Monday, October 29, 2018

Women Involved: Roxzanne Feagan

The past nineteen years have been some of the best years of my life. It's always exciting to share my story of how the bike has had so much to do with that happiness.

It all started with a diagnosis. Days before New Year’s Eve 1990, I was told I had stage four ovarian cancer. I could go on but that's not my story. I refuse to let it be but it does have its place in my history.

The experience taught me what is important and what can be discarded. It made me tougher and more alive than ever before. It is what hardened me to the pains of this sport. I just didn’t know it yet. ;)

This is actually my story:
After recovering from the last of my post-cancer surgeries, I bought myself a bike. It was a mountain bike, blue and rugged looking. The year was 1999, about six months before my 30th birthday. I rode my new bike on paved trails that spring and summer, all-the-while completely oblivious to the robust cycling community that existed in my own town. Then one day an associate, who was a mountain biker and racer (adult bike racing was a thing?), found out about my new toy and like a pied piper, lead me to the woods where he rode his bike. He talked all the time about riding and racing and always with such enthusiasm and joy. How could I refuse? I loved the outdoors so being in the woods riding a trail didn't seem all that absurd. And that's when it happened. I became a kid again and I fell in love with mountain biking. All of it. The freedom it allowed me. The physical strength it asked of me. The courage and resilience it required of me (or maybe I always had it)? Regardless, I was hooked all the way up to me bloodied knees.

And it's been a wild ride ever since. Now here I am, almost 20 years later with as many scars to prove it, transformed from cancer survivor to mountain bike chick, from bike enthusiast to a formidable racer, from a life of obscurity to a leader within my cycling community, including being a past-president of our local IMBA chapter; running the Psycowpath MTB Racing Series for the past 15 years with my husband, and helping the local high school league get off the ground. And if all this wasn’t enough (ha-ha) my husband and I co-founded R&R Outside, a mountain bike instruction and adventure company, about 4 years ago to further share our mountain bike stoke. We’ve put on several co-ed clinics (or better known as the Ride Right MTB School) and just this year put on our first women’s only clinic! We also love to take our friends on mountain bike trips to wonderful mountainous regions to give them memorable experiences. I do all the travel logistics and my husband figures out the riding routes based on the abilities of the group, making the trips more or less all-inclusive. We want people to focus on the fun and not sweat the details.

My husband is also an accidental mountain bike rider and accomplished racer. You won’t be surprised to know we met on a group mtb trip to Moab, Utah, and we’ve been in each other’s company ever since. Married for just nine years, we’ve pretty much dedicated ourselves to this sport in many ways and I have to say we’re really, really lucky to have found an equal in our passions and understands what it takes to manage our crazy cycling-centric lives. That and we don’t have the three Ps–people, plants & pets - to keep alive in the process.

If you would have told me twenty years ago I’d be standing on the top step of the marathon nationals mountain bike podium at the wise age of 48, I’d said you were probably on something. I’ve come a long way on two wheels, been to places I never would have, met my husband, broke some serious bones and have had the extreme pleasure of meeting so many amazing people, including some who will be lifelong friends because I ride a mountain bike. On a weekly basis, I’m amazed at the bravery and courage the bike brings out in

people. It’s practically a medical phenomena! I know so many riders who had no idea what power they possessed until the bike showed them. It’s not typical to expect someone to think they could simply disappear in the woods and come out happier, but it happens. All because of the bicycle. It’s a beautifully simple story to which I hope I can contribute a few of the chapters.

Sites:
randroutside.com 
psycowpath.com 
dirtgirldiary.com (my personal travel-log)

During the final stages of recovery, what inspired you to purchase a bicycle and bring #bikelife into the mix? 
I was inspired by just finding something to do outside! I went with a co-worker who wanted to get herself a bike to ride a new paved path in town. I went with and decided to get one also. It being mid 90's I was in the closet about cycling. I didn’t know it was an organized sport. Never heard of or seen anyone mountain biking. Absolute newbie. The second answer of that question is a series of decisions made over time. At the beginning bringing bikelife into the mix was an evolution of discoveries about the MTB culture and how riding and eventually racing tapped into my outdoorsy athletic side. I don’t know that it was that absolute right at the beginning but the more entrenched I got the more I saw and experienced how much value the sport provided to others in many forms, such as being a gateway for people to not just get outside and have some friendly fun but to challenge them a little bit and support that effort in whatever manifestation. That mountain biking itself seemed like a celebration of all of these things filled me a type of happiness I had not experienced before. That sure sounds a lot like love, doesn’t it?

