No Fatty Left Behind - WTF Bikexplorer Summit Breakout Session

If you follow me on social media, you’re probably very aware that I spent the last week at the WTF Bikexplorers Summit in Whitefish, Montana. I’ve been gushing about this thing for months and now that it’s come and gone and been one of the best weeks ever, I have a lot to say about it!

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Hoo goodness, where to even start?! I don’t think I can even begin to write up my experiences of the week, as I could do a whole post on the food, my new friends, the Whitefish Bike Retreat facilities, the sessions, and the cool bikes that weren’t mine.

(To get an idea of other folks’ experiences at the summit, check out the hashtag #shredthepatriarchy on Instagram, especially those tagged at Whitefish Bike Retreat.)

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Instead, I’m going to write about the breakout session I facilitated on Saturday morning, “Creating Size Inclusive Spaces & Communities (aka No Fatty Left Behind.”)

First, an acknowledgement. As a white cis-gendered woman, I have a position of privilege in the bike community (even though sometimes it feels like I don’t.) As a blogger with a decent sized audience, I have a responsibility to use this privilege to help break down the systems of oppression, including racism, transphobia, colonialism, ageism, sizeism, fatphobia, and a bunch of other isms to make the bike industry more welcoming and supportive to all. To that end, I will call out injustices when I see them and may end up calling out brands/friends/colleagues in this process. Hopefully we can all be in this together and get better together to make the entire industry more welcoming, positive, and supportive for all.

I was really really really nervous to suggest this as a topic for breakouts. I didn’t think it would be well-received or that people would come. For one, I was one of maybe 2 or 3 visibly fat people there. But after I announced the topic at dinner, I had upwards of ten people come up to me and thank me for bringing up the topic. And while in the end, the session wasn’t super well attended (which is totally cool because there were so many other important conversations happening at the same time), the discussion we did have was really freaking beautiful and inspiring and affirming.

The name and inspiration for my session was taken from a hiking group that I joined this spring, Fat Girls Hiking. Fat Girls Hiking is a body-positive community group that goes on group hikes that are welcome to all genders, all sizes, and all skill levels. They host a number of hikes across the US where people of all body sizes and shapes are encouraged to join, where nobody is too slow or too fat.

From my involvement with this group, I have seen the joy and inspiration that has come from being with a truly inclusive community that is size inclusive. I firmly believe that the biking community could learn a lot from these best practices, so my breakout session was an attempt to spread some of these ideas and to have a dialogue with other leaders in the biking community about how to do this.

As I’ve discussed before, there are some very real challenges to being a bigger person on a bike, including finding a bike, clothing choice, and finding people to ride with. One additional challenge is the fear of acceptance – will the people I want to ride with accept me? Will they drop me? Will I be able to keep up? Will I be the slowest person? On and on….

As ride leaders (or potential ride leaders), there is a lot we can do to help newer or less confident riders who may have larger bodies feel welcome at our rides, on our teams, and in our shops (or in our community spaces.)  Actually, these tips go for everyone – we all have body insecurities and these tips will go a long way towards making everyone feel a lot more comfortable.

Setting Group Expectations

I like to think that these are general best practices for all groups, but at this point, nothing surprises me.

  • Set a pace for the ride and stick to it. If you say on your event that you’re going to be going 10-12 mph with regroups after hills, go 10-12 mph and actually regroup.
  • Have a sweeper at the back of the group. This rider should know where the group is going, have some mechanical skills and be a friendly person to encourage anybody who gets dropped to finish out the ride.
  • Consider having 2 pace groups for larger rides or those with varying speeds. Start/end at the same spot but perhaps the faster group does more hills.
  •  Let the slowest person set the pace. Confirm they’re ok with this, but it can make for a fun change of pace.
  • Publicize the route ahead of time so folks can preview it and plan ahead for any hills or breaks if necessary.
  •   It’s ok to ask participants to refrain from diet talk, body shaming, and weight loss talk

Swag, Team Kits & Industry Influence

  •  If you are in charge of ordering team kits, make sure a large range of sizes are available. If you’re unsure what sizes are needed, ask people! Fat people know what size we need – it’s ok to ask us!
  •   Order from and support brands that are size inclusive. Perhaps before ordering, ask a company if they carry plus-size apparel, even if you don’t need it. If they don’t, consider asking them why.

