I’m flying down the steep, dusty trail as fast as I possibly can, pedaling into each turn to try and keep Miranda in sight. Behind me, Laura is singing as loud as she can, squealing and laughing as we give in to gravity and let our bikes accelerate down the loose, windy rut.
The trail levels out and we come to a (literally screeching) halt to group up, eight gals smiling ear to ear as we catch our breath and admire the wildflowers in full bloom.
It’s just a two-hour Wednesday evening post-work ride, but screaming down the trail in a long chain of lady rippers reminds me exactly how fun mountain biking is supposed to be.
When I started biking, an activity I begrudgingly picked up to “spend more time with my boyfriend,” I hated it. Okay, I didn’t really hate it, but it did not get me out of bed in the morning. Descending was scary, and on group rides I was always left in the dust. Every time I pointed my wheels downhill every root and rock felt like a ticket to the emergency room, and throwing my bike (literally) down trail after trail left me feeling beat down; not an empowering experience.
It took a few seasons, but I gradually fell in love with biking, crediting my progression to hours spent lapping bike parks as I slowly changed my relationship with this crazy, scary, fast-paced, funner-than-anything-on-the-planet sport. Most of the gals I ride with talk about all the months and years we’ve spent “keeping up with the boys.” Sure, chasing guys down the hill is one way to progress, but when I started riding with girls, that’s when things really started to click. Watching someone who looks like me ride through a gnarly rock garden or effortlessly sail off a jump fires me up to get back on my bike and try again. I’ll never forget the first time I rode into a rock roll at Washington State’s Raging River network after seeing my mom rip it first.
But it’s more than the progression aspect, it’s about building a community where you feel like you belong. There’s a certain comfort in being surrounded by your people, knowing you’re amongst friends, and it’s okay to try, maybe look like a goofball, and try again. To admit that sometimes it’s scary and discouraging, or to be so out-of-this-world fired up to watch your friend clear a big jump that it feels like your own success too.
Even if you aren’t out there to push your own limits, hopping on your two-wheeled dirt pony with a bunch of ladies is just plain way more fun. We laugh, we sing (a lot), we scream and shout, we heckle each other to go faster, and give each other grace when we’re just not feeling it. We take over the parking lot when we crack tailgate beers, rock costumes for no reason. Zooming through a bike park with a train of gals inspires the most giddy, uplifting feeling I could possibly imagine, a stark contrast to how I felt when I first started riding and spent half my time trying not to burst into tears. Who knew how empowering this sport really could be?
There are tons of amazing initiatives right now that aim to get women out on bikes. Seeing female-led group rides, clinics, festivals, Facebook pages, the whole shebang; it’s an exciting direction to see the sport go in. But sometimes those sleeper evening rides, where you roll over to the trailhead to meet a few gals after work, a short pedal with no expectations, are the ones that stick with me the most.
Gone are the days of keeping up with the boys. I’m just trying to keep up with my gals.
- LILY KRASS