Sunday, April 30, 2017

Race Day Adventures: Decorah Time Trials 2017

The Decorah Time Trials is almost like Christmas- it's the longest running mountain bike event in Decorah and is a mountain biking tradition.

Back in the day, folks would use the Time Trial to help gauge themselves for the upcoming race season. Folks nowadays use the event as a motivator to get out of the house as soon as possible to start training for the upcoming season.

The Time Trial may not have the same use as it did in the "good ol' days" but it does serve a purpose: Bringing folks together to have fun. The Time Trials isn't a "race" against others so much as a race against yourself. The goal is to complete the course with the fastest time (overall) or for your age category. You can be the first female across the finish, but that doesn't necessarily mean you'll have the fastest course time. The riders are released at minute intervals.

The Time Trials are annually held on the last Saturday in April, rain or shine. Only a couple times has it been cancelled due to dangerous weather. Last year was a complete slop-fest....this year would not be as messy. (Thankfully!) 

This year, there was a solid group of high school youth that came to participate and race among the adults. (I certainly don't feel like an adult, so I'll just leave it at that.)

The kids race prior to the official race is always a treat. A young, local lady was first female and I got to see another wee lass roll across the finish line. It is so encouraging to see youth participate in this event at any age. It also is vital that we get more young women interested in participating. 
The volunteers at this event are fantastic, I mean, really- many are seasoned volunteers who annually donate their time and energy to help make this event go on smoothly. Ron "Chewey" Moffit is an excellent race director with his fun-filled energy. He can totally shoot the shit, but he definitely shows care and concern for wanting to make sure everyone has a great time- racers, volunteers, and spectators alike.

Well, now that I've shared all of the great things about the Decorah Time Trials, and why you should come check the event out next year- I'll get on with the Race Report.

Getting ready for the Time Trials on a physical and emotional level takes a bit of time for myself. The anticipation builds after the first of the year hits, and for me Time Trials is like Christmas. It's a day when we close up the shop and go out and ride bikes with friends. Weeks prior to the event I was studying the weather- really, it's a joke to do so, but I felt like it would be a great way to prepare myself for the best, or worst. Bike, tires, and clothing- three things that can make or break your experience depending on weather, trail conditions, and temperatures.

My goal for this year was to ride my full suspension, carbon, Salsa Spearfish by the name of Gaston aka BEASTFACE. I love this bike, it boosts my confidence, and I wanted to ride something a bit more lighter and nimble than my Beargrease. I had done a couple trial runs of what I thought the Time Trial course would be, and felt I did very well with the full suspension. Where I am not confident in going fast, I feel I can ride faster with the suspension vs. on a hardtail. 

As the days counted down, I did my best to rest up for the event. I have a hard time with rest days and have the habit of possibly over-training. I wanted to be bursting with excitement to ride and have strong legs to do so. I was already going to have a card against me and that was menstruation. I went into Time Trials knowing I would not be at my peak like I was a week, even two weeks prior and I would have to simply let that frustration go. Doing a race on your period can be brutal- especially when you go in knowing what you have the potential of doing yet your body just can't. I was past the point of being able to use it to my advantage and it was going to be what it was going to be.

Travis and I registered early, and unexpectedly were able to choose our start times. We opted for spots #11 and #12 which were early, but not too early. This way we could have the possibility of not having to pass too many folks and reduce the probability of getting passed multiple times. Also? I hate waiting.
The time came and it was off to River Trail while my mom, Stego, and Kenzie went to Death Valley to spectate. My nerves would ease up as we rode, I was dressed what I felt would be good for when we got going. A short sleeve jersey, a wind jacket, and knicker tights with tall socks. I wanted to be cold to start with the knowledge I would warm up with all of the climbing.

Pre-race meeting was over and it was time to head to the Luge. I couldn't stop my legs from knocking; the cool air was getting the better of me with just standing around. Soon it was time for Travis to take off, and I took my place behind him. I chatted with Spinner and the other volunteers until it was time for me to go! Damnit...I flubbed up almost instantly, but brushed it off and kept going. 
I kept telling myself to remember to not blow myself up right away, take it steady- I had a lot more climbing left to do and there wasn't any sense in wasting all my energy at the start. I came to the end of Luge, to a fun spot where I typically bomb down on my full suspension. I bombed as usual, came around the corner and BAM!!! My bars turned, my front wheel went out, and down I went. 
I felt my head smack the ground hard, my jaw slammed shut, my right shoulder and elbow area took a mighty blow. I heard O'Gara yell, "Get back on the bike! Shake it off!" With encouragement I got up, scurried, and kept going. I had crashed in front of my mom...and a dozen other folks. I was embarrassed and all I could think was "Crap. Crap. Crap!" I didn't need everyone to see that, and I worried about my mom. First time seeing me race and I take a digger in front of her. Ugh!

I made sure while I was riding to Rocky Road that I was assessing myself in the process. My front teeth were okay, I wasn't dizzy or woozy, and I had mobility in my neck, shoulder, and arm. I was okay, but I would definitely feel it the following days with how hard I fell. I found Travis further up on Rocky Road and told him why I was slow to get to him. I don't think it fully registered to Travis until later on how hard I had actually hit. There was mud on my visor that stayed with me until the very end.

We both had rocky starts to our start, and I did my best to push away all the down feelings and embarrassment and just keep going. I made some advances during my ride, which made me feel pretty okay- I questioned my ability to stay ahead. I had a hard time shaking off the fear of wiping out on corners during the race. I knew I had come down from Luge too hot and leaned too far in on a greasy spot, but it's hard to shake that worry of the same thing happening everywhere else.

When we came to North 40 I found myself square behind another rider. The question came- "Do I pass now or wait until the Fire Road?" The rider offered us the pass and I took it with nervous welcome. Would I be playing leap frog or would I stay ahead. I pushed myself forward and hoped for the best. Really, that was all I could ask for at the time.

I didn't find myself emotionally in the best of places during my race- the gel that had been taped to my top tube had torn during my crash. Travis was able to retrieve it after it had fallen off my bike, but neither of us had a great way of storing it during the race. When we had come to the Fire Road to head up to Pines West, I was gifted about half of my gel- the rest had leaked all over Travis' leg. Honestly? If I had a full gel I doubt I would've done better. I would say the constant discomfort of my body was draining me physically as it takes a lot more effort to keep going when you're injured than if you're not.
Trail: North 40
Photographer Credit: Nick Chill
When we got to Dunnings and up to the Ice Cave loop, I was finding myself falling off the emotional deep-end. I was battling disappointment and frustration with my riding along with the aches and pains of my battered body trying to keep hold of my bike. It just wasn't what I was hoping for, but I would be damned if I would quit or let an imperfect ride stand in my way of finishing! I felt very humble. My body was starting to ache more and my bruised area by my elbow felt like it was burning every time my wind jacket brushed against it. I felt certain I had broken skin and was bleeding (I just bruised it badly.)

Everything was piling up and taking notches out of my mental game- I could feel myself wanting to break. I wanted to shed tears so badly, yet my mind was playing this: "Just keep it to yourself until the end. You can cry at the finish if you want to cry, but damnit Josie! Don't cry now!" (Because I was sure if I did, I'd probably crash into a tree!)

The loop in Dunnings was slightly different from what Travis and I had ridden, so it threw me for a loop. In true fashion, the folks who marked the course did a splendid job- so even tho I didn't know for sure what I was doing, I knew where to go.

Rattlesnake Cave trail was a disappointment to me, I had made it up the steep climb but messed up on the technical rocky section. A rider whom I respect greatly had come up from behind and saw my mishap. My heart dropped a little. In all honesty, I had several instances today where I rode imperfectly and had to hustle up this or that because I simply did not have the energy to pull a climb out. Again, more frustration.

