Women on Bikes Series: Pam Schmitt

My name is Pam Schmitt (Pamela when I want people to take me seriously, which is almost never), during the day I’m climbing the proverbial corporate ladder trying to pay off my student loans and biking expenses!
I moved to Duluth, MN following some friends North from my small hometown of Brandon, MN (pop. 450, graduating class of 23), I also chose to move here because they have a local hill for snowboarding, Spirit Mountain.

After college, I found my niche in a few different circles of friends and fell in love with the cycling community.

My favorite pass-times are snowboarding and mountain biking, besides that I do some gardening, love seeing live music, cooking, reading and all sorts of the other cliché stuff.

I am also a mentor to a 17-year-old girl, Auzauria with a local program and we hang out once a week…. Man, that age sucks!
She is awesome and I love her, but we totally drive each other nuts at the same time. It’s been really great to influence her in some ways for the better, and it has taught me a lot to spend time and be a stable person in her life.

When did you first start riding a bike?
Living in a small town, surrounded by farming we rode our bikes everywhere. A couple miles out to the beach, 13 miles to “town”. I don’t remember when I stopped riding a bike in my younger years, or why?My first time on a mountain bike was in the Spring of 2010. It had been the better part of a decade since I’d ridden a bike!

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
It’s been a life-changing experience to get involved with mountain biking, and more specifically mountain biking in Duluth. There is a renaissance going on in our great city and the success of mountain biking has a big part in that. Going for a ride on single-track right out my front, side or back door is so rewarding and all of the work, time, money and passion that is going into building the Duluth Traverse makes me feel very connected to our community.

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

I am certainly not a competitive cyclist but do enjoy a few races every year. I love that little rush you get waiting for the start! Lined up next to some awesome ladies (and men depending on the type of race), all trying to pretend you’re not nervous. Then the start! I grew up playing team sports, without enjoying it very much so when I discovered snowboarding a whole new world opened up, and I realized “hey, I can do a ‘sport’ on my own time, at my own pace and enjoy it”. That was the end of volleyball, basketball and softball for me.

When I did my first competitive mountain bike race it was about my 7th or 8th time on a mountain bike. I entered the “Citizens” category for what I think was a 7-mile course. It was a complete mud-fest, but it was so fun! I ended up running with my bike on my shoulder for about half the race and ended up winning my age category. As a 19-year-old who had never won or placed in any competition I was on top of the world! My favorite mountain biking races are now the Copper Harbor Fat Tire Festival, it’s a whole weekend with an Enduro, Downhill and XC race. I love the social aspect of enduro racing and it is probably one of the more difficult XC races out there. The spectators are awesome and all over the course, there are some great vistas and really technical sections, but also a lot of fun. There is really something special about Copper Harbor, MI and you really feel it every year on Labor Day weekend!

My other favorite race is the Chequamegon 100 over in Cable, WI. Always on the Saturday closest to the Summer Solstice it is PACKED with true singletrack.

I have finished 3 out of my 4 attempts for the Cheq 100K so far for the last two years (62 miles), but it is an awesome endurance race for which I fill up my backpack with bacon and chocolate covered potato chips. It ends at this awesome little wood-fired pizza joint, locally owned by a super awesome family that supports the local outdoor scene, Rivers Eatery. Everyone that does this race is super chill and 100% of the proceeds go towards the local trails club, CAMBA.
Photo Credit: Pete Stone
Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
Out of breath, frustrated and overjoyed all at the same time!

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?

I looked around and told myself “if others can do it, there is absolutely no reason why I can’t!”

Clips or Flats? What do you use and why?

I got talked into clipless right away, told they were a requirement for mountain biking and I remember the first time I had them on I tried just tooling around on a paved trail and things went fine. Then I saw a friend and began to slow down to a stop, forgetting I was attached to my bike and fell over like a sawed-off timber! That pretty much set the course for my first summer. I STRUGGLED! But I never changed back and stuck with it. I did start loosening the tension on them so it was easier to get in and out. Now I can’t ride without them, they are essential to me for climbing, handling my bike over technical stuff, etc.

