WTF Bike Explorers
Words & Photos by Becca Book
Last summer some ladies from the bike industry, brand ambassadors, and your favorite bike packing Insta-celebrities (in some cases, this all describes the same person!) got together in Whitefish, Montana. The lonely gravel roads with sweeping views, dense forests and dramatic ridge lines inspired them to share this experience with others, and bringing more w/t/f- nonbinary identifying humans into the bikepacking world. Jocelyn recounts how the idea initially started blooming ‘Molly and I started emailing back and forth - although we'd never met before, we jumped right into a three day bikepacking trip with another friend of ours, Jude. Molly and I both knew Whitney separately and we both went up to Montana to ride the Red Pass Loop for her birthday - that's the first time I remember talking seriously about making a bikepacking summit happen.’
To hear some of the founders of WTF Bikexplorers describe it, the idea to organize the first WTF focused summit around adventure cycling was as obvious as the concept is simple – Invite womxn from around the country and the world to share a weekend of raccoon stories, campfires, talks and workshops in the most scenic location you can think of. ‘I kept hearing people bring up the idea again and again, and eventually I realized it was actually going to happen,’ Says Molly Sugar.
Many of us have thrown around ideas for our next adventure and all the people we would like to join us on it over the campfire, but few actually commit to achieving these ideas. After my initial request to ask a few questions for an article evolved into a weekend trip involving deserted mills, soda springs, and windswept gravel roads with Jocelyn, Molly, and Mary from WTF Bikexplorers, I got to know the thirst for adventure and desire to welcome more WTFs into adventure cycling that fuels them as they organize the Summit.
The core group of 6 organizers is scattered across the country. The three women who were hitting the trails with me are based out of Portland, with other collaborators in California, Colorado and Arizona. Organizing an event which they hope will inspire and facilitate women around the world to embark on bicycle powered adventures has pulled on many of the diverse skills and all of the enthusiasm that each organizer brings to the table. ‘I’ve never been part of a group that is both so far flung and so functional. We have a call every Monday morning...it’s really an amazing way to start out the week. Then everyone goes out and does what they said they were going to do!’ said Jocelyn, as we drove out of Portland along the Columbia River.
Molly, a UX designer for Ride with GPS, helped create the branding and website for the event. The website showcases artwork by Mary, who is a freelance illustrator. Pulling from some of her organizational skills as the marketing and sales director for Portland Design Works and founder of Komorebi Cycling Team, Jocelyn is currently setting up a scholarship to provide financial assistance to a WTF cyclist who would otherwise be unable to attend the summit. ‘WTF Bikexplorers felt like a really natural extension of my efforts with the Komorebi Cycling Team, to raise awareness of and empower WTF identifying adventure cyclists,’ she said. ‘Plus, it gave me a chance to work with an all-star cast of amazing people that I've long admired!’
On Sunday, we layered up early and headed out into the frosty, but sunny wilderness of central Washington. Molly had mapped out a route which climbed up to the still frozen Wahkiacus High Prairie for glimpses of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams, before looping back on a rocky trail which runs through Klickitat Canyon, sheltered from the last of the winter winds that were still sweeping across the prairie. After climbing out of the densely wooded valley where we had spent the night, we stopped to admire the surrounding mountains and share some snacks.
Jocelyn’s first bikepacking trip began on the very mountain whose snowy slopes we were admiring. ‘I’m lucky enough to have a group of male friends in Portland who are great allies. They were all doing the Dalles Mountain Mutiny (a bike camping takeover of a popular 60 mile gravel race) and encouraged me to join. I rented or borrowed some bike packing gear, and haven’t looked back since.’ Mary’s inspiration was more direct. ‘When I lived in London, my sister (Sarah Swallow, another WTF Bike explorers organizer) help me pick out a simple three speed bike. I fell in love with cycling around the city and looking for murals. When I came back, Sarah told me ‘We’re riding gravel now!’ after trying this out, I don’t ever want to ride on pavement again.’ Molly started off big, tackling the 4,228 mile TransAmerica trail as her first bike tour. All of three recognize and appreciate the support they received from the cycling community while they were just discovering bikepacking, and look forward to providing knowledge and great company to those who are new to the endeavor through their work on the Summit. ‘While I work on WTF Bikexplorers, I think back on how I started out bikepacking only a year and a half ago and how much I've learned since then. There's no doubt that I wouldn't be where I am without the encouragement from friends and from the organizers in the group. I'm inspired to pass that knowledge on and to foster the same encouraging supportive community for all WTF bikexplorers,' says Molly.
True to the collective’s focus on exploration and adventure, we diverted from our pre-mapped route to poke around some of South Central Washington’s most surprising landmarks. First, Jocelyn lead us to a deserted lumber mill that had been burned down under rather suspect circumstances 20 years prior. On the other side of the river, we followed a stretch of muddy single track to grab a sip from a spring gushing carbonated, iron laden water straight from the ground. Molly had planned out a route that led us by an old farm ladened with intrigue - including several half collapsed barns and an old city bus that had been dragged 100 miles into the country to serve as a defacto aviary. Mary spotted an old car which had mysteriously ended up in an isolated canyon served only by a dirt trail - completely flattened.
Jocelyn, Mary and Molly look forward to sharing similar adventures with WTF folks as a way to strengthen the cycling community; 'Something I've learned from organizing Friends on Bikes (a group for WTF of color who love riding bikes) is it's important to be responsive and organic to community needs. We are a small and nimble team who are trying to make the Summit and Ride Series happen to the best of our abilities, but the best part will be the community's input and response after our first year,' says Molly.
Jocelyn sees their event as a celebration of some of the exciting changes afoot already. 'I feel as if the WTF identifying cycling community is strong and vibrant and becoming more so everyday - I see it on social media and at local and nationwide cycling events, trade shows and races. That said, we still have a long way to go until everyone feels welcomed, encouraged and supported and it's our hope the Bikexplorers can provide and start to build out the framework. It's absolutely a "it takes a village" mentality, so we're trying to allow a space for that village to develop.'
The first event to introduce you to your neighbors in this lovely village will be a free ride series which the organizers are planning around the country. First, Mary Lytle and Sarah Swallow cordially invite you to shred Arizona’s trails this April, followed by rides in Vermont in May, along the Deschutes River in Oregon, and through the California Redwoods in June. The month of July has been left suspiciously open, to encourage people to organize a continuation of the ride series in their part of the country, strengthening the foundations for a local lady powered adventure cycling community. These events all lead up to the full blown WTF Bike explorers Summit – at the very bike resort in Whitefish where the idea for the event was born. The organizers are seeking out speakers who can address the wide variety of ways in which WTF identifying cyclists pursue adventure on two wheels – From racing, to bikepacking with children, to talks with industry pros. Jocelyn, Mary and Molly would love to see you there!