There was a ton of other great conversation and discussion that happened. Unfortunately, my brain is on overload and I forgot a bunch of it. I would love to hear your thoughts about any and all of this, and any suggestions you might have for how we can be a more supportive community.

Xoxo,

Marley

Wilkeson to Carbon River Bikecamping

Bike camping at Ipsut Creek along the Carbon River inside of Mount Rainier has become something of an annual tradition in my life, first starting in 2015. The backcountry campground used to be a popular car camping destination, but after the road was washed out in 2006, it’s only been accessible to hikers and bikers willing to make the 10 mile roundtrip trek.

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In previous years, I’ve driven to the park, stopped at the ranger station, and parked near the gate, thereby limiting my riding to a (very) manageable five mile, slightly uphill ride. This year, however, I accepted an invitation for a trip that would start in Wilkeson, about 20 miles outside of the campground.

Before I get into the details of this trip, I think it would be helpful to give some background on this trip.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I used to bikecamp all the time. A few years ago, it was normal for me to ride fully loaded into work on a Friday and be gone the whole weekend. Over the last year, however, due to a bunch of different factors, I simply have not been riding my bike that much.

I was invited to join a group of women riding in Montana this summer with Masi, Ortleib, Exped, Adventure Cycling, and Skratch Labs, so to prepare for that trip, I decided I should probably start riding again, with purpose. As part of the trip, we are all being given full bikepacking setups from Ortleib, a new Masi bike and new Exped sleeping mats and pillows!

New (to me) bike and bike bags from Ortleib!

New (to me) bike and bike bags from Ortleib!

So back to the ride….

One of the other women on the trip also lives in Seattle and put out a call for a partner to join her on a trip last weekend. I decided this would be a great opportunity to test my new bags (the bike is being built) and a good training ride. Two birds with one stone!

When I was first sent the Ride with GPS route, I felt confident about my ability to complete the trip. Sure, the ENTIRE way there was uphill, but I quieted my fears by thinking about the gentle grade, my previous experiences, and the ride back to the car. 20 miles of sweet, sweet downhill.

Fast forward to Saturday, deep in the pain cave, regretting every decision I’ve ever made. This ride was hard. Really freaking hard.

Twenty miles is a long way to ride uphill. Thankfully, I made the last minute decision to ride a bike I bought for my boyfriend which has a triple. That means a granny gear.

I lived in that granny gear all day Saturday, and hoo boy, was it a challenge.

If you haven’t done this ride, I highly recommend it (at least the portion from the Ranger Station to camp.) It’s a beautifully graded, gravel trail through the most amazing old growth forests. At camp, there is ample space for everyone I’ve ever seen up there (be sure to register for your backcountry permit at the ranger station) and clean toilets.

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Some helpful tips:

There aren’t any fires allowed, so I recommend bringing another form of entertainment.

Bring your hiking shoes and turn it into a longer trip. From the Ipsut Creek Campground, there’s a beautiful 7ish mile hike to the Carbon River Glacier. This hike is NOT fun in biking shoes, so bring a spare pair.

Bring a water filter. The old water source that used to be right before you got to camp has been washed out, so now the potable water is up the trail a bit at the Ipsut Falls.

 

Olympic Adventure Route with Komorebi Cycling Team

I was a summer camp kid, attending the same camp every year from 1st grade until 10th grade (except for those two awful years in 3rd & 4th grade, but we don’t talk about that.) The two weeks I spent every summer, year after year at Camp El Tesoro in Granbury, Texas without a doubt shaped me into the woman I am today.

During those long, hot summers under the Texas sun, I learned the ins and outs of communal living, joys of simple fun, and to enjoy the crackle of logs on a campfire that my hands helped build. At summer camp, I also built my confidence, strength, and personality. All of the superficial insecurities that were hammered into me throughout the school year, either through mainstream media, locker room talk, or gossip disappeared at camp.

My older sister Mindy and I, first day of camp, early 1990's

 

At camp it didn’t matter what brands you wore- functionality was all the rage.  Even into our teenage years, we played with vigor; challenging ourselves on the ropes course, wrapping our arms around each other to sing silly songs after dinner, and shaving our legs together on the cabin porch under the hot sun.

