(WARNING, watching/listening to this content may lead to a possible life change or even better, to the development of superpowers!!!)
Sheppard just finished her biggest adventure yet! Tour Aotearoa, where she rode her faithful bike, a Surly Karate Monkey named Skidmark, over 3000km (solo and self-supported) across both island of New Zealand, which took her 31 days.
Sheppard was the first recipient of the Big Agnes Bob Swanson Memorial Grant (2018) and was named Best Digital Content by Upventur (2017). She is based out of Lincoln with her retired adventure dog, India but spends most of her time nomading.
Sheppard is also a professional speaker, published writer, educator, adventurer, filmmaker, brand ambassador, content creator, and gifted storyteller.
For folks who are new to meeting you, tell us about your mountain biking introduction and why it was influential-
My ex-boyfriend introduced me to MTBing. He was supportive and pushed me! I didn’t always like being pushed but I LOVED mtbing. In my first year I road every terrain and crashed countless times. I invested in ibuprofen and a reusable icepack, which I used after every ride due to crashing. But I felt something that I hadn’t before, thanks to the bike. I felt free, empowered, on fire, and in love with the bike and nature. Overcoming the challenges of singletrack gave me self-confidence. I think nature, adventure, the bike (or exercise of some sort) are essential for building self-confidence, self-reliance, respect, disciplinal, community, trust, and knowledge for life.
You went on an incredible biking journey in NZ. Tell us what you did to prepare yourself for the cycling adventure-
I trained a LOT! I wanted to get my body used to being in the saddle for 3-5 hour increments. The challenge was training in winter. I’ll ride outside until the temps dropped below 25 degrees. I ride alone and know hypothermia can sneak up FAST so when it was that cold I played it safe by riding at the local Y.
When I first started training I spent 30 minutes on the bike then increased to an hour, then to two hours. I spent 2 days a week riding for 5 hours. In total, I spent about 5-6 days a week on a trainer at the gym. I then added, strength weightlifting training three days a week, to bulk up my body weight.
I was also a bit extra cautious. I usually ride anytime and don’t worry about ice or snow but I was going to do whatever it took to do this trip. That meant not being so tenacious and sticking to the trainer!
Research was another thing I did to prep myself. I looked up what gear to bring, how to set up my bike, how to ship my bike (and the cost), downloaded maps, saved/raised money to finance the trip (I did a Kickstarter and I won the very first Big Agnes Bob Swanson Memorial Grant!) I also calmed my constant freakouts with mediation!
What was the most challenging part of doing this journey by bike?
The biggest challenge about riding 1900 miles solo across New Zealand in 30 days by bike was carrying everything with me: clothes, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, food, water, glasses, toothpaste, first aid kit, bike kit with tubes, chargers, rain layers, lights, Garmin, maps and more. Once everything was packed I had to then find my balance with riding a 70 lb bike. My bike was soooo heavy. The first day I rode on the beach at low tide. It was fun riding on the hard wet sand but when I hit a soft bit my wheel would catch sending me flying over the bars. For the first week, the bike handled me. I walked up every incline and EVERY hill. My bike fell endless times, usually with me on it. I was bruised and continued to collect them throughout the ride. This was a challenge BUT after a week things got easier and by the end, there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do!!!
What was the most inspiring moment of your NZ adventure?
The most inspiring moment was pretty much every day, looking out at the beautiful landscape and I was in awe that I was actually doing this!!! I reminded myself every day what a privilege this experience was and to enjoy the good and the bad. I really learned to be in the moment and to not rush. The land in New Zealand is filled with inspiring energy. It’s an amazing country with the kindest people who helped me along the way.
Where there challenges or mechanicals you had to deal with? How did you cope?
About a week in, I hit rock bottom and wanted to give up. I was focusing on miles and that I was so behind. This was stressing me out and I wasn’t having ANY fun. So I decided to just take it pedal stroke at a time, focus on smiles, not miles (thanks Jolly) and to just keep going.
