The Trans-Cascadia was my biggest step yet into blind backcountry enduro racing, and it was one I won't forget anytime soon. Here are a few of my takeaways.1. A bit of creativity can go far when it comes to tech fixes.
The Trans-Cascadia is the real deal in terms of remote backcountry riding. The venue was remote - at one of the rider briefings, we were told to "manage our lives" because the following day's course would have no place to land a helicopter, should an evac be required. (The following day was also the day that I crashed on my already-injured wrist, so I'm not one to talk.) Personal problems aside, bike failure was a very real concern on those long days, as often the only way out was out via the course, so when Ivan Valdez crashed on the second day and fully broke off his brake lever, things looked pretty grim for him and the rest of his day. It was only with a bit of creativity that he, with some help from some friends, made his bike rideable for the rest of the day.
Praise the plastic lever. Ivan figured out he could zip tie a tire lever in place of his brake lever. While it likely wasn't a confidence-inspiring stopper, it seemed to do the job well enough for him to finish the day. Thankfully, Shimano was back at camp to offer neutral tech support for all the racers, so the life-saving Shimano dudes got Ivan back up and rolling again, well enough for him to take 12th in the burly amateur men's field.2. It would be great to see more women at these events.
It's hard to figure out how to get more women into mountain biking. At nearly every race since the dawn of mountain bike racing, the racing scene has remained notably male-dominated. The Trans-Cascadia field was roughly 7% women. I'm not a social scientist or an expert in any way other than being a woman and also a person who rides bikes, but I have a few hunches as to why.
If the bike culture at large generally tells women that the sport is too hard for them, that racing is too gnarly, that enduro is too brutal, what are women who've internalized that message to do when they hear that a race like the Trans-Cascadia will likely be the hardest, gnarliest, most brutal race they've ever done?
Sure, you can say, no one actually tells women that biking is too hard, but the message is there each time a women's bike comes spec'd with lesser components than the equivalent men's version or each time a dudebro reassures me that every feature has a B-line. I just think we can do better.
For more women to show up, especially at the "hard" races, we need to change the implicit messaging from "it'll be hard so you shouldn't try to do it" to "it'll be hard and that's the point."
It's not Trans-Cascadia's fault that the women's field was small, especially since the race is meant to be burly. The organizers did a great job of creating a warm, welcoming atmosphere and it seems like all the women who raced had a fantastic time. I think if more women showed up, they'd have a blast, too.
Now, I do want to acknowledge the women who did make up the small but mighty field. Jill Kintner absolutely dominated, crushing her two closest competitors (Corinne Prevot and myself) by 10 minutes over nearly two hours of racing time. Corinne seemed to have a smile on her face for the entirety of all four days, which was an achievement in itself before you even realize she was on the podium. Alex Pavon, a Juliana rider, former ski racer, and all-around badass battled back and forth with me all race, which was a great time. Morgan Kurz won her entry through a Grow Cycling Foundation contest and is the first person I've met who handmakes wool bike clothing - hopefully more on that in a future article. Briana Valerosi held down the fort for the amateur women's category and was a joy to be around. Freeskiing legend Michelle Parker chose the Trans-Cascadia to be her first ever
mountain bike race, which is just mind-boggling. After those four monster days, most other races will likely feel pretty tame. And maybe less fun.3. Try to arrive with your body in decent condition.
Okay, this one should be obvious for any race, especially a massive backcountry race, but I say this because I wasn't ready. I've had a weird summer that's led to more time off the bike than in several years, leaving me objectively not mentally or physically ready to race, and a poorly-timed wrist injury just a couple weeks before the event didn't help things. I was on the fence about whether I could race until the day before the event started... and then clearly made the right decision to go, a choice that I'm endlessly thankful for. Still, I keep saying that the week couldn't possibly have been better, but I'll add the subtext that technically it would have been better if I was feeling a little fitter and a little less injured.
That said, even the injured folks had a great time. I was lucky enough to come out relatively unscathed, but plenty of riders fell victim to the tough course, with a full 13% of the riders joining the DNF list by the end of the race.
The race organizers did warn the riders beforehand that the race would include about 5,000' (1500 m) of climbing each day and even more descending, but the numbers barely did justice to the actual effort, given that most of the climbing was hiking and most of the descending was not cruisey. RIP my right shoe, which began to disintegrate in protest halfway through the race.4. I finally get the blind racing thing.
Every time someone comes back from a Trans-Cascadia / BC / New England / New Zealand / Madeira / Somewhere Else Cool style race, they come back acting like it's the best thing they've ever done. I think I finally get it. There's nothing like spending that much time out in the woods, meeting fantastic people from all over who are all beyond stoked to be there, having essentially no phone service for six days, and building camaraderie through long days of riding and recapping by the bonfire at night. And, assuming you love bike racing and feel that bike racing makes everything better, it's also a race. There are so many wins.