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 have had some pretty good falls and flown over my handlebars! A few times I landed in an upright sitting position, smiling and thinking “well that was fun!”, other times lying face down in the dirt groaning. I always try to figure out what caused the fall and go back and do it again when I’m ready, whether that’s later the same day or next summer.

The worst so far has been a broken heel. It was a bad break, many small fractures right under the ankle bone. It was my first major injury in a really long time and it put me out of commission for almost 3 months. I handled it really well at first, but by the end, I was getting very frustrated, especially when I got the okay to walk on it again, I had literally lost all of my muscle tone. I remember walking around my kitchen and sort of having a little breakdown because I was having trouble doing normal tasks. Overall though Netflix, boxed wine, and the approval to work from home got me through it. It was a strange thing to slow down so much and it forced me to learn some patience, the importance of PT and really got me in tune with a lot of other things going on with my body that I’d been ignoring. The trail I did it on was some really old, techy downhill. Someday I’d love to clear that section, but I have nothing to prove and will be in no rush.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
I think climbing, sprinting and long rides were tough as I was never really that active before mountain biking. Riding, riding and more riding.

Honestly, before I had gotten certified to instruct, or before I started leading rides, I had just spent a ton of time on my bike, which had gotten me pretty far. That being said, I had been riding for 5 years when I took my first skills clinic. It was amazing to learn the basics, see all the things that had worked themselves out naturally over time, as well as have all the things I was doing wrong pointed out! I highly suggest taking a clinic or doing some research online about fundamental skills of mountain biking.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?

I am still pretty leery of the BIG and STEEP. I dream of someday being able to go down Calculated Risk (Spirit Mt.) here in Duluth, or Man Pants in Copper Harbor, MI. I’ve seen some ladies do it and I know it’s possible… someday. I usually go and hit something that is stretching my limits, but that I am still confident on and able to do safely. There is a sweet wood drop on a different section of trail at Spirit that I can ride, and a little rockface to a skinny bridge on Red Trail in Copper Harbor that always makes me feel good!

What do you love about riding your bike?

I love that I am in control and responsible in a way for whatever happens.

I love the feeling of embarking on a ride, especially without a plan and that feeling of accomplishment when you reach the end of a loop or an out and back ride.

I love the sense of community with all the other women and men that I ride with and how much respect, comradery and fun there is going around in this sport.

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

My new baby, a Salsa Pony Rustler is my third full-suspension bike. I didn’t start riding until 2010, which was shortly after 29ers really started taking off, so that’s all I had ever owned or known! The plus wheels are extremely confidence-inspiring, and the smaller diameter is noticeable on corners (we have a LOT of flow-trail in Duluth).

My good ol’ 29er hardtail, something I feel like I’ll never be without, as an Advocate Cycles Hayduke. Tim and Odia are long-time friends and doing some really neat things to shake up the business model in the cycling industry. I purposely got this bike because I can swap the wheels with my full suspension. It has a dropper post (first one I’ve ever had on a hardtail), and 1x11 so it shifts great.

My fat bike, an Advocate Watchman. Again, love this company and lover their bikes. Having a suspension fork has been fun in the winter, but makes the bike great to ride in the summer as well. It’s also a 1x11 so the shifting is great. This is my second fat bike and the better brakes and shifting made a huge difference in the quality of my winter riding.

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
-For ladies bike shorts I have really been digging Pearl Izumi and Bontrager lately. As a gal with a little more junk in the trunk it can be really hard to not make your legs and ass look like stuffed sausage. I bought these capris in the black and blue, they are super breathable and provide good coverage. My new favorite chamois are the Bontrager Vella, they have a nice wide waistband, quality pad and great leg grips.

