I’m an introvert by definition. I function well in social situations when I need to, but I recharge with self-care and quiet time. My version of self-care is hopping on my bike and hitting the single track. The smell, the sound, the feeling; I’m in my own personal heaven. Weaving through the trees and pushing off corners, my bike and I become one. Breathing deeply, the sweet air filling my lungs, I am recharged.
We’ve waited a long time for the dirt to say hello. It was shy at first, continually hiding under a crisp white blanket, peeking ever so slightly. I like to think of the dirt as an introvert. It performs well in its social situations, allowing hundreds of bikes to tear it up in warmer months. The dirt offers grip (or not) and provides a textured happiness for all of us. Then it needs to recharge as the cool air flows in. Breathing deeply, the dirt shifts to a slumber beneath its crisp, white blanket.
Mountain biking is my fitness and mental health revival. I am recharged, and I can get a serious workout at the same time. Depending on the trails I hit, people I’m with, and temperature, a single ride can leave me happily breathless with aching muscles wanting more. The cardio alone is enough to make some folks bow out. I was once there, giving up on a climb to push the remainder of the way or turning back home or to the pub when I was feeling a bit tired. I’ve learned proper riding skills to ensure I can push myself to finish the climb: elbows in, eyes up, chin over stem (or boobs to the bar), and to pedal steady circles. Breathing deeply, I can make it.
My first experience with mountain biking didn’t start out well. Looking down a terrifying downhill trail and being told to “meet at the bottom,” I watched the seasoned riders charge down the trail in a cloud of dust. Gap-jawed and shaking, I looked back at the few others who remained at the trailhead: the girls. All but one of us was newer to this sport. One incredible woman taught us the basic skills to get us down the trail mostly unharmed (standard wipeouts and pedal bites aside). A couple laps later I was hooked. Without knowing what I needed, I had found my “sisterhood of shred,” and we biked together for years. I owe these girls my love of mountain biking.
The guys weren’t being jerks. They honestly didn’t understand that we needed instruction and guidance. Many a time since that first bike trip, I’ve ridden with the same guys and ended up on a trail I couldn’t handle. They waited. I figured it out. This made me think, “there must be more women out there who want to learn how to ride a mountain bike but don’t know where to turn.”
Fast forward a handful of years and you’ll find there are now dozens of women’s ride groups and clubs (including my own, Women on Wheels YEG) in Edmonton and surrounding area that will welcome beginners. Plus, many local bike shops have weekly rides, which are posted on their website calendars.
I’m often left breathless when I think about how far I’ve come, how much I’ve learned, and where I’m headed with mountain bike riding and coaching. This great city of ours offers world class single track to learn and improve on. It’s difficult to narrow down all the trails to one favorite area, but I am always challenged and impressed with the network that runs from McNally High School to Gold Bar (Ewok, Caddy Track, Risky Business, Happy Endings, Moonraker (aptly referred to as Poop-house Shuffle), and Gold Digger).
I’ve struggled and succeeded here many times over the years, and the more confident I become with my skills, the more fun the trails become. My speed is increasing as is my decision making on the line to choose to stay smooth. The funny part is, as soon as I’ve succeeded at a tricky section, I am instantly humbled by catching a root or getting hung up on a climb. The trails have a way of keeping you in line. My favorite part of the day is when I get to hop on my bike, roll down the street, across the park grass, and drop into the trails.
Eyes up, knees bent, shoulders square, breathing deeply, off I go again.
Women on Wheels YEG, Specialized Women’s Brand Ambassador, Sweet Skills MTB Coach
Header Photographer: Nina Karpoff of N2 Photo