All images courtesy of Girlz Gone Riding. Used with permission.
A Word about Boys and Girls
For 41 years I’ve belonged to a club called Boys. Like many of its members, I am both deeply flawed and so very special – my wife affirms this in me. I love her for it. God affirms both as well. He dealt with that tension and dichotomy in a very special way. That’s a story for another time. . .
My club currently is around 3 billion strong and has had some problems for a long time; millennia in fact. Recently, a spotlight has shown bright on its failures interacting with another flawed and so very special club called Girls. Their membership is deep; a few more than Boys. The Boys club can be a bit competitive, always competitive actually, and sadly, presumptuous and arrogant regarding its importance to the Girls. It’s misused passions to coerce and trick. In doing so, great confidence and tremendous power has been taken from the Girls. Now, I like my club and believe there should be events and activities exclusively for it. The same is true for Girls. Sometimes the clubs do things together, though many from the Girls feel both spoken and unspoken pressure to perform, and to just, well, be. Sad. Shared events are the times when the best of each should be on colorful display.
In response to the tension and with absolute provocation the Girls club has formed within it a smaller club called Girlz Gone Riding. It’s recaptured the pride it is to be Girl and given the not nice finger, you know, the one in the middle that stands real tall, to all that the diseased Girls Gone Wild denotes and connotes. For those now awake from a 20 year slumber and reading at this moment, Girls Gone Wild was born from some in the Boys club who preyed upon, took advantage of, and disregarded the weaknesses within both. Girlz Gone Riding reminds each that Girls are powerful, capable, and valuable without need for approval and validation from some, from many, of the Boys. It seeks to undo the damage Girls Gone Wild and other subsets within the Boys club like it have done for years; thousands of them. Enter Wendy Engelberg and Kamala Slight; two from the Girls club empowering their members through the trail and the mountain bike. Awesome.
The GGR Way
My job has prevented a meeting between us, but reputation for professionalism and passion throughout San Diego and a ton of messages sent between the three of us, have provided enough to say their reputation is accurate and well deserved. Wendy is the vocal, enthusiastic voice behind and Executive Director of GGR’s seven chapters which span from Kernville, northeast of Bakersfield, to San Diego. Kamala is the San Diego chapter’s Director and learned some time ago that managing a group involved with female empowerment is a natural extension of her professional background in customer relations. Quick pause here. . .it’s enough that such a group exists to empower women. That it does so through the medium of a mountain bike adds special nuance and cool to the effort. Theirs are not paid positions; they are volunteers. In fact, GGR is 70 strong and is 100% volunteer based. This of course makes GGR’s mission that much more compelling and believable.
Curious about what the differences are between all-girl vs. co-ed rides and why the need for exclusivity, I learn that GGR hosts co-ed rides throughout the year but that the dynamics of an all-female ride are just different. Women have completely different relationships with other women vs. men, especially when it comes to athletics. Fair. The execution of this reality means that all GGR rides are guided, no drop, and social. Wendy goes further:
By the looks of the pics above, job accomplished.
More on GGR volunteers
Training is not an afterthought. Each is trained in a custom GGR workshop for a variety of scenarios that do or may play out on the trail. The workshop includes:
- How to assess a situation when a rider is down
- The first 15 – a gap that sometimes forms just minutes into a ride
- Floating, leading, and sweeping
- Meet and greets at the trail head
This is no ragtag, unorganized effort. Again, it is intentional. It is effective. A lot goes into planning rides and ensuring they are the right experience for skill levels across the board. Rides are facilitated by chapter Directors (all-women) and their leadership teams. They are structured and planned down to the last detail including the post ride social.
For the ladies who want to push their skill to the next level, I learn that group rides are not a place to practice skill sets, but rather, enjoy each others company in a social setting. That doesn’t mean rides are without challenge, but turning them into skills sessions completely changes the dynamics of the experience’s intent. Rides are designed to push participants outside of their comfort zones with respect, compassion, and no pressure. For those interested in something more challenging, sessioning and skills development are highly encouraged with certified skills coaches. GGR mostly endorses women coaches keeping in line with the heart of the organization. These aren’t some local hacks with no credibility. Ladies reading this, if you don’t know the names of the following endorsed coaches allow me to be absolutely stoked for you! Leigh Donovan, Amy Rambacher, and Jeana Miller. Learn about them if you don’t know. Become a better rider. Alternatively, and not club sponsored, GGR members can post pick-up rides at any time that may be less social and more competitive, though not necessarily.
Any time spent mountain biking and one quickly learns of the inherent dangers and risks for new and seasoned riders alike. Digging a bit further into ride selection and coordination for a broad range of skill, the challenge to coordinate is not lost. Kamala stresses that knowledge and experience help select rides for everyone’s enjoyment and safety. GGR is mostly effective in that effort and participants assume responsibility for the risks involved.
I was a certified Wilderness First Responder during time spent as a mountain bike tour guide in Moab, UT years ago. On my first ever solo tour of three participants, training was put to use on a 7th grader who endoed and broke his collar bone and an adult who dislocated his shoulder. Having the know how to handle trail side emergencies is a huge asset. While not true for all chapter Directors and ride leaders, Kamala completed the 2-day NOLS First Aid Certification and is CPR certified. This is a big deal. Lucky San Diego Chapter.
Women empowering women through mountain biking. Awesome. There are a host of mediums by which to achieve what GGR aims to; and good for them. Being a mountain biker myself, I appreciate GGRs role in the cycling community. While mountain biking is a playful, challenging, and athletic pursuit, those alone being reasons enough to pursue it, there is a much deeper purpose Girlz Gone Riding serves.
The message sent by the Boys club too often has been, and sadly, still is, “You can’t. . . You aren’t. . . You don’t. . .” I have three young ones in the Girls club. That message isn’t going to work for me. I refuse to let them buy into that falsehood so as to shrink under the weight of its nastiness. I refuse to let them believe they are incapable and weak; and they aren’t.
Mountain biking is an excellent way to reinforce how special and unique those in the Girls club are. Drops, jumps, spills, and singletrack, combine to empower the previously powerless. To bring to health that which was previously unhealthy. To bring smiles back to the sullen. As is the cure for many things, ladies, go ride your mountain bike. You’re strong.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated Kamala was trained as a NOLS certified Wilderness First Responder.