-Dakine has great packs and accessories, but their sizing on clothes runs small most of the time.
-Ergon Grips are a requirement for every bike. My hands use to start tingling on the outer edges, my pinky and ring fingers used to go numb after more than 10 miles, but when I discovered the flared grips to give my hands most support I had no more issues with that.

You are on the Board of Directors for Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores (COGGS)- tell us about COGGS and what you do!
I am the fundraising coordinator for our club. It’s a great time to do so because our project the Duluth Traverse trail (a 100+ network of professionally built single track all within Duluth’s city limits) has gotten a ton of national publicity, especially in the Midwest. COGGS has been an example of what happens when a user group has the support of local policymakers, advocacy, residents and a strong group of core volunteers with a common goal. We work very closely with the City of Duluth and have bigtime support from the mayor, Emily Larson to complete this project. They have provided a ton of resources, funding and direction to get this trail built and into the maintenance stage. We currently have ~85 miles of the DT built and are looking to add at least more this summer!

This was my third year as the coordinator and although it’s one of the most time-intensive and stressful things I’ve ever done, it’s also been the most rewarding. In the last 10 years or so we have raised over $800,000 to help fund the Duluth Traverse, which is pretty unheard of and I am so proud of our community rallying together.

Our entire Board of Directors is super active, along with our awesome members and volunteers. I don’t think you could find a bike club with a better culture than the one we have at COGGS!

How can people get involved with COGGS?
They can come to our monthly membership meetings every 2nd Thursday of the month, 7:30 pm at Thirsty Pagan Brewing where we talk about all things mountain biking in Duluth!

We address challenges, plan events, stoke up things coming down the pipe, ask for help from our members when we need it and drink good beer! (Root beer always available for those who don’t partake).

You also put together women's rides during the summer months on a once-a-week basis. Why are these important?
Sometimes we kill it and do a big ride, stopping to hit some technical features or go out for that extra lap and sometimes we do a quick-loop and head to a backyard for grilling and beers. Either way, we are cheering each other on, encouraging everyone to challenge themselves and just enjoying the company. At the end of every night, my gut hurts from laughing so much! I one time pulled a muscle in my cheek from a day of enduro and a post bonfire in my backyard. My friends kick-ass and we all have perma-grins when we’re hanging out before, during and after our rides. For me, mountain biking is about 90% social interaction and then there are those awesome days where I head out on my own and find some solitude in the woods.

Any advice on how to start up a weekly group ride?

I think it takes a lot of work to make it feel open to other women. Making sure it’s not just you and your core friends setting the pace, owning the conversations and picking the routes can be tough but remember that it’s not your ride, it’s a group ride! We have a no-drop rule, no matter how slow that can be sometimes we are always trying to get more ladies and one bad experience can turn someone off forever! Getting the info out can be tricky. Facebook seems to be the easiest, but not everyone has or wants an account. Weekly e-mails can seem cumbersome, and websites or forums don’t always get a lot of lady-traffic. Use all forms of communication if you can handle it! Make sure the message is welcoming and you have some leaders at the ride to be in the front and to sweep, or to just be a cheerleader!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?

I think there is a stereotype that you will always get hurt, it’s this super gnarly sport and that it’s not for everyone! Not true. The best part about the sport is that it can be whatever you want it to be and you choose your own rides!

Photo Credit: Hansi Johnson
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I want EVERYONE to mountain bike. It has had such a positive effect on my life and spilt over into so much more than just my weekend getaways and recreation time. It has made me way more of a confident woman, helped me in my career, lead me to form some of the most rewarding friendships and created an entire community of amazing people. It’s hard not look at the world through rose-colored lenses from where I sit, because of all the amazing things I’ve gotten to experience, the people of met and the opportunities presented to me simply because of mountain biking. It’s pretty rare to meet a woman mountain biker and not hit it off!

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I love hot sauce! On everything… there are different types appropriate for different foods.
Cholula is my go-to, but the green Tabasco and Sriracha also have special places in my heart, along with buffalo sauce.