How We Learn

Everyone learns things differently. Some people like to jump in feet first and soak up all they can which is fantastic. I, however, am a bit of a school junkie and respond super well to more formal classroom-type settings. Learning how to ride my bike was no different. I was out looking for some kind of instruction and at an outdoors show in Vancouver and I found just that! At one of the booths set up there I met Tammy from Escape Adventures. They normally run kids’ programs and camps but were rolling out an adult mountain biking course and it sounded perfect! (You’ll have to forgive me but I didn’t take any pictures when I was taking the course so this blog will have some randoms.)

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This was definitely a foundations course covering a range of topics including: basic bike parts, body positioning, cornering, how to chose lines, climbing techniques, and more. It is very safe to say that I went from barely being able to ride in a straight line to starting to be comfortable with cornering (which terrified me previously). The climbing tips that were taught to us also have helped me immensely in my ability to drag myself up the mountain.

The course started in the safety of a flat lot where we learned a bit of the basics of body positioning and form as well as some tips for cornering. We practiced getting on and off our bikes safely and quickly (a huge improvement on my previous technique of stop, fall over, and hope to land on my foot), played some games to help master cornering, starting and stopping, and even got to ride some skinnies in the parking lot.

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After that, we moved to real trails on the North Shore. I am absolutely not good at climbing. My endurance is garbage. I felt a little bit intimidated when everyone else seemed to be able to zip ahead and, magically, weren’t red as a tomato, completely drenched in sweat, and panting like their lives depended on it. I was nervous about being so far behind but Tammy always made sure to loop back to check on me and make sure I wasn’t killing myself. She even rode along with me for a while. When all else failed, I got off and walked.

Learning the trails was extremely fun. We were on beginner trails like Roadside Attraction on Fromme (where I developed an arch nemesis that I will talk about later) and practiced looking ahead, picking our lines, and keeping good form just like in the parking lot. Everyone was super supportive and it was a ton of fun.

While I was still struggling with some things when the course was over, I definitely had the foundation skills that I could keep building on. I am proud to say I can now climb up more than I could before using the skills I was taught, and I’m not terrified of cornering!

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I know this isn’t how everybody learns and some people would rather just go out on their own and figure stuff out, but I would highly recommend courses like this for developing the foundation skills that are so important. We all know how hard it is to break a bad habit so even better if you start practicing good habits early on. It really felt more like a group ride than formal classroom instruction; we all supported each other and made sure no one was left behind–not even me.

If you prefer to learn on your own but still want some support there are some really great options. Ryan Leech has some free and some paid skill development courses. If you’re looking for free, there’s a great YouTube channel called Skills with Phil. Both of these guys are great teachers and you can learn a lot from them. However you choose to learn is great as long as it works for you and you’re having fun on your bike because that’s the most important thing.  So how about you guys?  How did you learn?

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First Timers in Whistler

This is a story about first experiences for two people. When my brother, sister-in-law, and my little niece came out for a visit from Ontario I was super excited. I don’t get to see them very often and especially with the little one growing several inches every time I see her, I relish any time we get to spend together.

For as long as I remember, my big brother was a daredevil. I was definitely the scared one. He would roll down terrifying, rough terrain on his Canadian Tire CCM bike and go back for more. He did back flips into snow piles. He tried out the latest WWE moves on his little sister (ow). He got his motorcycle license and a zippy sports bike. So on this visit I thought I’d introduce him to the wonderful world of mountain biking as I figured it’d be right up his alley.

Because he would have to rent a bike anyway and was worried about a slow, out of shape climb, we made the decision to head to Whistler. Ryan has been to Whistler many times, obviously this was my brother’s first time, and it was also a first time for me. I had heard many things about this mountain biking mecca but was about to see it for myself!

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After an early morning start, we made it up there with no problems. Got Jay (brother) sorted out with a bike and gear and got in line for the lift. Now there were two things that stick very clearly out in my mind about this: one was just how lame I felt being pretty much the only person in a 100 mile radius not wearing a full face helmet. Silly how these things get to you but I was incredibly self-conscious about what I started calling my “loser helmet.” Everyone else looked so bad ass! And me? Well… not so much. But I digress….

The second thing I noticed was my feeling of dread when we got closer and closer to the lift. This was one of the most terrifying things about the whole trip! How do I lift it? What if I can’t lift it? What if I can’t get it in the wheel holder thingie? What if, because of ME, they have to stop the lift to help me get my bike on and everyone’s watching? You would think that as we made a couple of laps this feeling of terror would go down but it definitely did not. Just imagine: you’re headed up on a chair hundreds of feet in the air to throw yourself down a mountain and I’m standing in line just being terrified of embarrassing myself at the lift. Surely I can’t be alone in this.

Despite my panic, we made it up without me falling on my face or grinding everything to a halt. We did a couple of laps of B-Line, a nice, beginner flow trail for my brother to get a taste of what mountain biking is about. I was all jazzed about being “the expert” for once. Thinking I’d be the one to have to keep stopping to let him catch up. Nope! Jay held his own and zipped down the mountain at my heels. It was great but I would’ve appreciated him being just a little bit worse for the benefit of my ego.

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Me and Jay in Whistler

Unfortunately, this was pre-blog days and I didn’t think to take any video, but I have started strapping the GoPro on for rides so there will be ride pictures and videos to accompany my writing going forward. Look forward to some moderate speed fun!

After we tired ourselves out with a few runs, we had a lovely out-of-the-trunk picnic and headed back to the city.

