Women on Bikes Series: Shawna Anderson

I'm 43 years old, middle school special education teacher for 21 years, mom to a rescue St. Bernard and wife to a very patient husband. I see myself as very average- not athletic in school or anything. Purely spectator sports. We moved to Superior from the upper peninsula of Michigan in July 2015 and I made the commitment to myself to get out and meet people outside of work. I wanted to be active and busy. Fast forward to the holidays when santa left an awesome bright orange fat tire bike under the tree for me and I fell in love.

Then I met the ladies group and I haven't looked back. To be able to get out and enjoy the amazing scenery around here in the quiet wooded trails is healing. Riding trails takes my mental focus and takes my mind completely off the stress of work. It's so therapeutic! Now if only insurance would pay for the bike (and accessories!)

Tell us a little about your introduction to your #bikelife-
I had an old Giant mountain bike that I rarely touched until I moved to Superior, Wisconsin in the summer of 2015. I found a nice paved bike trail along the lake two blocks from my house so I dusted it off and tried to get back into it. I remembered why I didn’t ride much- my wrists hurt. My husband had a new fat tire that he liked, so he took me try one out. Holy cow have bikes changed! Santa spoiled me last Christmas and I found a Specialized FatBoy under the tree and I fell in love!

My reintroduction was kind of quiet. I heard about this group of ladies who ride on Tuesday nights in Duluth, I had a new bike to try out and I was committed to making the most of things in my new town, so off I went. I had no idea what I was doing, had never ridden a trail before but I haven’t looked back.

You received a fatbike as a Christmas gift- how has the fatbike been a life changing tool for you?
My Beast is just so much fun to ride! He’s been nicknamed Beast, but only because he can go anywhere! I’ve rediscovered the joy in biking. I love when I see people smiling at my bright orange bike and my fat tires. I have had more conversations with total strangers about my bike then I ever imagined. There are so many beautiful trails to around here there is no shortage of places to explore. I love getting outside and just soaking it all in.

So many folks feel that fatbikes are heavy, cumbersome, and not very fun- what are your thoughts?
They couldn’t be further from the truth! Of course, I don’t know all the technical aspects of bikes to do a ‘by the numbers comparison’, but I am an average middle aged woman and I can handle my bike without a problem. I pedal up hills, through mud (only when I have to, always try to protect the trails!), down the hills and anywhere I want to go.One weekend while riding a paved section of trail I had a gentleman comment on how ‘slow’ my bike was as he passed on some small road bike. Shortly after I passed him carrying his bike down a small grassy hill because his bike couldn’t handle it. I believe my comment was something to the effect of ‘I may not be quick but I can go anywhere.’ He scowled but his friend laughed. I wouldn’t trade my bike for anything.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
At first I was scared to death, gripping the handlebars and tensing my whole body! Once I realized that I could do this and relaxed, I enjoyed every minute. I stopped at one point, covered in sweat since it was hard work on a summer evening, and thinking “This is amazing!”. I knew then that I had found a new sport that was good for my soul.

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
Like I said, I was nervous! But thanks to the encouragement of the ladies in the group, I let go a little at a time and stopped overthinking things and before I knew it, I was having fun!

Clips or flats? What do you ride and why do you feel it's beneficial?
Flats only because it’s what my bike came with and the only thing I know. I am totally a novice, no ‘fancy equipment’ to try. Honestly, the idea of being clipped to my pedals kind of makes me nervous, but if I had the chance I would try. Heaven knows I’ve been wrong before!

How did you meet the Duluth mountain biking women's group?
How did I meet my people? Good question…..My husband and I are members of COGGS, our local bike group, and I heard about a women’s group there, but it wasn’t until I saw their Facebook post promising an ‘all levels’ ride that took the plunge. Took me a couple weeks to build up my courage, I’d never been on a trail before and I thought for sure I would be too slow for the group, but the ladies took me in with open arms and I am forever grateful.

