Women on Bikes Series: Laurie Ditch

If you would've asked me 4 years ago if I liked to bike, I would've responded with "I've taken spin class a few times and I have a cruiser which I enjoy riding around the neighborhood". That was the extent of my biking experience or passion. Exactly 4 years ago I was going through the most horrific separation and divorce.
I survived but was broken and my confidence was completely gone. Everything in my life felt like it was falling apart my job and my husband/partner of 15 years and I were calling it quits.

Thankfully through the support of friends and family, I maintained a feeling of hope that I would come back and find myself and figure out what I wanted in life. Through the process, I remained hopeful that while I was in the worst place, I truly felt like I could come out of this and be happy.

I started to see signs of hope everywhere - while I was in NYC for work during the spring of 2013 I went for a run and found the LOVE statue and realized that there was still love out there and that's really where I felt the first bit of passion, hope and optimism come back. That summer I started running and ran my first 5K and then trained and ran the Urbanathalon Relay in Chicago. I wasn't all that fast but I finished and was very happy with my time. I decided I would continue to keep myself open to trying new things with friends, fun trips, new foods, hiking, etc and adventures.

Finally, it happened, I met this man who was all about adventures, racing, biking and anything that was exciting and full of adrenaline.Typically not my thing but hey, I wanted to be open to adventure and really, with a man so handsome as him why not! Introduction to mountain biking, I had no clue what it was about but it seemed like something pretty badass and I was all about pushing myself in a new direction. This wonderful man bought me a bike and I got myself some gear and I was totally stoked to be a mountain biking girl!!! I couldn't wait!

First ride: I made it about 20 feet on my first single track trail and I ran straight into a tree and halfway down a ravine. It's true when riding a bike, look where you want to go. Apparently, I wanted to go inside a tree. I was pretty banged up and totally freaked out but I got back on and kept going. I feel at least 100 more times that first spring and summer and by the end, I was done, totally shaken up and scared to get back on it. I had hurt myself and my confidence enough I was ready to turn it in. My lovely man tried to encourage but I was frustrated beyond belief so I hung it up for a year. The spring of 2016 we were sitting in a bar and talking about getting me back on a bike and on my facebook page, the Midwest Women's Mountain Bike clinic popped up. Maybe this was what I needed to do to get back on, get some good coaching and instruction and try this again. 

June of 2016 I attended and it changed my life and my perspective. I was so excited to be part of such an amazing community of women. I gained back some of that shaken confidence and some tools to help me on the trails. I couldn't wait to get home and start riding...the only catch I didn't know anyone other than my boyfriend to ride with me. In talking with some of the women at the camp and asked them for advice on how to get started they were like you just need to do it if there's nothing else get it going. So I did...I created a Facebook page, Glass City MTB Girl and started posting events (Ladies MTB Ride Night, Girls and Guys Ride, etc). Every week I would set up an event and post to all of the local bike community pages, shop pages, etc. The first few weeks I would get 1 or 2 people to join me and by the end of the summer, I had sometimes 10-15 riders from beginners to advanced and even some local pros! Spoke Life Cycles was so excited about what I was doing to build awareness for women and mountain biking they asked me if I'd want to work at their shop on weekends and help host local events. I've continued to spread the word and now have followers. I've stayed connected with some of the amazing coaches I met at the MidWest Women's MTB Clinic and can't wait to attend again this year as it's now Sundance MTB Skills.

I'm not a pro racer and I don't have very many skills. It's a good day when I go in with confidence and succeed on a big climb or scary windy turn. I'm a girl who loves to be outside on my bike. Every time I ride, I learn something about myself and how to push myself beyond what I think I'm capable of. I still get super frustrated, fall down and make an ass of myself when trying new things but I keep going back. I love that feeling more than anything and I want to share that with others. There's something special about being a beginner in this sport, I have low expectations but high gains. The mountain biking community is so supportive and happy to help you get up anytime and often drink a beer with you and spend an entire day talking about adventures. I aspire to ride as many locations as I can and represent those of us who maybe aren't trying to race or compete but just want to get out there and give it a try and get an amazing workout. I want to see more women getting out there and working through the challenge, I want to see more support from the industry for women when it comes to clothing, gear, etc. I'm not about to change who I am just because I mountain bike! I plan to continue to wear pink and look like a girl!

Tell us why your #bikelife is an important thing to have in your life-
FUN! I’m not biking to compete, I’m biking to play. I am a full-time working single parent who also works out about 3-5 days per week. I am always striving to reach goals, however, with mountain biking I tend to focus more on just getting out there, exploring and having fun. I’m always working to improve my skills but the focus for me is less about achieving a goal and more about just having fun with the experience. It’s the only time I really have an opportunity to PLAY!!!

You had a lot of learning during your first off-road rides. If you could go back in time- would you change anything about your introduction?
I wouldn’t change it because it got me to where I am today. Getting out there with an experienced rider challenges you right from the beginning because you’re just trying to keep up. It would be awesome to get coaching and instruction first, but to me it almost helped me to do that after the fact so at least I knew what I was trying to improve on. I would’ve liked to start on a beginner trail vs. an intermediate but we all start somewhere.

