Women Involved Series: Laurel Darren

I love to hear people tell stories of adventures they have had in the outdoors especially when guiding. After years and years of endurance racing (mountain bike, road cycling, marathons, ultra marathons) I made a tough decision to leave the racing scene, the podium (sometimes), the early mornings of long miles, and the going to bed super early. Instead, I would pour my heart and soul into owning, managing the best guides ever and still guiding in my own safe, private, boutique mountain bike and hiking adventure company.

We are entering year 3 and it is amazing!

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Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
I want to say mountain biking was kind of a natural progression to try something more epic. I started off as a runner, then a half marathon, marathon, ultra--then to save my knees I started riding a road bike which turned into a triathlon, then half ironman, then ironman then after you complete an Ironman there is that weird awkward space of --what's next? So, I started riding a mountain bike and attempted the Leadville 100 MTB race--in 2011 and DNF'd.

I have been hooked ever since--being one with nature is way better than being one with cars--AND I love the community of people --anyone who will have a beer after a ride or a burger is definitely RAD in my book.

Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
Shimano SPD pedals--I am a single speeder I need all the grab on the climbs I can get.

Have you had any biffs (accidents) that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Crazy story I was once out by myself on a training ride in an area that is very remote with no cell service. I was riding my Cannondale Scalpel which has a LEFTY fork--long short I started to drift LEFT -hit some sand --lost control and literally SUPERMAN'd it over the handlebars --broke my Oakley Hollbrooks and had some pretty nasty trail (gravel) rash. I had a Catholic Pastor and his son pick me up on the rad because my eye was bleeding--I did not know it.

Needless to say, they were pretty awesome and lucky they happened to be out that day just for a drive. I overcame the fear by going out and re-riding that section numerous time and am good now.

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 COULD NOT DESCEND to save my life. I was that girl who got off and walked the descents. Literally--it took me many years to feel comfortable on gravel descents and put me in a rock garden and I would literally shit my pants. Over time I began to understand speed --in control is your friend and that my 29" tires were meant to roll over anything-I was BOCK BOCK Chicken for sure on descending. LOL WOW. I also could not corner worth a crap--that was another story --AND riding at night...I am laughing thinking about that experience. My friend, Kaolin had to let me borrow a light that basically could be seen like a million miles away and I was scared to death--in that same race, I encountered a PACK of coyotes on trail...

Silence--they wanted to eat us I am sure of it. LOL

To overcome my fears of descending and cornering I took a "Ride Like a Ninja" skills course one on one with Richard La China at Balboa Park in San Diego--amazing what the advice "ride straight" can do for you. Love Richard La China.

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

I admit I SUCK at technical anything. I am all day long an endurance cross country girl. You put me on Porcupine Rim descent Moab or Hangover Trail Sedona....its hike a bike for this girl. I have gotten better over the years but I am not the one who wants to go and try the Waterfall here in Phoenix at South Mountain. I will take you on miles and miles of flowy singletrack though. When with friends who love that stuff --we typically compromise and I get laughed at and made fun of. LOL

For folks who are nervous about giving mountain biking a shot, do you have any suggestions on how they can go about creating a positive experience?
I own a mountain bike guiding company so we deal with A LOT of beginners and people who have never mountain biked before. The best thing you can do is be calm, explain and let them know to relax on the bike. Proper seat height, the ability to brake and step off the bike is crucial and letting them ride their own pace is a huge component. It's funny --typically when they "get it" they have to call it a day on the tour. To me--it's about believing in my guests, laughing and smiling right along with them.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I LOVE riding my Roca Roja single speed because I know it is the only one in the world. Lots of times we forget that in moments--we are the only ones in the entire world at that moment. Riding gives me freedom and space like no other. Just me and my Roca.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My ULTIMATE BABY is my Roca Roja Rockstar Titanium Single Speed. I love this bike because it is the only bike in the world and it is totally custom for me. My friend, Kaolin who owns Flat Tire Bike Shop in Cave Creek also owns Roca Roja and he custom named the bike and made it just for me.

