by Jenn Solomon
Let me tell you about the power of cycling sisterhood. It’s greater than I ever realized. It’s more than a comfortable niche of friends, group of ride partners or likeminded souls. A cycling sisterhood is greater than the sum of its parts.
I started road riding about 8 years ago. The years add up quickly. Doesn’t feel to me like it could possibly be. I can remember when I started, absorbing every morsel of advice that other riders offered. Somewhere along the line I morphed into a proficient rider. Now, I’m able to help new riders on their journeys to becoming confident riders. At least on the road…
Last year, inspired by the perpetually happy faces among the mountain biking set of Live Love Velo, I thought I’d give mountain biking a try. My first experience in the woods was a spur-of-the-moment ride with my friend Darren, who lent me a mountain bike while my road bike was at his shop for repairs. I gleefully followed him through the woods even though I had no clue how to handle the bike or navigate any of the obstacles. I fell right over on a few of the steeper pitches and walked most of the descents, but I finished the ride with a smile from ear to ear. With visions of joining the mountain biking community and blissfully riding through the woods, I bought myself a mountain bike.
New mountain bike in tow, I ambitiously headed back to the trail I had ridden with Darren. No more than 15 minutes in, on a completely non-technical blip, I somehow flipped the bike and landed hard on my ass. Writhing in pain, shocked and defeated, I eventually managed to get myself to my car and then home. It took a month or so to heal physically from what must have been no more than a deep bruise, but my spirit had been injured far more severely.
The pretty mountain bike sat, unused. I got back out on the road but only once in a great while found the courage to head out on the mountain bike. I rode by myself, going so slowly that any pre-schooler on a tricycle could have easily whizzed by. My first attempt at a group ride was a complete bust. I showed up and got dropped within the first minute. Disheartened and scared, I turned around, loaded the mountain bike back in the car, went home and took my road bike out instead.
Finally, a few of the Live Love Velo mountain bike ladies took me into the woods and gave me some pointers. They stayed with me at my pace, and even encouraged me to stop and walk any sections that made me nervous. They shared stories of how they got started and reassured me that I WOULD learn how to ride the mountain bike with confidence.
I kept faith that my skills would develop. One at a time, I tried a slight downhill, then passing through closely spaced trees, then a few moguls. I fell a bunch more times, but thankfully, incurred no more than a few bumps and scratches. I was still plenty nervous, but I had so many role models who all impressed upon me that this was completely do-able. I trusted them.
Then one day, superstar Kim, who had recently completed a bunch 100 mile mountain bike races, offered to lead a LLV mountain bike ride, suitable for all levels. I figured I’d give it a go. It was the same trail that I had abandoned on my first group ride attempt, some months ago. I got past the initial stretches and then Kim turned on to a black diamond trail. “You can do it,” she informed me.
She kept us looping around onto one black diamond trail after another. I was frustrated. I grumped to myself, “She said ‘all levels’”. I worried that I was slowing the group down when I stopped to walk the tough sections. My friends pointed out that while I walked some parts, I was managed quite well on other technical parts. At a point where several trails crossed and we had to choose the easier main trail or another black diamond, the group hesitated. Someone asked which way we should go. I wanted the main trail. Another woman read the expression on my face and said, “I don’t think Jenn wants to do another black diamond.” In her soft but sturdy tone Kim replied, “Of course Jenn wants to do another black diamond.” Part of me hated Kim in that moment. Another part of me was grateful for the tough love.
Fast forward a few months: I’m still slow, but feeling like I’ve got the basics. I signed on for the Triple Crown, an all day event, which covers 3 of our local trails. I knew it was a stretch for me, but at this point, I’m down with the idea that it’s going to take reaching beyond my comfort zone to keep growing.