What was your inspiration to not give up on mountain biking, even if your experiences weren't the most positive?
When I wasn’t falling down and getting hurt, I was having so much fun. We had many rides where I just had a blast and I wanted to get that feeling again. My inspiration was really my boyfriend, he stood by me regardless. I knew that it was something he loved and really enjoyed and I wanted to find something that we could spend our free time doing together. I also loved how much he cared about helping me work through the challenges. He could see beyond where I was and he knew I had it in me to take the next step and push myself a little further. He believes in me and inspires me to keep working and having fun.

You regained your confidence after attending a women's clinic. Tell us why attending the women's clinic helped you reset. 
The best part about the clinic is it broke down all the steps so that I could really understand what I was doing (and not doing) so I could build on each basic step. I LOVE attending clinics because I learn things about biking and myself that I didn’t know existed and you’re surrounded by others who are going through the same things and experiencing the same frustrations and successes.

Mountain biking is all about understanding your body position and focusing on the basics and building from there.

Once you know how to position yourself then you will have those tools to use even when you fall or get a little wobbly on the bike. It really helped me re-set and understand what changes I needed to make and build that muscle memory.

With becoming more confident with mountain biking, do you feel it was easier to grasp skills/techniques learning from women vs. your partner? If so, why?
My partner didn’t know how to break down the steps, he grew up biking and for him, a lot of it was just built in over years. Not every experienced rider knows how to coach/teach. There are tons of coaching tips out there and I’ve been lucky to learn from the best in the business from Leigh Donovan, Sally Marchand Collins, Danielle and Kate Nolan, Caroline Washam, Cory Coffey and Hillary Marques are all amazing riders AND coaches. They can break down the most basic techniques and have been able to help me figure out some key things that I was doing to hinder my riding performance. Little things like my foot position when pumping or moving my hips when turning, etc. Coaches are trained what to look for and how to correct. I love any chance I have to take a clinic or some instruction from an experienced coach, every little bit helps and makes it more fun when you have some tools to use on the trails.

From first-hand experience, what advice would you give guys who are wanting to get their partners/wives/girlfriends out mountain biking?
Get them out there on a trail that you know very well, help them by slowing down and walking them through obstacles in the beginning. Beginners don’t know how to find lines through a rock garden without some practice. Have them look at some youtube videos and practice a few basic techniques like doing crazy 8’s in the yard/parking lot. The one thing I learned very quickly is to always look ahead and cover your brakes, those 2 things, in the beginning, are major!

Clips or flats- what do you like and why? 
I only know flats. I’ve never clipped in and I hear all kinds of mixed thoughts. I hear more from the coaches that I’ve worked with that until I’m more advanced I should stick with flats. I know that I could gain speed and energy but given I’ve never clipped, so I’m hesitant. Many experienced cyclists have more experience in clipping and I know there are tons of benefits for those who are good at staying on their bike. My suggestion, unless you really know how to anticipate trouble/falling, then stick with flats until you have more experience.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
My roughest fall was in a rock garden under a bridge. I didn’t have a line and went for it and took a pretty rough fall and got pretty scraped up. I still get nervous riding that section and often times chicken out and walk. Healing took a while but for me, if I can get out there and walk the line and go back and ride it helps to plan where I’m going. Rock Gardens, Skinnies and Bridges...totally mental and freak me out every time. Rock gardens are sketchy when they are flat or uphill because you really need to have speed and a line and I tend to get focused on the obstacle vs. getting past it.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Shifting...because I was such a new rider I really didn’t understand and it took me several times to get comfortable know when to shift to get through a climb and also regain some speed. I think that still takes some work, but having someone ahead prompting me in the beginning really helped. I couldn’t get my mind around shifting up or down. I replaced it with shift easy or hard.

What do you love about riding your bike?
The freedom, the wind in my face and knowing that every time I get on I’m going to learn something new and have a new adventure.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why you chose them.
My sweet baby blue. She’s a Cannondale Women’s Habit 1. My bike was a gift and my boyfriend refers to it as my promise bike. Earlier this spring, I saw a really beautiful full suspension bike and told my boyfriend to skip the ring and get me the bike, and he did! He and the guys at Spoke Life Cycles surprised me with this beauty in October they had me going all day with this gorgeous bike they were building and then at the end of the day, the store manager, Justin said please put the price tag on it and my boyfriend had just happened to come into the shop. When I flipped it over it said,”for Laurie”...I cried it was the most amazing surprise ever. Pretty awesome 40th birthday gift/promise bike moment on the planet.
Tell us about your group, Glass City MTB Girl and what it's all about. 
After I got back from the Midwest Women’s Clinic. I wanted to find others to ride with and I decided the best way to do this was through social media. I set up a Facebook page (Glass City MTB Girls) and initially wanted to focus on women. I started posting weekly events via Facebook on all of the Toledo Area bike social pages and called the bike shops and ask them to promote as well. I found that there were fewer women riders who would come solo but if I invited the guys, they would bring their girls! Once that happened the doors opened and I met a nice group of people who loved to ride and excited to join us (my boyfriend would join me every week too). Every week it seemed we had new joiners! I really didn’t have much of a goal in the beginning other than to find a community of mountain bikers, promote safe riding and get out there and have fun! Typically we ride with all levels so the advanced riders in the front and beginners in the back. I enlist some experienced coaches to hang with us and give us tips while we ride. I’ve also taken people with me who are very hesitant and we walk some and ride some areas. Toledo only has 1 main singletrack trail (Jermain/Ottawa Park) right now and come spring we will also have Oak Openings. We are also just 40 miles from several Michigan trails as well which really makes us more mountain bike friendly than I think most think. I’d love to see us continue to expand our trail options in Toledo, have some of our local coaches help in offering clinics for folks to help all of us improve our skills and continue to build out our community.