River Trail was the biggest challenge- it's already though to ride fast because of all the twists and turns. It was more difficult yet due to the standing water in sections, my anxiety was up when it came to cornering because I didn't want to wipe out again. Finally, we exited the twisty section and made our way down the "runway" to the finish! I hauled as hard as I could, managing to get my front wheel off the ground just a little for show.

I had been able to hold out on my emotions until the very end- my cry was short and it happened more because of my mental state of having to hold together all of the discomfort for so long. I was grateful and thankful to be done. All I could think about at that point was a hot shower and some beer- and the wish for my racer's cough to go away. (That took several hours.)

In the shower I thought about the day and what it gave me in terms of lessons. I crashed bad, but I was fortunate to have not gotten seriously hurt and was able to continue and finish. I had my period, but I pushed thru and did the best I could under the circumstances my body allowed. It was, all in all, imperfect yet a perfect example of what I am able to do under less-than-ideal circumstances.

Had I performed flawlessly, I imagine I wouldn't have done a few minutes better than my finish time.
When results were posted, I was shocked, humbled, and happy- I managed to represent Decorah and get 1st overall female! Even with the crash, fumbles, and scampers up hills- I managed to do better than I hoped. I was relieved and happy! Last year I felt almost like a fluke that I had won...this year I felt that I most definitely earned it, even if my riding had lacked a certain luster.

I look back on how I was in my younger years with things that challenged me and look at myself now and wonder "Who the hell are you?" I was not someone who persisted under less-than-ideal circumstances, I usually would try to run away. I was definitely flight when it came to the "fight or flight" concept. My, how things have changed. Back then, imperfections in life would rattle me to the core and I could barely deal with it on an emotional level. Now? "Lil' Bit Don't Quit."

Mountain biking has changed my outlook on life- somehow I became a person who can deal with frustration a bit better than I used to. Not to say that I do not get upset over things, but when I'm on two wheels I can find myself literally rolling past those emotions. I became a person who can shake off embarrassing situations with a laugh; pushing myself past the "Why are you doing this?" and tell myself "It's because you can."

Thanks, Travis, for introducing me to mountain biking. Maybe not all of our moments are perfect on two wheels- but I can assure you that even when it's not I'm still grateful for you. I appreciated the company even tho I was so gassed I could hardly talk half the time. You can do amazing things, like say hi to people and give high-fives and stuff. I'm in awe of you and what you can do on a bike and in life.

Thank you again to all of the wonderful volunteers and to Race Director Extraordinaire- Chewey. Ya'll are awesome.
Thank you to the rad folks that showed up to ride bikes! You're the best!
Thanks to my mom for showing up to one of my races- I'm sorry I crashed in front of you. You apparently created a woman who can persevere.

Until next year, Time Trials! 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Women Involved Series: Melissa Petty

I am a passionate rider and sponsored racer for well over 10 years. I am a women's mountain biking advocate promoting the love of cycling by supporting and encouraging no-drop rides dedicated solely to the female rider by helping to lead women-only rides in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The mountain biking community in Knoxville — my family — has grown into an amazing and energetic group of people.

It’s all about hard work, good fun, and at the end of the day, a great place to ride and live. I love riding a mountain bike and being a part of such an incredibly connected community/family, so why not share that joy with others and perhaps turn that someone into a passionate, lifelong rider and advocate?

For over a year now, I’ve enjoyed being one of the original eight selected Joy Ride ambassadors for the new grassroots Bell Joy Ride Program that was developed to get more women into mountain biking. The company was inspired to try to build the most comprehensive map that will connect existing women’s riding groups in America. Bell welcomes all women’s groups that want to be listed on the map and encourages their participation to be included. Now in its second year, the Bell Joy Ride Program is designed to inspire and enable female mountain bikers with regular, structured, fun and social rides that appeal to all levels of riders. I, along with many awesome women in Knoxville, have created a space where female riders (as many as 50-100 per Joy Ride) can enjoy both challenge and camaraderie in a non-race oriented environment. Bell Joy Ride is an informal women's mountain biking group. It's not a club or a team. There is no membership fee or initiation. You don't have to join or commit to anything. Ladies just show up! I host rides organized by rider level/ability. Beginners to advanced and everyone in between can join. I offer opportunities to connect with other female riders in a casual, friendly environment. Our goal is to have fun! I love being a part of women inspiring other women to ride and progress in mountain biking by providing rides and resources that are supportive, social, fun and confidence building. As a Joy Ride Ambassador my goal is to help women (young and old) realize their potential through cycling. I aim to create a community that empowers girls and women through the sport, emphasizes the importance of goal setting, promotes healthy life styles, and recognizes the positive effects of strong female bonds. While this program is centered around creating camaraderie for women on bikes, it is most importantly about having fun in a constructive environment.

Social Media Links:
Instagram: BellJoyRideKnoxvilleTN

Tell us about your #bikelife and how that got started-
Biking for me began when I was a kid and my dad pushed me off down a dirt road without my training wheels. That was it. I was hooked. Biking fell to the way side once I became the biggest nerd in college, but kicked up again for me once I started working on my graduate degree at Virginia Tech and joined their cycling team. I was always very independent and determined. The bike provided a freedom for me that nothing else ever has. I find solace, peace and even healing on the bike when I need it and biking has always brought me joy and contentment in the deepest sense even after long hours/days of suffering on the bike.

What was your motivation to be a women's mountain biking advocate?
Mountain biking is not easy. It can be intimidating, challenging and downright hard. When I started mountain biking in the mountains of southwest Virginia 10 years ago, the sport was not as accessible as it is today. Had it not been for other women riding and inspiring me to keep believing in myself, that I could ride a mountain bike, well I probably would have given up. Nothing has ever inspired or motivated me more to progress, ride, and race mountain bikes than meeting and riding with other women in the sport. Mountain biking empowers me and enhances my life now in such a positive way that I want to share that feeling by being an advocate for women to ride mountain bikes with other women in a non-intimidating environment. It is my time to give back.

What has been your favorite event you've participated in and why do you enjoy participating at events?
I have so many favorites: Shenandoah 100; BC Bike Race; The Icycle; Pisgah Enduro; Coldwater Enduro; Pisgah Monster Cross; Three Peaks. My favorite events tend to be the ones that challenge me the most both physically and mentally. After racing endurance mountain bike events for a few years, I decided to try something new. I’ve been racing Enduro events for the past couple of years because technical downhills are my weakness. I’ve always enjoyed a new challenge and how empowering it can be to tackle tricky technical sections during a race…maybe sections that I might not ride if not for doing them in the heat of the race! Mountain biking allows me to push the limits within myself and break through boundaries that for me can just be my mind telling me that I can’t.

Do you have suggestions for those who have never participated at an event?
You can’t fail if you don’t try! ☺ Have a friend sign up with you and when you show up, let others know that it is your first event! You will be amazed how many kind people at events will take you under their wing and help you with pointers! Be as prepared and as focused as you can possibly be for that particular event. What I realized was that by doing an event regardless of my results, I found myself riding features and technical sections of trails that I would have never ridden before if I hadn’t been “racing”. For me, a race is about how I progressed that day. Did I try something new?? If I can answer “yes” to that question after an event…then it was a success, a win for me. But, most importantly…have FUN! You will always win first in FUN if you are smiling and remaining positive no matter what happens on race day. Things will happen on race day that are out of your control, but stay focused and smile even if you don’t finish. Just be proud that you started!

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
Yes. Some trail called Hair Ball at Pandapas Pond in Blacksburg, Virginia, with my friends Laura, Chris and Russell. They were all waiting on me at the bottom and laughing because I rode down the entire thing. Probably only because I was too trail dumb to be scared! It was exhilarating. Then I realized that I had a lot to learn! I fell HARD for mountain biking. I loved the challenge of learning how to change and adapt to dynamic terrain and overcoming obstacles that seemed impossible at first! The focus required for mountain biking also quiets my ever-racing mind. I love the calmness and stillness that I get inside while riding. Nothing compares.