At Glacier Ridge, the first trail of the day (that same trail where Kim made me do all the black diamonds), I waited until more than half of the riders had entered the trail and then I followed one of the LLV riders in. But I felt pressured with so many riders behind me and chose to stop and let them pass, rather than ride faster than felt safe to me. I was last in the train of over 100 riders, and I still managed to lose sight of every single rider in front of me. When I came upon a junction, I chose to stay on the main trail, rather than do the diamonds by myself. Better safe than sorry, I figured.
Just as I started to feel a little more at ease, the trail circled around back to the parking lot, which was completely empty of riders. I had only 4 miles on my bike computer. Hmmm. Okay. The main trail was shorter than I’d realized. I knew that the full trail, including the diamonds, was at least twice that long, so I figured I would ride the main loop again, on my own.
When I finished, I headed (by car) to the next trail, Rocky Point, and waited for the group to reconvene. I started the second trail with Diana, another super skilled LLV rider. The first stretches of trail were mostly flat, but somewhat twisty. I tried to stay with Diana, but the turns slowed me down.
When I came to the more technical sections at Rocky Point, I was with a handful of riders who were slow like me. All but one of them chose to forego a particular diamond section because of a steep drop off on that part of the trail. I had done that drop off for the first time just a few days earlier with my LLV girls:
Deb had stopped up ahead to cheer me on, “You can do it, Jenn!”
“Scoot your butt back,” advised Jane as she plunged down, ahead of me.
I scooted my butt behind the seat, over the rear wheel and went for it. Trust the bike…this is what it’s made to do, I thought. Adrenaline rush…whoosh…I landed, upright, and went right on to the next hill. Wooooooot woooooot! Okay, that was actually FUN!
This time, the guy ahead of me stopped just before the drop-off, forcing me to a standstill. He walked his bike around, and as I stood there contemplating whether to give it a go from a stand still or back up and get some momentum, he remounted his bike and was off. Alone, my nerves got the best of me, and I followed his lead, walking down, around the drop. Moments later, I made a wrong turn which led me right back to the loop with the drop. Meant to be, I told myself. I was meant to do the drop again, so that I could own it. And, boom, there it was. Mine for the taking. Butt back, let it go….aced!
I finished up Rocky Point, making a few new friends along the way, and then headed to the final trail, Cathedral Pines. I found Kim in the parking lot, but I figured she’d be intent on a strong finish and that I’d find some slower folks again. “Let’s ride,” she said, signaling that we head together into the woods. So, I started with Kim, but accepted that I would soon watch her ride away from me and finish up the day solo.
But Kim, endlessly gracious, was perfectly content to ride with me. She continued to offer her coaching at all the technical spots and made me feel like it was my victory lap, or at least my graduation procession. I still wouldn’t consider myself a proficient mountain biker and I’ve got a ways to go before I’ll be the one teaching a newbie the technical stuff, but I’m not a complete novice anymore. I’m proud to have achieved “advanced beginner” status. Give me a few months and I’ll rank solidly among the intermediates!
As I reflect on these past few months, it seems like my learning curve on the mountain bike is a metaphor my life as a parent; The abiding chaos of raising four kids, with extra challenges tossed in–some that can be anticipated and others that can’t. The anxiety that I won’t be able to do it and the revelation that I can get past the bumps, the moguls and even the big ups and downs. And it all whizzes by, but when you pause to appreciate the surrounding beauty, it astounds you.
My LLV sisters get it, from the basic mechanics of riding, to the effects it has on our bodies and our souls. Riding is like a guidebook for managing life outside of the woods. It’s therapy for every one of us, but it enhances each of us in our own way. So, beyond having the company, the pointers and advice, it adds up to a true sisterhood which graces us with support, gives us space mend and grow. It strengthens us and elevates us. And therein lies the love.
Thank you, my Live Love Velo sisters. Thank you to Jane, Kimarie, Deb, Diana, Lisa, Kyra, Tori and Kim, for teaching me and helping me to get here on my mountain bike.
Left to right: Kimarie, the author and Kim