I had been getting a little down on women’s cycling lately, or more specifically, women’s mountain biking. I had at least two races last year where I was the only one in my class. Racing no one seems kind of silly to me. I am even on a team with a good share of mountain biking women. Only a few of them seem to be really interested in improving their racing and even less of them seem to be interested in me. I am fine with that, as everyone has their own unique goals and values that are important to them. However, I recently read a blog post from one of my good friends, who is a triathlete, and it was about all her great girl friends that she trains with and how much better it makes everything. These girls are serious and fast, and they push each other and support each other. I was a little jealous.
Meeting some new people was a big part of my motivation to sign up for the Michaux Mountain Bike School Women’s Camp with Sue Haywood and Cheryl Sornson this past weekend. Gaining some new skills and confidence was important too of course. I had high expectations for both instruction and meeting some great people, and all of my expectations were easily exceeded.
Arriving at mountain bike camp was a lot like arriving at summer camp as a kid. I arrived with my friends Marc and Lee, and I anxiously got out of the car to look around and catch my first glimpses of camp. We arrived early and had time for a ride, and by the time we were back, people were starting to trickle in. As I unpacked in my cabin, I met all of my roommates for the weekend. Most of the women were together in Cabin 1 (a.k.a. Cabin 5), but a few choose to stay with their friends in other cabins with the guys.
Eventually, it was time to officially kick-off the camp. We started out with some ice breakers. Oh no, I thought, I HATE ice breakers. But the first ice breaker required a bike. I wasn’t sure if this made me feel better or worse about ice breakers. Our group of about 20 people were to ride around inside of 4 cones and if you put a foot down, you were out. I quickly implemented a strategy of just riding around and around the outside without looking at anything else that was happening. The instructors slowly moved the cones in to make a smaller and smaller square. I glanced up and only a few people remained. Yikes! How did that happen? I thought. By the time the square was about the size of our bikes and only 4 of us left, I was out. We did this a few times, and it was actually pretty fun.
As the sun went down, it started to get colder…and colder…and colder. We all huddled by the fires and got to know some people before retiring to our icy cold cabins. I’m not sure how cold it got overnight, but it was cold enough to freeze the puddles around camp and a solid layer of frost coated everything in the morning. If I could have zipped my sleeping bag over my head, I would have. We had a space heater, but I am pretty sure the only thing it accomplished was wasting electricity.
The sun came out good and strong on Saturday, and warmed things up by 10:00 a.m. We started out learning about body position with our instructors Sue and Cheryl. We also started working on some skills for going over logs and other obstacles. Soon, it was time to climb the mountain and head to lunch. After lunch we rode the trails back down the mountain and sessioned some crazy looking rocks. After returning to camp, we decided that we weren’t done for the day and spent over an hour practicing in the skills area. I worked on my logs and rode the see-saw over and over for at least 10 minutes. So fun! We also practiced going off drops. I still don’t quite have it, as I learned on the trail the next day when I almost face planted off a rock ledge, but at least I know what to work on.
Saturday night dinner was pretty freaking awesome. I did not expect that we would be having salmon, roasted beets and squash, salad, and couscous. After dinner we had a Q&A session with the pros. This was the point that I sat there, falling in love with mountain biking all over again. Zach Adams, Sue Haywood, Cheryl Sornson, Matt Miller, and Adam Craig answered our questions in a laid back, straightforward, and welcoming manner. I wondered what other sport–or even discipline of cycling–would the top pros be this easy going and eager to share.
The next day, rain threatened, and we headed out for a ride. We tackled some interesting looking rocks and headed back when the rain started to come down in more than the spritzing it had been doing all morning.
Overall it was a great experience. The women in the camp were excellent riders, and it was refreshing and motivating to hear people talk about their race goals and plans for Nationals. Everyone there was seriously inspiring, from the experienced women (and one 12-year old!) who could crush the hardest technical sections, to the beginners having breakthroughs on the trail and riding logs for the first time.
Most of all, it was nice to have a sense of belonging to a women’s mountain biking community, which I really never felt before. I think that Sue does an amazing job of working to cultivate that feeling. It is truly obvious that she does not do these clinics just because it is a job, but because she is passionate about getting more women out on the trails. The group of us may not become BFFs, but it only took until about Monday morning for us all to be facebook friends. So at the very least, I am looking forward to seeing what races everyone is up to, and seeing everyone at races this coming season and in the future.