I’m easily intimidated and not the most socially adept person when meeting men, women or small children (FYI: dogs love me), but this weekend I decided to do something that scared me, and signed up for a women’s mountain biking clinic.
The group name – Dirt Divas – was my first hurdle. Any association with the word ‘Diva’ implies Mariah Carey, high maintainance women and satin floor length dresses as far as I’m concerned.. non of which naturally sprang to mind in association with mountain biking. Plus ‘Divas’? Does this mean they’re all super awesome pro racers who sneer at us amateurs who still struggle to bunny hop up a curb? But I saw that the clinic was being run by pro downhill racer, Zach Griffith, and figured that I could use any advice for not overshooting switchbacks.. even if I had to do so surrounded by elite riders or chicks in evening gowns. I’ve provided the front range mountain biking community with enough YouTube clips this year thanks and frankly, 1/3 of my salary is going to Bandaids and gauze pads. So if the ‘Divas’ could waive the floor length satin dress requirement .. I was in.
Having ridden with dudes my entire life, I’m a bit tired of being dropped, panting my way up the trail only to have the entire group spring back on their bikes, just as I’m unclipping for a bit of a rest. I hate that dudes consider my walking a 3 ft drop as ‘pussying out’ and frankly, I know I’m never going to be awesome, so I just enjoy doing what I can. As a result, I’ve been riding alone this year. Something that is dangerous when injury is involved (a weekly occurrence for me), plus it changes the ‘post ride beer in the parking lot’ from a fun group activity to a weird ‘stay away from the weird alcoholic lady’ warning to small children.
I need chicks to mountain bike ride with. Women who can actually ride up rocks, but who know that waiting means waiting.. and won’t sneer when you can’t make it up the 10th washout board in the ladder. Who you can emphasize with you when the handlebar jabs you in the boob or when you didn’t unclip fast enough and hit the thorn-bush ass first. But I don’t know any… I did, but they all got married and quit, or now ride with their kids.
I had a moment of fear as I pulled up to the parking lot, frantically checking that no one was wearing downhill pads or a dirt bike helmet, but breathed out as I saw a chick wrestling her Ibis off her rack and not a Fox jersey in sight. In fact, as more of us pulled up, it looked more and more normal. Chicks my age, most of us driving trucks and 4Runners, baring scarred knees, junk in our trunk, dirty shoes and not a swipe of makeup amongst us.
As I stood with the other ‘Divas’ (never was a group so misnamed.. not an inkling of cleavage or small dog amongst us), a chick behind me said ‘I hope no one here is awesome, cos I suck‘ and I knew I’d found my people.
It was GLORIOUS.
The clinic itself – well I’ll skip the details as its only interesting to about 2 other people in the universe was great, but the overwhelming joy I felt was more due to the opportunity to do sports with other women. Something I don’t think I’ve done since high school.
Once we’d gotten over the ‘I’m crapper than you’ modesty show down (can you imagine dudes having that conversation?), it was all about asking for advice, guidance and at one point, a round of applause for some cornering which would make a slalom racer proud.
Do dudes applaud when someone nails it?
Our coach (married with 2 daughters, and seemingly endless patience for chicks) balanced delivering information en masse, followed by one on one, second by second coaching as we rode the course. What normally would have had me knotted and sweaty, morphed into memories of my dad showing me how to ride while running behind me with his hand on my seat. It wasn’t embarrassing or weird, or intimidating in the slightest. Just hearing that voice behind you, and shouts from the chicks waiting their turn, turned the day from a ‘how to’ into one huge bonding session. Soon chicks were videoing each other, showing each other where they were dropping the wrong foot or standing too high, helping to dissect their own and each others bad habits. And with the usual feminine modesty prevailing, the atmosphere was weirdly supportive and fun rather than critical.
When I found out that the group rides during the week, takes weekend trips to downhill and explore the state both on and off-road, I was sold. Finally, a group of like-minded ladies who aren’t going to leave me in the dust, but still ride hard enough to give me lots to learn. Some are already racers, others (like me), getting the hang of a new bike, without the annoyance of being the slow poke of the group.
As I left the group, grinning like an idiot despite learning that I’ve been riding all kinds of wrong for the last 20 years, I realized that for the first time in my life I’d found a whole group of people just like me. Tomboys. Girls who like to get dirty and sweaty, but haven’t turned into dudes while doing it. Girls who aren’t competitive, but who want to keep learning and pushing themselves for no reason other than it feels good. Girls who don’t take it that seriously and who aren’t afraid to curse loudly when it all goes tits up.
And when someone said ‘lets ride Wednesday’.. I realized that these chicas actually recognized one of their own. And want me to be a ‘diva’ too.
6 years of therapy = one morning with some mountain biking chicks.
So I didn’t meet any actual “Diva’s” and I didn’t get that dirty, but I did learn that doing scary things always has a payoff. And doing scary things with girls doesn’t have to mean cliques, discussions about men, feeling old or being frightened by expertise. You might learn something, you definitely will meet some new people and when one chick mentioned that she’d gotten a new dirt bike, well I think I just met my new best friend.