I’ve spent the past few days reflecting on my experience with Ride The Rockies, not only as a newbie, but as a female cyclist participant. The six biggest lessons I learned from this event is pushing yourself out of your comfort zone forces you to grow; strangers can be trusted and can be helpful; inclusivity is the key to growth; your mind is stronger than you think; and living in the present clears your mind.
LESSON ONE: “She who succeeds in gaining the mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of life.” -Frances E. Willard, ‘How I Learned To Ride The Bicycle’, 1895
You grow when you push yourself out of your comfort zone. This ties in with my previous post about “doing,” not “trying”: You either “do” or “do not.” There was no point in the 6 days of Ride The Rockies where I “tried” to climb up mountains. I did not “try” to conquer Trail Ridge Road, I just did it. Scared and winded (pun intended), but I did it. Because of this crazy, adventurous cycling endeavor through the Rockies, I learned more about my abilities and strength than I could have if I did not take on this event. Cycling has boosted my confidence not only on the saddle, but in my life. It has strengthened me mentally and after week-long rides, I know I can take on any challenge. Mastering your bike means knowing how to communicate clearly and effectively; you’re detailed to the tiniest crack or pebble on the road; you know how to endure pain and fight through fatigue. These aren’t qualities saved for cycling, these are things you need to master life.
LESSON TWO: “It’s a risky business being a cyclist…there are a lot of people who really dislike us…we’re hated on the roads. We just hope people realise we are just flesh and bones on two wheels.” -Victoria Pendleton, gold medal winner in the women’s sprint at the Beijing Olympics, 2008.
Ride The Rockies took special care of our safety on these busy roads as we cycled through the mountains; that is one of the biggest reasons why I was totally fine paying the entry fee. We all have shuttered in fear as a giant truck hauled past us as we coasted at 40 mph down these roads. The pervasive thoughts of falling on to the road and being ran over spun through my mind with every descent. With or without organized events, cyclists endure hatred on the road: by cars and pedestrians. We see in the news and our FaceBook feed of the cyclists killed by drivers. It’s a dangerous endeavor, but damn, I love it, and I love it even more when strangers help.
For this trip, I lodged through AirBnB. Melanie, a woman I met at my last AirBnB stay in Estes Park, was that kind, helpful stranger. We learned about each other’s lives and she was impressed by my riding solo through the mountains. I told her I had to get up at 4am the next morning to walk to one of the hotels where the shuttles would stop. She knew of my 50 pound backpack and where the Headquarters site was. I quietly walked upstairs, preparing to leave, when I heard her in her room. Next I knew, Melanie was driving me to the headquarters site. She told me she wanted to help because she always helped her daughter with her endurance events. It’s these moments where my faith in humanity is restored.
LESSON THREE: “I’ll tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a bike. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammelled womanhood.” -Susan B. Anthony, 1896
Between my age and sex, I was definitely part of the minority during Ride The Rockies. I was excited to see women as I passed by and celebrated when I was acknowledged for my strong cycling skills. My being the #Feminist for Ride The Rockies was to critically assess this event. I want to see more women participating in organized rides like RTR and I think a lot of it comes down to inclusivity. I felt included insofar as being a cyclist. There were men with whom I engaged during the ride, but rarely did I find a woman.
I’ve been tossing the question of “Why aren’t there more female participants?” back and forth since I signed up for RTR. I’ve noticed in a number of groups I’m in that quite a few are turned off by climbs, competition, and the perceived danger of cycling. Personally, I thought it was a particularly easy route and with determination, anyone can do this. Also, it’s not the cheapest vacation: I had to take off five days from work and in addition to the entrance fee, I had to pay for my lodging and food, but I also found it worth it. By making this event more inclusive for women, we can get more female riders. For example, feminine hygiene products at aid stations, women-specific shirt sizes, and women-only clinics and information sessions are great additions to this wonderful event.
Strava just released a report aimed to determine women’s motivations for taking up cycling and their views on barriers for women joining. 60% of survey respondents said there wasn’t a barrier for women to join cycling and of the 40% that believed there is, 78% believe it’s due to perceived dangers of cycling, 71% worried about mechanical efficiency, and 59% had body image issues. You can read more here.
LESSON FOUR: “Life is best measured in perceived exertion: We are only as strong as we believe we are.” -Kathryn Bertine
There were many times on this route when my legs wanted to give up, but mind said “no.” At one point, it felt like I was sitting on a rock and seriously had to force my mind on to other thoughts so I didn’t think about the jutting pain in my rear. The mentally toughest ride was over Trail Ridge Road. I had to continually convince myself that I wasn’t going to fly over the edge or into a car. The wind was fierce and my small body was wavering back and forth from the crosswinds. I was absolutely terrified. My deltoids were sore from white-knuckling my handle bars. The route wasn’t even difficult – it was the mental mind game of the crosswinds and sheer drops off the mountain.
A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,
the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.
What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.
A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.”
― Naomi Shihab Nye, Fuel
I’ve struggled with anxiety and depressing thoughts. With cycling, it all disappears. I am happiest on my saddle, pedaling through mountains and towns I’ve never seen before. You can’t be anything other than Present on the bike because distractions cause accidents. You can’t feel lonely on Ride The Rockies because you have 2,000 other participants riding alongside you. Biking has taught me that I can always rely on myself; that I never have to feel lonely with my bike and the road. That all the BS I have to deal with outside of bicycling is just that: it’s outside. I don’t worry about how unhappy I am at my job or how I stuck I feel in life because I’m on my bike. I’m riding Thunder, smiling at the sun, feeling the wind tickle the top of my head, and I am good.