I have hand made with love, from Dominic LoPresti of SPUN Bicycles in Cincinnati (Northside), wheels that have custom painted candy purple rims from Velocity Blunt, Gold rear single speed hub (it sounds like 5 rattlesnakes are chasing me) by Profile Racing BMX, A Kick Ass Cog and DT Swiss spokes. AWESOME. Plus always a 34 *20 chainring and always eccentric chain.

My other children are my Cannondale Scalpel LEFTY custom painted Circus purple with glitter accent. 29"

I also have a Cannondale Trail SL single speed and a LIV Avail Advance Pro Road Bike

I also have a fleet of 2018 Marin Nail Trails along with kids bikes for my business, Wild Bunch Desert Guides.
Tell us about your business, Wild Bunch Desert Guides and how it came to be-
My business, Wild Bunch Desert Guides came to be after I worked for a big outfit here in Arizona as a guide for a few years. While I had a killer fun time--things became more cooperate based as that company grew and I wanted to still be able to take the small groups and families out to do fun stuff with fewer restrictions on trails-- all that comes with the transition to the cooperate world etc. So, I left the company and my business, Wild Bunch Desert Guides was born.

What has been the best part about starting up your own guide business?
The best part about starting up my own company, Wild Bunch Desert Guides, is the authenticity and the amazing people who choose to work for me. I can run the business how I want to --of course ethically and honestly. I choose to be safe, eccentric and super fun with all our guests.
What has been one of your favorite guiding experiences?
For me personally, EVERY TOUR is my favorite guiding experience. I can honestly say --even with the other companies I have had the honor of guiding for, EVERY tour has its own piece that I LOVE and have had some sort of fun connected to it. I think the one that comes to mind is the day my guest Fred and I encountered a Mojave rattlesnake out of nowhere that just kind struck at my rear wheel of my bike and dropped out of a rock onto the trail--it was between Fred and I and I must have said the "F" word 500 times while my heart was beating 5000 beats per minute--I kept saying "I am so sorry this is so Effing unprofessional, please don't tell my boss I am using the F Word." Funny thing was--the CEO of the company I worked for has a masters degree in herpetology and was actually out riding in the same area --we encountered him and he came over checked the snake out and gave some cool facts about it--I still had a mini heart attack I think and to add to the fun--I took Fred some years later on a tour for another company I worked for in Sedona with a fake Mojave rattlesnake. LOL

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think the sport of mountain biking in general and let's be honest with ourselves like most things--is viewed primarily as a man's sport. Do not get me wrong there are a ton of badass women out there riding and keeping up with the boys...please do not misunderstand. I think what keeps women away from mountain biking is fear of crashing. I know that sounds strange---take a day and go out with a mountain bike guide who has beginners--females tend to be scared of crashing period. Anything or way they can keep the bike upright is always what the major goal is.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I know here locally and I have encountered this when I was racing. There seems to be a small number of women --single speed specific --so, therefore, we are asked by race directors to ride with the males or go into a mixed open category. Some race directors like my friend, Jeff Frost have actually listened to the women and have added categories for a podium specific to women--single speed for sure at some of his local mountain bike and cyclocross races. I know though last year for example 12 hours of Mesa Verde made the single speed ladies choose if they wanted to be in the geared open category or the male single speed category. Even though there were enough of us to full the podium--but their past history with that specific category makes consistency difficult. So the badass chicks have to be ready for any category--especially on a single speed.

I think though changes are being made and women are being listened to if they approach it in a nice and understanding way absolutely.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Due to my business taking off like wildfire these last couple months most of my outdoor time is on my feet hiking with guests, my guy, Brett and my plott hound, Daisy Mae. I have not had the time I used to --running a business to get out and do the riding I used to. In all honesty, my body needed a rest and break from all the wear and tear that endurance training does. I have felt amazing and sure a few LBS--have appeared --at the end of the day those experiences with Brett and Daisy Mae--the Moscow Mules and Cheeseburgers sure were good. YUM.

Now, I inspire women to ride by being on the bike when guiding mainly. I, for years, rode with a group of ladies here locally and we had a ton of fun. Times and things change--so now it's about the women who I get to inspire on our tours.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I skated Roller Derby for the Quad City Rollers for almost 3 seasons as Iron Rub'r #262 and during that time I won BEST LEGS in AMERICA for Max Muscle in 2011.
I was a badass mutha.