I was doing this really odd thing people do when they can’t see themselves represented in the hobbies they want to try.
I live in a small mountain town where everybody and their mom mountain bikes. No exaggeration there. It seems like most people mountain bike on some level and really enjoy it. I found myself writing those people off as adventure extremists in my head – not my people. I run in the mountains – but draw the line at going fast on bikes down the trail.
I am mostly afraid of going fast on things I have no control over. Snowboarding is fun but since I have never had a lesson – it freaks me out to go fast with no real body control yet. I don’t enjoy going fast in cars, on road bikes or snowmobiles. I have a fear of heights – tight spaces and not being in control of my own speed. I guess that’s why I enjoy my two feet firm on the ground hiking and trail running. I have fears like everyone else.
Until last weekend I had never been on a mountain bike in the dirt. My husband has a hard-tail bike but I never looked at it as a bike that could take me to some of my favorite places – the trails. I would ride it to the store, the river and sometimes even the 10 mile loop around my town – always on the road. The gear switching was odd to me, I couldn’t understand why I would ever need to be pedaling so wildly hard just to be inching and crawling along. The seat was terribly high and I kept thinking to myself – this bike is just uncomfortable, there’s no hope here. Being comfortable on a bike has everything to do with experience. That experience is a huge privilege, and sets you apart from others.
I would stand in my driveway and watch people of all ages mountain bike past me on their way to the trails. Switching gears to head uphill, knee pads, elbow pads and helmets – must be dangerous I thought. Not for me, I’ll stick to my cruiser with the metal basket up front. I can ride where I need to go, I’ll stick to navigating trails on foot. Not to mention those helmets would never fit over my natural hair – not on its tamest of days. Mountain biking – not for me, I always thought.
I was doing this odd thing that people do when they have never had the opportunity to try something new and AdventurUs. I was writing it off as something that was not for me, because until now I was never given the opportunity to try it safely. My brain would categorize it as something I wasn’t interested in before I ever gave it a chance. I would look at my husband’s bike and think – road bike, mountain biking is not for me. With each passing day I would watch heads bob up and down with helmets on top heading up Ski Hill while thinking, looks fun but that’s not my sport.
As my network on Instagram grew I started seeing Black women on mountain bikes and having the time of their lives. Hmm.. some representation I thought – that’s nice. Maybe it could be for me, but how do you do it? Where do you start? My husband’s bike is a road bike, I continued. How would I go about changing a tire? Do you really need all that safety gear – it’s super intimidating to start something new on an apparatus you don’t know much about. Yet, if Brooklyn Bell and Juju Milay can do it and find joy, surely I could too?
A month or so ago I began to plan out my schedule for my AdventurUs Women outdoor escape weekend in Bend, Oregon. There were options like caving, hiking, rock climbing, fly fishing, kayaking and – you guessed it, mountain biking. I signed up for the class with a healthy balance of hesitation and excitement. I needed to move past this thing that my brain kept doing every time I encountered a mountain biker. I needed to see if this was truly something that wasn’t for me or if it was just my Black girl outdoor impostor syndrome holding me back.
Black girl outdoor impostor syndrome is real. It’s that voice inside my head I hear some days that tell me I am not enough, and I don’t deserve to be sponsored. It’s the feeling I get when I hike on a trail past a group of white people who validate my insecurities with their eyes that say – you don’t belong out here. Eyes that say, the outdoors is a white person thing – how did you hear about this trail? You are an impostor.
So for the three day weekend I signed up for an introduction to mountain biking, plein air painting, kayaking, caving and backpacking essentials. All the things!
The entire weekend was like a dream. A multicultural group of women, a room to myself, female identifying guides, and all new outdoor experiences. But, I was still had hesitation about the clinics I chose for my experience over the weekend. Friday morning rolled around and I dragged my feet to the introduction to mountain biking class. The instructor was nice – the helmet fit my natural hair – and everyone else was new to mountain biking like me, it was a good start!
I started to loosen up a bit, knowing well that if I continue the hesitation I won’t get the fullness of the clinic and introduction to mountain biking.
The class got started and the first 45 minutes with Coach Tina from Grit Clinics were in the grass getting fitted to make sure we were on the appropriate bike according to our height. We learned about balance and what our bodies should look like while going both up and downhill. With our bikes set aside she told us about the athletic stance we needed to have with riding – she compared it to sports I grew up playing, basketball and volleyball. It was at that moment that the instructor was speaking my language. I just kept thinking – I know what it looks like to be “down and ready”. Maybe I can do this after all.
We went on to learn about hand and finger placement while both riding and breaking. I finally got the rundown on shifting gears and when and where a low or high gear is necessary. It was as if a huge veil was lifted – I couldn’t help but stare at that REI Co-op hard-tail bike with my head cocked to the side as if it had somehow changed. The bike was unchanged, I couldn’t say the same for me.