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
Smiling helps. A lot! Also, telling myself that I can instead of I can’t…always helps. Maintaining positive thoughts and focusing on staying loose and having fun really helps. I tend to get stiff when I’m nervous and have to remind myself to stay loose! Remember that you are on your bike and riding dirt…focus on having fun!

Clips or flats? What do you enjoy and why?
Clips for me most of the time, but I think that if you practice you can ride either and accomplish any skill or maneuver. I do ride flats on my dirt jumper since I’m it’s easier to throw a foot out more easily if I need to. I enjoy clips more because I learned how to road bike race and mountain bike race initially with clips, not flats. I think that I would like to try flats some over this winter just to see if it might help me to progress with maneuvers such as wheelies/manuals.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Lots of crashes, road and dirt. Concussions, lots of stitches/staples, thumb ligament surgery, sprained ankles, shoulder separations, numerous bruises, scrapes, abrasions. I typically clean abrasions and ice the injury as soon as possible. The one constant in my life is biking, so mentally I am always determined to get back to pedaling as soon as physically possible. The sooner the better for my spirit! I get down and blue when I can’t mountain bike, so I do what I can do get back on the bike as soon as I can. I’ve realized that nothing one does in life comes without pain. That is the beauty of life… Pushing myself to go “full stoke” requires dedication and practice in order to ride a technically challenging feature. I think I’m learning where my limits are with mountain biking and just how far I’m willing to push myself.

I’ve definitely toned down how “big” I’m willing to go on certain trails and features. And, I’m ok if I decide that I’m not going to ride *full stoke* that day. Mountain biking for me is about progression and mastering a skill on a feature that has smaller consequences before taking it to a feature that has bigger consequences. In time and with practice, your confidence will continue to soar!

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Steep, off-camber ridge with ruts would cause me to freeze with fear. I learned that braking too much only caused me to freak out more and fall more. Proper braking technique is crucial for maintaining control of your bike and also for building confidence. Sometimes just letting go and not braking as much or as hard will allow your bike to flow through technical terrain. Also, sometimes you need to use your feet and legs to pump your bike while using your arms to help maneuver and not just apply the death grip to go down while hoping for the best. When I’m loose and using proper handling techniques, the fear turns into FUN! Don’t be afraid to take skills clinics by professionally certified mountain bike instructors. Good cornering skills were also essential to helping me gain more confidence. Learning to be more dynamic on my bike is still something that I constantly work on. For more technical features you may need to get comfortable getting out of the saddle. I think it is surprising to many, including myself, how aggressive you need to be on more challenging, technical terrain with your body positioning and maneuvering of your bike.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Really steep, super rocky trails with big rock drops. I will stop and walk over tricky sections to scout the best line and then session those trail sections. If I ride through some or all, then I consider that a success. I don’t have to clean every technical section on a trail. I just don’t let that drag me down anymore. Learning to use my brakes effectively and not with a death grip allows my bike to flow over technical rocks easier with less bucking of the bike. If you are braking too much that tends to start a rippling effect of feeling out of control. When braking improperly or too hard, the more my bike’s suspension sags and I tend to get bucked more. I also wear more protective gear than I used to which helps me to gain more confidence on these types of trails. I practice the same technical trails over and over so that every time I go ride there, I see progress. That’s the beauty in riding the same technical trails over and over. If I start sessioning a feature and I can’t clean it in three attempts, then I acknowledge and move on. If I don’t then I just get tense and start feeling defeated. No point in that! I would also love to be able to have more confidence when jumping and clearing tables!

What do you love about riding your bike?
What’s not to love?!! The freedom of losing myself completely in order to focus on nothing else but riding. There is no greater solace for me in life than riding my mountain bike. I also love the community that mountain biking provides to me. The people I ride with have become my family. I am never alone.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Ibis Mojo HD3 size small (I’m short!). The HD3 features the famed dw-link suspension—bike is very fast going up. Geometry is longer, lower and slacker, with 6” of plush rear wheel travel—bike is scary fast going down! The lightweight carbon fiber frame design by Roxy Lo evens allows me to put a water bottle on top of the downtube! The 27.5 wheels are incredibly playful and the bike is SUPER fun on jump downhill trails and steep technical downhills. I cannot believe how well it climbs. I chose this bike because I switched to Enduro racing in 2015, so this has become my playful Enduro bike!

Tell us about the Bell Joy Ride program- what was the motivation to apply?
For a year now, I’ve enjoyed being one of the eight selected Joy Ride ambassadors for the new grassroots Bell Joy Ride Program that was developed to get more women into mountain biking. Now in its second year, the Bell Joy Ride Program is designed to inspire and enable female mountain bikers with regular, structured, fun and social rides that appeal to all levels of riders. I, with the help of many awesome women in Knoxville, have created a space where female riders (as many as 50-100 per Joy Ride) can enjoy both challenge and camaraderie in a non-race oriented environment. Bell Joy Ride is an informal women's mountain biking group.

It's not a club or a team. There is no membership fee or initiation. You don't have to join or commit to anything. Ladies just show up! We host rides organized by rider level/ability. Beginners to advanced and everyone in between can join. We offer opportunities to connect with other female riders in a casual, friendly environment. Our goal is to have fun! I love being a part of women inspiring other women to ride and progress in mountain biking by providing rides and resources that are supportive, social, fun and confidence building. As a Joy Ride Ambassador my goal is to help women (young and old) realize their potential through cycling. I aim to create a community that empowers girls and women through the sport, emphasizes the importance of goal setting, promotes healthy life styles, and recognizes the positive effects of strong female bonds. While this program is centered around creating camaraderie for women on bikes, it is most importantly about having fun in a constructive environment.

Motivation: The Urban Wilderness initiative is unprecedented in my city, Knoxville, TN. The idea of taking isolated and often under-visited parks and connecting them with more than 100 miles of trail has created a synergy in Knoxville that has transformed it into a huge outdoor destination. At the core of that synergy are the nonprofits, Appalachian Mountain Bike Club (AMBC) and Legacy Parks. I have been an active member of AMBC since 2010 and attend the monthly meetings and join in the social rides and work days AMBC offers. They host some of the most consistent social gatherings in the city with their weekly rides, obtain large grants and land easements, and work tirelessly to build and maintain a huge portion of the trails that exist in Knoxville. They’ve taken public areas with once-seedy reputations like Sharps Ridge and built miles of recreational space, pumping life into parks, improving the quality of life for residents, and increasing the market potential for local businesses. Businesses, parks, people, and public image: they’re all connected, and the connectedness is set to continue spreading.

I love riding a mountain bike and being a part of such an incredibly connected community/family, so why not share that joy with others and perhaps turn that someone into a passionate, lifelong rider and advocate? I see mounting evidence that mountain biking is gaining widespread acceptance as a valued activity that benefits recreation-minded people here in Knoxville and around the globe. Women mountain bikers have made tremendous strides but there is obviously more work ahead and my role as good Joy Ride Ambassador is to make sure that women are represented and our voices are heard by providing support and encouragement. It’s time for women to come off of the sidelines and feel the connection to Knoxville’s mountain bike community that I feel. I want to continue spreading the connectedness! I hope to inspire female mountain bikers with regular, structured, fun, and social rides that appeal to all levels of riders. Women inspiring other women to ride mountain bikes and progress is something I will never tire of seeing or being a part of.
How has being part of the Bell Joy Ride program helped you with your group rides?
Bell, modeling off the successful Girls Rock Santa Cruz program, provided me and the other ambassadors a ride checklist for success. The number one thing that was stressed was that women need an invite. Girls Rock Santa Cruz and Bell Joy Ride Programs were founded by Jessica Klodnicki (former VP of Bell Bike Helmets and now Camelbak). Girls Rock Santa Cruz was so successful because they would host a consistent ride every month and the women would be invited to each event. Over time, an email list of over 330 women opted in because they wanted to ride with other women. The events are totally unofficial, but super organized! I’m pretty good at organizing, but the Ride Success Checklist Bell provided initially really helps me to stay on track each month. The rides are consistent and once a month that everybody can count on and everyone will get an invite! Fun themes are good to keep the rides exciting too! So far the Bell Joy Ride Knoxville has an email list of over 230 women who have opted in to ride with other women!!

