There’s something about getting grimy and sweaty with the gals. You feel like you’re breaking the rules. You’re not made of sugar and spice and everything nice. You’re not someone’s girlfriend and you’re not someone’s mother. For that moment at least, all you have to be is a cyclist. ~ Kimberly Grob author and cyclist
I’ve been standing somewhat idly by as I’ve watched my friend Laura Wooldridge diligently work to get women out to ride in the dirt with her. Each week she organizes two or three rides, meets the girls at the trail head, and leads them off the pavement and into adventure. This is her calling.
Weeks ago she shared with me the story of her entrée into mountain biking. Her struggle to get started wasn’t pretty but what was beautiful about it was the support that she found from other women. Now she is paying it forward. Last weekend with the help of Team CARVE member Scott Penrod and the united support of almost every single bike shop in the Little Rock Metro area, a mountain bike skills clinic for women was held at the Springhill trails near Ft. Smith, Arkansas.
At 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning, about 25 women, a few of their spouses and some young future mountain bikers gathered at Riders Ready bike shop in Maumelle. Owner Jeremy Chandler had come down to open his shop for us even though it was his day off and the shop was closed. He let us set up boxes of bagels, a toaster and a thermal coffee server filled with fresh brew from Morningside Bagels which just happens to be close by. Those of us who find coffee to be one of the necessities of life would like to thank Morningside for enhancing an early Sunday morning.
By 8:15 we had managed to distribute bikes, swag, food and people among two bike shop vans and a few large vehicles. Transporting that many people and supplies was a logistical quandary but with the Spokes Little Rock van and the Chainwheel van, we managed.
We all arrived in Ft. Smith to find Scott and Lance Paoli, Chainwheel mechanic and sweet son of one of our participants, already setting up canopies from several local bike shops including Arkansas Cycling and Fitness and unloading our bikes. Soon Cliff Li had the Spokes van unloaded too and we gathered to enjoy the picnic lunch of house smoked turkey, hummus and fruit provided by Tomas Bohm of The Pantry.
Following lunch, Scott led a session about bike fit. As one of our group asked a question about ghost shifting, Scott suggested it could be a minor derailleur issue at which point volunteer/son/mechanic/truck loader and un-loader extraordinaire, Lance, said “I’ll get right on that.” And off he went to find the offending bike to give it the once over.
A few minor seat post shifts and handlebar checks later, we took to the field where some obstacles were set up to practice weight shifting for getting over those rocks and roots we find out on the trails. And we had a teeter totter just for fun.
Then it was time to test what we’d learned out in the dirt. We headed out to the trail for a 9 mile ride on the fast, flat and recently worked over trail. With the AMBCS race just one week away, the trail was in great shape and begged for fast tires. We took our time, allowing some of the less experienced riders to stay in their comfort zone. Many of those who’ve been riding a while chose to tackle some of the obstacles like skinnies, teeter totters and jumps that have been built alongside the main trail. And everyone took a shot at a small “gravity cavity” that was close to the end of our ride.
Barring a couple of very minor mishaps along the way, we arrived back at the start safely and intact to find Gigi’s had provided us individual mini-cheesecakes in flavors like Oreo, turtle and cherry. There’s nothing like a good post-ride treat. It’s not usually gourmet cheesecakes but I’m not complaining.
League of American Bicyclists Instructor Willa Williams was on hand to teach her bike knowledge and fix-a-flat class. Those of us who have had the pleasure of taking instruction from Willa before know the value of her expertise and teaching ability. Participants jumped in to take and give some hands on instruction. New rider Tabitha tried her hand at removing the tube from a flat tire and experienced hand Krista gave us all a great demo and hints about getting it all put back together.
While we were learning, the bikes were again being taken care of by our male collaborators. As we separated to make the drive back to Maumelle, there were countless hugs, the exchange of business cards and the sharing of contact information. Friendships were strengthened, new friendships were born and most importantly plans were hatched for more rides with grimy and sweaty girls.
Thanks to all the bike shops for contributing to our swagtastic bags of goodies and to Morningside Bagels, The Pantry and Gigi’s for keeping us fed throughout the day. More photos available by Arkansas Outside Contributor, Cliff Li on his Facebook Page.