A week of coaching a new generation of Chilean women when they got thrown in the deep end.
The majority of women, I’ve noticed, usually start riding mountain bikes much later in life. For the most part we didn't grow up rallying around on bikes, or hanging out at the local BMX track pulling wheelies, skids and manuals. Of course there is the small percentage of lucky one’s who do start early, but most of the women that I have met through riding bikes all seem to have started later. Not late as in too late, but much later than most of the guys.
It’s usually picked up after university or collage, or even after spending a few years dedicated to a career. It’s usually after the party phase, the boy chasing phases, the very awkward “is it cool” phase or often after a break up; with all of those silly things out of the way, women reach a stage in their lives where they actually start doing what they want to do and not what they think society wants them to do. We stop caring about what the guys might be thinking, or what’s cool or ladylike enough. This means we have some catching up to do with the boys, but that’s ok, because we’re not trying to compete with the boys, we just want to ride bikes and have fun and explore this new form of independence and freedom and the challenges that go along with it.
I have been thinking about the above since returning from an amazing trip to Patagonia, Chile for the Rally Aysen Patagonia. A group of us were literally thrown in the deep end to test out a new race concept and route. One part endurance another part enduro mixed with full time adventure. The group or guinea pigs assembled was large and diverse, from all corners of the globe with varying degrees of experience and skill levels. From bike-a-holic lifers to the freshly converted. This is where Bernie and Maria enter the picture. Two very capable girls from Santiago, who were to be be my riding companions for the week.
I’ve been fortunate enough to do this sort of thing for many years now, yet I still get those jitters; all the unknowns of a new destination, new tracks, new challenges, unknown food, weather, itineraries, challenges and risks. Part nerves and part wonder and excitement. The only difference between myself & these girls, was that I knew this feeling, I’ve been through it many times over the past few years, but Bernie & Maria have only been riding mountain bikes for the past four months. This week was going to be a challenge for them in every way. It would entail their biggest climbs, longest days, most miles and hardest downhills they had ever attempted all in four back to back hot and intensive days riding with a bigger group but also at times soldiering on alone against the clock a couple of times each day. I was there to help them along, offer some tips, a bit of skills and technique advice, encouragement & of course lots of laughs.
We wanted to show that even if you’re new to the sport, a good attitude, willingness to learn, to push yourself, to be outside of your comfort zone & to have fun with something new is something very attainable for all women out there if you set your mind to it. You don't need years of riding or coaching under your belt, you can bravely dive right into the deep end and the results may surprise you. I personally believe that getting thrown into the deep end is a good thing at some point and that there is no better way to improve your skills than during an event like this one where you just have to simply get on with it. This rally covered all the elements that really teaches you how to get out there and ride your bike under every condition in both a social and solo environment.
Chile doesn’t have a huge women’s cycling population, it’s just not really in their culture to go out and do these sort of macho things, that is why this was so important for Maria & Bernie, to show the women and young girls in Chile, that yes, they can do this sort of thing and that it’s RAD. They are the next generation of women that will inspire & encourage other girls to ride bikes and explore the nature & diverse beauty and varied landscapes that Chile is famous for.
Here’s a few things i have learnt from starting in the deep end like Bernie and Maria did that week.
- Ignorance is bliss. I learnt on the steep near vertical trails of Laguna Beach, steep up and even steeper down, there was no trail grading system to tell me what i could or should and should not ride. Same for the girls here. New trails and blind riding in sometimes virgin native beech forest littered with natural obstacles. There is nothing wrong with walking short sections and i don't encourage foolishly riding over your head but by completing the entire route with us their preconceived ideas of their skill ceiling was raised significantly and they left better riders because of this.
- Hike a bike opens new doors and destinations. The riding scene in Patagonia is still in its early days, so without a big network of climbing tracks to reach the best descents meant slogging with your bike on the back of your shoulders through forests and up scree slopes. The payoffs descending nearly always outweigh the effort, not to mention its a great excuse for some snacks and refreshments when you summit.
- Timed riding is not only for experts. While we were in Chile for the experience rather than just racing it did allow Bernie and Maria to be on their own, to focus on the task at hand and put all the advice given and tips to use. They learnt to read and interpret the terrain by looking ahead and making quick decisions, maybe try something new and slightly scary. Whether you’re railing it, getting off, running, tipping over, nailing a section, unclipping, spazzing out or whatever you’re doing, you’re learning something every single time. At the end of the stage you get to share all the adrenaline and excitement with your fellow riders and there is a buzz in that too.
- Nerves are good. They are a powerful tool that you learn to both control and take note of. You learn to cope with situations under pressure and that translates back to every day life at work and at home and school. It will make you stronger and more confident.
- Theres nothing wrong with being at the back in a big group ride. This is how i learnt to ride - trying not to get lost or left behind. You push yourself that little bit harder and you get to mimic the boys or other stronger riders in front of you, see their lines, emulate their body position, style and technique. So never fret when you are the slower rider at the back of a group, as that will turn you into a better rider in time.
- Overcoming and persevering when it gets tough is hugely rewarding. Maria and Bernie killed it. Their biggest days on a bike yet and back to back for four days without giving up ever. Their positive attitudes and big smiles were contagious and rubbed off on a lot of people. It will make or brake you. A trip like this will either make you fall head over heels in love with riding, or it can make you absolutely hate it either way you will find out pretty quickly if this sport is for you. If you embrace all the elements of such an adventure, you will without a doubt as proved in the girls case become better riders for it and leave the week with a whole new big group of friends and friendships.
I sure do hope that this experience will be the start of their passion for bike adventures and exploring and that they can pass this new found love on to other women in Chile & abroad.
Cheers Chile, muchas gracias. Nos vemos mas tarde!