The Ride Success Check list includes:
*Identify host and start location
*Theme, schwag – what’s the hook? Secure “sponsors”/donors where possible to enhance the experience (driven by word of mouth and interconnected with industry folks and influential women in the mtb community)
*Email invites sent via Eventbrite at least 2 weeks and 1 week in advance with ride details
*Ride details posted on FaceBook page, often reposted by others
*Secure RSVP’s to get a sense of how many will attend (limit according to # of ride leaders/sweepers)
*Identify routes and volunteer ride leaders for different levels – great to have ride leaders
who are also coaches that can help beginner groups “session” during the ride
*Show up early prior to ride start
*Announcements – welcome the group, say a few words about the ride & the routes
*Host says a few words to the group about their brand/business, etc…
*Take lots of pictures before, during and after the ride
*Split up in to ride levels and roll out
*Informal post-ride meet up – tailgate, brewery, restaurant, etc…
*Post ride recap sent out by email and posted on the FB page by the end of the weekend with thank you’s, shout outs and pictures
*Begin planning for the next one!

When it comes to applying for programs such as Bell Joy Ride, why should women apply even if they might not get chosen?
Ladies! You don’t have to be chosen to be an official ambassador for a company in order to be an advocate for getting more women on mountain bikes. If you want to start your own local Joy Ride and call it that or whatever you want, then go for it! Just start small and watch it grow. Several of my friends have done just that: Lauren Breza in New Hampshire and Terri Watts in Athens, Georgia!! You ladies rock so hard!! The Successful Ride list above is a good start for a successful all women’s mtb ride. Try it and see what happens. You might just be amazed! It is all about connecting women to each other and connecting them to the local resources that are available to them and then maintaining those relationships!

Do you have suggestions for those looking to start up women's rides in their area?
Go to Facebook and “like” the Bell Joy Rides across the country including Knoxville, TN ( and follow what the ladies are doing in their areas with the Joy Ride programs. You can get some really cool ideas and be inspired at the same time. You can also follow the Successful Ride Checklist to get started. Start building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships in your city with your local bike shops, breweries, wineries, REI’s, sports medicine doctors, local coffee shops, restaurants, your local mountain bike club, etc.
Do you have suggestions how one can deal with the potential slow start that some women may face with getting more women involved with riding off-road?
Try to get skill clinics to come to your area or close by and advertise to get more women to attend. Skill clinics can be incredible for confidence building, which is usually what is holding most women back from trying the sport. Also, work closely with your local bike shops to get demos for a ride/event for women. A bike that is set up for a rider can sometimes make a big difference. The local bike shops in Knoxville have all been incredibly supportive and have sponsored events as well as coming out to them to provide pre-ride bike checks and maintenance. Lastly, it helps to find a trail system that has at least one true beginner trail that is more accessible to new and beginner riders.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Cost can be the biggest deterrent. Mountain bike technology is increasingly more advanced and with that comes increased cost! For me, I had to look at it as an investment in my health but mostly in my happiness. I have incredible life experiences because I’ve chosen to invest my money into a mountain bike. It may not be for everyone, so I suggest trying as many bikes as possible before deciding to invest your hard earned money into the sport. As well, mountain biking can be intimidating and I think that some women are really scared of getting hurt, or of not succeeding. In mountain biking, I’ve realized that you have to let go of negativity. I’ve accepted that I can fall and maybe I won’t ride a techy section clean every single time. But, if I’m positive and think my way through a technical section, then I can usually have a positive outcome. With the Joy Rides, the ladies get to ride in a group of women with the same skills thanks to all of the incredible women that volunteer to lead rides for me. It becomes less intimidating when you see other women riding a mountain bike on technical terrain. It gives you courage that maybe you didn’t have before. When women see how to get out of a scary/intimidating situation on the bike by thinking it through and staying positive, it translates into having more positive outcomes in life.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved? 
Locally, I think Knoxville is kicking booty at getting more women to be involved. The scene of women mountain biking in Knoxville is soaring and the momentum continues to blow me away! The local bike shops are all willing to come out to local rides and events with demos and to offer bike checks, clinics, etc. The support is outstanding and I couldn’t be luckier for that! I think the mountain bike industry is slowing getting there.

I feel that the cycling industry as a whole still has a ways to come in really welcoming women into the folds of cycling. Bell, Liv, Trek, and Juliana all have the right idea and are making huge strides, but when I walk into most bike shops, the presence of women employees is still astonishingly low. I think that getting more women to work in bike shops in order to provide a welcoming experience to women that visit bike shops is key to encouraging more women to be involved in the industry as a whole.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Seeing eyes light up and smiles on faces when women try something new and they are successful. It’s the best feeling to see someone do something that they thought they would never even try. I am continually inspired by the women that are now going out and riding solo. I see this empowerment and I see it changing women’s lives for the better. Ladies are now friends and riding together…connected through the happiness that biking together provides. What could be better?

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have a M.S. degree in Fisheries and Wildlife. I love to snorkel in freshwater streams throughout the
southeast, especially in the mountains to learn more about fish, mussels and the environment they depend on. We too, depend on these freshwater environments to sustain us. After all…water is life. I also love to identify birds by their songs as I’m riding through the forests! Wheeeee!!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Confessions of a Mountain Biking Perfectionist

A few days ago I was gifted a valuable lesson in how I tend to be my harshest critic. I've been critical of myself all my life along with constantly comparing myself to others. For example, I grew up watching my mom create beautiful oil paintings yet I hated painting because I felt I couldn't do it "right."

I liked drawing and sketching, but I felt my art was overshadowed by the talent of others whom I admired. I put folks on a pedestal and couldn't accept the gift that I brought to the table. I would spend hours on a drawing, erasing frantically at the perceived imperfections of an eye, nose, or mouth. Fingers and hands were absolute nightmares for me. My drawings evolved to manga and anime-style characters. I still felt what I put out on paper was not good enough to be considered "art." I have spent years without sketching or drawing, perhaps I'll whip out a doodle here and there. My own self is what stopped me from pursuing drawing further. My critical thinking and self judgement.

In high school I took a creative writing class, my very first assignment proved to be an excellent one for me. Descriptive writing was the theme and I got an A. The teacher was notorious for being hard on students and not too easy to win over or please. He wrote on the paper, an expectation for me to "live up to" the grade. I didn't do poorly in class, but I didn't excel- I struggled with having to do certain things vs. just being able to write how it felt comfortable. Standards and expectations that I failed to meet kept me from writing past that class more than a few poems written for loved ones who had passed away.

There is a glorious theme here. I have had a tendency to give up on things that actually brought me joy and happiness because I felt I wasn't "perfect."
I spent most of my life searching for that "one thing" that would make me feel like I was "good" at something. I wanted to feel skilled and talented- provoking the feelings of awe from my peers. I wanted to do something which brought forth feelings of admiration and respect.

How could I if I kept quitting?
If I continued to not apply myself, I would never find myself improving.
How does all of this pertain to mountain biking? Quite well, actually!

