Women on Bikes Series: Emily Hairfield

I live in Roanoke, Virginia with my husband Gordon and trail dog Pippy and we love to ride bikes!

I work as a Physician Assistant in a Hematology/ Oncology group full time and flex time with Urgent Care.

We spent a long time getting me through school and I have been working now for about two years and within that time I've been able to devote more of my time to bike, trail, and travel since my schedule is now mostly my own again. We have traveled all over the world with bikes and seen a lot of really amazing places.

For us, riding bicycles is a vector for adventure and friendship as well as fitness and fun. I very rarely ride on the road unless I have too and I prefer roots and rocks but love a good gravel ride every once in a while. Both my husband and I race for a Blue Ridge Cyclery in Charlottesville, Virginia and in addition to the shop. we have a number of amazing supporters who I love representing.

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife and how it influenced you from then on-
I began riding while I was in undergrad because I was poor and couldn't afford to pay the parking fees on campus. I had a bunch of friends who were good mountain bikers and advised that I buy a mountain bike and commuter wheels. I bought a used Gary Fisher 26' for 400$ and had no idea the adventures that little ill-fitting, heavy, outdated bike would take me on!

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What did you learn and what made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
I learned to ride in the mountains of South-West Virginia where there are legit rocks and roots and you're either climbing or descending. There was a big learning curve for me but I was already a trail runner so I knew I wanted to spend more time in the woods and be able to cover more ground faster. I crashed a lot! I committed to clip-less pedals pretty early on and that was tough but I wanted to keep up with my friends and they all used them so I followed along. The moment I knew I was "hooked" was when I did my first 100-mile mtb race which was only about 8 months after I had started riding. I signed up for it with a friend 2 weeks before the event and It was the toughest thing I had ever done, physically. It poured rain all day, I was grossly underprepared and it could not have been a more miserable day on the bike. So many people dropped out of the event. It was a real spiritual journey for me though, and when I finished I was so amazed that my body and bike had survived that I wanted/needed to see what else I could do!

What do you love most about being able to mountain bike with your husband?
The fact that at the end of the day we have a fundamentally basic thing that we love doing whether that's separately or together. We always have mountain biking to fall back on and I think that's important to share simple interests. Also though he's just a fun and happy guy and makes all my rides better.

What do you enjoy about racing and why should women consider trying it at least one time?
Racing is great for me because even if I am not trying to win or be competitive, it gives me a goal to focus on and a reason to keep riding my bike and practicing skills. It provides accountability and structure to my riding. It also gives me something to work on afterward too. Even if you're not a competitive person, mountain bike racing provides an amazing community which every rider would benefit from.
Tell us about the Pisgah Mountain Stage race and your experience-
As a birthday present this year my husband signed us up to race the PMSR as a duo and I was SO nervous! I've only ever raced one stage race before and that was a physically and emotionally damaging experience so racing this as a stage race with my husband who is a professional racer and way faster than I am just fed my fears to the point of nausea and tears before the start of stage #1. Gordon is so great through and assured me that the only pressure I was feeling was the ones that I put on myself and that the most important thing was that we were safe and had fun. And we did! We had an awesome first stage and finished in 2nd overall in the co-ed duo. Day 2, 3 and 4 provided legitimate challenges though after an early crash on day 2 left me on the ground with a busted body and bike. We were able to come back finishing 3rd overall and win the 5th and final stage which by far was the most technical descending of the entire race and I have to say it was probably my proudest moment on a bike. Pisgah racing is not for the faint of heart when it comes to rocks and roots. Facing and racing that week with my husband and life partner proved to be the best thing I could have done. My confidence on the bike after riding with him and being encouraged by him just exploded and I am pumped to do more.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I only ever ridden with clips! I should probably own a pair of flats and work on my skills but I don't... I'll add it to my bike parts which list!

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Definitely! Probably too many to count. I think that is the beauty of riding in the woods. When you biff or crash or become emotionally overwhelmed by whatever the cause might be, you still have to ride out of the woods. You can't just quit and leave. Everyone has to get back on and keep going.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Yes! And there still are! I am terrible at hopping logs which are not perfectly level and positioned on the trail. I don't know what it is but I've always had a thing with logs. Certainly (I think) I've gotten better at it over the years but they still intimidate me. The thing that has helped me the most is watching videos of other people riding them. I am a visual learning and so typically if I can see someone else do it I have a better chance both physically and mentally mimicking the skills.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
There are many for sure! I'm fortunate though that I love riding a technical trail. Everyone has their bad days though where you're just not riding as well as you know you can and you get frustrated and bummed. I just have to keep it fun. If I'm not having fun then I ride something else and come back to that difficulty another day when I'm more prepared. Of course, there are times when you can't find something more fun or change your route and in that situation, I'll stop and take a breath and eat a snack. I ALWAYS have food on me and I know that eating will give me a metal break from the frustration and time to recover before getting back at it.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love the places my bike takes me. We have been fortunate enough to travel to some really amazing places via bikes. Bike give me freedom.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My bikes are mostly gifts from my husband! I have a Trek Top Fuel FS with custom Industry 9 wheels and a dropper and it is beautiful! It's a great all around bike and has done whatever I have set in front of it. I also have a Steel Curtlo cross/road bike and a custom 27.5 steel hardtail that I ride mostly on gravel and double track routes.

Do you have any tips or suggestions for folks wanting to mountain bike with their partner/spouse?
It's not for everyone! I've talked to a lot of couples who just can't do it. I think the biggest advice is that you need to communicate your ride expectations before getting on the bike. If you both have separate goals for the ride then it is not going to work and you will be disappointed and frustrated. Whoever the stronger mountain biker is in the relationship needs to adapt and adjust to the skills of the less advanced rider. It can be so good and so rewarding and it can be done!

Why are you a women's mountain biking advocate?
Because women on bikes supporting other women are the best! Riding mountain bikes is freeing and empowering and a way to engage in the community and environment.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Fear of failure and judgment deter women. Not having a mentor or supportive community deters women. Unequal treatment and payout at races and events deter women. Unequally matched riding encounters deters women. There are a lot of things that can be a deterrent but they are all fixable and can be overcome.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think there are certainly things the industry can fix as a whole, but for me, the biggest thing is equal treatment and payout at all levels. This is so much better now than it was but if we want women to show up and get involved, they need to be incentivized just as much as men are. I think communities creating women's cycling groups is important too because typically women feel safer and more at ease when there are other women of similar ability or at least who have been in their shoes.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Seeing women achieve goals and try new things and pick themselves up and try again makes me inspired. Women are tough and strong and capable of so many things. Seeing them realize that strength on a bike in the woods is what motivates me and makes me want to be a better rider.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I'm pretty boring actually! I'm usually in bed by 9pm and I don't like alcohol. I am traveling to Tanzania this summer though for another stage race and afterward, Asia will be the only continent I have not ridden my bike on!