Riding Bikes With Boys At Moab Rocks- By Jessica McWhirt

Riding Bikes With Boys At Moab Rocks

by: Jessica McWhirt

riding bikes with boys at moab rocks

The first time I tried mountain biking was with my friend, Joe. Because I was a decent roadie, he assumed I’d have no issues handling a bike with wide handles and knobby tires on a skinny, twisty trail.

He was wrong.

I was terrified.

I biffed it on the first turn up Kitty Litter at Buff Creek because I didn’t know how to change gears quickly enough on a rental mountain bike.

“Roadie for life,” I told Joe as we drank beer after the first and last lap of a much easier trail.

Fast forward to 2024: Signing up for Moab Rocks, encouraged (peer-pressured?) by my partner, Jackky, and his racing team, No Ride Around.

Most of my bike friends are guys. Because of them, especially Jackky, I’ve mountain biked more terrain

Stage 1 – Men Being Creepy On Porcupine Rim

When Jackky and I first previewed Porcupine Rim two weeks before the race, most of it was covered in snow. We walked for miles because we didn’t

processed with vsco with e1 presetknow where the trail was and what hiding under the snow. It was anyone’s guess what we’d find on race day but I knew I wanted a bigger bike with more than 100mm of travel.

Rolling up to the start with a 150mm Orbea Occam LT from Base Camp Cyclery, I knew it was going to be a challenge biking 13 miles uphill with this beast, but I also knew how much more fun I’d have ripping downhill with 150mm suspension.

It was a mass start. Everyone was jockeying for position, even though we had a neutral start for three miles. The pace was already lightning speed at the get-go and I lined up too far back to ever see the front of the race. I started next to Jackky and Colin and quickly lost them as we pedaled up, up, up.

The crowd thinned out fast. Before I knew it, I was pedaling mostly by myself with riders up ahead and behind. Several times, men would silently latch on to my wheel as if they’d gain any advantage going 5 mph uphill. I dropped some of them when the grade increased. I finally had to tell one guy who continued to follow me as I crossed the road, alone, that he was being creepy, even if he didn’t intend that. He apologized and backed off.

I weaved through the trail, trying to keep up my speed not knowing where the trail actually led. I slid down a steep, slippery rock holding the 20-something-pound bike so it wouldn’t get away from me. At one point, a blizzard blew through threatening to ruin the rest of the race. It quickly passed by but the wind howled and froze the sweat on my back.

The bike was heavier and bustier than my Scott, but I raced down Porcupine Rim without breaking my bike or myself—which was a win in itself.

I crossed the finish line and waited for Jackky and Colin. We biked the remaining seven miles to the main road at a very leisurely pace. I stopped at one area looking at the best line to

take to ride down when a very angry, must-still-be-in-race-mode man yelled at us to “get the fuck out of the way” as he barreled down the trail that most of us were trying to enjoy.

I looked up his race number later that day and saw he didn’t do too hot in his age group, so I guess it makes sense why he chose violence that day.

Stage 2 – Bar M Trails and Why Ego is the Enemy

After previewing this stage, I visited the toilet frequently before the race. It was the most technical and most cluster-fuck out of the three stages.

I’ve yet to find the best way to describe the series of trails we had to navigate. I’ve been calling it an interval training ride. It’s bumpy. You’re never in the right gear. You’re in and out of your saddle. It’s relentless. 

Starting as a mass group was both scary and frustrating as you get many people who think they’re faster than they really are, so the people who didn’t line up 30 minutes before the gun went off got stuck. Sure, it’s my own fault for thinking if I lined up 10 minutes before the start, I’d get a good spot, but I would have loved waves for this race.

The first half of the race we were essentially in (what felt like) a congo line as we all rode up and down and over and under bumpy rocks, trying to follow the brown painted line, then the dashed yellow line.

I hated every minute of this because this was the epitome of my weakness. You have to be quick, technically skilled, and able to carry out intervals for 2.5 hours straight. That is not my training and that’s where I failed. I made it harder for myself by being on a borrowed bike not fitted to me in the slightest—but I made it work because well, what else was I going to do?

