Just a girl?
Last weekend, I was at my favorite LBS when I picked up a copy of SingleTracks. SingleTracks is the free magazine put out by NEMBA (The New England Mountain Biking Association). It’s a nice black & white publication with stories, photos, trails, events and of course, ads.
I was thumbing through SingleTracks tonight when I came across an ad that sounded vaguely familiar. It was a company based in Maine that offered 30 miles of single track at their location, tours, weekend trips, rentals, and events. I had an experience with this company back in 2002 that I’d like to share with you, since I checked the url and the company and owner appear to be the same. I do not plan of reporting the name of the company publicly in this blog (but email me and I’ll dish freely).
In 2000 I started mountain biking, and jumped in with both feet. I couldn’t get enough. I read a very favorable review in a magazine about a mountain bike company in Maine that hosted miles of single track trails, camping, a freestyle park, and yurts for weekend trips. My family owns a camp very close by to this outfitter, so during my annual vacation there I set out to check it out with a companion. While I was relatively new to the sport, I had already raced and placed at a local event, and my companion had been a serious cyclist for many years, racing and placing in road, triathlon and mountain biking events. We were both very comfortable in the woods and happy to explore wild areas. For the record, we were (and still are) both women.
Granted, there are not a lot of female MTBers in comparison to male MTBers. It’s a little better now, but back then, it was really hard to find other women who MTBed. But we weren’t completely mythical creatures. The following is my story of how our experience went with this outfitter.
We found the location and met the owner. On the property there was a freestyle park and a yurt, the owner’s home, and allegedly trails in the surrounding woods. After a warm welcome from the owner, we started to get down to business. No we didn’t need overnight accommodations–I had a place nearby. We expressed interest in riding his trails, which as advertised, was free. His trails, he disclosed, were mostly built on public land, only a small portion of the trails were on his land. He offered to take us on a guided tour. We declined, we really just wanted him to point us to the nearby trails. We didn’t need a guided tour, we’re more interested in exploring on our own and setting our own pace. Then his warm welcome evaporated. He pressed the guided tour idea. He wanted to make a dollar on us. Sure, I get it, of course he’s looking to make some coin, but the trails were on public lands, and advertised as free. We were too independent to take a tour. We politely declined again. Could he sell us a map? Those too were advertised. At least our exchange wouldn’t be a total loss. I didn’t really want a map but I offered to buy one as a gesture.
Then, and I will never forget this moment, he looked us up and down, then glanced at our bikes on the roof rack of the car, and said, “You’ll never find my trails. I have them hidden. You won’t find them.”
I was pissed but didn’t show it. Years of customer service training made me an expert at this. ”We’ll just take the map then.” I said, upbeat. He left to get a map. When he returned, we paid him for it and drove off.
In the car, we were mad. Really mad. We both understood exactly what he thought of us, our ability as cyclists, and our ability to find our way out of a paper bag in backwoods Maine. He discounted us. And he did is because we were women.
Why do I think this? Because it’s happened so many times before. I know because I know that look he gave us, the one of disregard, of no confidence. He wrote us off with a glance. You know what this means when it happens to you. Especially when you’ve always been told you couldn’t play because you were “just a girl.” Yeah, he was probably a bit put off that he wasn’t going to get a tour fee from us too. But we just showed up. He had no other clients, we were not monopolizing his time. Why he thought it was OK to act like a DB I just won’t understand.
Instead of staying mad, we got even. We found the trails after 10 minutes of driving. We shredded the rest of the afternoon.
I’ve always been extremely athletic and active and participated in sports. I ran as fast as the boys, was MVP of my baseball team. played basketball with boys, fished, camped, hiked, explored, made forts, climbed trees, rode dirt bikes, road street bikes, swung on rope swings, did all and anything the boys did. I still do. As a young girl, I fought hard against anyone who told me I couldn’t do something because I was female.
His once over, and his open challenge to us shocked me, even back in 2002, because I hadn’t experienced it in so many years–really since girlhood. And I’m happy to say, I haven’t personally experienced that since. Men I come across in cycling these days are encouraging, and are excited to talk to women who love the sport they love. But once you’ve been discounted like that, you don’t forget how it feels, and you know when it’s happening. People may argue with me about this, but my friend felt the same way I did.
So there it is, my tale of sexism in cycling. I’m happy to say I’ve only really experienced this once. Most bike shops treat me with respect, and the men I meet who love cycling are really excited to share it with another, regardless of the chromosome arrangement. This guy, however, is still in business. Who knows, people change. I know a lot of people who have changed their opinions of lots of things through the years. But I don’t plan to send him any business.
And I still have that map he sold me 11 years ago Anyone want to ride with me in Maine? I know the way.