Despite the magic that I knew camp held, I was always apprehensive before leaving…

Would I get along with the girls in my cabin? Would they be nice? Would they like me?Would I be the fattest girl in my cabin? What if they all know each other and I’m the only one who doesn’t know everybody? What if I start my period during camp?

Even though I’m now 15 years older and wiser, these same fears and apprehensions came rushing back to me when I received an invite to join Komorebi Cycling Team on a 3 day bike packing adventure in the Olympic National Park last month. I’ve been a longtime fan of Komorebi, an Oregon based group of women who go on really rad bikepacking adventures.  I can’t even remember how I found them, but I started following their Instagram and trip journals last year.

When Jocelyn contacted me to join as a guest rider for their trip, I jumped at the opportunity, pushing aside the anxiety, fear, and self-doubt. So, two weeks ago, I, along with 3 other guest riders, joined 4 women of Komorebi for what was for me, my most challenging bike adventure to date.

Jocelyn, Me, Meghan, Kim, Jude, Anna, Kristin, and Caitlin (l to r) (Photo courtesy of Anna Brones)

Three days of bike riding, 73 miles, 7300’ of elevation gain, 5 miles of backpacking, hot springs, and a whole lot of fun. Here’s a recap of the trip.

Route and Planning

The plan for the trip was 4 days together, 3 days of riding, and 3 nights under the stars. Roughly outlined as follows:

1st night- Thursday: Group rendezvous at Seal Rock Campground. Most of the women were driving up from Portland, while two of us were driving from Seattle/Tacoma area, so Seal Rock Campground, along Highway 101 was a good middle spot to start from on Thursday night.

Friday: Drive up to the start of the Olympic Adventure Route and park our cars at the Park & Ride at the junction of Hwy 112 and Hwy 101, just next to Laird’s Corner Market. (On Google Maps, this is marked as Wagner’s Grocery, but the sign says Laird’s.) They were INCREDIBLY friendly to us- helping fill up water bottles, use the restroom, and just overall happy to have us.

Packing bikes is both a science and an art I'd come to find out.

 

Portland apparently has an awesome shop called The Mountain Shop where you can rent all sorts of gear that you need to bikepack, including super rad bikes and the full Revelate bike bag setups. Two of the other guest riders rented Salsa bikes from this shop, and nearly every other woman rented a Sweetroll Handlebar bag for their rig. I stuck with my classic basket and bag, figuring I’d be fine for the mileage we had planned (spoiler alert: it was a poor choice.)

Friday’s mileage was planned to be 31 miles, nearly all off road on the Olympic Adventure Route, with planned camping at Fairholme campground.

Saturday: Day 2’s route had me all excited as we were heading to an area I’d been itching to ride for a while. 30 miles of road riding into the Olympic National Park Elwha River Valley and up to the Olympic Hot Springs. A flood last winter washed out part of the road, leaving the last 8 miles of climbing car free. The plan was to hide our bikes at the end of the road and walk the last 2.5 miles into the back country to access the Olympic Hot Springs and campground.

Sunday: In seemingly perfect planning, day3 would be our easiest, starting with a 2.5 mile walk back to the bikes and then an easy 12 mile road ride back to the car.

Food & Gear: With 8 women bikepacking for 3 days, it was really important to ensure that we didn’t all take a stove, tent, and water purifier.  A little coordination was in order to cut down on duplicated necessities. With a few quick emails, gear was split.

Food for bikepacking is seriously one of my biggest hangups, and I often end up eating freeze dried meals, as I’m just frankly not very creative when it comes to camp cooking. Lucky for us, Anna Brones joined us on this trip, who coordinated and cooked all of the food for all of us on this trip. Anna is an author, chef, photographer, gardener, and biking wonder-woman- she’s a true renaissance woman who just published her 2nd book- Hello Bicycle.

I’m seriously spoiled for all bike trips from here on out and can’t wait to try some of the recipes Anna prepped for us, as they honestly seemed pretty easy. We dined on hearty oatmeal each morning with dried fruit, homemade pesto and chickpea sandwiches on homemade bread, pad thai, and red lentil stew. I don’t even eat this good when I’m at home! She also made snack bags for each of us with homemade energy balls, but I unfortunately didn’t get to enjoy these as I forgot to tell her about my allergies to almonds, but according to everybody else, they were awesome.

