Beckie Irvin has always been an outdoor enthusiast, spending her down time rock climbing, camping and whitewater kayaking. But when she found mountain biking a few years ago -- an activity she'd previously been too scared to try -- it changed how she viewed herself as a woman, Irvin recalls.
"It has shown me that when you face your fears in small, manageable amounts, you can go so far," she shares.
Grit Mountain Bike Festival
WHEN — Nov. 15-17
WHERE — Mount Kessler Regional Park, Fayetteville
COST — $100-$125; free camping; glamping tents available at $150-$200
INFO — gritfestival.com
With mountain biking, just like most of the outdoor pursuits she encountered, Irvin was learning from and surrounded "by dudes." The dudes welcomed her completely and never made her feel that her experience was of less value. But being the outsider in a group, no matter how encouraging and accepting the group, can manifest feelings of being out of place, or even inadequacy.
"For a long time, I would worry that, and I think other women deal with this also, that my rides weren't good enough for me to be considered a mountain biker," Irvin shares.
"For a while, I had this idea that I need to ride with the guys so I can get better. And my co-founder Anna Claire was like, 'No, you don't. You need to ride with guys because you're allowed to take up space. You're just allowed to be there. You don't have to be trying to get better.' And when I realized that, it just freed me up to own where I'm at in my cycling journey and ride with people who are way better than me and not feel like I have to try to kill myself to keep up with them or prove that I'm worthy of riding with them."
Anna Claire Beasley helped Irvin recognize that particular barrier to participation in her own cycling, and then the two teamed up to found an event that aims to help other women do the same. The inaugural Grit Fest is a mountain biking festival focused on making biking and outdoor sports more accessible to female-identifying and non-binary people. Through community building, education and breaking down access barriers, Irvin and Beasley hope to create an event that incites change in the industry itself.
"The cycling industry has a lot of women's cycling events right now. But I think there are a lot of underrepresented communities that feel invisible because they never see themselves represented in cycling media," Irvin explains.
"I think everyone, including myself, is going to learn a lot from this event in the ways of how we can become a more inclusive community and how we can better represent gender nonconforming folks, the LGBTQ community, women of color, disabled women who mountain bike. That's a thing, and we never see them represented in media."
The festival invites (female and non-binary) cyclers of all skill levels to a three-day event full of riding opportunities and presentations. Irvin has even heard from participants who have never been on a bike and are borrowing one to come to the festival. Enlightening keynote speakers, a film screening, sunrise yoga, gear swaps, workshops, group rides and more will promote new friendships between riders, as well as connecting to nature in an inviting and homey setting.
"We encourage people to do what they feel like they need to do in the moment," Irvin says of all the festival offerings. "Seize the opportunities that you have at the festival, but don't be so caught up in making it to every workshop that you miss a chance to ride and really connect with some people who are from a different state or have a completely different background in mountain biking than you."
That community has already emerged in the Facebook group for the event. Those planning to attend are organizing airport carpools and even a bike-packing trip.
"Our hope is that this is an enriching and educational experience, not just another 'stoke' fest."
NAN What's Up on 11/03/2019