What was it about your first mountain biking experience that inspired you to stick with it?
Great question. I just did a presentation about mountain biking to a small community library and I told them that even though I crashed epically in the beginning, every new bike person I met was another cheerleader who encouraged me to keep at it. There wasn’t a time I can remember when someone said anything negative or discouraging to me, so one could say it was all the positive support that kept me in it. I just kept getting invited back to rides despite my lack of knowledge, skill, and speed. As we know back then, there weren’t any clinics. Everyone had to learn on their own so if I was going to succeed, I had to get back on the bike and try again. Not sure if it was stubbornness or courage driving that bus but trying hard not being the one the group waited on was certainly a contributing factor! I look back now and see how silly that was.
Why was mountain biking such a positive thing for you?
There are so many answers to this but I look back on 20 years of riding bikes and at 49 I feel like I am who I was meant to become, like I’m living out a story written long ago. Mountain biking makes me feel normal like I’m in my own skin. It has always given me a daily dose of satisfaction, where I’m able to put an exclamation point on the day and claim it to be extraordinary, regardless if I did a ride in the backcountry or my backyard. I can also say that mountain biking, from the beginning, has provided me with an outlet for giving back. It’s easy to allow the bikelife to be one dimensional, doing everything to improve just my performance or skill but for what end purpose? Those goals are there, for my personal journey, but giving back to the sport is way more fulfilling. And doesn’t require doing intervals. :)

Knowing what you know now, do you have any tips or suggestions for folks who are MTB curious? 
Take advantage of clinics. You’ll save yourself a whole bunch of time and have less frustration. Learning the correct skills on the onset will provide a safer and more positive entry into the sport. And try to meet folks to ride with that are at your skill level or at a minimum will accept it and will encourage you to keep trying. The pressure to not be last will always be there even with your closet riding friends but be gentle with yourself. I still crash and am scared of stuff even after riding this long. You just have to ride within yourself and not let outside pressure influence your decisions to do anything you’re not ready to do.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I’m a complete clip-in rider. I was clipping in at the beginning and learned hard lessons when it was time to unclip. It’s what I know and am comfortable with on all terrain. For me I feel it allows for better, more efficient pedaling, being able to use that upstroke on a long climb, for example. It wasn’t until I took my first women's’ clinic with Trek Dirt Series in 2012 that I even put flats on a bike. It was through those clinics and especially at the IMBA instructor clinic that I understood why flats are appreciated by so many. By eliminating the fear of clipping out when riders are first starting out, they can concentrate on the trail and have a more positive, safe experience early on in their bikelife.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
What’s the saying, “If you’re not crashing, you’re not riding hard enough?” Plain and simple, I’ve had some of the biffiest biffs for sure! But none have come close enough to destroy my will to continue the sport. Even after I destroyed my right wrist when I crashed attempting a rock roll down way back in the early days of racing, I told myself it was just a temporary set back. It took about 3 months to get to the point of being able to ride outside again (luckily it was late in the season). So that I don’t get too bummed, when I’m injured I take time to do the things I don’t do when I’m training or traveling. For example, during one particularly long recovery period, I put all of my wedding photos into several albums.! I believe that resting due to injury is extremely important to the mind and body. We constantly push through them most of the time, denying our bodies that time so when it can’t be denied, I accept where I’m at and allow the healing to take place. And depending on where the injury happened, I’ll eventually try to get back to the crash site and ride it so I can get over the mental block.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
All handling skills were a challenge but the most challenging were log overs. I had no idea how to get the wheels over a log and back then the only advice from the dudes was “just lift up the front wheel and then kick up the back wheel”. Needless to say, that didn’t work and was almost my undoing. Structured skill clinics just didn’t exist. You learned by doing and no manner of “just lift the wheel” type explanation was going to make me understand the timing and body position that was required to get over a log. I just didn’t get it. So nearly ready to quit, a bike shop owner told me if I raced for his shop, he’d help me get a better fitting bike. I never thought it was the bike’s fault for my failure to execute a proper log-over but I have to say a little bit of suspension does a body good. I bought a “women’s specific” Santa Cruz Juliana that was smaller and lighter than the one I was learning on and had suspension both front and rear. Upon riding that bike for the first time was like the dawning of a new day. I was able to ride not only the logs better and more controlled but also had the proper gearing for my size to make it up hills! Eureka! I’m not saying that’s always the case but I do tell my man-friends, don’t skimp on your wife or girlfriend’s bike. There are a zillion options now for women so they should and can be picky and get a bike that fits their riding style. Also, take clinics. All of them, from many people, even if it’s about the same things. The way someone says something to you may turn on a lightbulb that didn’t happen with a different instructor. We all learn differently thus the reason for trying different clinics. When you just go ride with friends, how many times do you stop and practice? Barely ever, right? Clinics give you the safe space and time to break down moves and understand their mechanics. I wish I would have had them in the beginning for sure. I’d probably be less afraid of jumping and big drops.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Always. I’m far from proficient. I can’t jump upon command. I’m a conservative descender, usually taking the slow line, even when I’m racing. When I started racing Enduro there were days when I was in way over my head and there was even a moment the day before a race at Keystone Resort where my husband and I had a face to face where we asked each other if it was worth the risk? It wasn’t but we didn’t DNS. Instead, we just said let’s go have an experience and walk what we can’t ride. It all went just fine. I wasn’t going to learn how to do some of the technical moves that day anyway so why put myself under that kind of pressure? I’ve been to a handful of enduros since and I’m usually the last one down and the slowest but I told myself I wasn’t doing it to impress some Colorado racers. I was doing it to push myself and have an adventure while trying to expand my skill set.

