WTF Bikexplorers Ride Series: Movement to Grow a Community
Last month, 100 cyclists from all over the country identifying as women, transgender, femme, and non-binary gathered in Whitefish, MT, for the first WTF Bikexplorers Summit. Leading up to it, they also organized the WTF Ride Series, and we’re happy to share this excellent summary of those rides, featuring photos and route maps. Plus, an introduction to the WTF Bikexplorers Grassroots Ride Program…
In August, 100 from all over the country identifying as women, transgender, femme, and non-binary gathered in Whitefish, Montana, for the first ever WTF Bikexplorers Summit. The Summit was organized to support, celebrate, and connect the community of W/T/F/N-B who use their bicycles to explore, and as a collective effort for a movement away from patriarchy and toward a liberatory cycling culture.
From the early planning stages of the WTF Bikexplorers Summit, we knew we couldn’t just put on kick-ass summer camp of educational sessions and discussion panels in the woods. We know from our own experience that one of the best ways to learn from one another and grow our community is through riding bicycles and sharing a campfire. After all, it was in that adventurous environment where the fire was lit and the inspiration to create this summit first occurred.
To complete this mission, we organized five multi-day rides along challenging routes in Arizona, California, Oregon, Vermont, and Montana. These rides were designed to get the conversation started for the summit, to learn from each other, to support one another, and to connect folks who otherwise would never meet. An amazing thing happened when we did this. An environment was created that facilitated growth, inspiration, support, joy, sustainability, empowerment, and plain old fun. This space – with shared values and frustrations – revealed what I had been missing from bike adventuring, and damn, did it feel good.
Each ride in the series was organized and led by the founders of the WTF Bikexplorers Summit and was made possible by Specialized Bicycles. In the words below, we share our individual experiences, the impact of these rides, and our plans for future rides.
* You will notice that we mention the indigenous lands and land cessions the routes of the ride series traveled through. Territory acknowledgment was an integral topic at the WTF Bikexplorers Summit. In order to raise awareness of indigenous lands, we must acknowledge the colonization of the lands we now call public in our everyday lives whileof trip planning and bikexploring. To learn what indigenous land you are in visit, https://native-land.ca/.
Route Overview: The first ride in the WTF Bikexplorers Ride Series took place in April in the Sky Islands Region of Southern Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. In your mind’s eye, you may imagine a dry, dead, desolate landscape, but the Sky Islands emerge independently within. This ecoregion receives its majestic name for the pine-oak woodland covered mountains encompassed within and isolated by desert and grassland lowlands, creating diverse habitat “islands” within a short distance and change in elevation. This region hosts some of the highest levels of biodiversity in plants and animals in the world. It is rugged, remote, and dry, with drastic changes in temperatures and very little groundwater, all of which must be taken into careful consideration to properly prepare for four days of riding and three nights of camping in this environment.
Eight W/T/F/N-B Bikexplorers traveled from California, Colorado, Oregon, New Mexico, Maryland, and Arizona specifically to share a ride with like-minded people. We are artists, doctors, entrepreneurs, electricians, mechanics, and librarians. Our bikexploring experience ranged from seasoned adventurers to complete beginners.
This was by no means an easy four-day ride. We combated extreme temperature swings from the low 30s to the mid 90s and ferocious headwinds in a very exposed landscape. None of these elements seemed to faze our group who pedaled, laughed, and supported one another throughout the ride with comfort and ease.
The snack breaks were a highlight as everyone had a creative snack they brought to the share with the group. It was also a good time to reflect on the last few miles and touch base on the trek forward. An epic game of Egyptian Ratscrew, a close-knit hacky-sack circle, and numerous desert flower and wildlife sightings were shared experiences that bonded us as an eclectic troupe capable of tackling any mountain in any wind.
Throughout the journey, we kept a community notepad to keep track of all the shared recipes, snacks, songs, movies, and ideas. We created a safe environment for riding bikes and to become friends in a beautiful region, rich with history. Stepping back into reality from traversing into the desert was the biggest challenge of all.
Route Overview: This three-day ramble through California’s coastal redwood forests connected some of the Bay Area’s most iconic State Parks and recreation areas. The 75-mile loop began and ended in California’s oldest State Park, Big Basin Redwoods. The establishment of Big Basin in 1927 marked the beginning of the preservation and conservation movement in California.
From there we climbed Gazos Creek Trail northwest through dense redwood forests toward Butano, where we took a lap through the State Park on gravel fire roads and experienced the scenic views of Monterey Bay from atop the coastal mountains. We continued along scenic byways and rail trails to Portola State Park and began the climb up to Russian Ridge and pedaled along the spine of the skyline to Saratoga Gap before descending back down to Big Basin.
