I was so excited to co-host the Women Bike bike camping overnight event last weekend!
It was an absolutely fantastic experience to plan for, cook for, and support nine women most of whom were experienced cyclists or backpackers or campers but had rarely if ever combined those activities.
Our fearless leader was a woman named Mollie who you met in Ep 3 of the Joyride podcas
t. Mollie has been the Women Bike intern at BTA
and will be leaving for her first bike tour next week. She’ll be taking a tour down the Pacific Coast
leaving from here in Portland Oregon, headed south to San Diego. Pretty exciting!
Stub Stewart State Park is nestled halfway in between Banks and Vernonia, Oregon on the Banks-Vernonia Trail, a converted rail trail which is 20 miles long and enjoys a constant steady uphill grade between Banks and Vernonia. The park itself has mountain biking trails, equestrian trails, and a nice disc golf course. Although admittedly this was my third trip to the park and I have yet to visit anything other than the Brooks Creek hike-in camp.
Mollie offered three options to women bike campers – a beginner ride from the trailhead in Banks (which one could drive to for a one-day ride of about 10 miles, or about 20 for the total weekend), an intermediate ride from Hillsboro (which one could take the Max to, for a one-day ride of about 23 miles, or 46 for the total weekend), or an advanced ride from Portland (which one would have to ride to the starting point, for a one day ride of about 50-ish miles, or about 100-ish for the total weekend).
I opted for the advanced route, because I am
clearly insane – er – I really wanted to challenge myself, and Mollie’s ambition is infectious.
I live up in St. Johns the northernmost neighborhood Portland, but we were taking the more comfortable climb over the West Hills on the southern route, Terwilliger Blvd, so I may have had the longest day in the saddle somewhere around 50-53 miles. This nerd would love a new bike computer.
I left my house at 6:30am to meet my two other PDX route companions. The stars were still out. That was new. Actually I thought it was crazy, but really cool. Pushing yourself can be an amazing experience. Three of us left Portland at 7:30 am and picked up the other six riders in Hillsboro. One of the riders who we met there rode from Oregon City, so she had a long day like we did.
Mollie and I did a pre-ride two weeks prior, and it definitely made me question my ability to participate fully on the “advanced” ride from Portland – and then back to Portland the next day. It was physically demanding to have that much time in the saddle so early in the season. My last long prior to that was 40-some mile ride on the Springwater Corridor, and then back up to North Portland in November. But I was thankful for Mollie’s enthusiasm because I made a commitment to her – and to the group – but first her to try this thing, to see if I could do it. I think we worked well together.
I think that there are things you can learn from every ride if you can open your mind enough and quiet the voices.
Here are a few lessons I learned from this bike overnight experience that run parallel to life:
1) start before you’re ready
You’ll never steal second with your foot on first. Is it weird to use a quote on a No Fear t-shirt from the 90’s that references
baseball on a site dedicated to bikes? Yes, yes it is – and also, you may be too young to even know what the hell a No Fear t-shirt is, or how magnificent a phenomenon that was when I was in my teenage years, but that doesn’t make it any less true. If you wait for everything to be ready, for everything to be perfect, you’ll never go and set out to try the thing.
Two weeks ago I was sure that I would be able to get to Stub Stewart from Portland, but I was unsure what my ride home the next day would be like. Fifty-some miles, two days in a row, is a lot for me. That’s one hundred plus miles for a weekend at this point in my conditioning would be at this point in the season would be a stretch for my conditioning at best.
Somehow in childhood you’re fearless, but somewhere in adulthood the negative emotions take over.
I don’t know if I’m good enough. I don’t know if I can do it. What if I fail? What if I look silly?
And what if you have to take the bus? Who friggin cares?
The real question: But what if you succeed? What if you finish? What can you accomplish if you let yourself try?
2) without the uphill there is no downhill
The whole Banks-Vernonia trail is a long, slow grade. It’s not terribly steep, but you feel the ascent. You have to pull against gravity the whole way up. But you know what? The ride back down is fantastic. You can’t have the sweet without the sour, the joy without the pain, the sunshine and the rain – you know? Makes it all worth it.
3) understand that weather forecasts are guesses, not guarantees
Spoiler alert: Meteorologists are not always 100% accurate.
I learned a long time ago that forecasts are a device. A tool really, a prediction, but to rely on them as gospel under every circumstance can limit your openness to life and to enjoying it in all of it’s variations, or to be prepared for being uncomfortable, or to be able to push through discomfort to experience life in all of it’s textures.
Prior to having rain gear, I have definitely been the girl who would choose to not take a ride because of the forecast, only to be disappointed when the weather was fine and I wasted the day based on a forecast that never materialized.
During our pre-ride overnight we had rain predicted 100% of the time. It did rain, sure, but probably only 50% of the time (also, 82.6% of all statistics are made up on the spot). We had great weather on the ride out until we got to Banks, then it rained up into the park and overnight. The clouds finally broke in the morning and we saw that blue, shining sky for the awesome descent back into Banks again. Then it rained from Banks to Hillsboro, but we were clear the whole ride home except for one period of about 10 minutes that was absolutely nuts.
But you know what?
4) without rain, there could be no rainbows
Fact. And we had a rainbow chasing us half the time from Banks into Hillsboro. It was pretty
5) you can find strength in numbers
One of my favorite things about being in a group of women like this past weekend is the ability to converse and connect. Since so many of the gals had various levels of experience in both backpacking riding a bike, and camping there was a free and open exchange of ideas, gear tips, sharing, and other conversation that sometimes can’t be duplicated in co-ed environments.
6) take as much space as you need, whether it’s a lane or a campsite
I think women by nature try to tend to make themselves smaller to make other people more comfortable.
I had felt this issue myself looking at the size of our campsites and knowing how large the footprint of my tent was. Although we were the only group at the hiker-biker sites, I felt pain in the idea moving my tent so that I would have more space and so that my neighbors on the tent pad would have more space too. I labored over this while cooking dinner. Once I resigned myself to the decision to just move my friggin tent all of that stuff washed away and I felt instantly better knowing that I was taking care of what I needed to in order to feel comfortable in that moment and also for the rest of our brief overnight.
We had all the space in the world, there was no reason that I should feel so uncomfortable by taking care of my needs.
7) know that there is always something to learn
Learning is a lifelong opportunity if you allow it.
Something happens when you think you know it all. Your feet get fixed in cement. Your mind closes you lose for yourself the ability to evolve. Being open to various points of view does not mean challenging that you are wrong in your approach but rather you are open to all the variety and beautiful complexity of the world around you. We all have different experiences we bring to the table. And in truth these things are not all right for everyone, just as they are not all wrong for everyone either. There are few wrong ways that you can bike camp.
All you need to do is ride on a bicycle and sleep outside, and even that exposes prejudices and limitations such as would a trike count? A Tricycle? Does it mean you’re doing it wrong to sleep in a cabin or a yurt? Does camping mean you need a tent?
The point is being open to all the variations of life and different ways of doing things allows for greater, more inclusive experiences – raising our collective vibration to do this thing we all love doing, or to try on size that feels more comfortable for you.
Some dudes may go out in the world with little more bivy sack and a backpack full of snacks. Some of us enjoy some more creature comforts in our experience. Neither of us are wrong so long as we do not adhere to rigid standards or impose those rigid standards onto anyone else.
There are a thousand ways to do things. Don’t get stuck in an idea of perfection or trying to control for every experience as opposed to living life and allowing those experiences to enrich you right back.
If you stick to the notion of needing to do it “right” you run the risk of not really living because you’ll be so set within someone else’s standards that you don’t give yourself an opportunity at all.