For others who have yet to find a group to ride with, do you have suggestions on how one could go about finding such a group? What made you feel comfortable?
Check social media in your area- I have found groups for other activities in my area on Facebook- you just have to look. If you don’t find any, throw it out there and start one! You’ll likely be surprised to find that there are others who would love to join you! As far as making people comfortable, be honest about what you are looking for. Don’t say you want to find a distance riding group when your longest ride has been 5 miles. Communicate, be open and have fun, the rest will follow.

Have you ridden off-road solo? What do you enjoy about riding solo and how do you feel it benefits you?
I haven’t done any off-road trails solo, not quite confident enough for that. But I love to ride the bike trail near my house alone. It may sound strange, but I find it healing. I teach middle school special education so my brain is running at full speed all day, some days a ride is the only thing that clears it all. Focusing on finding the rhythm of the pedals that matches my breathing, looking at the world around me, soon I find myself calming down and thinking clearly. Trail riding does that even more, you have no choice but to focus on the trail in front of you and everything else just kind of fades to the background. It’s truly a sanity saver for me.
Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
For me, I haven’t put myself in a position to take a real biff yet. Looking back at my summer I think I should have pushed myself some more but I did what I was comfortable with at the time. My biggest challenge is mental- pushing myself to move to that next level, to try that new terrain, to ride through that tight turn. But I know with time and practice I will get there.

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 knew nothing when I started. Looking back, I am amazed I didn’t hurt myself! I learn something every time I go out. I watch the other ladies, I listen to them talk to each other, I take any advice they give. I have so much more to learn but I know it’s a process. I can’t possibly expect to be an expert in one summer! Only suggestions I would have are not to take yourself too seriously, be willing to learn and have fun as you learn.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Like I said, I’ve only been doing this for a summer so there is SO MUCH I have to learn. I have to remind myself to keep my pedals in a neutral position! Some nights I kick myself for having to walk parts of the trail and I start to beat myself up mentally for being inadequate. Then I remind myself that it doesn’t matter that I am walking, I am out and moving. I am doing more than most other people. And it’s not about how you get through the journey, it’s about enjoying the journey while you are on it.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love the freedom to be outside, the wind in my face, the blood pumping through my body, the quiet, the scenery….I’ve met amazing people, seen parts of my new city that many people don’t see, there’s not much I don’t love about riding! I had someone tell me that they were inspired to get back out on their bike after seeing the fun I was having on my bike, that to me is what it is all about.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I know most riders have a collection and stories behind all their bikes, not me. I have one, my Beast, a Specialized Fatboy in bright orange. He’s amazing and we make a great team. To be honest, when I walked into the shop I was drawn to the bike because orange is one of my favorite colors, but it’s been a great fit.

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
I am just starting to build my bike accessory collection so I don’t have much. Bought my first pair of ‘padded’ shorts mid-summer and I wish I hadn’t waited so long! Now I am all about the lights. I have a Light & Motion headlight and have been quite happy with it. They have great customer service too!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think most women, myself included, are just scared to get started. You see the videos of people ripping down mountains, jumping moguls, ripping through curves and think that is beyond your skills, and it is when you start! What you have to remember is that they all started out on the ‘easy’ rated trails and had their share of falls and biffs.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think just having more women represented will help. I can’t say enough about the ladies group I found and the ladies who lead it. I think small groups of like minded women, encouraging each other, have the potential to make a huge impact. Companies who support those types of things will likely see some great returns.
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I just want to share the joy and pleasure I get from riding with others. I ride to school some days to
encourage my students to get out and ride, I stop and chat with people when I am out for a ‘town’ ride and they have questions. I want everyone to feel this happiness!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
Hmmmmm…..random fact? I’ve been to 14 countries and counting. I have 4 tattoos. I’ve lived in 3 states now. I’ve paraglided 3 times (All in Alaska). I don’t know how to count? lol