The ladies and I all followed our bike coach to the next section in the lower grass area – that’s where we learned how to pop our front tire up off the ground. We took turns riding up and over a few small stones, and then it was time to hit the trails. By this time, I was thrilled – I had all the tools I needed to feel confident and strong on this bike. That’s exactly what took over – I tried everything Coach Tina had in store for us – I wanted so much more, but understood that wasn’t everyone’s experience. I shifted gears when I needed to – I wasn’t afraid to go fast downhill, I rode up and over rocks and even tried some more technical terrain. Who was this Black woman? Definitely no impostor in that moment.
As our time together came to an end – I felt an immense feeling of comfort on that bike, and I didn’t want to get off. This is totally my sport, I thought. All I could think about was getting back home to my husband’s road bike to check and see if it was comparable to what I just rode, but it was only day 1 of 3 at the retreat. I couldn’t believe Tina had turned me into a mountain biker in just 4 short hours, and I headed off to plein air painting with a joy filled soul.
Lesson learned : TAKE THE INTRO LESSON.
After a few more days of adventure and outdoor joy, I got home and opened the garage door to start unloading. Already I am seeing folks bike past me on their way up to Ski Hill to ride – I smile and nod. I get a glance at my husbands bike leaning up against the wall with a whole new set of eyes. I pull it upright and straddle it, I check for the gears, the left and right breaks, and the height of the saddle. I run in and immediately start asking my husband 21 questions about his bike – he responds with a “It’s nice to have you home, I’m guessing you enjoyed the intro to mountain biking class?” I hug the kids and adjust to being back in town with the biking experience whirling around in my mind.
Was it the perfect storm or the perfect teacher? Am I really a natural – or does Coach Tina say that to all of her students? Will biking here in town be as glorious as the experience I had with an all woman crew in Bend? So many questions and hesitations, but this time I didn’t let that sit long. Monday came and I dropped off my husband’s bike for a tune-up at the local outdoor shop, Der Sportsman – they are always the sweetest people (even though I always have so many questions).
First question – can I ride this bike up Ski Hill on the trails? Answer, oh yeah – this bike will do great up there on all of those trails! That was all I wanted to hear, I felt like I just won the lottery! With my husband’s bike and the helmet Coach Tina sent me off with, I had my basic needs to go and ride!
A few days later the bike was ready to be picked up, the longest four days of my life. The family and I were just getting home from an outdoor gathering with live music. I jumped on the bike to take it for a spin at dusk, and it felt so familiar. Just like that I pictured myself back on the trails in Bend following as close as I could behind the instructor so as not to miss out on any little tips she had to give. I looked back and my oldest daughter Cyenna had snagged her bike and helmet too and was out riding with me. She was beaming from ear to ear, and I guess I was too.
We live next to a little dirt parking lot with some spots where some local kids have made bike jumps. I went first and started going down the hills and around the dirt a bit. I encouraged her to use one finger when she pulled the break and to keep her feet level with her heels back when going downhill. She was still beaming from ear to ear, and I guess I was too.
As we went inside, she stopped me in the door frame and just gave me a big hug. She said, “I was starting to think we were never going to be able to get you on a bike, and now you are the one teaching me new things.” I squeezed her back and let her know I had no idea that she even cared to see me ride. I suppose my resistance and hesitation was showing to everyone else in our family but I was steady in denial. We both went inside beaming from ear to ear, and my husband was too. My daughter said – moms a mountain biker now!
I said, “Yeah – I guess I am”.
There is no “right” way to be outdoors, and there is no “right” way to be a mountain biker, but a clinic can be just what you need to make you feel confident and comfortable. I hope me sharing my experience helps as well!
A huge thank you to Becky Marcelliano with Salomon for sponsoring my AdventurUS weekend. Also Saveria Tilden for creating a safe and brave space for women to adventure together. Finally, Coach Tina for allowing me the space to feel seen and heard out there. You’re the real MVP – THANK YOU.
You can experience Mountain Biking at both the CO and GA Escapes and get $200 off with promo code EXPERIENCE200 Registration for CO closes June 10th so be sure to sign up soon! Learn more about the Boulder, CO AdventurUs Women Escape and the Ellijay, GA AdventurUs Women Escape. You won’t wanna miss this experience!
For more information about a mountain biking clinic near you – Check out: Grit Clinics, Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, Live Ladies Allride, Roam Retreats, Vida MTB Series, Sacred Rides, Trek Dirt Series, Better Ride, or Shred Sisters.
Happy riding and as always, thanks for reading!
Land Acknowledgement : Retreat was held on the ancestral lands of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (1855). https://warmsprings-nsn.gov/