snarky, doubting - have you done this before?  I replied - "I wouldn't be HERE if I hadn't.  Have you?" You have to earn your start position. 

What do you feel could change locally/industry-wise to encourage more women to be involved with cycling/bike industry?
I think it has to be the community and the riders.  NOT pink handle bar tape - I hate it when women specific means a foo foo color.  Foo foo colors are great if they make you happy but having other females to encourage new riders is where I think it's going to be driven the most.  Two weekends ago I had two girl friends do their first snow bike races - BOTH won their divisions and called me to say thank you.  What got them out there with confidence was insights and encouragement not pink handle bar tape.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
You have more people to ride with!  And understand why you're excited about being able to ride that rocky section of single track clean.  Seeing people be happy and smile.      
Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have a weakness for buying chapstick and lipstick. I don't wear it very well, at all but I buy it all the time.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Women on Bikes Series: Sonja Savre

2003 - the first year my family all rode the Short and Fat together
 (Cole Stiegler, Keir Stiegler, Sonja Savre, Mike Stiegler)
I’ve biked all my life, but wasn’t aware of mountain biking until my mid-40s. It seemed like something I would enjoy so I borrowed a mountain bike and entered my first race in Winona, Minnesota – and have been mountain biking ever since.

The next year we signed up for the Chequamegon fat tire race, not quite knowing what it was about. But that first race was enough to keep us going back every year.

Chequamegon is all about fun and family for me.

We – my husband and two sons - started with the Short and Fat the first few years. In 2008, when both sons were 18, we switched to the “real” Chequamegon – the 40-miler.

We meet up with a group of 20 family members (siblings, nieces, nephews, and in-laws) for a mini family reunion in conjunction with the race. Gary Crandall’s care and nurturing of the race has created the perfect venue for a family that likes to bike, eat, compete and socialize.

When did you first start riding a bike?
About age 5 or 6. I can still remember climbing on the bike, holding onto a tree for balance and then pushing off from the tree and coasting/pedaling until I lost balance and fell over. That process was repeated over and over, getting a little further each time before losing balance.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
It’s a great way to get around before you’re old enough to drive. I continue now as it’s still a great way to get around, it's good exercise, you get fresh air and it’s environmentally friendly. I think traveling by bike is the perfect way to get to know an area whether it’s traveling in your immediate neighborhood, cross country or abroad.

You started mountain biking in your mid-40's, did you have any concerns/worries when you first started out? (such as the fear of getting hurt, etc.)
I don’t remember how I first became aware of mountain biking, but when I did, it seemed like something I would enjoy. So, no, no concerns or worries – just seemed like fun.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?

It was a blast. After being on roads for years, getting off-road and into trees and dirt was very energizing. Plus, I liked the concentration it required rather than the tedium that can set in on long road rides. For that first ride, I borrowed my sister’s mountain bike and my brother-in-law took me for a ride in Peninsula Park in Door County, Wisconsin. Shortly after that, I borrowed her bike for my first mountain bike race in Winona, Minnesota. I’ve been hooked ever since.

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
I don’t remember any nervousness.

With learning to mountain bike as an adult vs. as a child- do you feel you've had any advantages or disadvantages?
Having ridden a road bike for 40 years, it wasn’t that big a leap to move into mountain biking. I think the most important trait for enjoying mountain biking is confidence in your biking abilities. Forty years of riding gives you that confidence.

Why do you feel it is never too late to start riding off-road?

See above.

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?
I started out with bike cages and moved to clipless in my second or third year of mountain biking – when I started to race more. Rule of thumb – don’t ever try something in a race that you haven’t tried before. The first time I went clipless was for a race at Buck Hill in the Twin Cities. It was a very hilly race and I kept finding myself behind very slow riders going uphill. I didn’t know that you could adjust the tension. Needless to say, I went down a few times in that race. Tip: start out with the tension very loose, and tighten as you need to; and never try clipless for the first time in a race.