I had to swallow a difficult lesson the other day when Travis and I had gone out for a ride on Easter Sunday. Oh, the day was beautiful! Temperatures were fantastic, the sun was out, wildflowers were abundant along the sides of the trails. I was brimming with anticipation of a glorious ride where I would be able to impress Travis with my riding prowess. Instead, it was far from that.

We were going to do the Time Trial course and see how the trails were after some rain. We figured our plus bikes would be the best choice- extra traction and footprint in case things were still a little greasy. The route starts with a lot of climbing- the ride up Luge to Rocky Road felt more like a death march for me than anything. My legs were feeling like lead and I had a feeling of fatigue wrapped around me like a cloak. Oh, this wasn't ideal.

Usually I start to perk up on Little Big Horn and I had a heavy realization that this wasn't going to happen today. As we continued on, my handling would become sloppy at times. I felt like I had to work extra hard to keep my bike on track. The front end wanted to go where it wanted, not necessarily where I wanted.

Today it felt like my bike weighed 60 pounds. It was relentless.
On a climb, I got off-course and rammed my front tire into a small stump. This caused Travis to run into my back tire- my bars turned and the brake lever rammed itself into the area right above my knee. A mighty "Ouch!" escaped from my mouth and I looked down and knew immediately I would be graced with a bruise. (Side note- 2 of three cats had an excellent track record of finding that bruise every time they got up onto my lap over the next few days.)

Everything about the ride was stacking up against me mentally. The bike, how I felt, the lack of control, the inability to hold a line well. Perfectionism was setting in, the frustration with myself started to grow. I took time to be quiet and reflect on my feelings so I could better understand why I was so frustrated.

1. More times than not I'm on a solo ride where I'm not riding with another person. On these rides, the only person who knows if I'm having an off day is myself. I'm not sharing my fumbles and bumbles with anyone- so it's all on me. I can choose to share how my ride went if I want to; admitting anything is completely by choice. There are days where I also rock the solo ride.

2. Time of month and how much I'm riding can definitely affect how I ride. There are times during the hormonal changes where riding is utterly exhausting. It's biology. I can change it only so much- those days I'm extremely hard on myself because I feel like I can't accept that it is what it is.
If I'm riding a lot on a regular basis without proper rest- of course I'm going to feel like crap! I have yet to master my acceptance of days off the bike and days without any strenuous physical activity.

3. When I ride with Travis, not taking into account anything with #2, I have a 50/50 chance of riding well or being "off." Maybe I put too much pressure on myself when I ride with Travis because I expect the worst before we even begin. It's frustrating on my end when days prior I rode really well I have nothing better to show than my "worst." Especially to someone I look up to, who was the person in which introduced me to the sport. I want Travis to see me rock it on the bike, not flounder around like a fish out of water.

Travis was happy to be out, sure, there might have been a moment or two where he wondered what was up, but he didn't hold it against me or tell me I was a "bad" rider for putting a foot down. He knows better than any, that "off" days can happen, where our bodies and minds surprise us with the unexpected. Instead of cursing yourself or your bike, you give thanks for the opportunity to get outside and ride. You embrace the temporary and unwanted chaos and accept that it is what it is. You get a gift- time outside on your bike be it solo or with friends. You shouldn't waste it on a plethora of unknowns and "what ifs."

I realized that my perfectionist tendencies had led me to putting unnecessary pressure on myself to be, of course, perfect. I fell back into patterns of thinking that have plagued me since childhood- the feelings of being unworthy, unskilled, and imperfect. Had I listened to those feelings all during the start of my biking, I would not be where I am today. I would not be writing and I'm certain I would not be mountain biking.

In the beginning if my riding and writing, I had a choice. I could continue to persevere and move forward with something that I wasn't particularly "good" at in order to improve. I was able to accept mistakes and temporary failures were all part of the process. I had desire and I was thriving on pushing myself past the point of quitting and further over the line into the field of achieving. The best part? I was able to take something and make it my own. I could ride how I wanted to ride and write how I wanted to write. 

A person that both Travis and I know gave me the nickname Lil' Bit. The other night I came up with a motto based on that- "Lil' Bit Don't Quit."

It's true. Even tho I battle with myself at times with my own ways of thinking, I manage to find a way to work thru those feelings of self-doubt and questioning. Why? Because I have passion. I have passion for storytelling, for sharing the stoke of women who want to inspire others, and simply for riding and what it can do for a person.

Perfectionism can make this a hard process, but you are in charge of whether or not you allow yourself the opportunity to move forward. Realize that with growth- there will always be off days, and those days do not take away from the amazing things you've already done.
Those days allow us to have a chance to look inward and learn more about ourselves and how to deal with those annoying little voices of doubt, fear, and perfectionism. 

Refuse to let the difficulty of learning something new or taking chances keep you from the ultimate goal: Progression.

"I think anytime you can affect people in general, in a positive way, then you're a lucky individual."
-Sam Elliot

Monday, April 17, 2017

Women Involved Series: Selene Yeager

Today we meet Fit Chick, Selene Yeager, who many of you may recognize from her articles featured in Bicycling Magazine. You may have picked up one or more of her books on cycling or fitness.
Selene is a woman who made cycling and fitness her life, and made it her mission to share her experiences and wealth of knowledge thru writing. I decided to make contact with the rider and author, so we could all learn about her #bikelife and what fuels her passion for life.

"I’ve always ridden bikes. Then at some point I got into writing about them and racing them. That’s taken me all over the world: Brazil, South Africa, Israel, Cuba, British Columbia, and beyond. I ride every kind of bike everywhere. I race mostly off road. Gravel, mountain, some enduro."

Biking has always been a part of your life, what would you say has been the driving force behind your active #bikelife?
DNA. I’ve always just loved it. My grandfather used to go out and ride to see how far he could get, long before anyone I knew ever talked about that kind of recreational endurance riding. I didn’t know anyone in my small town who rode like that. He didn’t either. He just did it because it gave him joy. When I was in middle school I just started riding my bike everywhere. When I got to high school, I too, liked to see how far I could go—sometimes riding 20 miles to a friend’s house when everyone else was driving. I’ve always inherently loved the way it feels and makes me feel. Still do.

What was your inspiration to start participating in competitive biking events?
Friends and colleagues. After I got a job at Rodale (the parent company that publishes Bicycling), I started riding with a lot of other people who worked there. People kept saying, “You should race.” I didn’t think I wanted to do that. But eventually I caved and signed up. I was the only woman who showed up! But I had a good experience and started racing pretty regularly.

Out of the events you have participated in, what would you say is your most favorite?
I love mountain bike stage racing. Pedaling across the countryside is the most amazing way to take in a place. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have been able to line up in some of the iconic ones like BC Bike Race and Cape Epic as well as Hot Israel Epic and Titan Tropic Cuba. My favorite of all the ones I’ve done is Brasil Ride because it was spectacularly beautiful and every day felt very different as you passed through coffee plantations and lush bamboo forests. One that I do nearly every year and is near and dear to my heart is the Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic (a stage race in Central PA) because it’s close to home and it feels like summer camp. It’s also very technical riding, which I like best.

Do you have any suggestions for those who are planning to attend their first competitive event? What should they keep in mind?
Keep in mind that everyone is just like you! People have this idea that they’re going to go to a race and everyone is going to be PRO. Untrue. Most racers are there for the camaraderie and the challenge and the fun as much if not more than for the result. Relax and enjoy it. You’ll have a better time and probably do better, too.

