Rolling down to the registration HQ at Pedalabikeaway in the Forest of Dean, I was feeling a little nervous to say the least. Women had been unpacking bikes all over the car park – shiny full sus models, and all decked out with MTB baggies, elbow and kneepads, peaked helmets and proper raincoats. I just stood there in the damp December drizzle in my lycra tights, a softshell jacket and budget hardtail feeling rather out of place.
The ethos of the Hopetech Women’s rides are to get together ladies that MTB in trail centres up and down the country, from Gisburn Forest to the Surrey Hills, to connect with likeminded women; all too often hard to find. There certainly didn’t seem to be a shortage of us here in Gloucestershire – over 65 women had come from near and far to get muddy on a murky December morning.
We were greeted by a whole host of Hope ride leaders and a special appearance from World Cup Downhill Champ and 3x World Cup Enduro Champion Tracy Moseley and 4X World Champ Katy Curd. There were a few familiar faces as the crowds gathered, all with an eagerness to hit the trails and sparkly clean kit – not for long. Helen had come down all the way from Peterborough to join the ride, and there were others that had travelled from Surrey, or closer-by from Wales and Somerset. A quick word from Hope’s Brand Manager Rachael Walker and we were off.
The most experienced and ambitious riders headed off to do the red route, Freeminers, whilst others continued to follow the awesome blue Verderers. The experience of riding in a group was totally new to me – hot on the wheel in front with someone else right behind you as we headed up the climb. I felt twitchy and scared – The Fear had set in and seemed here to stay. I’m new to mountain biking, having picked up my Cube Attention hard tail second hand back in May but only ridden half a dozen times or so. Being a roadie at heart, hitting the trails seems completely out of my comfort zone.
With each little slip and slide on the wet rocks and roots The Fear tightened its grip.Women all around me were chatting away, not bothered at all by the trail’s lumps and bumps as we continued to climb up into the forest. A series of hairpin corners reminded me how different this discipline was – and anxious about getting round in one hit without stopping and annoying the hell out of the lady behind me meant that I messed up and ended up stopping, clumsily trying to remount and get round the corners that everyone else was taking like a piece of cake.
I couldn’t do this. I was scared, The Fear had overcome me completely even though we were only just getting started and hadn’t even come across any tricky features yet. Suddenly my mind was racing – I was contemplating making some sort of excuse and heading back to seek refuge in my car, giving up completely and selling my mountain bike, anything to avoid being this scared.
We paused for a regroup and I decided to confront my anxieties head on. Thinking that I was failing meant just that – it wasn’t going to get any better until I spoke to someone about it. Thankfully Julia Hobson, a professional mountain bike guide, was at hand. How do you get over The Fear? What should I be doing to get around those corners? What about the berms coming later? Julia offered the best piece of advice – simply looking up. This went on to make a huge difference as I went on to get round those tricky corners no problem at all.
It took at least twenty minutes or so to shake off The Fear. As soon as we spaced out more at the top of the climb and heading for some fun sections, my body seemed to relax into it, remembering from previous MTB escapades. Mentally I took the decision to start to tell myself that I could do this – and believe it too.
From this moment on, I went on to have the most awesome time. The other ladies and leaders were so supportive, and I was soon chatting to everyone, more relaxed in myself, including a few girls from Taunton where I’ll be moving soon – new riding buddies, tick.
Heading back down to the Pedalabikeaway HQ for tea and cake, we all had huge, muddy grins on our faces. For me it was all the more of an achievement having overcome my earlier wobble. Chatting over Red Velvet and Yorkshire’s finest, I caught up with friends old and new, exchanged telephone numbers and Facebook requests, thanking the leaders for their efforts and the chance to get to meet so many diverse women, all with a penchant for getting very muddy at high speeds.
Now that I’d got the hang of it, I couldn’t wait to take Helen round the blue trail again and soon found myself flying around with relative ease.
A huge thank you to Hopetech Women and all the leaders, and to Pedalabikeaway for hosting us. The best way to spend a rainy grey day and a few more girls to get in touch with for more MTB thrills in the future – I won’t be giving up just yet!
Check out your nearest Hopetech Women’s Ride here.