Happy New Year: A Woman’s Place is Outside

“Men still run the world; I’m not sure it’s going so well.” – Sheryl Sandberg

Three days before Christmas I was driving Flagstaff’s party bike – the Alpine Pedlar – with a fake smile plastered on my face as the passengers sang and danced to Christmas music. Under layers of long underwear, fleece pants, and a giant Carhart jacket I shivered violently and did my best to hide my inner Grinch. Artec and I had been fighting all day about what we both refer to as my lack of attention to detail (or, in other words, my failure to live up to the feminine qualities of organization and cleanliness, especially when stressed about work or training). But, worse than the fight, the packrafting expedition I’d been planning for Christmas with my adventuring bestie was about to fall through. It marked my third trip in four months to shit the bed at the last minute, and as I wished the passengers on the Pedlar “Merry Christmas” at the end of the tour, the impending cancelation of the trip – due to a nasty cold caught by my adventuring partner – was the real reason I blinked back tears.

I know. I know! What a yuppie, weekend warrior, entitled-millennial thing to be upset about, right? But here’s my argument: my identity, happiness, and mental health hinge on opportunities to feel lost in wild places with good friends. The details of that need, at least for now, I’ll keep between me and the “find a therapist” note I’ve written on the bottom of almost every to-do list for the past five years. 

Anyway. After my fingers finally thawed out from the Pedlar shift, I texted all the women in Arizona I knew who might be available for an adventure. One of them bit.

Kaitlyn Boyle: sweet! Let’s meet tom[orrow] and ride all day in Sedona, then do the verde loop (camp at childs hot spgs!) i can take care of a track for the bpking, u envision a long sedona ride?? And car camp tom[orrow] night?

Me: Luv it!!!

Kait and I met in Sedona on the morning of Christams Eve for a warm-up mountain bike epic before heading out on our bikepacking adventure. One of my lady friends from Flagstaff started the ride with us, and as the three of us bombed down Western Civilization, she stuffed her front tire on a ledge and flew over the handlebars. We rode out to Hwy 89 where she headed straight to Urgent Care for stitches on her knee. While Kait and I were saying goodbye to her, one of the Little Erins rode past and decided to join us. It was the introverted Erin, and no more than three minutes after leaving the highway we’d lost her. But in her usual fashion, she reappeared a few minutes later and acted as if she’d been there the whole time.

The Little Erin and her missing fingernail

We pedaled over to Pyramid and lined up in what I thought was the ideal configuration for breaking PRs and setting QOMs: Kait, Little Erin, me. After the first drop, I watched Little Erin lay her bike down into the corner. She rode it out like a champ, and as I rolled up to the two of them parked on a sandstone ledge I was about to call Erin a show-off when I heard her mumble something about her finger. She was giggling, and I couldn’t understand her, so Kait translated for me, “she ripped her fingernail off!” Little Erin continued to giggle as she tore off the rest of her bloody nail, slapped some tape on it, and assured us she was okay to keep riding. She rode with us back up to the parking lot where she’d left her car and then decided, with a forlorn giggle, it was probably a good idea to go home and clean her finger.

Kait and I rode for another 20 miles and then headed over to the Crack Trailhead on Wet Beaver to camp and organize gear for our bikepacking Christmas adventure. We left Christmas morning and covered 145 miles and over 14,000 feet of climbing in two days.

“Women often focus more on staying friends, which is as important as climbing the mountain.” – Arlene Blum, author of Annapurna: A Woman’s Place

Christmas Day Bikepacking
I woke up Christmas morning to a text from my Aunt Carol of a cartoon image of her lying on her side under a Christmas tree. Before rolling out from the trailhead, I decided to create my version of the cartoon by lying on the hood of the Guinness van.
sunset, bikepacking, pivot, mountainbiking
The Verde Hot Springs and our intended camp were still 9 miles and 3,000 feet below us when the sunset. We were in for a little a surprise: the final descent was a steep, rubbly, fishtailing, whiplashing endeavor made more exciting by the dark.
bikepacking, camp, verde hot springs
We made camp against the remains of the Verde Hot Springs Resort, celebrated Christmas with hot whiskey gingers, and dreamed about 1920s flapper culture. The resort had boomed in the 1920s and burnt down in 1962.
hot springs, bikepacking, camping, Verde Hot Springs, mountain biking
Kait drinking coffee in the Verde Hot Springs. We knew we had 85 miles and 7,500 feet of climbing ahead of us, but how could we not pass this up?
bikepacking, river crossing, Verde River, bike touring
The Verde River was cold, but at least we had a 4,000-foot climb up to the Mogollon Rim waiting for us on the other side.


Clint's Well, bikepacking, refueling, bike touring
We reached Clint’s Well just after sunset and refueled on some deliciously cheap hot chocolate and instant coffee before hammering out Lake Mary Road, over to Stoneman Lake, and then down to Wet Beaver Creek and our cars.

The morning after our trip, Kait and I drank coffee at the trailhead and made to-do lists for the rest of the week. My list included things like unpacking, doing laundry, and cleaning the house. Both our lists included teacher-related activities like grading (Kait) and course prep (me), as well as one totally random item that made it onto both of our lists: purchasing renter’s insurance. Finding a therapist did not make it onto my to-do list, but it is – once again – on my list of New Year’s Resolutions.

As 2017 draws to a close, I am bursting with gratitude for all of the strong, independent women in my life. This three-day Christmas extravaganza involved riding mountain bikes with only women, and that’s simply a cool thing in a sport that’s dominated by men. I wish I could say our interactions with the few men we saw while riding our bikes were pleasant, but I can’t.

We probably spent 15 minutes outside the gas station in Clint’s Well drinking hot chocolate, putting on warm layers, and organizing our light systems. As per the norm in rural Arizona, there were a lot of men in trucks hanging around. One of them pulled up next to us and said, “You’re probably going to take this the wrong way, but you’re tighter than teenagers.” Unwelcomed. Insulting. Unfair. To all those people commenting on social media about how women ask to be catcalled based on their attire, here’s what Kait and I were wearing: loose-fitting pants layered with loose-fitting shorts and topped off with puffy jackets. But I shouldn’t be expected to describe our clothes. In fact, the only situation in which I should be expected to describe what we were wearing would be if Search and Rescue was involved with saving us from hypothermia. Then, yes, the SAR team would deserve to know what kinds of layers we were bumbling around in at seven thousand feet on Christmas Day.

In 2018, I hope more women find the confidence to speak out against sexual harassment, and I hope their accusations are taken seriously and men are forced to deal with the repercussions of their actions.

I also hope to go on a lot more adventures with my bad ass lady friends! And, of course, with boys like Artec and Bender who understand concepts like feminism, inclusion, equality and being a good a human (or dog).

“You never conquer a mountain. A you stand on top a few minutes. Then the wind blows your footsteps away.” – Arlene Blum




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