I just returned from attending the first ever Birkie Ladies Fat Bike Getaway. With so many women starting to fat-bike, I thought that I would attend and write about the experience. The weekend event took place up in the Hayward-Seeley-Cable area of northern Wisconsin. I have skied the Kortelopet once and felt kind of apprehensive about seeing the Birkie Trail again, but I’d have my trusty fat bike to ride this time instead of skis. I’ve been riding fat-bikes since 2013. I own three of them (at this point) but for this event, I rode my orange 9:ZERO:7. I haven’t been this stoked about biking since I was a little girl. My bike and I have been to a lot of cool places, but we’ve never gone to a program designed just for me and my little orange fatty. I felt about sixty-three percent sure that I was ready for the challenge.
The program began at the brand spanking new Samuel C. Johnson Family Outdoor Center at Trailhead 00 outside of Seeley, WI. It’s a thoughtful facility with a warming house, indoor restrooms, kitchen, and is a modern conference center too.
With approximately 45 women attending, we rode out into the fading December light for a late Friday afternoon sample of the OO trails and then some rolling singletrack tributaries. Mild temps helped amp us up for the following full day of riding. We were excited to meet, greet, and hash over the amazing riding we just experienced.
Event Director, Kristy Maki, explained what is known in the area as the “Birkie Lifestyle”. It’s Maki’s ideal. Simply put, “Ski. Run. Bike. Live!” The idea is to lead an active lifestyle all year round and make the most of your own personal health each day. OK, it’s all over the place check out her hat & jacket.
She identifies as an XC skier primarily, as many do in the area. And with the growing popularity of the fat-bikes, interest in winter biking has piqued locally. The American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation is trying to attract more females to their events and the area is trying to increase winter biking in general, since there’s great access to so many remarkable trails in the region. So they hatched this weekend for women and it sold out quickly. In fact, they had to add more guides and coaches to accommodate the demand.
With this event taking place right before the holidays I wondered who’d be there. Isn’t this an important holiday baking weekend ladies? Participants aged from 30’s to 60’s and this was the first time snow biking for some of the attendees. It was the first fat bike ride for others. Many brought their own fat-bikes and a few used demo-bikes. There was a group of new friends from the twin cities who met at Global Fat Bike Day 2018. They were craving more fat biking and signed on for the weekend.
Others were sponsored riders, like a remarkable woman named Andrea Cohen from Iowa City, IA. Andrea is exploring ultra endurance gravel riding and is getting ready to bikepack the Monumental Loop in New Mexico later this month.
The event leaders and coaches were all impressive in skill and knowledge. The ride leaders/coaches came from the upper Midwest and all seem to play various leadership roles in cycling, trail building, coaching, merchandising, and were strong riders.
Winter biking being the main topic, several other presentations gave way to lively and creative discussions. Ride preparedness is important and many of the women attending ride/hail from northern Wisconsin, Michigan’s UP, and northern Minnesota, where the outdoors can be harsh and help may be hours away if you encounter problems. Some of the things that they presented are common sense like – pre-ride bike checks, gear lists, and letting your someone know where you plan to go and when you plan to return from your ride.
Here’s some of the knowledge that was passed along. Do you/or have you ever considered:
- carrying an emergency “puffy” coat bunched up in your back/frame packs
- how long your cell phone will have a charge/ways to keep it warm
- using “Pam” cooking spray on your cleats to prevent snow/ice build up
- turkey roasting bags on your feet to keep dryer/warmer…all sorts bread bags(many confirmed this)
- using drops of peppermint oil in your hydration vessel to prevent freezing
- layering buffs on varying regions of your head/face/neck up to 5 one woman revealed
- changing to plastic pedals in the winter to keep your feet warmer
- removing your sweaty base layers immediately after riding to stay warm
- how much hair you have on your head/dressing your head accordingly
- altering hand warmers to fit around your thumbs
- a compass or app and know how to use it
- seriously using all three layers, base, mid, and outer
Another subject that was covered was how to shop for bikes and all things that go with bikes. The presenters wanted to convey the fact that females are legit customers with funds to lay down on this stuff. Women cyclists are a growing and viable consumer base for all things bike. And of course, the industry wants to capture those sales. Are you a confident shopper? Don’t be afraid to do a little research. Know what you want and communicate it. Ask questions. Ride every bike. Saddles can be a special challenge and you may want to ask a female associate to help you out. Since some women get intimidated at bike shops, they end up buying items they don’t really like or want. (Men do that too) Avoid buyers remorse! Remember-you are not inconveniencing or bothering the sales folks. And if you’re getting that vibe, shop elsewhere like you would for anything else.
In the morning we met at the Great Hall of the American Birkebeiner Trailhead, Cable, WI. Then Maki sprung the news on us that we would all receive complimentary entries for a new event called “The Tour”. She promised it was on the gentler part of the Birkie trail. I thought that was a nice Sur-prise! Otherwise, the FBB options are a hilly 47 K “Big Fat” or 21 K “Chico”. Now we all had something to really talk about!
Next, we broke into our work groups for skills clinics and trail riding we met our coaches and comrades for the day. We stretched, revealed our goals, areas of interest, and pale underbellies to each other. Now feeling kinda vulnerable and exposed we set out on the famed trails again to session.
Our coach, Debbie Leaf, came down from Ishpeming Michigan’s “Jasper Knob”, where she trail builds, serves on the RAMBA board, operates an Airbnb with a bike garage, and confessed she takes Jasper for granted. Our particular sessions took place on all sorts of hills, deep snow ruts, and obstacles. The warmish temps led to changing snow consistencies and provided the opportunity to adjust tire pressures. Skilled at facilitating, Debbie got us riding above the level that we had started with that day and it was just the reward we wanted. Mad props Debbie.
I asked “Andrea from Iowa” how she would summarize the day’s ride. She said, “It was a less competitive social riding event where you knew someone was waiting for you at the top of a hill and didn’t mind”. I couldn’t have said it better. A wrap-up and plans for supper out on the town were made to recap this woman strong event.
I came away from the weekend having learned to settle down and open up to the lessons. I looked ahead, rode stronger, stopped the negative self-talk, and got up that hill! (there may have been tears). It improved my confidence as a cyclist. It was intimidating for me to sign up for this event. I was afraid of being “good enough” to participate. The women at this program, well, they’re just like you and me. Next time that you take the time to ride with your gal pals. Stop along the ride to try your skills out. Ride. Rinse. Repeat. Watch each other and offer praise, support, and constructive feedback. Learn from each other in a supportive environment. You can defeat everything, you really can. I’d recommend this for lady riders who’d like to focus/gain specific skills/make new bike friends, and of course, check out those famed trails. You won’t be racking up a lot of miles necessarily, but you’ll be making a huge deposit in your skills bank along-side of your contemporaries. Someone even had the time to bake delicious frosted holiday cookies to share the love.
One question though…about the Birkie Lifestyle… the ideal…Ski. Bike. Run. Live? What about the stunning Namekagon River, Hayward Lake, Round Lake, and the other water…where’s the Paddle?