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’ve had my share of falls, but nothing serious. When I’ve had a rash of falls close together, I start to get a little tentative, but time usually helps that.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
It’s the confidence factor. On challenging terrain, the more tentative you ride, the more likely you are to go down. I’ll pull my shoes out of the clips if I’m unsure of myself, but beyond that, nothing special. Only suggestion is to do cross training that strengthens the upper body and core. I think overall strength helps for all mountain bike challenges.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky?
I don’t do super technical rides and have never liked large rock beds. But if I find myself on a more difficult course than I’m comfortable with, I know I can always walk around/through a difficult area I’m not as aggressive as I was when I first started, but I probably ride smarter.

What do you love about riding your bike?

The freedom it allows! With two wheels and the right gear, you can go almost anywhere.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?

In fifteen years I’ve only had two mountain bikes – both Treks – and still ride both of them. My first bike was a hardtail Trek 8000. I upgraded about four years ago to the full suspension Trek Top Fuel. As much as I love riding, I’m not that into the technical aspects of bikes. As long as the bike works and gets me where I want to go, I’m happy. I didn’t choose my first bike – my husband gave it to me for a birthday present. When I was in the market to upgrade, I found the Top Fuel online on an end-of-the year sale.

Tell us about your first Chequamegon experience- what about it made you keep coming back for more?
The festival-like atmosphere is unlike any other bike race. The excitement at the start, the spectator support along the way and the crowds at the end make it a great event. Plus, it’s just a fun, challenging course.

How old were your sons when you first introduced them to Chequamegon? What inspired you to make it a family event?

Our older son did his first Short and Fat when he was 14. The next year, his younger brother turned 12 and they both raced (you have to be 12 to do the Short and Fat and 18 for the Chequamegon 40). We all continued with the shorter race until both boys were 18 then we all moved up to the Chequamegon 40 together. They each decided on their own to do the race the first time. They knew they would be driving up to Hayward with us so they figured it would be more fun to race than sit around and watch. After that first year, I think they enjoyed the festive atmosphere and by now it’s become a fall tradition. We have a number of relatives (brother-in-law, nephews, nieces) that ride, so now it’s also a chance to see them. It’s often the only time that we’re all together in a year so it serves as a mini family reunion.

2015 - (Cole Stiegler, Keir Stiegler, Sonja Savre,
 Mike Stiegler, and Betsy VanCleve Stiegler)
Do you have any tips/suggestions for someone attending their first 40-mile Chequamegon?
First and foremost – have fun!

The Chequamegon is not a technical ride. Work on endurance and hills.

What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride?

I see a lot of school programs offering biking and mountain biking for girls now. I think getting girls interested when they’re young and developing skills early will go a long way toward encouraging them to ride into their adult years.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
(Awkward – I just noticed I have the same shirt on in the two pictures – 12 years apart!)

I like to give theme parties. I just hosted a birthday party with 20 friends where we all played Whirlyball and all the food served was in the shape of balls (meatballs, rice balls, potato balls, melon balls, pizza balls, spinach balls, cake balls, etc.)

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Lessons In Mountain Biking: Women Building Each Other Up

Last Sunday (6/26/16) was the first inaugural FWD Women’s Ride of the season! It was a small group, but that was just fine. Kenzie was new to FWD and mountain biking, thus creating the perfect opportunity to bring her out in a welcoming environment. Travis led the fellows to Dunnings while Kristin, Steph, Kenzie, and I went to hit up some of the easier areas in Van Peenen.

This was an exciting afternoon, more from the standpoint that this would be Kenzie’s first “real” mountain bike ride, and you better believe I wanted it to be a positive experience for her. This is why I’ve gone so far to create FWD and to be so proactive with wanting to do what I can to encourage women to give off-road riding a chance.

The three of us worked together as more experienced riders to keep Kenzie in the middle of it all. I had Kristin and Steph take the lead so Kenzie would be able to see them ride ahead in certain areas while I remained behind. Being behind Kenzie ensured she would be able to better hear me as I gave out tips and suggestions for some of the most basic handling.

“Get your butt back over the seat!” “Keep your pedals level!” “Pedal, pedal, pedal!” – these were common along with “Get your butt up off your seat!”