I had very little mechanical problems BUT I did have to change my brake pads, which I had never done before and my fork bottomed out. I was grateful that I had spare brake pads. The bike shop in my hometown in Nebraska advised me that it wasn’t necessary to bring extra brake pads. They also said my bike won’t make the 1900 mile trek. I knew my bike and knew she could do it. She’s steel and we have been through a lot together. Plus, she was all I had so she had to make it. I also did a TON of research on what to bring. The bikers in NZ said it was a must to bring extra brake pads, I’d be riding over 100,000 feet of elevation with steep, steep descents. They were right. I was glad I did my research.
-BTW, local bike shops are super helpful and great with bike prep. I love my local shop and others (like Decorah Bikes). They are a great resource. They might not know everything about all terrains or riding but the internet can help with that. Go with your gut, know your gear and you will be fine!
I also had issues with my bags and gear stay on my bike. It ALWAYS fell off. I went cheap and didn’t buy a bike specific seat postbag. I borrowed a handlebar bag and bought a cheap bigger frame bag. I used straps to keep everything in place. This was an expensive trip so I choose to be cheap and paid for it with my time. It was sooooo frustrating but I learned so much. I won’t have it any other way.
Another challenge. Food. I dropped a LOT of weight, about 15-20 lbs, which is a lot for my 5’ 11’’ 140 lb frame. I knew I would eat a ton of food since I was burning so many calories but I had no idea it would be like it was. I ate 3 times the amount I thought I would. I tried to put on some weight before the trip with strength training and calories but it didn’t matter, I lost WAY more than I thought I would.
My diet is gluten and dairy free, which was a bit of a challenge in a foreign country, especially in a dairy country like New Zealand. I had to make sure and read labels. Items in the US that are GF may not be in New Zealand. But everything was labeled and most everyone I came into contact with was aware of these allergies.
My mental well being suffered and took a huge toll. I always find traveling alone to be empowering. On this trip, I really embraced it and enjoy it. What’s hard is when you go through something tough and you are the only one to get yourself out of it or to keep yourself going. I had a lot of side of the road crying moments. A lot of temper tantrums. I was lucky to have a bit of cell service so I could talk to my family. The downside, NZ is 18 hours ahead of the states.
Then I faced navigation problems. I relied on my NZ cue sheet maps, my Garmin, and my cell phone. It took all three to find my way and I still got lost, daily. I also camped 15 of the nights. I also stayed in hostels, hotels, and even a caravan in someone’s backyard. I didn’t plan out each day until that day, or midday. I kind of winged it. Figuring out how to charge everything was another of the endless challenges.
Not having a day off killed my moral and energy levels. I would have LOVED a day of rest but my time was limited. A few days I took the morning off to explore. One morning I went to Hobbiton, which was amazing.
Clips or flats? What do you use when and why?
I wanted to wear my five ten flatforms that have clipless built in but they were new shoes and I hadn’t broken them in. Plus, my budget didn’t allow for platform and clipless duo pedals. I had worn my clipless shoes for over 3,000 miles on gravel and singletrack. I trusted them and knew they would work. So I went with what I had. Plus I also knew there was less technical riding and more miles. I use platform for technical and clipless for miles. The downside is that my shoe did break towards the end of the tour but I just fixed them with a bit of trusty duct tape, which held them together 'til the finish.
Since your previous interviews with us, 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?
The entire TOUR was on big BIFF!!!! Plus, I biff ALL THE TIME! When you take risks sometimes you fall, it’s natural. I'm used to it by now. After a crash, I pick myself up (along with my crushed ego) and keep at it. To heal and overcome I cut myself some slack. I give myself some self-love and sometimes cry, yell, or just sit there. You will fall, you don’t always have control over that but you do have control over if you get back on the bike or not. So get back on the BIKE!
Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I absolutely have handling and technical riding aspects I still find tricky or scary. Again, I like to push myself and when you push yourself you run into tricky things.
Some days I’m on fire and kill it with technical riding. Other times I can’t ride anything and walk everything. It does get to me sometimes but I remember that I’ve come so far from when I started just years ago. And that this is supposed to be fun. If you aren’t having fun, take a moment, stop and figure out why you aren’t enjoying yourself. Is it the people you’re riding with? The terrain? Are you stressed? Just having a bad day? It’s amazing how outside elements affect your riding. My period affects my riding, which I didn’t realize right away. Now, I just role with it, understanding that I may not be 100% that day, which is more than okay. The bike has taught me to be more patient with myself and others. To love myself for me, not what I can do on a bike. And that getting rad doesn’t mean showing off. Means having fun, that’s what life is all about, right?