The culture surrounding the Trans-Cascadia is largely what makes it so special, so of course it's all about the people - people who pour (likely) blood, (definitely) sweat, and (also probably) tears into making an event with so little certainty about whether the pandemic and forest fires would let the race happen. While it felt good, on some level, to reach the end of the last day, it was sad because we wouldn't all be getting on our bikes to ride together again the next day.
And that's all without mentioning the trails. Reading a trail for the first time is totally different from riding something you've practiced, GoPro'd, and visualized in preparation of that final race run like at other enduro races. Blind racing is raw, it strips the riding down to just the essential pieces, and it forces all of us to have some fun and take ourselves just a little less seriously. The discovery of something new, unexpected, and awesome is part of what makes the experience so cool.
I can't write about the race without at least mentioning the steep entry fee, since that tends to get some raised eyebrows, but that the entry fee subsidizes the nonprofit organization's trail work and has contributed to 500 miles of trail that Trans-Cascadia has worked on helps to bring things into perspective. That, plus riders don't have to think about travel logistics or much of anything besides riding bikes, eating good food, and drinking unlimited beverages, which makes for a decent vacation.
Throughout the race, after a bit of suffering on the first day, things just kept feeling better and better. I got to know the people around me, I had an absurd amount of fun surfing the steep, loose trails, and I enjoyed the crisp, bittersweet feeling of watching the trees yellow with the arrival of fall. The event was the perfect way to celebrate the end of summer, and it was a special kind of magic.5. The fact that the race happened is a testament to resilience.
Just weeks before the planned race was scheduled to take place, the forest burned, taking with it half of the anticipated course. After months of scouting, planning, and clearing trail, the race crew had to come up with a backup plan, and they had to come up with it quickly.
As we sat around the bonfire after the first day of racing, we were told that the trail crews had just finished working on the next day's course. The same would be true for day three. When there were few options left and almost no time, the people responsible for trail work didn't have the option to quit when they were tired and pick back up where they left off another day. They worked relentlessly to make sure we had rideable courses, and they're the real unsung heroes of the event. More on that in an article to come.
All in all, I showed up to the Trans-Cascadia having done very little blind enduro racing before and tried to arrive with as few expectations as possible, to just let the event unfold as it would. It's out-there, it's hard, and it's a party. It's safe to say that Trans-Cascadia is doing good things for our sport.
Also on the cost of the event, we all benefit* from the work that Trans-Cascadia does to open up trails that have, for whatever reason, fallen into disrepair or disuse or lack of interest or whatever. They keep the zones and tracks "secret" but it only takes a tiny bit of effort to figure out who was riding where. The real trick is all the logistics to get yourself there.
* some of these trails are on the verge of disappearing every year due to overgrowth and deadfall so it's only through continued volunteer and/or trail organization work that they stay open at all.
Racing one of these Trans races is on my bucket list. My gf, who is an athlete herself, competes with others and me, and mtbs, is not interested in Trans races. And that's completely OK
13% DNF is nuts!
I'd love to see more women racing, being an husband and a father of a very young daughter. But I can't really subscribe to the "the scene tells woman the sport is too hard for them" thing. Anecdotal, I know, but every group, team or event I know is nothing but welcoming to women.
While certainly there are some remaining toxic attitudes, I believe the biggest "barrier" is simply lack of critical mass.
And even if critical mass wasn't a thing, there is no reason to believe we should expect 50:50 participation rate. Biology exists, and men and women are not identical and that's ok.
What a healthy society should do is to fight the existence of coercion, not fight to get equality of participation numbers on every single field
Clearly all women aren’t interested and we should leave the thinking to people that manage to type an entire paragraph using only questions and poorly implemented punctuation while simultaneously not making a single tangible point other than vaguely outlining their own misogyny.
Women’s participation in mountain biking is way way higher these days than it was 20 years ago. Just look at any hot spot for bikes, the all have way more women’s rides, full family participation, etc. Bellingham, Kingdom Trails, Highland, pick your popular venue, it looks totally different than it did 10 years ago.
So, event owners, try some things out! Test what works, push for a goal of equal participation and keep checking the numbers to see what’s most effective. Just like anything.
Some free ideas for anyone who has the powers to test them, no idea if they would be effective, but seem worth trying:
1. Give people more time to commit.
Events like Cascadia sell out almost instantly, and people who are wary of going deep into the woods as a minority participant are going to need more time than your average dude to ensure they will be safe at the venue, have friends who might be there with them, and that will inherently lead to slower registration.
So, hold a block of entries for women racers temporarily, and release that block of entries to the wait list gradually as the event nears. Give people time to get a group of friends to show up with them, come up with the $, psych each other up. No risk at a popular event of not selling out, just a bit more logistics to manage.
2. Use the influencer model.
Give incentives to people for convincing the type of people to sign up that you want to entice into the event. $100 off for each woman you convince to attend? Or swag? Or something special. Turn the “magnet people”, the people we all know who pull groups along with them into your sales team working for you. If those “influencers” can convince enough people in the demographic you’re trying to grow, that person’s entry might even be free. Who knows!
