In early December, I traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to have a conversation with two other badass women at Freewheel Bike Shop. Mary Ehlers was the last woman standing in the 2022 Colorado Trail Race, and the evening’s emcee was Kate Coward. Kate is an incredible athlete, having finished ten Arrowhead 135’s (eight races and two ITTs), and I was glowing sharing a space with those two women. We spoke about some of our fears, some of our passions, and so many other things in between. One of my favorite parts of these community events is to talk with the folks who come to be in the audience. I met Wendi right away. She has hair like my mother’s, beautiful, black, and bouncy; those kinds of curls are few and far between, and I immediately felt the pull to talk with her. She spoke to me about the rides she’s been on, aspirations for the future, and mutual friends we knew. After the event, I asked if she would write a little bit about what it was like to be in the audience that night. I hope to visit more communities to engage in conversations about cycling. There are so many different types of cyclists out there, and listening to Wendi’s story reminded me why it’s so important for BIPOC women to share stories of wild adventures outside because, that’s where we belong.
The weather wasn’t the best on Dec 13th, the day I had been counting down to. It was scheduled to rain, which meant here in Minnesota that it would freeze. I was looking forward to hearing Alexandera Houchin speak. I wasn’t going to miss this.
I used to be a runner. I love endurance sports, but I never saw anyone that looked like me participating. Would I fit in? How would I have to assimilate? Would it be safe for me? I went to an event put on by the most popular trail race director we have here in Minnesota. He stated that the trails were safe. He’d even encountered a nine-year-old girl out on the trail by herself. So I thought to myself, maybe I will be safe too. I would see later the race director’s experience being a white male made him blind to see how my experience being BIPOC & female would be different.
I volunteered frequently, doing trail maintenance, volunteering at more events than I ran, and soaking up every bit of info I could to be a part of the trail running community. They pride themselves on being kind and welcoming. I didn’t see that in road racing. I loved trail running! I was outdoors, in forested areas, surrounded by nature and not manmade things. It calmed me. The more I volunteered, the more people knew me. The more I felt like I belonged. Until I didn’t. It wasn’t safe. And when I used my voice to convey it, I was bullied, harassed, and silenced. So after dealing with microaggressions, and racist behavior for numerous years, I stopped running in 2019, just three weeks before my favorite 100-mile race.
In spring 2022, I started biking with the Slow Roll group. It was a group of people who looked like me. I like biking. But this group made me fall in love with it. I bought a gravel bike in August. I would now be doing what I love, only I would be doing it on wheels! But I wonder, am I going to run into the same problems with race and gender that I had in the trail running community?
I was excited about this event because I got to hear from WOMEN about cycling. I got there an hour and a half before the event to make sure I got a good seat. I was nervous to talk to Alexandera, but I really wanted a picture with her. I didn’t want to be that person, but I was. I’m glad I asked, as I got more than just a pic. My friends and I were lucky to be able to chat with her for a good bit. She’s dope! But I knew that before I met her. (I am friends with one of her cousins).
Now I am sitting down listening to a woman that looks like me talk about cycling. I’m hearing it from a different lens. I’m seeing that I can do this, too, because I see what she has done. Representation matters.
I knew Kate, the emcee, and Mary, from the trail running community. They are now biking! This talk was different. Men tend to puff up stories and experiences as a way to play with the audience and keep their attention. This talk was different. It was authentic. That’s what kept my attention.
My friends and I were so pumped listening to the speakers and left feeling like there was nothing we couldn’t try. The stories we heard were from a point of view that we could relate to. Hearing this talk raised the bar of what we thought was possible. That in itself gives you a whole new outlook on life. I needed that. I REALLY needed that! I went home and plotted out things I will do next year. My world just got a lot bigger!
We need to hear more of these stories. But to do that, we need to have more of us out there. ❤️
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