Photography: Nick Kova
The adventure of riding 100+ miles of unknown terrain with over 11,000 ft of climbing is one that any adventuress craves. But add in the heft of moving a team of six riders across this same course – side by side – and the challenge arrives at the doorstep of Epic; the balance of six bikes, bodies, and well-beings is considerably heavier than one.
So it was a fantastic occurrence that the ladies of Team Strava found the 2014 Rapha Women’s Prestige became easier when we pedaled as one, proving that conquering a challenge of this magnitude as a team was more than just an accomplishment; the collective energy of a group of women who inspire, support, and push one another is really a thing of beauty.
It surely must have been an illusion for the photographers following us as we pedaled out into the East Bay hills, tiny black silhouettes against the golden rollers; for as they drew closer and focused their lenses on our troupes, they surely could see that our voices, our power, our prowess were much larger than our shadows would let on. Over the sounds of churning wheels and wind rushing through our spokes and hair, exuberant voices- laughing, jesting, encouraging – were audible, harmonizing an empowering song that lasted as long as the day.
All rides are the same in many ways – they have a beginning, an end, and are completed only by our conscious decision to continue pedaling. From across the country, we’d assembled this team of ladies whom we knew were not the type to stop, to turn around when the going got tough. “A drive for adventure and accomplishment was the initial common thread that brought us all together,” said my teammate Katie.
From the moment we clipped in and took our first pedal strokes, we knew we were bound not only by the similar kits we were wearing, but by the common goal of crushing this course as one.
And with this silent pact, and the exchange of that twinkle-in-eyes that means “let’s do this,” crush is exactly what we did without the qualification of speed or our ability to intimidate and brute our competition. Instead, it was the pure authenticity with which we rode our bikes that certifies our success.
In those moments when our machines were broken in pieces on the ground and our hands covered with grease, we were not confounded, we were resourceful. Optimistic. Persistent. We easily could have given up after Jessica’s bottom bracket broke free, crank and pedal still attached to her cleat.
When the hills picked up, we sang, and encouraged others to sing right along with us. When the grade pitched again we broke out into a rap; profanities, slurs and all. Spitting lyrics didn’t make us breathless. Instead, it electrified our charge on the beyond-category climb that laid between us and the finish line. The inkling to slow our pedal strokes never snuck into mind because the wheel in front of us kept on spinning, because the girl behind us needed a pull. The descents told twisted tales of mangled speed, the sun grew hot and the dust of parched golden state lands worked its way into our eyes and under our fingernails. But the speed, heat, and honesty of the day seemed only to cultivate our grace, rather than steal it from our faces and legs. It was like this that we kept right on pedaling and before we knew it, all the pedaling – the build-up, the push – was over.
In the weeks that have passed since this big day on bikes, my teammates and I have found ourselves weaving our favorite anecdotes from the ride into our emails and text messages to one another. It’s not that there aren’t other exciting things going on for us to talk about, but instead because there is something addictive about the purity of it all.
The strangest thing about this experience was that usually on rides like this, at some point you hit the wall or start to feel like you’d give anything to be back on your couch at home, Julie said.
But as Kristen rightly reported, “hearing the familiar joy, chatter, jokes, banter and obscenities pulled my mind from my thoughts and set my legs on autopilot. Suddenly, we were crossing the finish line, wishing it weren’t over. « Eight hours flew by and any physical suffering became a meaningless side-effect of the overall good time we were having, » Jac pointed out.
Megan was right. “As teammates, we feed on each other’s energy.” And so was Katie in saying, “everyone had their strengths and weaknesses, and we all faced our challenges throughout the day, but never alone. We faced it all as one.”
In the company of these ladies on this formidable course, I never felt lost, drained, or hopeless, for there was always a smile, a song right around the corner, encouraging me to join the fun. Whenever I felt I was empty, there they were pushing big, inspiring me to do the same. Reminding me to take things one pedal stroke at a time. Provoking me to look a little deeper within for the power to push, if only at least so I could ride up next to the girl a half wheel ahead to talk about life, her new boyfriend, her job, and where she’d like to ride her bike next.
In this way, feats like the Prestige become not just a challenge to be conquered, but an experience to be savored. That provocation to dig a little deeper, to fill what is empty, to look beyond the next summit, learning to become more comfortable with the uncomfortable. These are not lessons we learn and store with our bikes – they are strengths we carry into other areas of our lives; a grace in the face of adversity that is magnified by camaraderie.
The experience of the Prestige was a reminder that we aren’t just female cyclists, or racers, but part of a larger story about women’s cycling, about women as a whole. This story – about just how far women can go – is one that gets more powerful when we ride together.
On the 20th of July, 2014, women everywhere are invited to join this story with their bicycles as part of the Women’s 100.
Last year, over 4,000 women all over the world organized, trained for, and completed rides of 100k to celebrate women in cycling. This isn’t a race, or a rally, and it might feel an awful lot like your everyday ride done just outside your door. But – at the heart – it’s an invitation to turn that everyday spin into an act of beauty, because we’re riding together.