This deep forest ramble traversed a variety of surfaces and included roughly 9,000 ft of elevation gain. This was due in part to the relentlessly steep mountains of California’s coastal range, and part to lack of publicly accessible dirt roads connecting these sections. There are a lot of gorgeous dirt roads to explore in this area, but they can be hard to come by (legally).
While we kept the daily mileage low, the climbing was not for the faint of heart. From the false summits of “Kitty Litter Mountain” to the slow grind up to skyline, I was humbled and inspired by everyone in our group. From experienced bikepackers to first timers, each one of our fourteen riders made it through with humor, strength, and grace (despite all the mosquitoes).
The bikes and riding styles were as varied as the people who rode them. We shared tips, packing tricks, recipes, and countless stories. For some of us this was the first time riding with such a large group and it was heartening to find so many kindred folx. As bikepackers we can be a strange lot. Riding bikes is something we can do alone, together. Except this time we were not alone. Everyone moved at a paced the best fit their needs and we all met up at the end of the day to share a meal and recount our experience of that day’s ride.
I moved to Santa Cruz in September 2017 and the California Ride Series gave me a great opportunity to not only explore new trails, but make new friends. Nearly half of our cohort was from the West Coast, with a heavy contingent of Bay Area folx, and I can’t wait to ride with them again. We left the ride all smiles, scheming our next adventures.
Route Overview: The High Desert Oregon ride was a 60-mile out and back overnighter on a stunning route that offered sweeping views of High Cascade volcanoes, National Grasslands, and a National Wild and Scenic River. We started our ride in Sisters, Oregon, a charming Old West town at the feet of its namesake mountains. From town, we climbed north through the Deschutes National Forest and out onto rocky, sandy roads cutting across the scrubby desert landscape. Mt. Washington slowly came into view as we rode past the scenic Crooked River National Grassland.
A rolling descent led us down through lands scarred by 2003 B&B Complex Fires. Small plants are making their comeback, but there were few trees to block the view of Mt. Jefferson rising in the distance. As we continued down into the canyon of Lake Billy Chinook, we rode past the Oregon Hoodoos. Also known as the Metolius Balancing Rocks, the Hoodoos are are hardened capstones of an ancient lava flow. Some pillars are over 25 feet tall! Lake Billy Chinook is the confluence of three major Oregon rivers: the Crooked, Deschutes, and Metolius. We camped at the far west side of the lake, where the beautiful Metolius River flows into the green waters of Billy Chinook.
We had a relaxing morning on day two before heading back from where we came, everyone finding their own comfortable pace for the climb out of the canyon and over the desert landscape.
The original route I planned was a loop that included nearly 20 miles of pedaling alongside the dreamy Metolius River. A few weeks before the organized ride, I went out for a solo scout, and it’s a darn good thing I did – a couple of miles of road alongside the river had washed away, necessitating a long, hard hike-a-bike over downed trees and unstable ground. Wanting this ride to be equal parts approachable, challenging, and fun to a wide range of folks, I took what I had learned of the area and landed on the out and back as a perfect plan B. I think out and back routes are often discounted due to a drive to always move “forward,.” but for this experience it was an ideal route. In simplifying the navigation aspect of the ride, we allowed space for other challenges to test us, to build our confidence.
I was excited to see only one familiar name in the list of registered riders – bikepacking is a my favorite way to turn strangers into friends. Our group represented a wide range of off-road riding experience, from seasoned, cross country vets to first timers. We mixed together immediately, chatting, sharing snacks, snapping photos, and cheering each other on as we bounced over baby head rocks.
The biggest challenge of the ride came on the second day after the 20-mile climb out of the canyon. The group spread out enough to allow for a misunderstanding of who was out ahead and who might still be riding up. We stayed calm and patient, and, luckily, one bar of cell service in the nick of time was able to ensure everyone was safe and accounted for. It was a good reminder of the benefit of the buddy system that we toasted to over margaritas once back in Sisters.
Words By Tenzin Namdol, photos by a collective pool of VT riders
Route Overview: Don’t be fooled by the name “Vermont’s Cutest Capital Cruise.” With 7,000+ feet of climbing in 81 miles, it’s no walk in the park. Also, don’t be fooled by the general stuffiness and prudish pedigree of New England. Vermont was the first state in the US to legalize civil unions for gay couples and the first to ban slavery a year after the Declaration of Independence was signed. And let’s not forget Senator Bernie Sanders represents this little State.
Our group met on the State Capitol lawn and easily rode out of Montpelier on a paved ascent with rewarding views of rolling green mountains. The route continues as a mixture of very nice bucolic gravel double track, wonderfully forested rail trail, and plenty of ponds along the way for cooling off. It meanders between the Putnam and Groton State Forests with a quick dive into Groton for a dip into Kettle Pond.
