Mountain Mama: Back on the Bike

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Riding my bike felt revolutionary after a winter hunched over my laptop.

I’d spent the past few months reminding myself of one thing – finish writing the darn book already. Digging in to finish the book I’d been writing for the past five years required letting something go. Of course I still had to care for my five-year-old son and earn money to support us, so I let fitness and pretty much every social opportunity slide.

Then comes along a seventy degree day in February, the kind of bright blue sunshine day that takes most of us zero encouragement to enjoy. Still I needed a nudge. By that point I’d existed more as a cerebral being than a physical one for months on end – my neck and upper back perpetually tight, my abs had disappeared under a protective layer of cookie dough and red wine.

When the Facebook notification about the local women’s ride in Dupont State Forest popped up, my hand hovered over the “going” button. I’d been living halfway up a mountain cultivating a rich inner life, my bike a painful reminder of  my neglected outdoor pursuits.

Through a small series of miracles involving working ahead of deadlines and lining up a babysitter, I showed up at the Fawn Lake parking as a group of fourteen women circled up for introductions, decidedly female in pink, aqua and teal cycling gear.

I waved to acquaintances and smiled at the women I’d never met before. Their smiles were contagious and we rode up the mountainside happily chatting.

As I pedaled, I began to sweat. My skin tingled with the raw release, even my pores felt alive. I existed at the edges of my body. Everything I saw struck me with amazement – the way the roots held the trees, that my bike could go up and over the terrain, how a trail was chiseled into the side of a mountain like a ribbon of dirt. Mostly I was grateful that the woods and the lake continued to exist the whole winter even as I was holed up inside.

On the ride back I had a chance to catch up with Charisma Herndon Arbogast, the fearless leader of the women’s rides in Brevard, NC. I’m sharing our conversation here, for those who may need a little nudge to reacquaint yourself with your outdoor passions.

How did you start leading women rides?

Four or five years ago I took over the organization for the rides. I started riding with the group six years ago and one by one the leaders moved out of town. I had to buy a map because I could only piece together three or four loops. I knew the ladies would get bored of riding the same trails so I figured out new routes.

How long have you been riding?

Fifteen years ago my husband told me he was going to start riding again and he said I could start riding with him or spend more time alone. My whole life I’d been an athletic induced asthmatic and hadn’t considered myself an athlete. I started on road biking on a tandem. I’ve gotten a little better each year and gain more skills. Something I struggled with becomes a little easier. Cycling is a constant work in progress for me.

I sign up for races to stay motivated and consider racing a competition with myself. I get to ride something I haven’t ridden before. I reach the goals I’ve set for myself. When I go out there, it’s not about competing with other people. We are all winning when we show up and give it our best.

It’s really easy to give up and really hard to finish.

Have you ever struggled to fit riding in with your teaching career and raising two boys?

From 2005- 2009 I only rode a handful of times. My boys were little and it took so much work to get childcare and arrange all of my biking stuff, and then I was in such terrible shape that it wasn’t even fun.

That all changed when I started coming to ladies rides. My friends kept asking me to come out.

‘But I’m in horrible shape,’ I’d say.

‘It’s ladies ride, c’mon.’

So I did and little by little I started to get back in shape.

Why do you think having a specified ladies ride is important?

When I first started riding, there wasn’t Dupont and there wasn’t a ladies ride. I learned to ride in Pisgah and I was always getting dropped. It’s the worst feeling in the world to get to an intersection and nobody is there waiting for you.

Ladies ride is meant to be a social, fun ride. Nobody gets left behind.

I love seeing all the women riding in the woods. I have a blast with whoever shows up, sometimes it’s four women and sometimes it’s twenty-five. It brings me so much gratification to see the progress of other riders.

What advice do you have for women who want to try mountain biking but are nervous?

Give it a try! You don’t have to be fabulous to have fun with it. It’s so much fun to ride bikes with your friends in the forest and nobody cares what you can or can’t ride.


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