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? How was your introduction to off-road riding and what about it inspired you to keep at it?
I remember my first official introduction to “real mountain biking” (as opposed to taking my 10 speed in the woods like I used to) very clearly. I was on a fully rigid Cannondale on some super technical trails that are right in town here where Bicycling is located. I was with a small crew that included friends and colleagues I still ride with now and then (though some have since moved on). I was dumbfounded! People were just popping their bikes over rocks and logs and riding through streams. I couldn’t stop laughing it was so fun and ridiculous. I loved it immediately. I had no idea what I was doing, so I just followed the person in front of me and tried to imitate what they were doing. It worked pretty well. At one point one of the guys looked back and smiled and said, “I think you’re going to be pretty good at this.” After the ride, Bill Strickland (still my boss at Bicycling today!) gave me an old Rock Shox Judy fork that he had in the garage. It was awesome. I still love those backyard trails best of all.

Besides mountain biking, you have done quite a few endurance mountain bike rides/events. What do you enjoy about endurance rides?
I love going places on my bike. And I like going far. You really feel a sense of place and accomplishment and it soothes my mind and fills my creative well, so when I go back to writing I have something to say! That’s not to say there aren’t moments when I’m out there and I’m suffering wondering what the hell I’m doing and swearing that I’ll never do whatever it is ever again. But I nearly always do. I’m an optimist at heart and tend to remember mostly the good stuff in life; so I forget those moments pretty quickly and come back for more.
For someone interested in trying out an endurance-type event, what are some things they should take into consideration when preparing?
Nutrition, nutrition, nutrition. In the end, your fuel pretty much makes or breaks you on a very long day. It’s very overlooked, especially when people are first starting out. Practice eating and drinking on your long rides. See what works—and what doesn’t—for you. Go into endurance rides with a fueling plan—i.e. “I’m going to drink a bottle an hour and eat 200 calories an hour”—or whatever works for you and DO it.

Clips or flats? What works for you and why?
I know I’m supposed to say flats. But clips. I like the power transfer of them. Yes, I know that flats make you a better rider. I’m still not going to use them. But I appreciate riders who do.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Oh, I’ve had a few. I wrecked on my road bike at about 30 mph a few years ago. I luckily walked away pretty physically unscathed, but mentally? I’d be lying if I said I still don’t have to remind myself to relax on long technical descents. On the mountain? Crashing is part of the learning curve for sure. I’ve broken ribs, fingers, my collarbone, and have had multiple shoulder injuries. I think the hardest part is when you first come back because it’s fresh in your head. But gradually you work back up to riding at speed and pushing your comfort zone and rebuilding that confidence. It’s important to know why your wrecks happen I think. Because it gives you something to keep in mind and try to prevent. Honestly, as I’ve gotten older, I also take less unnecessary risks. I weight the risk/reward a little more now. I’m not willing to lose a fully summer of riding for an injury that wasn’t worth it so to speak.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Fast cornering. I’m still not the best at it. It’s hard for me to trust that my tires will hook back up when they drift a bit. But I’ve gotten better. I think just riding with people who are better and watching and learning from them has been big. Also weight distribution is everything. It’s easy to be static on your bike and try to let it do the work. But being an active rider; shifting your weight and dancing on the bike is key to maneuvering rough terrain at speed.

What do you love about riding your bike?
It’s where I feel most peaceful and alive. Even when I’m hypoxic and suffering, I feel centered there. And I feel more centered when I’m done.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My current mountain bike is a Yeti Beti SB5 and everyone is sick of me telling them how much I love it every time we ride. It climbs well. It descends beautifully. It dances with me over rocks and logs. I just love it. On the road my bike of choice is a Liv Envie—she’s a rocket ship and super comfortable. Feels like flying. On gravel, it just depends. But my most trusty steed is a Specialized Crux because it’s super versatile. I can put giant tires on it for gravel races or skinnier rubber for more traditional cross races.

Cycling is one aspect you are well known for, health and fitness are the others- how did you originally become involved in those fields?
I think people just gravitate to what they’re interested in and what they’re good at. I’ve always been active. I played field hockey. I ran track and field. I danced. I kayaked and ran and swam. When I started writing it made sense to write about things I loved. Then it made sense to pursue some education and certification so I could speak from a place of a certain level of knowledge.

You have helped pen several books as well as magazine articles, when did writing become a way for you to share your passions?
It always has been. If I didn’t write, I don’t know what I would do. Probably work at a bike shop or coffee shop. I really don’t know. I’m writing in my head every minute of my life. Always have.

Do you have suggestions for folks who would like to write articles or a book about cycling or whatever sport they are involved in? What are some good first steps?
This is hard to answer, as the publishing world has changed so much since I first stepped into it. The web is a good place to hone your skills, though. Start writing and posting your own stuff. See how people respond to it. Then see if you can float it past some editors. It’s not easy. There’s a lot of rejection, always has been. But if you love to do it, persistence usually pays off.

Out of the books you have been an author of, what would you say is your favorite and why?
I’d have to say two. ROAR, which I co-wrote with Dr. Stacy Sims. It’s all about women’s specific nutrition and training and it was just a mind-blowing experience for me. She’s a goldmine of knowledge on the subject and the advice I learned and subsequently wrote about has changed the way I train and fuel. The other would be Rusch to Glory, which is Rebecca Rusch’s story. I’d never written anything like that before and it was amazingly challenging and gratifying. I loved the process.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I actually don’t think that’s true anymore. When I go on mountain bike rides now, sometimes the women outnumber the men. Women still don’t race bikes as much. Maybe they never will. But I don’t think we should judge the participation in the sport by the participation in competition. There are tons of women out there on bikes now, mountain bikes included. That number is only going to grow. I think it just took a while. When I first started riding, there weren’t any good clothes for women and everything was geared to men and it was sort of intimidating and you were worried about holding the ride up because you were a woman or whatever. That’s not 100% gone. But there’s so much fabulous gear for women and there are tons of women’s groups and women can go online and see other women being awesome and rad and riding and having fun. That only leads to more women riding.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think we’re doing it. There’s still some bro-industry bullshit. And yes, there’s still sexism. But those walls are crumbling. We just have to keep chipping away. The more women that get involved, the less you’ll see of that.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Riding makes you feel free. Every woman should feel free.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have 6 toes on my feet. (Kidding.) I don’t know if it’s random. But I think what surprises people about me when they really get to know me is that I battle fear of failure pretty much constantly in everything I do. I have some very loud demons that bang around in my head telling me I suck and I’m an imposture and I’m going to get my ass handed to me if I do any given event. I have to slay those demons just to get out of the house some days! But it’s totally worth it. It makes you stronger. And they just get in the way of having a good time. Probably deeper than what you wanted—like I collect lip gloss (which I do)—but ultimately more helpful I think!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Women on Bikes Series: Ashlynn Smith

Well my name is Ashlynn Smith. I am a laboratory technician for a professor at the University of Florida (Milton Campus in Milton, FL) as well as a teaching assistant and graduate student in the Environmental Horticulture program. Because of this, my biking life has had to slow down a bit this semester, but I would have to say my niche in the biking world is definitely in the long distance endurance events, especially the self-supported ones!

This past October I completed a self-supported, self-navigated endurance race called the Tallahassee Tango. I was so proud of myself for that one! I also try and host at least one ladies only off-road ride each month. I do this because I’m tired of women attempting to get involved in off-road biking and being intimidated or afraid of being left alone in the woods because they are dropped from a group or hurting themselves because they feel pressured to ride faster or above their skill level.

The group is called Women’s Adventure Riding- It’s not that big of a group yet, but I have had up to 10 ladies join me and I would love for us to start going on small bikepacking adventures together!

Tell us what introduced you to discovering your #bikelife and how it has influenced your world.
I was first introduced to road biking by a co-worker and I took to it right away. I think I liked biking so much because I was able to use the same muscle groups I had already developed from rowing in college. Rowing is all legs! Road biking evolved to triathlons, that evolved to road bike racing (which I was NOT good at!), which evolved to a cross bike for commuting, which then turned to gravel grinding / mountain biking / bikepacking.