Tell us about event participation! What inspired you to race and why do you enjoy it?
People inspired me to race. In the beginning, there was always encouragement to try it and not in a competitive way but in the way that we all who do it understand: that racing could unlock some supernatural powers you didn’t know existed. I’ve always been in a sport, growing up playing competitive softball and even playing in college. I was a pitcher so that pathway was already laid but it was dormant after college for a long time. Racing woke that competitive streak back up and let’s face it, riding fast is a damn good time. I’ve had pretty good luck with racing but I work my ass off for every result so the pursuit of a good finish is also part of why I like racing. Racing forces me to train, gives me structure and focus that I can’t seem to muster up on my own and then to put all those pieces together for a good day on the bike is really gratifying. I’m not going to bs around and say there isn’t any ego in this and I’m only in it for the experience.

I’m mostly in it for the experience as racing could go away tomorrow and I’d still have adventures but coming away from an event on the podium, especially in a location that I may not have any advantage, such as a rocky, technical or mountainous course, gives me a great sense of accomplishment, and puts double !! on the day!

Why should folks consider participating at an event at least once?
See above: racing could unlock some supernatural powers you didn’t know existed. When you’re in a race scenario, you WILL go faster than when you’re riding for fun. It’s just the nature of things so you may find that you’re faster than you think. You may also end up trying a technical feature that you wouldn’t otherwise, especially if you see someone else doing it. Plus, the races are fun and festive. They’re encouraging. They’re only as competitive as you make them. In the big picture, we’re just a bunch of adults playing on bikes. We all have to get up the next day and put on pants and be adults again. Racing allows us to push, let go and see what we’re made of outside of our 9-5 selves.

Tell us about the Psycowpath MTB Racing Series-
Psy-cow-path, get it?! has been around since the mid-90s. Around 2003 after we said we’d help, the director handed my husband and I a box of number plates and said buh-bye and we’ve been running it ever since. The series then was about 10-12 races all over East-Central Nebraska (and this was PRE INTERNET so how people found out was just word of mouth). Over the years we’ve whittled it down to about 6 races at the most popular venues in or near Omaha. We have XC and Marathon categories and equal payouts between men and women! We invite runners to race the course before the mtb races as a way to make sure they know they are welcome on the trails too. I try to make sure we have cool posters, swag, and awards so people feel appreciated and have a memorable experience. Our events have music, food, and races for the tiny kids to round out the day. We run the series in what we call a “franchise model”, where cycling teams provide the day-of labor and receive a portion of the income for their club. Promoting is a lot of work so having this setup helps everyone!

