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Life as a Bike Jockey: Oh, the Places You’ll Go — Pedaling

judyMug-1One of the things I love about biking is that quite often you can look around and find yourself somewhere incredible — and it’s because of the bike you are there.

This last weekend I found myself riding in Cleveland, Ohio in the dead of winter. If that seems crazy, there were over 100 like-minded women there to do the same.

It’s a Girl Thing

For many, the phrase “girls’ weekend” usually brings to mind spas and cosmopolitans. The Ray’s Angels Women’s Weekend at Ray’s Indoor MTB Park in Cleveland, however, would redefine that.

Lindsey Prososki ripping it at Ray's Women's Weekend. Photo by Judy Freeman
Lindsey Prososki ripping it at Ray's Women's Weekend. Photo by Judy Freeman

Instead of the glitz of city lights, it was more a picture of an annual hunting trip. Only on this trip, camouflage gear came in the form of shin guards and helmets; the weapon of choice was a bike and killing it was PETA approved.

Many of the ladies left the kids at home with the husband to reunite with riding buddies made at last year’s event. Days would end over beers with battle wounds explained, talk of rider’s feats like Angie’s 360 and plans to gear up and ride monster the next day. If there were any umbrella-drink expectations of what a girls’ weekend would be like, they were best checked at the door.

Who, What, When — What The …?

Nearly 150 riders came from across the U.S. and even the U.K., Germany and Canada to make this the biggest Women’s Weekend since its start four years ago. The coaching roster was an impressive list of gravity-taunting talent, boasting Kathy Pruitt, Stephanie Nychka and Lisa Myklak to name a few. World-class rider and founder of Mad March Racing, Shaums March, was also on the factory floor as an instructor with a crew of certified MMR coaches. Amid the DH, dirtjumping and trials specialists, I joined in as an XC coach. (I counted my lucky stars getting to ride with this crew. Current tally: one billion.)

A Weekend Review

Post-ride refreshments at Ray's Women's Weekend. Photo by Judy Freeman
Post-ride refreshments at Ray's Women's Weekend. Photo by Judy Freeman

The three-day agenda was packed: A skills clinic, post-ride kegger and DJ party (complete with dancer revolt) on Friday. Saturday was a movie premiere of Women of Dirt. Five of the featured riders in the movie were also Women’s Weekend coaches, making the show heavily peppered with cheers as the crowd’s new heroines ripped it up on screen. Later that night, overhead lights went out and helmet lights went on for a night ride. Sunday was a day without rest as a lot of gals got in their last runs before packing it up to head home.

Lemme Sum Up

It’s been kinda difficult to write this post. And even with a week and 20-odd drafts, I know I’m still falling short on summing it all up. Sufficed to say, however, the hunt for thrills was fruitful. Skills were taught and progress at all levels was made. While one gal rode her first skinnies, another polished her tail whip and no-hander. By the end of the weekend, riders aged 6-64 were charging lines that seemed formidable only days earlier.

Mostly though, it’s the stuff I can’t get in a photo that will be the lasting impression of the weekend for me.

Get It, Girl

Freeriding Jedi Master and IMBA operations manager - Tammy Donahugh. Photo by Judy Freeman
Freeriding Jedi Master and IMBA operations manager - Tammy Donahugh. Photo by Judy Freeman

Maybe not knowing there was something missing before, gals met long-lost sisters from another mister on the bike. Despite different backgrounds, ladies bonded on common ground pushing beyond their comfort zones. It was impossible to see the determination, smiles and breakthrough moments of other riders without being inspired to go bigger yourself.

An infectious, positive energy was thick in the air all weekend. “Get it, girl” practically echoed through the park. And no disrespect to the fellas, but a bike scene dominated by X chromosomes has a cool vibe all its own. It’s a Mars and Venus thang – I think you understand.

Only By Bike

Happily tired Sunday morning, I stopped to take a breather on the deck of the Sport room. Fatigue makes perfect opportunity for you to watch riders manual by or join in the many excited conversations around the park. I got to talk with Jessica, a welder by trade and XC racer by bike, on how the weekend was a break from her norm – learning to bunny hop with former DH World Champ Leigh Donovan and a pump track schooling with retired DH pro, Gale Dahlager.

I know Jessica took a lesson on jumping somewhere along the line too, as I saw her clean the four-pack of jumps to our right just minutes earlier.

We waxed philosophical about the incredible atmosphere of the weekend in the way a stellar ride session will make you do. Sitting on our bikes atop that deck was a final chance to survey the landscape and take it all in. The fantastic people we met and the great riding are memories that will keep us smiling for years to come.

It was one of those moments that you knew the place you found yourself in was somewhere you could only get to by bike.

• • •

Huge applause to event organizers Nina Buitrago of Ray’s and MMR coach Tamara Peloquin for their vision and great effort on an excellent event. Big thanks to the entire Ray’s staff who cool-headedly kept things running smoothly. And hugs to all the guys who kindly waited while women took over the men’s room when the gal’s line got way too long.

Judy Freeman is a pro mountain biker out of Boulder, Colorado. In 2009 she represented the U.S. at the World Championships in Canberra, Australia. For 2010, she’ll be racing for Kenda/Felt Mountain Bike Team. Other sponsors for 2010 include TrailMaster Coaching, Hayes, Manitou, Voler Apparel, Pearl Izumi, WickWerks, KMC, SDG, Crank Brothers, Uvex, Pika Packworks, and Mighty Good Coffee.

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