Kelli was 23 when she started mountain biking, 26 when she started racing and 40 when we hit the road to celebrate her milestone birthday with a few days of riding that included a heli-drop and an unplanned campsite eviction. A lot can change in seventeen years and as someone who works in the bike industry (Kelli and her husband run a mountain bike tour and instruction company) her identity is strongly tied to riding. Priorities change throughout our lives and, at points, bikes often end up collecting dust in the garage, waiting for years when work isn’t so busy or the kids are ‘old enough.’ But when it is as entwined in our lives as it is in Kelli’s, giving it up is not an option. Changing our perspectives is.
I looked at my friend, who rolled up to my doorstep with a passenger van loaded down with bikes, her husband, daughter and dog in tow; here was an entire family who had arranged childcare at our destinations, packed what seemed like their entire house and only forgot their dog at one pit stop. All I had to do was close my laptop, grab a bottle of fireball and strap in. I realized that biking still comes relatively easily in my life, as I said good-bye to my four year-old dead plant and left a note for my roommate: “Hope to see you at some point this summer.” I have lived vicariously through my friends as their lives have changed, and their expectations of biking have evolved along with it.
The days of riding every day, maxing out Whistler Bike Park passes and spending every summer weekend at a bike race have come and gone for a lot of them, as they have become parents or more responsible ‘proper’ grownups. But, once a rider, always a rider. Even those who do not have the time they once did to commit to the sport still identify as mountain bikers. It is a part of who we are even when we start the subtle move from hucking our meat to pedaling up, from full face to half lid and from free and airy to more chamois time.
Once a very enthusiastic participant in downhill races, women’s freeride competitions and local riding movies, Kelli’s role has evolved from inspiring young women to ride to inspiring new moms to keep riding. In the two years since her daughter was born, Kelli has come to terms with the change in her goals for riding. Initially, her riding was about going fast, riding hard, and getting big air. Slowly, her focus has shifted to the longevity of her career. Getting out for rides is more of a chore than ever before and includes babysitting arrangements and the acceptance that something else is not going to get done. Being true to both identities of mother and mountain biker can be a complex juggle of expensive childcare, community support and resolve.
Eight hours, three pit stops and one u-turn to retrieve the missing pet after leaving home, we reached our (first) campsite and were greeted with a group of friends ready to celebrate. With the kids put to bed in tents and tarps strung, we sat around the campfire, drinking, talking and laughing. The only thing that would have given away the average age of our party were the occasional lively discussions about birthing. Over-sharing is key around the campfire. I crossed my legs and tried not to listen. Less than twelve hours later, we were climbing out of a helicopter perched precariously on a mountaintop. Our bikes, already dropped, were waiting for us as we scrambled to find secure footing while the heli flew away. Eight years ago, Kelli and I were road tripping to BC Cup DH races as she coached a women’s race team and participated herself. Today, she was popping champagne on a mountain top, about to drop in for a two-hour ride, switch-backing down the mountain on an old hiking trail. Kelli may not be as carefree as she once was when riding, and she may not have as many days under her belt annually, but she is just as much a mountain biker as ever. The pure joy on her face when she drops in shows that all the stress and careful planning to make the ride happen were worth it. Her expectations have adjusted from quantity to quality; trail time is not taken for granted anymore, as each ride does not just happen, it is achieved.
We got evicted from our campsite on our second night. Not for anything cool, just for laughing after 10 p.m. We were informed in our formal eviction notice that it was a ‘family campsite,’ I looked around at the kids and dog and was confused about why we were not considered a family. In the end, we were less embarrassed about being evicted (and banned from provincial parks for a year) than we were that it was not for something awesome. No fireworks, trees, or park wardens were set off, cut down or toilet papered in this ejection. But because of that, we spent our last night on the road in a gravel lot at the base of a stunning trail ride, high above Revelstoke. We set up our tents, pulled out our speaker and keg and watched the lightning light up the sky. We celebrated Kelli’s birthday, and in doing so we were celebrating the friends and community that she has built through riding. At the end of our lives, all we will have are these experiences. These memories that make us who we are and happy that we were.