Women to the left of me, women to the right....
Ok so most of you probably aren't big AC/DC fans but I always found those lyrics very poignant. Certainly reflective of my life in an entirely different context than the song was written. But that line really captures my existence. I am and always have been surrounded by women. I was raised by women. I had/have no Grandfathers. My namesake died when I was still in uttero that's why I am a Junior instead of the 4th...I live in a house with 3 other women. Father figures in general are pretty much non-existent in my life.
I am a stay at home parent of two daughters. I worked in publishing for over a decade which is predominantly staffed by women. Most of my greatest teacher's have been women. I am probably more at ease around women than men. I usually feel more myself and much more relaxed in the company of women. Guys are so weird sometimes with their posturing and inability to say what they really mean or want out of a situation it gets frustrating to say the least.
What I am finding a bit ironic right now in my biker life is that women in cycling tend to be WAY more tough than the men. I am not just saying tough like how hard the rider can push themselves or how much they can suffer on a bike but tough! And not only are they tough they are tough on me and willing to teach and push me to be better. Guys either by a self preservation mechanism or just a live and let live approach tend to let a lot of stuff slide. Especially when in a group of other guys. I suck on a mtn bike. My guy friends are ok with this. I am a cross rider, I am not a mtn biker and they could care less if I can ride some dropoff. Day one of learning to be a cross racer was and is when in doubt run it out. Its faster. Period. If you are racing all that matters is going faster, doesn't matter if its riding or running. Get from point A to point B the fastest. Riding over shit isn't always faster. Running can be way faster than riding.
My re-entry back into the east coast has been an epiphany. I got into the bike game late. I didn't start seriously riding a bike until I was late in my 20's early 30's. So things that form your ability to handle a bike like bmx were never part of my learning curve. When I grew up after you got your drivers license you would rather walk than ride a bike. The only option was driving a car. Riding a bike was about the dorkiest thing you could do. You'd be an outcast plain and simple. I grew up in a muscle car culture and it was the only mode of transport anyone would even consider.
Thank God I moved to San Francisco after college! That is where it all came together and I fell in love with the bike. But you can't even compare mtn biking in Northern California to New England. They are two totally different animals. It has taken me a while but I now love mtn biking here in Boston. I owe a lot of people for helping me fall in love with it. My first forays didn't go so well. But guys were patient. Nobody heckled me or hazed me or gave me shit for not riding something. I remember riding with some local free-riders who showed me a ton of crazy trails in Hale Reservation. I'd get off my bike so fast, run up something and get back on while they were trials riding and hoping up and over the boulders. They would just mention it in passing "oh you get off that bike fast" or "wow I've never seen anyone get back on their bike like that" And the cross conversation would come up and that would be the end of it.
But I never really got better. I stayed at the same level average at best. Below average riding east coast trails. But then something game changing happened this last winter. I got hurt at the end of cross season. I reached out to a friend for some help. Once I was healed up I started riding with some people way above my level. And started noticing "how" they rode the woods. Then via the same circle of friends I started riding in the woods with more and more women. Pro level riders with gobs more talent and ability than I'll ever have and that was and still is an eye opener. And what is amazing and again the whole point of this post is that women teach. They see you struggling and they push you to get it. To get better. The last ride I went on was hilarious. Up to this point all the coaching if you will, for lack of a better word, or as I like to call it Bike Practice, had been ride by example. Follow their lead.
They'd just kind of yell things at me as we descended or went through a rock garden. Nothing earth shattering just "get your ass way back off the saddle." Then the follow up--"did that work?" "Did you ride that?" All very positive and low key. But last Thursday was different. Tough love came a calling. For full disclosure I hate wood bridges. I have a primordial fear of them. Kind of like how some people are afraid of Clowns or The Easter Bunny I am afraid of wood bridges. Intellectually I get it I really do but I get all freaked out by a raised wood bridge. I'm fine on a boardwalk its not like I have a phobia its a fear, big difference. But just like the great quote in Dune "Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. " These ladies had had enough of my weak ass freaking out.
So I ran one two many wood bridges that day. Granted I really wussed out on one that was really a board walk and totally rideable not sketchy at all. I could here SBZ finally have enough of that crap. From a few yards ahead I could here her saying "are you running that?" Of course I was as I was now basically a bike length behind her with my bike on my shoulder...But I am a cross racer.
Not today cross boy. "Go back and ride it again!" Really? "Really" So I turned around and rode it back the way we had come and then turned around sucked it up and rode it back towards the group. Amazing. It is all in my damn head. Now these women may be the death of me its true. I am old and sort of slow. But if I live I might just possibly end up being an ok east coast rider. And I will have some of the coolest, most badass women riders on the planet to thank for it.