Bad Ass Babes

Liv Launch in Sedona, Arizona, November 2016

Liv Launch in Sedona, Arizona, November 2016

“Do it,” I sputter. “Come on.” My eyes sting of sweat, my heart pounds in my ears and my lungs scream at me. I want to give up. I want to stop pedaling, stop climbing this steep rocky trail. I want to throw my bike aside and walk up, or better yet, forget this whole endeavor and go home. “Just 10 more seconds,” I think, bargaining with myself. The crest of the hill is in sight. I’m nearly there. Through gasps and gulps, I grit my teeth and practically growl, “DO it.”

Just when I think I can take no more, I reach the top. I’m doing it. I’ve done it. At last, sweet relief: I’m over the hill. I can let gravity do the work from here. Now, I just have to keep my balance and savor the adrenaline rush as the wind cools my face and the landscape rushes past me.

Like many women, I delight in challenging myself physically and mentally with mountain biking. It’s a thrilling way to explore nature, build confidence and be more active. But undertaking it can be intimidating at first, especially since it’s still a fairly male-dominated sport. It’s intimidating, but not impossible. Luckily, there are multitudes of women who want to help.

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Lindsey Richter

One such woman is professional mountain bike instructor Lindsey Richter. Lindsey’s company, Ladies AllRide, holds energizing and inspirational mountain bike skills camps for women in nine locations around the U.S. to help women overcome their doubts, become better bikers and improve their lives.

Lindsey started mountain biking after college as a fun way to get in shape. However, it wasn’t long before it became more than a sport for her. She says, “I started to identify how mountain biking related to life. I learned to face fears, believe in myself and accomplish more than I thought possible.” She was determined to help other women find fulfillment in mountain biking, so in 2013 she founded Ladies AllRide. Together with her business partner Meredith Brandt, Lindsey is able to share her knowledge with the growing community of female mountain bikers worldwide.

Last year, Santa Fe was lucky enough to host a series of Ladies AllRide lessons at the 2016 Outside Bike & Brew Festival, where Lindsey gave a series of free clinics. “It snowed and was pretty cold but people were out riding, taking our clinics and dancing, so it was fun regardless,” she recalls. Lindsey had so much fun she says, “I just had to come back.” She plans to return for the 2017 Bike & Brew, where she’s offering Ladies AllRide mini clinics and educational hours during the festival. She’s eager to once again take advantage of New Mexico’s “fun rugged trails” where she can “enjoy the loose rocks, long climbs and epic views.”

LindseySteepCornerTeachBeyond Santa Fe, Lindsey travels across the globe on a mission to “Bring women together in a welcoming environment to enhance their lives on and off the bikes.” As she puts it, “I travel the world and traverse North America in a sprinter van inspiring women to face fears, believe in themselves and get RAD on their mountain bikes!”

Don’t believe you’ll ever get rad on a bike? That’s OK, neither did I at first. When I initially heard about mountain biking, I was reluctant. I admired the women I saw doing it, certainly. But I didn’t think I could be one of those women. “Those girls are so tough, so fit, so confident. So bold. So fearless. That’s not me,” I thought. “I’m just not like them.”

But one thing Lindsey tells students is, “Life is about CREATING yourself, not finding yourself.” She contends, ”You can be whatever and whoever you want. If there are things you don’t like about how you react to things, how you treat people or how you treat yourself, you can change them. If you do something that doesn’t serve you, you can change it. If you want to live a passionate life, you can choose to. I found if I made choices that reflected who I wanted to be in life, I would get there. So for the years I felt lost and was ‘looking’ for myself, I realized I am right here, I just need to act in a way that makes me feel my best everyday.”

Liv Launch in Sedona, Arizona, November 2016

Liv Launch in Sedona, Arizona, November 2016

So, if like me, you don’t see yourself as tough, or bold, or confident, or fearless, that’s OK. If you want to be, you can be. You just have to do it. If you act in a way that makes you feel confident, bold and fearless, suddenly, you are.

“People have a hard time thinking thoughts that serve them,” Lindsey points out. “Many times, people’s thoughts become emotional and fear-based instead of logical thoughts that keep the wheels moving forward.” In particular, she notes, “I think women struggle to get out of their heads more than men. Women think debilitating thoughts that prevent them from moving forward. I think a lot of women think they don’t have the strength to do a lot on a mountain bike, when most skills are technique-based, not strength-based.”

Inspiring other women to move past that fear is what motivates Lindsey to teach. “I love seeing women do things they never thought could do. As a teacher, it’s my job to explain and demonstrate skills in a way students can understand. Then I have to have confidence in knowing what they are capable of and passing on that confidence to them.” She adds, “I love seeing women have ‘ah-ha’ moments and conquer fears and nail skills. I love seeing them walk away with an extra spring in their step after realizing what they’re capable of on the bike and in life!”