Take it easy and have fun. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and try out riding with other people to find the right people to ride with. I usually ride alone, I’m a solo nomad and a bit of a loner at times. When I ride with others I choose to ride with supportive, independent, fun people. Those are the people I like to ride with. Find who you like to ride with. It makes SUCH a difference. Also, the right bike. Your local bike shop is a great resource to try out new bikes (which most will let you take out for an afternoon), gear, hit new trails and all your bike needs. Take advantage of it!
What do you love about riding your bike?
I love the freedom and being in nature! I love flowing through singletrack it’s like dancing! The bike has helped me find empowerment, self-confidence, and find myself. Bike camping has taught me how to be self-reliance, to be open to the help of others, and learn that life is about experiences. Ah man… I LOVE riding my bike!
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I currently have only one bike; hardtail Surly Karate Monkey. I like Surly bikes because they’re steel and can take a beating. I’d love to have a fat bike for snow and desert riding. A full suspension for downhilling, a single speed 26-inch mtb for strolling around town but I’m stoked with Skidmark (my karate monkey), she’s badass and keeps me safe!
You went from a nomadic lifestyle to less nomadic, and back to- what has been your journey with discovering how you want to be?
It’s never-ending and just that, a journey. I think we are constantly learning about ourselves as we are constantly evolving. I do find that I am more at peace with myself and with who I am thanks to my nomadic lifestyle. It just fits me. I had to experiment, kind of a trial and error to see what life was right for me. Thanks to adventure and the bike for showing me that.
How has #bikelife been helpful during the transitions of this past year?
I had a bad break up recently and life has been really hard, I’ve been struggling. But I’ve learned that the struggles we face (in life or on the bike) are worth it. I’ve learned who I am and what I am capable of thanks to that struggle. We all have strength, the bike helped remind me of that and has helped me find my strength, even when I feel I’ve misplaced it.
What are your plans for the year?
I’m currently writing about my bike trip across NZ and the struggles I’ve faced this past year. This is helping me heal, remember what an epic trip I had, and (hopefully) inspire others to get rad. After the book, I have a big adventure planned, which includes the bike. I’ll keep ya posted!!!
You're writing for Women Who Explore, tell us more about them and where to find your work-
I think co-founders Linsay and Jenny say it the best: “We started Women Who Explore because we didn't feel like we belonged in the outdoors, that we weren't experienced or had the best gear to be out there. We realized that other women out there must feel the same, intimidated, not good enough to be in the outdoors. So we wanted to create a safe space, a welcoming space.”
There are getaways, informative blog posts, and community for women who explore. I create blog posts for them. You can find my work on their blog. I also have a blog and a Youtube channel that focuses on my experiences with being a nomad.
Women Who Explore
Case of the Nomads
What do you love about sharing your stories?
I have learned so much from others and what they have shared now I get the honor of paying it forward. Now that’s a priceless gift!
What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I don’t know. Maybe if others would stop trying to “take care of” or “protect” woman and treat us as the equals we are, then maybe more woman would get involved.
To be honest, I try not to think about this too much. It ends up pissing me off. I just focus on being as self-sufficient I can be. I think the more self-sufficient we are, the better. Getting your own camping gear and bike equipment makes you independent and self-reliant. You don’t have to wait for others to go on an adventure. Learning about your gear is another way to be self-reliant. I learned the basics of my gear, equipment, bike, car so that I can rely on myself when something breaks. There are great resources out there to learn like community, friends, and YouTube, but the best way to gain knowledge is by DOING!!! Knowledge is (em)power(ment) so go out and do it!
What inspires you to encourage women to be adventurous?
I know the struggle of being a woman and the added struggles of being a solo adventurous woman. I also know the rewards. I was scared for a LONG time. I didn’t follow my passion for adventuring. I found courage through other women’s stories. That inspires me to share my story, to help others get involved and to give back what others have given me.
Tell us a random fact about yourself!
In my early 20s, I lived in NYC and worked as an assistant agent at one of the top model agencies in the world. I went to every party, wore designer clothes, and got paid a TON! It was a fantastic time but I’m much happier now, less money and more adventure, but I still love fashion.