One afternoon at DuPont State Recreational Area, Shanna Powell was on a ride with some other women—when a group of guys from Florida showed up, ready to descend the same trail.
“Any of you ladies like to go fast?” one guy asked with a laugh before heading down the trail.
“Yeah, I like to go fast,” Powell said, and quickly dropped in front of him. He didn’t like that and began to chase, only to wreck hard behind her.
“There is always that guy at the top of the mountain who assumes they are faster,” says Powell. “I will ride his ass all the way down the mountain until he lets me pass.”
Powell, a local biking legend who owns Endless Bike Company, teaches mountain bike skills to classes of men, doesn’t let a concussion stop her from hitting big jump lines, and
encourages women to go big when their boyfriends aren’t looking. And she will correct you if you use the term “pussy” in a derogatory way.
“I never understood why people refer to balls as tough or strong,” adds Allison Hardy, a renowned long distance runner and enduro rider. “I mean, they are fragile. They hide when things get cold and scary.”
Becky Bashton, another badass biker, says it’s not so much about getting good at one thing as it is just creating a lifestyle of fun and creating a culture. Bikes just happen to be at the center of hers. Bashton rode just about every kind of bike and became a nationally renowned biker, but then she suffered a serious shoulder injury involving a collar bone sticking through her trapezius.
During her painful months of recovery, her husband Si Ezolt helped her with physical therapy, showering, and even combed and braided her hair for work.
Once she was riding again, Bashton and her husband celebrated her 40th birthday by shredding a downhill race and a 26-mile cross-country race in California. After the cross country race, she rode another six miles back to the festival, her bikini and flip flops in her Camelbak, and eyeballed the crooked ramp and pile of BMX bikes for the next competition. She couldn’t resist entering. Her husband was worried, especially since the last time she hurt herself was because she was tired and wanted to do “just one more line.”
“There were two entries left and they were all kids and young guys,” Bashton recalls. “There was no practice. They just told me to hold on with all my f**king might”.
Among all of the guys doing spins, she hit a backflip into the lake. The crowd went wild. It was the best trick of the day, and onlookers were high-fiving each other. But then the announcer made a menopause joke. Why?
Fortunately, most men in Asheville aren’t like the announcer. Not only is there an amazing tribe of badass women in Asheville, but there is also a large group of men who treat women as equals on the trail. They are not surprised when a woman outrides them. They are just as likely to call one of their women riding buddies as they are their dudes.
If you’re a male who rides, and you wish your girlfriend was a rider, then you’re going to have to create a safe space for her to succeed. Taking her into the woods so that you can drop her on a big climb or fast descent is not going to impress her, and it’s not going to make her stoked about the next time. Another common mistake is to take a beginner on a really technical trail and then act nonchalant about it.
“That’s why she’ll never ride bikes again,” explains Powell.
Despite growing up in an environment that stereotyped women as the weaker sex, Clint Spiegel, owner of Industry Nine, says he learned women were stronger at his first adventure race with Erinna Hegarty Wever. “We raced for 30 hours straight, and not only was she faster on every climb and faster on every descent, but what really struck me was her positive attitude. She never stopped smiling. Men on other teams—you could see the cracking in their eyes. Their panic. Their disbelief. I started believing that women were a little tougher.”
Spiegel, who regularly shreds downhill gnar with a “party atmosphere climb” in a group of close friends, says that the quality of women in Asheville dispels stereotypes into a better culture because the women raise each other to higher heights as they watch each other succeed. His wife, Michelle Rogers Spiegel, had lived in Alaska and was very comfortable in the outdoors world. She had a lot to teach him and he was a willing learner. As a result, they are able to grow together in their adventuresome lifestyle, teaching each other.
“If people are more capable than me, I’m going to follow their lead,” Spiegel says. “There’s no reason to have a bias.”
For that reason, Spiegel laughs at the thought of saying things like, “You’re fast FOR A GIRL!”
Spiegel’s theory on why the women of Asheville are such warriors is that they are leading that path for other women. “Just think how many women have the natural born talent to be great business leaders, but their culture encouraged them to do something else instead,” he says. “I think that is happening in our outdoor community. I wouldn’t be surprised to see way more women kicking male ass each year as we move forward.”