What do you love about riding your bike?
It’s my escape. Take the training and racing out of it and just riding my bike clears my mind and takes me away from the daily grind, providing that necessary life balance. Add friends in the mix and life doesn’t get much better than that right there.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them-
How much time do you have?! Ha! I ride for Harvest Racing / TREK so this is a TREK-heavy list. For XC and Marathon racing I’ve been riding TREK Superfly 9.9. It’s a 29r that’s baby blue with red highlights and has earned the moniker Powder Puff! But she’s a total shredder. I held out switching to a 29r for the longest time. I was winning races on the 26” just fine but as the technology improved for the bigger wheels, it was becoming obvious that wheel size was more optimal for racing. Powder Puff is carbon and has full suspension so I have a shock in the back that I can lock out from the handlebars if suddenly I have to climb and want more power to transfer to the pedal stroke. For a race in Wyoming a few weeks ago, I put a dropper on her and holy buckets that was a good time. The weight penalty of a dropper (and less one bottle mount) is enough that I won’t use it all the time. Most courses I race don’t demand a dropper and I’d rather have a light bike and jump off here or there than carry an extra pound around for 50 miles! But the fun factor is off the charts, FYI!

For Enduro and all around big mountain riding, I have a TREK Remedy 9.9 27.5. This is the second Remedy I’ve owned and went with 27.5 for weight savings knowing that I’d be not just racing it but using it when we go on our week-long backcountry adventures where I’d be climbing or walking up for hours. It’s burly at around 27lb, it has 150ml of travel so it can take some pretty good hits. I can lock it out for climbing so that helps. I can put up to 2.3 tires on it for really rough terrain making it much more stable on the mountain descents. The handlebars are much wider than the Superfly for added stability. It also has a dropper but that one stays on it 24-7! I don’t do that bike justice. It’s way more bike than I get out of it but I love it.

Going between these two bikes take some getting used to. Each has a different set up on the handlebars in terms of the lockout so it takes me a few minutes to remember what does what! In terms of handling, the Remedy is much more playful and can get around tighter corners better. The Superfly is more stable and takes a bit of handling to get it to be playful as those big wheels just like to go straight and fast.

For day to day training, I’m on an older TREK Madone, a black sparkly carbon bike I call The Darkness. It has my name on it as well as the painter’s signature who painted it, which is kinda cool. It is my worst nightmare and my best training partner. Riding road bikes don’t give me the same feeling as riding mountain bikes. My road bike is a tool for training and though I do get a sense of freedom when I’m out on country roads, it’s not the same as what the mountain bike gives back to me.

I also have a TREK Crockett gravel/commuter bike that’s a few years old. I use it primarily for winter riding and have done a couple gravel races on it, but just for fun. It’s great for base miles in cold weather.

Why did you choose to be active in your local mountain biking community?
Because of the people that did it before me. Without them, there’d be no mountain biking in our area. Almost every inch of trail here has been hand built. Events don’t happen on their own. It takes a dedicated community of volunteers to allow our sport to even exist. We are in the land of ball sports and farm fields. And yet, despite the odds, we are still around and the sport is taking roots in the children of racers and riders. We get close to 150 kids out in the summer for our weekly DEVO night and our local Interscholastic league (not yet NICA) is now in its 5th year. Those were all seeded by way of dedicated volunteers. I felt the spirit of volunteerism immediately when I started riding and there’s never enough volunteers so I jumped right in. I work in advertising, so I was able to help on the branding side for different organizations and I’m an organizer by nature so getting on boards and getting things done was a way for me to give back to the sport. It never ends so give when you can and hope that others see the value and jump in when they can!

Tell us more about R & R Outside and why it's important for you and your husband to cultivate positive mountain biking experiences for others- 
R&R Outside was born out of the light bulb moments my husband and I had during an IMBA-lead instructors course. We found out how many bad habits we had and once we corrected them, we immediately noticed how much our riding improved. We were so excited about it that we felt we couldn’t keep it to ourselves so we took some more courses and got certified and began the Ride Right MTB School. Clinics can be expensive and they’re not all that close by so knowing that we made it affordable and hopefully memorable by giving each participant personal attention, guidance and some fun swag.

The other side of the business is the adventure side where we pretty much plan all the details for days-long trips to cool riding destinations or races. I like having sweet accommodations if we’re not camping so hunting down cabins or rentals is my jam. If it’s a bike trip and not a race, Ryan will scour trail maps and come up with daily ride plans. We take on the heavy lifting so our guests can just ride bikes.

All of this to cultivate a positive experience, indeed, which hopefully leads to more people on bikes!