Can you take us back to your first mountain bike ride? What did you learn from it?
I can’t remember my very first mountain bike ride, but I can remember my first time being clipped in on a mountain bike. My husband and I were visiting family in Kentucky and I thought it would be a great idea to bring our mountain bikes! We stopped in Tennessee to ride so not only was I over my skill level, but it was also my first time being clipped in. There were a lot of tears and crashes that day. One crash I had was so scary for me, after finishing the trails up there, I was afraid to get back on my bike for a month. What I learned from that ride was how important it is to take things slow. Slowly work your way out of your comfort zone and on to harder courses/skills. I always keep this ride in mind when riding with beginners. I know that if they get scared, it may take them a month or they may even not get back on the mountain bike at all, so I try to be very patient and understanding of their fears.

For those nervous about off-road riding, do you have tips or suggestions that may help them cope?
I guess I sort of did that in the previous question, but I always try and tell women who are new, that I can’t promise they wont fall or get scratched up, and may even be a little scared at times, but once they feel comfortable and in control, there’s nothing like tackling a challenge on the bike and coming out on the other side.

Clips or flats? What do you like and why?
Even with my first bad clipped-in experience, I’m still a clipped in rider! I like feeling connected to the pedal at all times. I can apply more power knowing my foot won’t slide off the pedal.

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 honestly feel that many physical challenges are often just mental/emotional ones. I learned in college as an athlete at a very competitive level, that the body is capable of things beyond what you can even imagine it’s capable of. You just have to get past mental blocks to allow it to reach its full potential. Even being aware of this, getting past those barriers is way easier said than done. I mentally talk myself out of all kinds of things! I would recommend though that setting a specific goal helps me get past the mental blocks. By the way, I NEVER make my goals about winning and rarely are they about a finishing time, but setting a distance goal with a long endurance event just helps keep me focused and I’m less likely to talk myself out of training and such.
When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
At the very basic level, I just had trouble putting my bike exactly where I wanted it. If there was something I wanted to get around, it was hard for me to get my bike to do it. It’s easy for people who have been riding for a long time to forget what not having control of where the bike is going feels like, but it’s not always a ‘given’ when people get started. A female mountain bike instructor finally told me that inevitably where your eyes look, your bike will go there too. This changed my life! Haha! So that tree I wanted to go around, if I focused too hard on it (because I wanted to avoid it) without spotting with my eyes the alternate path around, sure enough, I would go right into that tree!

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Of course!! I still have a mental block with rocks (probably because we don’t have many in FL)! It’s like if I see them, I freak out inside, my skills I’ve worked so hard on go to crap, and I talk negatively to myself. Again, I just take it slow, calm myself down, and tackle what I can. I think something that really helps me is that even minor accomplishments on the bike make me really excited, so I can sort of forget about the stuff I can’t do yet (like big rocks!). I’m a beast at roots! LOL

What do you love about riding your bike?
I’m sure this question gets you a lot of long answers because there are so many things to love. Mine might be a little strange. The challenges I’ve been telling you about are real and my skills were not natural in any way. It has taken me so long and so many miles to feel comfortable and in control on my bike, and that’s my favorite part! It’s a challenge every single time I ride. There are always going to be things I can improve on. If I did what comes naturally to me, I would be a weightlifter or do crossfit competitions or something, because that is what I’m best at. Mountain biking scares me, hurts my feelings, pushes me down, but when I get through a tough course or event, it’s just that much more rewarding knowing how hard I worked to get to where I am. Nobody knows how I feel on the inside, but me. I think people assume that it’s easy for me, or something that’s a natural fit, but that’s not the case. I love it because I have never liked easy ☺

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have the 2015 Giant Brava SLR. It is a cyclocross bike. I chose it because I live in Blackwater River State Forest and there are lots of dirt and gravel roads. I wanted to be able to commute wherever I wanted and not worry about having to stick to paved roads only. This bike was my transition into off-road riding and it got me hooked! I’ve done one cyclocross race on this bike and that was pretty awesome as well!

I also have a Salsa El Mariachi – single speed. It is a steel frame, but has a Whiskey carbon fork and a nice American Classic wheelset. I got this bike because I felt like I could handle most of terrain here in FL on the cross bike, so I didn’t see the need for suspension. Also, I wanted to take it on bikepacking adventures with my husband and there’s just less fuss with a ridged frame. I don’t have to worry about adjusting the shock fluid pressure or anything like that. I switch it back and forth from geared to single speed, but single speed is definitely my most favorite way to ride.

How did you get started with participating in endurance events?
My husband definitely had a big influence in getting me involved in endurance riding. He was Did you know there are people who bike for hundreds of miles off-road and camp along the way?" and I was like..."That sounds awesome! Let’s quit our jobs and do that!"

We still both work full time and now I’m also back in school, but one day, we will be seeing the world by bike! For now, we train the best we can for ‘shorter’ distances while learning what we need to bring for particular distances and temperatures. He has really helped in doing most of the research and purchasing our gear so that all I need to focus on is being physically and mentally ready for a ride.
With long-distance endurance events, how do you prepare yourself?
I ride a LOT. The best way for me to get miles in is to commute to work by bike. It’s about 20 miles away so I can get 40 miles in each day I can commute. The rest of the miles come in on the weekends. At one point this summer, I was doing about 200 miles each weekend for maybe 6-7 weeks in a row. We also found some other crazy people to do these rides with us who were willing to start at 3am to avoid the heat. I don’t do any special training programs and I definitely can’t afford a coach, so I just ride.

Tell us about your favorite event that you've participated in-
My favorite event by far was the Tallahassee Tango. It is a 160-mile self- supported/ self-navigated mostly off-road ride from Tallahassee down to the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and back. The people who do this event aren’t in for bragging rights. I can say that because it’s a small event with no prize money. There are no people along the course cheering you on, except for the event coordinator, Karlos and his fiancĂ©. The best part was that at the finish (11pm for me) my husband was the only person standing at the end of the road on a sidewalk, waiting for me in the dark. The only people who knew what I had done were my family and close friends who were tracking me using
There was hardly anyone else around me the entire time. Any people I passed were genuinely happy that I was feeling strong and doing well. There was nothing but encouragement from other riders. It’s just great to accomplish something like that all on your own and have only those people, who really care about you, know about what you’ve done. It is a beautiful course you share with some really down to earth people!

You have a women's group: Women's Adventure Riding, tell us about your group and how women can get involved-
The group is really small right now, but I started it because I noticed that the local off-road riding groups were male-dominated and were holding group rides at a pace that was way too quick for casual riders and people just starting out. There was no way a person just starting out was going to enjoy riding in one of these types of rides. I decided to open the rides to only women because there just weren’t any women-only rides being held in my area.

Women can get involved, in general, with their mountain biking communities by holding women-only events. If anyone has questions or would like tips on how to get started, feel free to contact me. As far as getting involved with Women’s Adventure Riding, just by sharing and liking the page on Facebook is a HUGE help to spreading the word about us.

Why do you feel it's important to have women's groups?
It is important for me to provide an atmosphere where women can be themselves while trying something new, or polishing up on skills they already know. Women are encouraging and supportive by nature, and taking them out of a male-dominated environment helps them express those traits even more. It’s amazing the positive talk that occurs during the W.A.R. rides! I love it and it seems like the local ladies appreciate the opportunity to ride among other women as well.

What has been your biggest struggle with establishing your women's group? What has been your biggest success?
My biggest struggle has been getting the word out to women in the area that these rides do not foster a harsh competitive environment. It’s hard to reassure them that they will not be made to feel like they are holding anyone up, that they are not an inconvenience, or that they will not be made fun of if they fall or wipe out. It is just really hard to get women over that hump. Once they show up though, it seems like they really enjoy the rides.

