Guest Author: Dee Raffo
The rock face dipped away in front of my bike tire. I was braking too hard and the metal frame began to wobble below me. I had a decision to make. I could either release my claw-like grip on the levers or fall to the side hoping not to slide down the unforgiving granite on my face. Adrenaline pumped, I was breathing too fast, and sweat dripped down my back. I had to let go of the brake…
The Trek Dirt Series is a traveling mountain bike camp designed primarily for women. Originating in Whistler, the camp has expanded across BC to Alberta and onto Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, and Colorado. In the past fifteen years, they’ve put over 12,000 riders through their paces in both downhill and cross-country biking.
Left: Cornering on wood work made to look easy Right: On top of the world with the girls on Whistler Mountain PHOTOS JUSTA JESKOVA
What made me sign up last year was one part ego, one part survival. I was fed up of being at the back of the pack, but I also really enjoy having a full set of teeth – I needed to ride smarter, not harder. The camp website talked about “supportive coaches”, “increase your confidence” and “simply enjoy the sport” – I was sold.
Day One – Skills and Trails
On day one, it was with a mix of excitement and trepidation that I wheeled my own cross-country bike out for the first part of the program – skills training. On the lush grass of Rebagliati Park we split into groups of eight and spent the morning rolling over boxes, balancing on teeter-totters and skinny bridges, and developing our braking strategies. We had several coaches throughout the day, who all thankfully had the patience of saints. They encouraged, corralled, demonstrated and at times gave us a literal push or shove to save a tumble. The participants ranged from complete beginners all the way up to advanced riders – I was somewhere in the middle. There’s definitely a place for everyone, but it’s worth taking time over the pre-camp questionnaires, which cover your experience and what you want to achieve.
Right: Getting tips from camp founder Candace Shandley PHOTO JUSTA JESKOVA Left: Encouragement was needed on some rock rolls
In the afternoon it was time to put our new found skills to the test. Our group headed out to Cut Yer Bars, an intermediate cross-country trail that’s a favourite with local riders. We navigated roots and rocks on the uphill, stopping to “session” areas that were more technically challenging. As we looked out over a steep rock roll I had to focus on what I wanted to get from the camp as that all too familiar “What am I doing here?” panic crept into my mind. I wanted to advance my technical ability and push a few boundaries but could I keep my fear in check?
Our afternoon coach, Karen Mann, who holds a degree in Psychology, summed it up perfectly, “You have to think about your goal, and if achieving it outweighs the possible risks. One day out of five you feel amazing; you will push yourself and everything seems to click, three of those days aren’t going to be that memorable, fun, but nothing special, and one of those days will be a struggle. Know how you feel and make your decision based on that. Are you in the right mood and is it worth it?” As I stared down the steep slope I decided to leave this one alone – there’s always tomorrow, especially on a two-day camp.
That evening we reconvened at the Garbanzo Bike and Bean for pizza, beer, and advice on maintaining our bikes. Within a group of inquisitive and supportive women we were able to ask all those questions that started, “This might be stupid but…” That night I couldn’t keep my eyes open past 9 PM, the sign of a day well spent.
Day 2 – Whistler Bike Park
On the morning of day two, the sun was out in as much force as the ladies. I had decided to head into the bike park and got kitted out with a full-face helmet, elbow, and kneepads, as well as a mean looking dual suspension bike. As I wheeled my bike over to the chair lift, I may have looked the part, but I wasn’t feeling it.
Mann’s words echoed inside my head from the day before as we approached a steep rock roll with a sharp right turn at the bottom. Was this worth the potential risk? I thought back to the skills I’d developed. I had the braking, I had the balance; I just needed the confidence. With one coach at the apex of the rock, and another at the bottom I was well covered. However, it was another participant’s words that made me turn those pedals. “You can do this. I’ve seen what you’ve achieved so far and you’ve got this.” How could I let her down?
As the bike wobbled beneath me I slowly released the brakes. I pushed my front wheel forward over the rock, extending my arms until I felt the ground come up to meet me, my body coming forward to absorb the contact. I shifted my eye contact to look around the next bend – I’d made it.
The Trek Dirt Series was an emotional roller coaster for most of the women I talked to. At times they felt completely out of their comfort zones, struggling to keep control and at others they were on top of the world, elated at having mastered a new skill or conquered an old demon. We all shared the ups and downs, pushing each other through patches of doubt and celebrating the results. This is a bike camp that taps into the female psyche – a more gentle approach to a sport that can be a little rough around the bike handles.
Hitting the trails on Whistler Mountain PHOTO JUSTA JESKOVA
More For The Ladies
If you are looking for more bike clinics check out Whistler Blackcomb’s Women’s Nights. Every Monday or Thursday night you can join a women’s group at your ability level and head up into the bike park. I’ve done this a few times on my own – trust me, you make friends fast when you’ve got a shared objective. Similar to the camps, the focus is on a pressure-free, supportive environment and there’s a beer at the end. The scariest part is getting your bike on the chairlift (only joking, that’s part of the first lesson). Depending on your set up you can choose instruction only or add all the gear and lift tickets as a package – all you have to do is bring your sense of adventure.
You can keep up with Dee Raffo’s Whistler adventures on her website or on Twitter. The Whistler Bike Park is open, the trails are calling for another fantastic summer of mountain biking in Whistler. Check out Whistler.com for events, tickets, rental bikes and bike friendly accommodation.