This was my first time actually bike packing, and I tried out some new-to-me gear. I borrowed a Revelate Terrapin bag from a friend, with an Outdoor Research dry bag as a saddle bag. I’ve also recently invested in a Straggle-Check Frame bag, custom made for my size bike. It’s really cute- totally fits like a glove. And as I already alluded to, kept my Wald basket on the front of my bike and my go-to Revelate Mountain Feedbag.

The rest of my gear list:

REI Passage 1 (1 person tent)

REI Joule Sleeping Bag

Klymit Static V Sleeping Pad

Merino Wool Top & Bottom

Puffy jacket

Merino Wool Jersey

Flannel shirt

1 pair riding bibs

2 t-shirts

2 pairs light wool socks (for riding)

1 pair thick wool socks (sleeping)

2 pair underwear (sleeping)

3 gel packs

4 Clif bars

1 bag dried mangos

1 flask whisky

1 spare tube, 1 patch kit, sewing kit, multitool, frame pump

Head lamp & spare batteries

Katadyne 6L Gravity filter (I brought it for the group to use while in the wilderness at the hot springs)

Toiletries

Eating stuff (bowl, mug, spork), pocket knife

Here's my ready-to-go bike. You can see I moved the water bottle cages to the front fork and mounted them with electrical tape. 3 weeks later, they're still there. A+

The Actual Ride & Weekend Experience

The actual bike riding on the Olympic Adventure Route kicked my ass. I thought I knew what single track meant and what it was like to ride it. I had no idea.

Kim getting rad (photo courtesy of Anna Brones)

The trail is beautifully maintained, 24 miles of stunning single track without any technical elements, unrideable roots or rocks, or sections that require dismounting. BUT, on my bike, with the weight in the front with my current level of skill and fitness, I struggled. I *think* if I would’ve been on a proper mountain bike, the ride would’ve been easier, but I still would’ve struggled. There was quite a bit of climbing and descending, and more than once, I found myself wishing for the same setup of the rest of the women on the trip, especially flat bars.

Jocelyn shows impressive technique

 

I owe a huge depth of gratitude to the women of Komorebi , and other guest riders- Jude, Anna, and Meghan for their graciousness, patience, and encouragement as I struggled through the ODT. I was by far the slowest rider, but they patiently waited for me, allowing me to gain skills as the day went on, offering tips to make things easier (seriously- thanks Jude for letting some air out of my tires! Why didn’t we do that earlier?!), and laughing with me as fell 5 times. Thankfully, none of the falls were serious, but I’m still nursing some bruises almost two weeks later. Who knew that blackberry brambles make a good, yet scratchy, cushion for crashing?

 

I've also never been THIS dirty. Our plan to ride to Fairholme got scratched as the allure of the closer Log Cabin Lodge along Lake Crescent stole our attention. They also happened to have free hot showers, beer on tap, and open camp sites. Did I mention we stayed there? 

Dirt tan

 

Saturday and Sunday’s rides were all on paved (or forest service gravel) roads, so it was much easier to keep up with the group through these sections.  The ride into the Olympic National Park and Elwah River Valley were much less noteworthy than Friday’s Olympic Adventure Route, if only for less crashes, but nonetheless just as beautiful.

After the parking lot, the road is closed to cars, thanks to a flood this past winter. It’s an 8 mile ride to the Olympic Hot Springs Trailhead, all uphill. With an average grade of 4%, the climb was pretty easy and we took it slow, savoring the outlook at the Elwah Dam and stopping for a baby deer in the road. Fairly quickly, we reached the parking lot where we converted our bikepacking gear into backpacking gear, stashed our bikes in the woods, and began the 2.5 mile hike to the hot springs.

Bikepacking gear doubles as backpacking gear pretty easily it turns out

The hike up to the hot springs is also quite easy, although it is also uphill. At this point, it had been pouring rain for the previous 2 hours, so we were all thoroughly soaked to the bones, hoping that our dry bags were keeping our tents and sleeping bags dry, and eagerly anticipating the hot springs at the end of the trail. When we reached the camp ground, we quickly set up, and  were shortly off to the promise of hot water another quarter mile down the trail.

Sure enough, just down the trail, a series of 6 or 7 hot springs awaited us. It’s just as magical as you can imagine. We quickly stripped down and hopped in, eager to relieve our sore muscles in the hot water. It was pure bliss.