My own mountain biking experience has been filled with these “ah-ha” moments—lessons that serve me both on and off the trail. One of the most valuable insights for me was how important it is to focus on what you want, rather than on what you fear. When I started riding, I was terrified of hitting a large rock and tumbling head first over the handlebars. (I still bear a scar on my chin from going head-over-handlebars when I was eight.) So every single time there was an obstacle on the trail, the alarm bells in my head would go off and all I could think was, “Big rock big rock big rock. BIG ROCK. BIG ROCK!!!!!” and I would inevitably head straight for it, just as I feared. At some point, a fellow biker explained that my bike will naturally go where I’m looking, and that instead of looking at the rock I should fix my gaze ahead, on the trail. “Look where you want to go,” she said, and it just clicked. Of course! How many times in my life had I let fear distract me or throw me off course? How many times had fear overshadowed my goals? I simply needed to focus on where I want to go. Guess what? It works like magic—and not just for scary rocks.
Lindsey has seen this idea in action, too. She observes, “Fear and self-confidence are two huge pieces of mountain biking. Learning HOW to do something helps people find the confidence to do it. When we can learn to think logically about what needs to happen to be successful, it helps take the fear out of it. Also, visualizing success on the bike and in life is an important skill to possess.”

Mountain biking doesn’t just build your inner strength, it’s also an empowering way to improve your physical strength. As women, we are too often told that the most important thing about exercise is to change how our bodies look: get that beach body, flatten that stomach, lose that cellulite and so on. With mountain biking, the emphasis is on building your strength and pushing yourself for yourself. It’s about overcoming your own limits, not living up to someone else’s ideal. Mountain biking helps you appreciate your body for its power, its agility and for what it can DO. Your body can propel a machine up a mountain, and it can balance you safely as you speed back down. It can take you to beautiful remote places, thrill you with adrenaline, respond reflexively and amaze you with its abilities. Your body is a wonder, and mountain biking definitely lets you know it.

Since you’re really only competing with yourself, there’s a refreshing lack of competitive attitudes amongst female bikers. No matter your skill level on a bike, the community is supportive, welcoming, helpful and just plain fun to be around. There’s no judgment if you are afraid or can’t make it up a climb or just aren’t performing at your best one day. Instead, there’s a comforting sense of compassion. Every woman on a bike has been a beginner at some point, or struggled with specific skills, and most genuinely want to help. One astonishing thing that happens when you feel accepted by a group of incredible, confident, tough women who are out there just kicking butt on the trail is that at some point you start to think, “Hey. Maybe I’m one of them, too. Maybe I’m also tough, confident and incredible.” (Hint: you absolutely are.)

One of the best places to meet other bikers is through the Santa Fe Fat Tire Society. There are even women-only rides at La Tierra on Tuesday nights and women’s beginner rides on Saturday mornings. The rides are organized by Santa Fe Fat Tire Society Board member Courtney Janak. Courtney spotted the dearth of female mountain bikers when she got started in the sport in 2011. “I learned some skills from Cat Downing (a certified mountain bike instructor), but other than her and a handful of other women, it felt like a sport dominated by men,” she says. Courtney started teaching what she had learned to other women, and posted photos of their rides on social media. “We had a blast!” she exclaims. Over time, she found that more and more women saw how much fun they were having and wanted to try it. So, she and fellow board member Shelley Longmire started the weekly women’s rides in 2012.

Courtney enjoys how the women on the Women’s Fat Tire rides are always “giving and receiving support and encouragement, cheering each other on, feeling challenged and laughing at our mishaps.” She adds, “It has been so rewarding to watch these women progress––now there is this group of ladies who are killing it, and often I’m working to keep up with them!”

Before you commit to the sport, Courtney recommends renting a bike and attending the Saturday morning beginner ride through Fat Tire Society. She adds, “There is a great community of people who will happily ride with you and give you encouragement.”

Lindsey agrees that the value of camaraderie cannot be overstated, saying, “The friendships I’ve made through mountain biking [are] by far the most important thing this sport has done for me.” She remembers one student in particular, Stacy, whose journey in mountain biking stood out. “Stacy was in a camp with me in April 2015 and weighed over 200 pounds. She joined us again that September and had lost 50 pounds. She did amazing and had such a positive attitude. At the end of camp, her group was waiting for her to get up a climb and when she did, she broke into tears and said: ‘I’ve never made it up that climb without walking. Knowing all of you were waiting for me, cheering me on and ready to celebrate me making it, kept me going. I used to worry about girls laughing at me or staring at me but this community makes me feel so loved, accepted and capable!’ We all broke down crying!”

So if you want to try mountain biking to get in touch with your inner badass, build your confidence, or even if you just want to spend time outdoors getting fit and making friends, go ahead and get started. And know—whether in person or in spirit—on every climb, every tumble, every difficult skill tackled and every fear mastered throughout your mountain biking journey that Lindsey, Courtney, myself and a whole posse of female bikers will be there, wholeheartedly urging you: Come on. Do it!

#RideBikesBeHappy

 

Story by Melyssa Holik


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