Besides struggling the entire time throughout this race but still challenging myself to bike up and down and over and under bumpy rocks, the women in this race inspired the hell out of me. The women held their own on this very technical course and it was super awesome to witness (as many of them passed me). Some men were super aggro. They’d cut us off only to get passed while we pedaled uphill.

riding bikes with boys at moab rocks

I totally get it’s a race. I was racing too. I just chose not to be a dick. It’s actually super easy to call your pass, ask to get around when it’s safe, and then make your move. Literally, everyone was racing on the course that day. Some were going faster than others, some slower. I think a lot of us forget (myself included) that we pay money to participate in these races, so why not focus on enjoying ourselves and not putting others in danger or ruining their day? Just a thought. Just, see how that sits for you.

Stage 3 – Mag 7’s Hill That Wouldn’t Quit

“Over? Did you say ‘over’? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!…And It ain’t over now, ‘cause when the goin’ gets tough…………..the tough get goin’.” —Animal House

I started repeating this line to myself over and over again when I thought I didn’t have the legs to finish. Yesterday’s 2.5-hour-long interval session completely wiped my legs. I did everything I could to recover: Epsom salt bath, stretch, compression sleeves, foam rolling, and elevating my legs. All of it but you can’t quite recover legs that weren’t trained properly. And it’s something I accepted at the start of Stage 3.

The No Ride Around guys were encouraging: “You’re really good at climbing, just power up the hill and recover on the singletrack.” Bless their hearts for believing in me when I knew my body was telling me otherwise.

As we raced up the first hill, then the second hill, onto the singletrack, more and more people passed me. Instant self-doubt took over. I thought I’d come in fifth like I did the day before. I wanted to secure my third overall place, so I couldn’t let any other woman pass me. That didn’t last long. More women passed and I encouraged them. It was a race but they were kicking ass.

I wanted to be mean to myself. Berate my self-coached training. Something I was used to doing, but I was tired of being an asshole to myself.

So, I decided not to be a bully to myself. I did something completely foreign to me—be my own hype girl because this felt like the nail in the coffin of a three-day stage race I felt completely unprepared for.

I started telling myself:

“You don’t practice on this terrain so you’re learning as you go,” as I fumbled around the technical climbs and steep drops and weird turns with rocks I couldn’t manual over. 

“You’re on a rental bike with massive tires and extra weight, of course, this feels harder,” I told myself as a group of men slowly pedaled away and I didn’t have the strength to keep up with them.

I said to myself as I changed gears for the hundredth time, “You would have changed up your training had you known how technical it was and the kind of HIIT you never train for because you like proper XC races.”

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I saw Jackky at the end of the race, thankfully, as he came up singing,  “Come on, feel the noise, girls rock your boys, we’ll get wild, wild, wild. WILD, WILD, WILD.” I couldn’t help but laugh. And there it was—finally. The fun I forgot about when I signed up for the race. The joy I desperately needed after my own fun-sucking thoughts.

It was my partner who motivated me and continually inspired me to bike out of my comfort zone, who’s made me a better rider and racer, and who’s been my biggest cheerleader the past year.

There’s something to say about the kind of men you find at bike races. There are the ones who try to ruin the party and there are the ones, like Jackky and the No Ride Around team, who show up and encourage women riders to be their best.

Did I need their approval or encouragement or to hold my hand on the scary drops? No. But did it fucking help and make me feel better? You’re goddamn right it did.

I would have never gotten into this sport if it hadn’t been for some of the guys in my life. Now I get to spread the love for mountain biking (and racing) to my women friends who might have been intimidated before.

riding bikes with boys at moab rocks (1)

We can get more people to ride bikes and sign up for races like Moab Rocks if we continue to encourage them, to help them, and to sing corny 80’s songs at the top of our lungs when they’re in a dark place and repeating to themselves, “All you have to do is pedal to the finish line.”

By Jessica McWhirt, Contributing Author  jessica mcwhirt 4

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