My biggest success is when I get asked ‘Ashlynn, when are you going to have another ride?’ It lets me know that what I’m doing is making a tiny difference in my community.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Fear. Definitely fear. Fear of being injured. I think women sometimes have this idea that mountain biking has to be descending down a rocky mountain or cornering so fast you nearly rip your arm off on a tree. They don’t realize it can be just a low-technical trail in the woods with the sunshine and wildlife. You don’t have to go fast and you don’t have to battle rugged terrain. You just have to get outside!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Oh gosh! Now I get to vent. LOL I have two major pet peeves when it comes to women and mountain biking. I HATE when other female mountain bikers post their injuries on social media. How the hell are we ever going to get women out on mountain bikes if we post nasty pictures of our wounds?! It won’t happen. It doesn’t make you tough because you crashed and tore up your elbow/knee. We need to be posting pictures of women riding together and having a great time if we want more women to get involved in this sport.

OK now for number 2:
I have seen over and over again at local bike shops that men are offered a higher quality bike than women. They sell down to women if they aren’t familiar with their abilities or riding style. Doesn’t it make sense to make more money? And isn’t someone more likely to stick to a something new when they have the best, most comfortable, equipment to use? I even heard about a local bike shop ‘hiding’ the larger sized women’s shop jerseys behind the counter and not putting them on the floor in the clothing area. This is unacceptable. These both seem like they would be a counterproductive business practice, but I guess I don’t know much about selling biking products to women ☺ I think more women would get into mountain biking if shops treated them as if they were equal to their male customers.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I don’t really know what my inspiration is. I just know that more women would be able to enjoy this sport if there were more women promoting it and working together.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I love to read, I’m obsessed with podcasts, and I hate cooking. I read a great book recently called Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Shining Light on the Shadow of Doubt

Last year provided growth with many areas of riding and advocating. I felt like I was seeing success and growth with my adventures. This year feels even more promising, yet I'm still struggling with a shadow that likes to lurk in the background.

That shadow, is named Doubt.

Looking back over the past few years, Doubt has been the biggest killjoy. It's like walking into a room and everyone looks at you but doesn't say anything. Just a coy glance, a smile, and back to conversation with everyone else while you wander around trying to find a group to mix in with.

Doubt takes questioning to the next level. I'm envious of folks who can go into something and not analyze- they just jump right in and get to it. I, on the other hand, have never been like that. I'm observant, I judge, I analyze, and I question. I play scenarios in my head and I try to think of every possible outcome and come up with appropriate reactions and responses ahead of time. That way I've already set myself up simultaneously for success or failure.

Doubt likes to think it has control over you- it will encourage you do what it wants. Doubt feels it has the ability to prevent you from trying new things or challenging yourself to a goal, participating in a race, or applying for a sponsorship/ambassador program.

Doubt says things like-
"You aren't going to be who they are looking for."
"You won't win, so why try?"
"Do you even know what you're doing?"
"Are you sure you can do this?"
"Do you think anyone will care?"
"Are you crazy?"
"Sure ___ can do this, but why do you think you can?"
"Won't you get hurt?"
"Won't you be scared?"
"Won't you look stupid?"
"Won't you feel stupid?"
"You aren't that good."

There are many more phrases that Doubt likes to throw out, and Doubt likes to feel big and make a person feel small. Doubt has a big, booming voice or sometimes a sly, smooth-talking voice that can be quite convincing. Doubt likes to do a lot of talking, and the hard part is figuring out when it is a good time to listen or shut Doubt up.

Quieting the voice of Doubt is not always easy. Sometimes it isn't hard, but other times you feel like you're spending weeks working against it. Second guessing, talking to friends or loved ones, talking to yourself, and simply taking small steps towards proving to yourself that Doubt isn't going to be the one to tell you what you can or can't do.

Doubt will tell you that you can't ride off-road, and it's going to be up to you to decide if you will listen to the voice in your head saying you "can't" or if you'll take the actions to prove to yourself that you "can."

Doubt likes to think it's keeping you safe- yet at the same time Doubt often leads us to avoidance. We shy away from new experiences because it feels scary or unfamiliar- yet if we would step towards those situations with a sense of openness, we could find ourselves having a most enriching experience.

Doubt wants to save you from feeling disappointment- it thinks that if it stops you from trying, that it's better for you. You won't have hurt feelings, you won't feel sad or discouraged- you just won't know what you might be missing out on. You won't apply for something, you won't go to an event, attend a group ride, or you simply won't give something new a shot- all because you would rather stay safe and secure with what you are currently comfortable with.

If you do not apply, you won't have a chance. It's just like the lottery- don't wish for something if you don't even play. Above all, work on not taking rejection personally- which is easier said than done, but look at it as an opportunity continue doing your own thing. Sometimes the freedom of being your own ambassador and creating your own brand is the best route. As an advocate or ambassador of something you love, you have to start somewhere!

If you don't go to an event, you miss out on meeting new folks or seeing new trails. When it comes to events, the fiercest competitor you go up against is yourself.
I have interviewed women who place in the top 5 and I've interviewed women who attend events just for the fun of it. Those who attend for fun have just as much fun as those who win- and both are highly encouraging of seeing more women participate. They want more women to participate because they feel it's good for the sport.

If you do not attend a group ride because of doubt, you have no idea on the fun you'll be missing out on or the ability to connect with other folks who might have felt the same way. Yes, group rides can be tricky in terms of finding a group you'll resonate with- but if you never take a chance, you'll never know. If you're a newer rider some things to look for in a group ride that might suit you are the terms "No Drop" which means folks will stop and wait for you at intersections, etc. "Introductory" or "Beginner" which means those rides are geared to newer riders and will not be possibly as long or technical as "Intermediate" or "Advanced" rides. There are also Co-Ed rides or Women's rides, depending what your area offers- and both are excellent ways to meet like-minded folks who simply want to have fun on bikes. Plus, you'll have more opportunity to learn- sometimes it takes seeing someone else to something to have it "click" or they might be able to explain it in a way that makes sense.

Simply not trying because of Doubt means you are not allowing yourself the opportunity to see what you can do. Doubt didn't just affect mountain biking for me- it affected my entire #bikelife.
From my childhood years until June of 2012- at least 15 years if not slightly more, I avoided riding a bike because of Doubt. Doubt assured me I was safer in my car; that I wasn't cut out for riding a bicycle. It convinced me I would get hurt because I couldn't ride a bike well because I'm accident prone. Doubt told me that I was a fool for thinking I could get around the Trout Run Trail. When it came to mountain biking, Doubt was right there with me saying I was better off not even trying. With blogging, it told me no one would possibly care about what I had to say.

"You're scared."
"You'll get hurt."
"You'll look stupid."
"You think you'll get good at this?"
"Do you even know what you're doing?"

I came to a fork in the road with two doors- Door number 1 had Doubt standing there with all of the comforts of life that make me feel safe and secure. Door number 2 had challenge, fear, uncertainty, and confidence standing around a newly planted tree- all of the things that come together when experiencing growth. What did I want most? 
To grow.
To gain experience.
To be confident.
To tell Doubt to shut it.

The learning process was not without challenge- but the whole point of challenge is to work on overcoming. It's to realize that challenge is what pushes us thru life, it gives us something to work towards. Fear works with Doubt, and they can be boisterous together- being able to find logic behind those feelings and talk them down can grow confidence.

When was the last time you did something you thought you would never be able to do? 
When was the last time you surprised yourself? 
Instead of telling yourself "I can't." "I couldn't." "I'd never.
Start telling yourself "Yes." "I can." "I'll do this." "I won't give up."

Acknowledge your feelings, your fears, and Doubt- but don't let them tell you what you can or can't do. It can be tempting to give in to Doubt and stick with what feels familiar, but with doing so you take away all of the wonderful possibilities of discovering how wonderful growth can be.