Meghan finds bliss in the hot springs

 

This was only my second time in a hot spring, and the first in a totally unregulated, natural one. At one point, I found myself in disbelief – was I really soaking in a hot spring with 7 other, totally badass, bike riding women, drinking wine? This was awesome.

We finally got hungry and headed back to camp for another delicious dinner made by Anna. Quickly thereafter most of us went to sleep, as without a fire to warm us up, we were wet and cold. Even though I was exhausted, sleep didn’t come easily that night as I was freezing, but luckily, the sun rose early and warmed things up. We ventured back to the hot springs again after breakfast for one more dip.

The final bike ride down from the hot springs was one of the best descents I’ve ever had in my life. Not worrying about cars is phenomenal! I have no idea what speed I reached, but I’m sure it was fast. I would seriously climb that hill again just to fly back down it!

 

Reflections on the trip

Now that I’ve been home for almost two weeks and have had some time to think and heal my body, I’m filled with gratitude to Jocelyn, Kim, Kristin, and Caitlin from Komorebi for allowing me to join them on this trip. I’m also hugely thankful to Jude, Meghan, and Anna for joining me as guest riders. Having your presence helped me feel less like the “new girl” and like were in this together. Your willingness to be vulnerable, authentic, and show your true selves all weekend was inspiring.

The difference of riding with all women, as opposed to a mixed gender group is hard to explain. Small things, like checking in with each other throughout the day to make sure we were all doing ok, both physically and emotionally. I’ve NEVER experienced that with mixed-gender groups. Open and honest chats about our bodies, challenges with our partners, and drinking wine in the bathroom together as we waited for a blessed hot shower is something that doesn’t always happen.

Over fireside conversations we made a conscious decision as a group to stop apologizing and to practice gratitude. This seemingly small act influenced so many conversations throughout the weekend, as instead of saying  “Sorry I’m slow” when I reached the group who was waiting for me, I would instead say “Thanks for waiting for me!”

Even though these women live in Portland (and Anna near Tacoma), I feel like I gained 7 new friends in a whirlwind of a weekend. I’m super excited to know them and can’t wait to hopefully see them next time I’m in Portland!

Black Dog Days

Have you ever been in a deep funk in your life where you feel like you’re just going through the motions of daily life? Every day is the same- wake up, go to work, go home, maybe ride your bike, go to bed. The feeling like you’re living for the weekend, and your weekdays are punctuated by random bursts of excitement like going to Starbucks for coffee? Oh wait, no? Ok, yeah, me neither.

Truthfully though, I’ve struggled with depression most of my life, and since I’ve been able to recognize what it for what it is, controlling it has become much more manageable. I have a phenomenal primary care doctor who I trust deeply, wonderful health insurance (hello $3.00/month Prozac!), and a great therapist!

 

Even with this level of mental health management, there are still some days where it’s a struggle to get out of bed. Everyday feels like groundhog day. Wake up, work, look at the internet, go home. Repeat.

So it’s been super exciting to finally feel like I’m taking my life in my own hands again and steering it in a direction that I want it to go. I have a number of really exciting things lined up on the horizon (and concurrently happening) to look forward to, and let me tell you, when you’re depressed, having something to look forward to is seriously the BEST THING IN THE WORLD!!!

In no particular order, here is what I’m currently excited about:

·         My mom is an internet sensation!

·         My S24O article published in the Cascade Courier

·         Took my fenders and back rack off my bike to turn it into a bikepacking bike, and realized that a Revelate Tangle Frame bag fits! Bikepacking here I come!!

·         Speaking of, got invited to join the women of Komorebi Bicycling Team on a trip! I’ve looked to them for inspiration since I learned of them, and to be invited on a trip is blowing my mind!

·         I booked a trip to Anchorage for Memorial Day weekend. Going by myself to backpack and camp Chugach State Park near Anchorage. The stoke is high.

·         Lots of Point83 trips coming up- Ben Country (1 year anniversary of all this bike camping craziness), Clam Slam, Girls of Summer, and so much more!

I’m also helping put on an Intro to Bike Camping Class with Swift Industries, and going to be leading The Bikery’s Swift Campout with possibly 40 people. (I'm also really proud of this image I created for the class- I'm totally not a designer, but we've gotten really good feedback!)

So many things happening. No time to be depressed! If only it worked that way.