Mountain Mama – The Power of Female Friendships

When my friend, Thalia, asked me to register for The Collier Lilly Ride to raise Money for the Outward Bound School, I had my doubts. Her long blond ponytail bobbed behind her as she encouraged me. “C’mon, it’ll be fun.”

I’d spent more hours behind my computer than on my saddle. Getting behind my desk to jump on my bike for twenty miles was one thing, but an additional thirty seemed daunting.

A week later I clipped into my pedals, silently cursing the stubborn roll of belly fat that hung over my spandex biking shorts. My lungs felt the miles first, then my calves.

Thalia introduced me to some of her other friends she’d also managed to convince that riding fifty miles on a Saturday morning was a better alternative to sleeping in. We bonded over sore body parts and reminding each other to drink water.

At the halfway point, we heard the encouraging chants of half a dozen girls who offered us Gatorade and snacks. They told us how they had attended an Outward Bound course and thanked us for riding. Although tempted by the box of glazed donuts, I thought better of it and ate half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead.

We climbed mountain roads that curved, revealing new peaks and the smell of fresh blooms. The rain held off, the clouds lending protection from the late morning sun.

The last fifteen miles the road flattened and stretched straight into the wind. By then my legs felt leaden. Thalia pulled over and offered us some gummies. “Oh ladies, I’m struggling. This is what we’re going to do. We’re going to have a pace line, take turns pulling each other.”

She coached us on how to do it. We’d ride in a straight line, drafting off of one another. One woman would push through the wind for a minute before pulling over to give the next woman a turn, focusing on pulling through at a constant speed. She told us to stay close to the rider in front, leaving a four to twelve-inch gap between your front wheel and their back wheel. The biggest risk was applying the brakes.

A silence descended over us as we practiced riding in line, the miles passing with ease as we shared the work. The words of Abby Wambach cycled through my head, how women are raised to believe we need to compete with other women for few opportunities to reach the top. She urged women to champion one another. “Claim the success of one woman as the collective success of all women.”

Thalia’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “If you’re tired, skip a few rotations at the front. Sit back and let us pull you to the finish.”

I’d wasted too many years believing in scarcity – that another woman’s successes diminished my own, that for me to win necessitated someone else to lose. The way Thalia supported us that day, the way she showed up, that it was more important that we all finish than she individually completed the ride at a faster time, showed me another way.

We shared fifty miles of road, stories about our past and dreams, and saw in each other the ability to finish something difficult. We took turns carrying one another and letting others carry us all the way to the finish line.

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