Speaking of your husband, why do you enjoy being able to share the journey of mountain biking with him?
You know what’s better than living the #bikelife? Sharing the #bikelife. And when it’s your partner/spouse, it can’t get much better than that, especially when that spouse is also training. On the racing/promoting side, having someone who understands the commitment is everything. This is not a typical lifestyle - we’re training 5 days a week, home late, eating late, gone half the day on weekends. Then when it comes to planning trips, races, clinics, I do most of the detail work and he does the mechanical stuff like making sure the bikes are in working order and the van is ready for camping or hauling or whatever. It’s very much a team effort. On the adventure side of it, we’re cut from the same cloth: Gotta pay to play. Our curiosity for what’s around the corner is primal and has lead us to not just tops of unknown (to us) mountains or bottoms of canyons, but also to moments of fear, gratitude, and joy that are all the more galvanized when the other is there to bear witness. And now we have this awesome van that we can live out of and spend days upon days off the grid. We love it. It’s funny - every time we arrive home from the mountains, we usually high-five in the driveway as we turn off the van and ask each other, Where to next?

You've held co-ed clinics before and recently held your first women's-only clinic. What was it like and why was it a positive direction?
Most of our co-ed clinics were attended by women, so it was only a matter of time before we scheduled just a women’s only. Honestly, we went about it just the same but afterward, for days, I had this rush of energy after reading the feedback. Ryan was helping me so it wasn’t all estrogen all day but it seemed like there were a lot more questions being asked in real time and we went into detail on some skills that I thought were essential to beginner female riders. We had riders from never-ever to season racers that day and they all started at the same level and went through the same drills and each saw that there were struggles, even for the skilled, so there was some good camaraderie happening the whole day. Stoke meter was way up for sure.

Why do you feel it is important for women to be involved in the cycling industry?
From the top down, having women in the industry will provide pathways for others to join in all the ways that men are already thriving. Seeing someone who looks like us doing bike stuff, be it riding, racing or wrenching, gives women the message that they are welcome and will be supported in their cycling endeavors.

Why is it important for youth to be introduced to the sport of mountain biking?
Mountain biking at its core is a child’s perfect game; it involves adventure, exploration, problem-solving and sometimes self-preservation - tools that will help them throughout their lives. Also, the mountain biking culture of volunteerism and stewardship is a wonderful way for them to learn about respecting the environment and to help take care of it. I also love that mountain bikers celebrate all levels of skill so it’s a way for them to get involved and feel accepted, which is so important at this day and age. And it gets them off the gadgets!

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking? 
The notion of going out into the woods alone is a deterrent for most women so it’s key that ladies find others to ride with who are welcoming and supportive. Plus it will be way more fun that way! There was a big push around racing when the sport came into its own and that has been a big turn off IMO. It should be about participation and cultivating a community, not getting on a podium.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Industry-wise they are on a good trajectory. With women’s only events popping up, the popularity of women’s clinics and more coverage of women riding/exploring/competing in the sport tells us that we’re accepted, invited and supported. On a large scale, that will continue the upward trend of women on bikes. I also think with the rise of NICA, the sport is becoming more and more family friendly. As kids get involved early in life, moms and dads will find others who are bike-curious and hopefully they too will be encouraged to try it.

Locally, I believe we could get more women in the sport through a few avenues: progressive trails where one can learn to ride terrain. We have pretty beginner-friendly trails but again, going off into the woods might be too much to ask, so bike parks or skills areas would at least give them a taste in a more open, safer environment. I also think it’s important for there to be women-only group rides, headed by non-racer types. I did a weekly ride a couple years ago and felt that I was intimidating to some because I raced. I believe non-racers can be better ride leaders, removing that competitive stigma that comes with racers. I also think bike shops could get in the game by offering some kind of event or group rides or skill sessions. It’s all about having fun and creating a welcoming environment that breaks down barriers.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Changing lives. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it personally and witnessed the changes in others. Mountain biking reveals our inner super powers. I have a friend who, until she started mountain biking, didn’t realize how competitive she really was at anything and when she started racing, she found out she was really good at it and started traveling with us and racing as well. We don’t grow up thinking we’re going to be mountain bikers. Though that is changing with the NICA leagues, for adults discovering the sport, it can show them what they’re capable of by revealing traits they didn’t believe they possessed and that can life altering.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I tandem skydived over Moab, Utah.

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