“Ignore the root. Just look forward and stay loose.”
I glanced down at the snarl of roots curling over the trail, a staircase of techy bits leading into a hard right turn. I looked at my mom with skepticism. It wasn’t raining, but everything was wet. New slick roots seemed to have popped up overnight, and the entrance looked greasy. “If it’s so easy, why don’t you do it?” I asked.
She nodded, pulled on her helmet, and gracefully sailed right over the large diagonal root I’d become convinced was going to kill me.
“See?” she called up from the dark forest. “You’ve got it.”
Filled with a new sense of confidence that I really only get from following my mom, I backed up a few feet, coasted into the trail, and glided over the murderous root. Clean and smooth. Just like she promised.
“I’m still really scared,” she admitted. “Let’s keep moving.” We pieced our way down the trail, stopping every few minutes to look at a feature, session a turn, or scope out a different line. As someone who’s used to riding the loose, dry trails near my home in Jackson, wet roots are about as terrifying as it can get for me, so my current goal is to relax, stay upright, and get my confidence up for the race next week.
All Women’s Enduro? Sign Me Up.
Earlier this summer, my mom and I signed up for the Sturdy Dirty Enduro, an all women’s enduro race, which, combined with some classic PNW riding, feels like a huge party in the woods, with 250 other women. The goal of the race, which was launched in 2014 by the ladies who founded Sturdy Bitch Racing, is to provide a supportive environment to encourage more women to race enduro, a style of racing that (like many other sectors of the sport) can be incredibly intimidating and male-dominated.
I’ve raced a few enduros over the past three years in Wyoming and Montana, and while I enjoyed the opportunity to push myself and grow during the races, being one of 10 women in a pool of 150 racers didn’t exactly make me feel like I belonged there. So when I heard about the Sturdy Dirty, and the fact that it was taking place at my family’s home trail network in Washington State, I called my mom and told her we had to do it.
My mom has been a competitive athlete her whole life, but it wasn’t until about four years ago that the two of us really got into mountain biking. Despite the fact that we live 12 hours apart (her in Washington and me in Wyoming), our progression on bikes has become a big part of our relationship. When we ride together, we push each other to go faster, follow each other through technical sections, and scope lines we’re unsure of. If I tell her she can do something, she trusts me, and vice versa. When I’m scared, she knows exactly what to say. Because, well, she’s my mom.
Still, she was skeptical when I encouraged her to sign up for an enduro race. “I thought of it as just this super bro-ey and aggro thing,” my mom told me afterwards. “Just a bunch of guys in their 20s and 30s going so fast on such challenging terrain that it didn’t feel relevant. And even the ads for enduro bikes made it look like nothing I felt capable of. It seemed like there was no place for me there.”
A Summer of Progression
A few weeks later, she met a few ladies on the trail, and one of them encouraged her to sign up for the Sturdy Dirty, telling her that no matter what, the lead up to the race would help her meet some great people to ride with, race or no race.
When you’re unsure of yourself and whether or not you belong somewhere, there’s a great deal of work that goes into just getting yourself to the start line. That’s what the Sturdy Dirty tackles head on. It’s more than just getting women to sign up and show up for a race; it’s about fostering a supportive environment and community leading up to the event. Throughout the summer, the Train 2B Sturdy Program offered free group rides, skills clinics, a week-by-week strength and conditioning program, and a Facebook page with a few hundred women at all different levels who were available to answer questions, voice concerns, and find riding partners. “Meeting other women who were motivated to get out all the time and work on their riding was what I wanted this summer,” my mom told me on the phone one day after a Sturdy Dirty group ride. “And now it’s happening!”
After a summer of progression and sessioning tough features, she decided to uplevel and race the full Expert course, five stages and over 3,500 feet of climbing, with a mix of challenging tech trails and high speed flow. For me, the root tech was an unfamiliar challenge, with the slime factor added due to October conditions. For my mom, riding a course that was right on the cusp of where she felt comfortable was both exciting and terrifying.
One feature in particular, a steep, relentless staircase of rocks and roots in Stage 4 was literally keeping her up at night, and while I was proud of her for stepping out of her comfort zone, I found myself wondering if I was pushing her a little too far.
A Race Day to Remember
Lining up the morning of the race, we were both nervous. But having each other and our friends Ellen and Steph to laugh and psych each other up during the transfers had a calming effect, and soon we found ourselves at the start gate of Stage 1, then 2, and (with a brief intermission from some large men in unfathomably tight leotards running the unofficial Stage 2.5 aid station/tricycle race) the race seemed to fly by.
I should add that one of the things that makes the Sturdy Dirty so special is the male spectators. Tutus, butterfly wings, Reno 911 costumes, flying squirrel suits, you name it. The local costume stores had been cleaned out of fishnets and leotards for weeks, and the volunteers in charge of timing, running aid stations, and sweeping the course had pulled out all the stops.
Yes, it’s totally hilarious to have a grown man in a leotard ferry your bike across his makeshift tricycle course so you can compete in “Stage 2.5” after enjoying a bacon brownie and chicken wings from the aid station, but the crowds of men who not only showed up, but went all out to support, cheer, and uplift the women in the race was an incredible show of their willingness to step aside, let roles be reversed, and remind us that we absolutely belong here.
Before we knew it, we had finished our last big climb of the day, and there was nothing left between us and Stage 4’s steep, dark forest. I looked back at my mom, and could tell she was scared but she also looked determined. “I’m at peace with it,” she told me. “If I have to get off my bike, that’s okay.”
I dropped in first and managed to hold on, pick up speed where I was hoping to, and sneak through a few tricky corners I’d been relentlessly sessioning. Relieved, I stopped at the end and congratulated Ellen and Steph while I nervously waited for mom, listening for the sound of her (hopefully good) screams and shouts as she neared the end.
“I did it, I did it, I did it!” I could hear my mom screaming through the trees as she finished out Stage 4 with a smile on her face. “And it was SO MUCH FUN!”
I gave her a big hug and we joined our friends for the final transfer to the last stage of the day, a high speed flow trail that was entirely Type 1 fun.
Amidst the finish line frenzy, beers, burritos, and more tutus, I couldn’t help but think about how far we’d come. Just a few years ago we’d have been walking our bikes down the features we were now pedaling hard into. Like my mom said, “The thought of racing enduro wasn’t even relevant to me, it would have felt like a joke for me to try. But it turns out, no matter what your level is, it’s really exciting to race your bike as fast as you can. If you’re having fun racing your bike, that’s what makes you belong.”
It wasn’t just exciting to have ridden a course that challenged us, it was exciting to think about where we could go from here. Racing has helped me turn scary trails into fun ones, ride my bike faster than I ever thought I could, and approach new trails with confidence.
Getting to the finish line is just the beginning.
(PHOTOS BY MAX RITTER)