The 18 of us enjoyed delightfully accommodating campsites. The Onion River Campground, with access to the Winooski River, was hosting a Fiddle Festival at the time we were there. Most of us fell asleep to distant and calming sounds of fiddles playing into the night. We received herbal medicine education at the Woodbury Meadows campground, where most of us slept adjacent to a blooming garden. The 18 of us made campfires both nights and talked about hard issues between swigs of communal beers. We laughed heartily as if the strangers we met just hours/days before were old war buddies.
This loop around Montpelier has the potential to make the East Coast a bikepacking destination. Though we don’t have the acreage in wide open spaces, we do have endless unpaved backroads nestled around scattered State Forests. As a hard working but slow paced state, Vermont has more dirt roads than paved ones. This route was cobbled together by local cyclist and co-leader of this ride Chloe Wexler. And she assures me that this route is just a toe dip into more super excellent gravel riding throughout the state.
Charming wit and generations old farms add to the character and enjoyment of the place. Because this is Vermont, there are plenty of small co-ops on route for restocking food, water, CBD-infused maple syrup sticks, ice cream… you get it, the essentials. My favorite was the Adamant Village Cooperative. Sandwiched between Sodom and Adamant Pond, it also serves as the post office and general store for the tiny town. We learned that this co-op was one of the oldest in the country and it hosts a Blackfly Festival. “Why a Blackfly Festival? After a long, cold winter here in Adamant, we need something to celebrate, and God only knows we have plenty of blackflies,” read a flyer for the festival that just about charmed the socks offa me.
Visit Vermont, for crying out loud.
Route Overview: The last ride in the WTF Bikexplorers Ride Series took place the week of the WTF Bikexplorers Summit. This was a rough ’n’ tumble tour through the Northern Rockies of Montana. We explored remote gravel roads, swam in high alpine lakes, and treated ourselves to a huckleberry bear claw on three- or four-day loop through Glacier National Park and the Kootenai National Forest.
This route started in Depot Park in downtown Whitefish, where the Amtrak train conveniently transported most of our cohort from the PNW. The slow and punchy gravel climb up Red Meadow Pass was a challenge but offered picturesque views of cascading mountains and densely packed alpine trees. Atop the pass was dreamy Red Meadow Lake where we cooled off from the day’s challenging climb and set up camp for the first night. On the second day, the two groups followed the same route, however the four-day riders took a small detour to Bowman Lake in the afternoon. This first part of the route followed the
Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and offered a chance encounter to meet Cricket, the owner of the Whitefish Bike Retreat, who was headed southbound from Banff with a friend. Before the groups departed ways, we convened at the magical Polebridge Mercantile with coffee and sweet (or savory) treats. The four-day group headed to Bowman Lake, where another night of swimming awaited. On the third day, from Bowman Lake we rerouted to ride on North Fork Road. Due to bear activity the week prior, the vehicle-free Inner North Fork Road was closed. We rolled with it, blasted some tunes, and pedaled along Fish Creek toward Apgar Lake for the last night of camping. On the last day we cruised through Glacier and exited the park through the west entrance to trek back toward Whitefish. We followed along forest service roads past lakes, rivers, and streams before rolling back into town.
*Note this is a variation of BIKEPACKING.com’s Red Meadow Pass Loop with an option to camp at Bowman Lake and revised due to road closures from bear activity on Inner North Fork Road.
The Montana ride was the most epic ride of the series, with a total of 32 riders. The stoke was high to be a part of the last WTF ride of the year and the energy was infectious. Since the ride led right to the WTF Bikexplorers Summit, most of us ended up spending an entire week together. A week is a long time to be in the middle of the woods with a bunch of complete strangers (especially with no cell service). We were able to get to know one another in a way that is hard to compare to any other experience – although it is what I imagine summer camp would be for adults.
Each day we ended our ride with a beautiful lakeside view where we formed a circle with our drinks in tow and talked about whatever came to mind. Sometimes it was about bikes, and sometimes it wasn’t. Those were my favorite moments. We all came from different parts of the country with different jobs and lives that we put on hold to have moments like these – where sweeping views of hazy mountains in the distance were only backdrops to new friendships and connections formed. These happenstance moments are the reason why I love everything about bikepacking and why WTF Bikexplorers was created.
WTF Bikexplorers Grassroots Ride Program
Words by Sarah Swallow
Due to the popularity of the WTF Bikexplorers Ride Series and the feedback we received to have more rides in more communities, WTF Bikexplorers will be launching a Ride Ambassador program in 2019. The Ride Ambassador Program is an organized ride movement toward connecting the community women, transgender, femme, and non-binary folks who use their bicycles to explorer at a local level. We are seeking the help of motivated WTF bikexplorers, to become Ride Ambassadors by organizing a ride in their community and registering that ride with us so we can spread the word to the world.
To learn more about how to become an Ambassador, sign up for the WTF Bikexplorers Newsletter and stay tuned! Great things are coming for the WTF bikexploring community!
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