Its been a beautiful Wyoming winter but I am starting to itch for warm weather. I’m having dreams of riding my mountain bike and I’m thinking of all the places I want to go when the snow clears. I also recently reached a checkpoint in my life when I got a job at a mountain bike camp this summer that had a huge impact on my life when I was 16.
My freshman year of high school some unknown force made me join the high school mountain bike team. I was riding a bike from elementary school that weighed more than I did, and I didn’t know a single person on the team. It also didn’t help I was the only girl. My parents kept encouraging me to stick with it, otherwise I would have to join the cross country running team. That first year was difficult, I was placing last in every race or getting cut off before I could finish. I really enjoyed the races but I didn’t know how long I could stick with the sport, the tipping point came when I went to an all girls mountain bike camp that summer in curt gowdy.
It was coached entirely by women and I immediately had new bad-ass role models to follow. When I showed up my first thought was who are these women and why aren’t there more of them in the world? They were fearless, fast and had such an encouraging atmosphere around them I was willing to try anything. They had serious skills and never held back spreading knowledge and encouragement. I found myself trying new skills and finding success because no one ever asked “Do you really want to try that?” These women were bad-ass because they had spectacular wrecks, laughed it off and then got back on and tried it again. I think if these role models had been around when I was younger, I would have started mountain biking a lot sooner. I think this is true for most girls too, the more bad-ass role models there are, the more girls that get on bikes or feel empowered enough to go out for a sport thats untraditionally a “girl sport”.
Kids ride their bikes everywhere, every childhood included learning how to ride a bike in an abandoned parking lot and skinning your knees up. The only difference between boys and girls is what color the streamers are. When kids get into middle school, all of a sudden there are “girl sports” and “guy sports”. The number of girls in sports narrows even more in high school when competition and stereotypes get more intense. Mountain biking was my way to combat these stereotypes and it taught me exactly what I needed most in that part of my life.
One of the biggest things mountain biking taught me was how to fail. Risks are involved in every activity and sport but in mountain biking they seem more daunting. One of my coaches told me on the very first day “You are going to fall at some point, it’s just a matter of when and where”. This was terrifying to a 14 year old me. Nothing I had ever done had taught me that falling, or failing was OK. The first thing I learned from mountain biking was to accept the fact I would fall, and more importantly that it wasn’t bad! Mountain biking taught me the proper way to fall off a bike and the proper way to fail in real life, as well as how to get back on and try again. I realized no one could ever be good at Mountain biking without any scars. Just like you will never get good at something without messing up in the process. Mountain biking taught me to wear my scars like badges of honor. Everyone always says failure is the greatest teacher, but I never understood it until I was thrown off my bike head first into a creek, with my coaches cheering from the trail.
Mountain biking also let me explore a talent I didn’t know I had. Eventually the time came to graduate out of my old loved bike and move towards an actual racing bike. I had trouble finding a bike that fit, I didn’t have a lot of people to compare or talk to and most mechanics and salespersons were clueless as to what type of bike I needed. *side note* there are very few bikes that are actually “women specific” bikes. Most “women’s” bikes just have a lower top tube… the purpose being so that skirts wont hike up. this is not efficient or logical, its just been this way since women were allowed to start riding bikes. Since it is now the 21st century and most women don’t wear long skirts to ride bikes anymore I hope someone can finally make a frame fit real women. With the help a good mechanic my dream bike was complete, then I had to learn how to keep it happy and running. This was a turning point in my life where someone finally handed me tools and taught me how to fix it myself. Up until this point every time I held a screw driver it seemed to be pulled away at the first sign I was confused, and I never learned. But this was my bike, and my job. If I got a flat tire on the trail there wouldn’t be anyone there to fix it for me, this feeling of self reliance was empowering to have on the trails. If something were to go wrong, I have all the tools and skills I need to be able to fix it myself. I eventually became a bike mechanic, armed with this new knowledge I’m doing my part to spread the empowerment and break stereotypes by helping every person I can with their bike. Possibly most importantly, I don’t fix their bikes for them, I give them the tools and tell the how to do it. I can’t tell you how it feels when I watch a girls face light up with empowerment after I hand her the tools and she fixes her own bike. Mountain biking provided this opportunity for me to finally get my hands dirty on real equipment. It allowed me to realize a talent I never would have been able to explore otherwise.