Do you have suggestions for folks looking to start up a ride group in their area? What helped you? 
Research! Find out what resources, social media sites, etc are already existing and figuring out how you can work with what exists or see where there might be gaps. In my case, I wasn’t finding mountain biking group rides in our area and found there was a void in Northwest Ohio for all levels (especially with beginners). 1.) Our main trail is intermediate and 2.) the location of our single-track trail is in a pretty rough neighborhood. Additionally, don’t have a Northwest Ohio/Toledo IMBA chapter. For those looking into ride groups, local chapters I would recommend researching your local chapters via IMBA/Singletracks as many cities and communities have ride groups and trails. Starting small and supporting those who want to get out there is what it’s all about.

What do you enjoy most about your collaboration with Spoke Life Cycles?
They are the most amazing group of guys (and gals). They really were excited about me just trying to build something and liked that I had an opinion that was slightly different than the rest of the cycling community which was focused on our beginners and building something from scratch. I love having the chance to pitch in at the shop when I can. I’m a single mom with 2 young boys and a full-time job so it’s hard for me to get there more than 2 Saturdays a month but I love being part of their family and pitching in when I can. I love the shop’s approach which is to build relationships and work with the riders to make sure you get the most out of the bike you are looking to ride. They really take the time to listen to the rider. They want you to be comfortable and more than anything they want you to be happy and out there having fun. They have great attitudes and are all about promoting fun, which is why we get along so well.

Why do you feel groups such as Glass City MTB Girl and others are important for women and the cycling community?
There are tons of amazing biking groups, I follow many of them on social media and have friended many groups as I think there’s a ton going on within women’s mountain biking and lots of great information to share. I learn a lot from reading about other’s experiences and it inspires me to get out there and stay focused on enjoying life.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Most of my friends think I’m nuts, they picture me like I’m some crazy rider who’s flying off jumps, mountains, etc. I think it’s like most things, the fear of the unknown. They associate mountain biking as a crazy, rugged warrior type sport. Which it can be but what people are really missing is just how much fun it is. I think there’s a lot in the industry around racing and competitiveness which many people are into (Ironmans, Triathalons, Duathalons) but not everyone wants to race. So I think it’s those 2 associations that can deter some. I’m more inspired by seeing my friends and seeing people get out there and trying something and absolutely loving it. I explain that if you like roller coasters this is a way to drive your own!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Basically, what I’ve said above. There are your racing/competitive-types and then there are those who just want to play. That’s me. I think if there were industry focus and more people talking about the fun and benefits (health, wellness, etc) you’d get more interest on the women’s side. Women aren’t afraid of sweat and I think we want to kick butt and improve ourselves. I think women who’ve not really biked like myself just don’t know what they are missing and getting them out there without it seeming so scary would be pretty enticing to many. I can’t relate to the level of a Lindsey Richter or Leigh Donovan who’ve been racing and riding for most of my life. What interests me is finding out that after 38 years I can still develop a hobby and a passion that I didn’t know existed for someone like me. I wouldn’t associate myself as being athletic and often known for lack of coordination but, I’ve always strived to be adventurous. Mountain biking is like riding a roller coaster but in my version, it might be a little slower than most...I get to control the pace and speed to what I’m comfortable with and sometimes I might get a little crazy and confident and push past comfort into adventure!

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I know the confidence I’ve gained each time I ride, how much fun I’m having for myself. It’s double
that when you take a friend out there and they get done riding and they are beyond ecstatic claiming it’s the most fun they’ve ever had and how exciting and how they didn’t think they could ever get up that big hill and they did or they didn’t think they’d survive riding over the bridge and they made it without any trouble. It’s those experiences that inspire me even more.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I was not an athlete growing up, I liked sports but I loved music. I played flute for 12 years and some through college. I absolutely loved being in the band and growing up it got such a bad rap but I was really proud of my success playing through high school and even some into college. I also have a deep love for everything food related and have been cooking since I was old enough to stand over a stove. I read cookbooks like most people read novels and I could watch cooking shows all day. I love to try new recipes and will find any excuse to talk food. My 2nd dream hobby would be in a kitchen baking or cooking.