I made sure that there were plenty positive comments being given- because I remember back to my first few off-road rides. I heard a lot of necessary critiques but I also heard positive feedback. I feel that positive feedback is so helpful when it comes to assisting with that little added push to get over nervous feelings. You could tell those comments worked when Kenzie would acknowledge them and also let out her own whoops of joy!

Being behind Kenzie, I first worried that I would not do a good job of being able to remember what was coming up ahead. My job was to let her know when uphill climbs or downhills would be coming up. Also when on Little Big Horn, when the logs and dips would appear. Pretty much, anything that involved anything other than riding a straight line, so she knew what to expect. A positive thing for Kenzie is that she’s been helping Tyler out on the trails a bit, so she’s gotten familiar with a few and wasn’t going in completely blind. I was also worried that if anything happened- would I be fast enough to help? I know not all falls can be prevented, but gosh darn it, I wanted to try!

We took it easy, making a trip up IPT to the Fire Road, hitting both West and East Pines, and venturing into Little Big Horn via GT Park. Towards the middle of Little Big Horn, Kristin had to duck off to fulfill her volunteer duties at HSNEI. Steph and I continued on with Kenzie in the middle- stopping to give some personal suggestions as to how to deal with some of the more intimidating features coming up- The Dips. These are fun and swoopy down and ups, one is smaller and one is larger- I can remember vividly the fear I had of The Dips before I had done them a few times. Long story short- Kenzie totally rocked it!

During the ride, I was amazed and inspired by Kenzie and her gumption. There were only a few spots that tripped her up, but they have tripped up ALL new riders, including myself! She had such a positive attitude (admitting after the ride that she was nervous as heck) but she kept all of it under tabs and stayed focused. She rode a pace that was comfortable for her and we didn’t push her to “go faster”… as that comes with time. New riders have enough pressure as it is so my objective is- get some of the basics covered, but don't overwhelm.
I had talked to a friend a few days after the ride, and she said that it seems there are times when women ride together- they become braver. I had looked back on my rides with Travis and so many of my early ones were riddled with tears and my being overly anxiety-filled. If it’s because one feels they can be more “open” with their significant other and it’s okay to be completely vulnerable whereas when riding with other women who are doing it in front of you potentially gives you more of the “Stoke”…the inspirational feeling of “Yes! I can try this!

Rocky Road, Luge, and River Trail were last on the ride list before we headed back to the shop to wait for the fellows to come back. Our first women’s ride warranted the lot of us to go out for supper and beverages in celebration! (This is something we try to do with our rides every few months to bring a sense of comradery to the group.)

Kenzie had a most excellent time! There may or may not have been joy-filled comments and conversation days after; you could tell that Tyler was stoked that she had a good time. It was wonderful to see how happy she was after the ride- she had done so well on her first ride and I was so proud! The smile on her face and the talk of how excited and proud she was of what she accomplished. Yes. That is what I love to see! Watching the person who thought “I might not be able to do this” proving to themselves that they certainly can- you can see the confidence grow during the ride. It’s like a bright beam of sunlight on a cloudy day- it’s beautiful and nearly blinds you.

I was thrilled that FWD and I were able to give Kenzie a welcoming and encouraging experience for her first off-road ride. It’s not to say that I didn’t have positive times with Travis on the trail- but I could see firsthand how much better it went for Kenzie than if we had a more Co-Ed experience. There was much less pressure and we were able to understand, communicate, and relate more easily than I was able to when I first rode with Travis.

This is what FWD is about and this is what I live for! If you are curious about riding off-road and you are nervous and afraid that you won’t do well, FWD and I are here to help!

You have to be willing to give it a chance before you completely write off that you "can't" mountain bike.

Kenzie isn’t an avid rider, she didn’t know what she could accomplish or expect- and she blew me away with how wonderful she did! No first ride is going to be “perfect” and there will always be spots to walk. You can’t look at that in a negative light, instead, look at everything you did ride- you will be amazed!

All you need to do is be open and willing to try. #BikeLife

Now, for those who are interested in our rides.