I will be back in Whistler in a couple of weeks and then again for a longer jaunt at the end of June so expect some actual video and pictures. Perhaps we’ll see some skills improving and hopefully I won’t have a story about how I embarrassed myself on the lift.

Miss Pissy Pants

Great nickname, isn’t it? Obviously this one will be one of my finest moments as a human. I’m sure that any women out there will attest to the difficulty of going to the bathroom in the woods. I will never stop looking on with jealousy every time I see a man just casually walk into the woods, stand there for a minute, then come back out. There is no peril of falling down, having everyone see your butt, or covering yourself in your own urine. Its simplicity is something I am deeply jealous of BUT being part of the non-penis owning crowd I have to suck it up and get a bit more creative in the woods.

I would like to note that since this happened, my technique has vastly improved thanks to pointers from a few people (I will absolutely share these pointers and welcome any that you have as well).

So this story begins on an extremely rainy day in Squamish. Ryan (the boyfriend), Laura (my friend from this post), and myself packed up and headed up from Vancouver for a day riding Half Nelson. This was Laura and my first time on the trail (my first attempt at going there since the bear incident… more on that another day) and we were so excited to go that it didn’t matter that it was raining! Since where we were going didn’t have any bathrooms, I packed my trusty Shewee device and some toilet paper. Those of you who aren’t familiar with these, it’s basically a funnel system so women can stand up to pee and not have to drop pants fully down. Every review I read about it told me to get used to it in the shower before taking it out in the real world but I did not heed this advice. “How bad can it be?” I thought. Famous last words….

After quite the hike, we finally got up to the trail head and we were completely soaking wet. Ryan ran off to the woods to relieve himself and I thought I should do the same before we get going again. What a great time to try my new device!

I headed into the woods a little bit and even found a good spot that had a little dip in the dirt so my shoes would be safe. Not wanting to moon the world, I unzipped and tried to get everything in position and started to ‘go’. Now, I don’t want to get into too many details here but the long and short of it is that I didn’t hold it snugly against my body enough and it started overflowing over the top instead of straight out the hose in the front. Panic mode! I tried to attempt to remove it to do a squat but ended up peeing all over myself, stepping into a giant mud puddle/urine combo, and eventually losing balance and falling my butt into the puddle full on. It was a masterpiece of uncoordinated glory. A crowning achievement of grace. I came out of the bush looking sheepish where I had to announce what had happened. After the laughing died down, Laura came up with “Miss Pissy Pants” which I would be known as for the rest of the day.

Yes, it was embarrassing. Yes, it was uncomfortable. But these are the moments we can always look back on and laugh. I will tell this story to anyone who will listen. The story is self-deprocatingly hilarious but it’s also a cautionary tale.

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What I have learned is as follows:

1.) The Shewee is a perfectly delightful system but only if you practice with it in the safe space of the shower before you try it in the wild.

2.) Trying to “wash” yourself off by sitting in various puddles throughout the day doesn’t work.

3.) Always bring a change of clothes when you go out riding, even when you think you won’t need them (shout out to Ryan for letting me wear his jeans back home).

4.) If you don’t have a Shewee, just squat down super low to do your business. I thought this would put my shoes in peril but it works extremely well. I’m sure some of you know this already and think I’m an idiot for not knowing but if not, there you go.

5.) Find friends who will laugh WITH you more than laughing AT you.

6.) You get called “Miss Pissy Pants” once and that’s your nickname for life. Tread carefully with what you do as it may stick.

Lady biker? Mountain biker? Female mountain biker?

The inspiration for starting this blog came to me on the side of a mountain, as most good things do. This time I was not on my bike or even out for a hike but was watching a very entertaining compression jump of the enduro bike race that my boyfriend was taking part in. My friend Laura and I sat with the crowd, a small picnic, and enjoyed cheering and heckling the riders as they hit the jump… or didn’t. What stood out about this experience is that there was a woman sitting behind us who every time a female rider came through would excitedly exclaim, “ohhh! It was a girl!!!” Granted, there was a U21 group, but many of these riders were, in fact, full-fledged women. What compounded it was the fact that if one of these “girls” hit the jump really well, she would further yell, “even THAT one was a girl! Wow!”

I try not to be oversensitive, but this was like nails on a blackboard to me and Laura. Why was it so astounding that women can jump too?

I promise this blog will not be preachy about gender rights and equality, this was just the jumping off point that got me thinking about my experiences as a woman who loves to mountain bike. Then, after comparing notes with some male and female bikers I know, I realized that patterns started to come out as far as our experiences go. It seems that there are some fundamental differences between men and women in this sport. I’m not saying that that is good or bad, but I feel like it’s something worth talking about. These are what I’d like to explore a bit more in this blog; my experiences as well as those of other people.

I am also a novice. I rode my first mountain bike about three years ago but really have been only been riding regularly for about the past two. I, in no way, am capable of jumps or drops or completing an enduro race. But I want to get there. In fact, I want to ride the very race that I was watching so many talented men and women complete. So this blog is a few things. It’s some talking points on shared experiences or maybe just some weird experiences I’ve had, it’s some accountability for me to get out and ride because even if no one’s reading this I can say that I’ve ridden and here’s the proof, and it’s also a chance for anyone out there who decides to read see a rank amateur develop. I will post embarrassing videos and pictures showing the ups and downs. I want to see your proud and scary and embarrassing moments as they come. Let’s learn from each other and most important of all: let’s ride bikes!