But try something!
Any minority group’s participation snowballs once it gets above a certain point. Participation sits there at minimal numbers with only the super brave outliers attending, then the numbers suddenly raise once enough people’s sense of their safety and faith that they aren’t going to be the only one like them at an event is assured.
Is the goal to change the other person’s mind and bring them around to your way of thinking or to feel good about a zinger?
I have taken the approach that Alicia suggested, instinctively, that people do mountain biking because it is hard.
She is not an avid mountain biker because she just doesn’t enjoy it they way others do.
My impression is that with human beings in general, is that you can knock down all barriers for a certain activity, no matter what it is, certain peoples will not inherently be interested in it for a variety of factors.
I won’t go so far as to suggest that all barriers have been removed for getting women into mountain biking- I can’t speak for them and I do not walk in their shoes.
Hold up, how about a thought experiment. Say MTB DID, magically, overnight, become just like yoga, and say you're pretty new to the sport. You roll up at the trailhead and suddenly it's 90% women in Lulu Lemon and they look at you like you're from outer space when you show up with your full face helmet, energy drink, and total disinterest in chakras. How long would you stick around? Of course the enlightened female MTBers have the right to be themselves, but I bet you'd wonder if there was a community of riders more like you who you could hang out with instead. Pardon the stupid hyperbole, but seriously--imagine how you'd feel if the gender split was reversed and the culture was kind of alienating even if it meant well.
Full-on agreement to the entire article, but especially #5. I kept mentally comparing TC to past events I’ve done, but had to stop and remind myself that they not only had to deal with COVID, but also half the course burning just a few weeks before the race. The TC would have been an impressive logistical feat in ideal circumstances. The fact that they managed to put on the event they did in the conditions they faced was mind-blowing.
"It's hard to figure out how to get more women into mountain biking."
Concur, I don't know the answer to this either. I only know a small handful of ladies riding MTB's, and when visiting the Whistler bikepark recently it was roughly 2/10 female.
Also, maybe quit making everything for the ladies generic colors male identified person in the marketing department think female identified people like, and take some cues from the art and fashion world each year.
Next, let’s get some decent cuts of clothing instead of v necks, fit and flair cuts, and riding shorts that look like boxes and early room for actual hips.
Make smaller sizes of the guys stuff because they get all the cool looking stuff but none of it fits us.
Representation and visibility also stinks. It’s dope that there are girls pushing it in free ride and racing , going to new levels at an increasing pace, but we only see the top ten really in any discipline. Make it more accessible by showing more of all types of riders, rider that don’t just have long ponytails flowing from helmets and rocking flannel. Bring some cool style to the functionality. Make more room for self expression. And fo f*cks sake show some female identified people that aren’t YT.
Sincerely, a woman that loves to ride bikes, with a legitimate distain for the culture of beer, aggressive high fives, bro brahing, etc.
Do you mean both genders are getting on the "toxic bro culture?":
"let’s be real and admit what I’m talking about isn’t mutually exclusive to those who identify as male."
Don't get rid of the beer, either...
I do agree culture is an issue. Bike parks aren’t anywhere near as devoloped as ski resorts at catering to and growing riders of different skill levels and often close many of the amenities that appeal to casual riders in summer time. So if broing out in the lot between 7 or 8 runs and a couple beers in the lot after don’t sound appealing there is literally no reason to go to my local bike park or the majority of the races that could prepare you for an event like this. I also think mtb at a high level has both a high physical requirement and a ton of risk. I know more women then men honestly who like fitness. I know a ton of woman who enjoy low to med risk sports. I know quite a few women who enjoy high risk sports and activities but have no interest in fitness what so ever. The crossover of enjoying high risk sports and being fit enough to keep up with boys or the other ladies already into sport seems to be much lower in woman than men. Plus men have easier time finding another beginner to ride with or getting out there alone.
@alicialeggett I know you agree with that last sentiment through mutual friends. I know you can't speak publicly on the issue, but I know you get it.
With that said, I disagree with author on the statement referencing the race organizers. They are responsible for organizing an event with a men's and women's field. If enough women didn't compete, something was amiss with the event, especially if the event sells out rather quickly. The organizers may have made the event welcoming and inclusive, but isn't it possible that wasn't the experience the riders were looking for? Was the event advertised as such? The point is, if the organizers aren't seeing who you want to see at an event, they have to look at their own efforts for a solution. I don't think it's fair to put the blame on the community that the event wasn't supported or represented well enough.
I've never been to a Sturdy Dirty, but there are definitely some clues not very far away for how to get women to show up for something. I think the secret has to do with community, acceptance, camaraderie, laughter and good times. I think this event has all that, what it's missing is a lot of other women being there - especially amateurs. So yeah, it's a bit of chicken v. egg thing to boost involvement.
It may be semantics, but Pinkbike is not social media. It has a comment section under articles. It has a forum. However the majority of the content on Pinkbike is created by Pinkbike itself, therefore making it not a social media site.