"A challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we're all responsible for our own thoughts and actions - all day, every day.

We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women's achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.

From challenge comes change, so let's all choose to challenge."

International Women's Day 2021.

The theme for International Women's Day 2021 is #ChoosetoChallenge. We choose to celebrate women's riding achievements and support their cycling adventures. Here is a special blog on the theme of #ChoosetoChallenge from our friend Claire Frecknall who is the latest rider to join our supported rider roster.

What is Stopping You?

Challenges come in many guises. Whilst we participate in a sport where the physical challenges are obvious, normally it’s not the long distances or steep climbs that pose the biggest challenges. The first barriers come way before then.

What is it that stops us before ascending that steep gradient? The fatigue or hunger (is it real or just in your head?); Is it the fear of the unknown? That nagging self doubt? Or, am I challenging society’s expectations of me?

It's International Women’s Day so I’m speaking from the perspective of a Woman in cycling here, but these feelings are not just for girls.

We get too good at telling ourselves all the things what we can’t do. Reaching the top of that spicy local climb, that first group ride, riding your first 100, racing your first race, nailing that rooty section in the woods that still fills you with dread each time it rains. All these things. All these things you once thought you couldn’t do, until you did.

With each mission accomplished and mental boxes ticked you’ll grow in confidence and along the way find new challenges. My first solo bikepacking trip was the biggest hurdle.

From the point of starting out something new, like a solo bike packing trip, you’ll probably be out of your comfort zone. Choosing the right bike and equipment can be daunting before you even start your adventure. I was scared, my parents even more so, but it was a challenge that I overcame and it changed my life.

I had chosen to ride from the coast of Sweden to the coast of Norway, two countries where I didn't speak the language but felt were relatively safe places to be riding alone. I’d visited Sweden a few times so I felt comfortable there and I knew that English was widely spoken in both Norway and Sweden should I need help if I got into any trouble.

The route was an ancient pilgrimage route so there was some local infrastructure and wider knowledge of my direction; it was a pre-mapped route with details of accommodation and supply points easily available. Wild camping is allowed in both countries so I knew I wouldn't get into any trouble finding a place to sleep.

I didn't have any bikepacking gear apart from a sleeping bag so had to borrow most of the kit I took. The bike I owned at the time wasn't suitable so I borrowed a friend’s Hardtail MTB and bikepacking bags, I bought a cheap tent and a little gas stove.

My parents - my dad, specifically - were really worried about my trip and tried to convince me to find someone to go with. “What if something went wrong?” “What if I got lost, or my bike broke?” Maybe I’d “get attacked” they said. He even worried about the bears in the woods. I reassured them that I would be sensible, had a route to follow and kit and tools I needed should anything break. I promised to message every evening from my sleeping bag so they knew I was OK and luckily my friend had a SPOT tracker I could borrow so a few select people could watch my progress.

I had allowed 9 days for the ride, knowing that this would give me time to enjoy the experience, explore any interesting places and not be worried about a deadline. I expected the route to take around 7 days riding with a 2 day buffer in the event of any issues, be that getting lost, bad weather, mechanicals or illness.

Things did go wrong. I got lost, I ran out of food, I got wet and cold, I even lost my tent poles about half way through the trip but these were all problems I solved. Looking back on it, if more problems came up, I could have solved those too. I finished that journey feeling stronger and more confident. It was an amazing challenge and the start of an addiction to exploring new places by bike.

No matter how big or small the challenge you set yourself, these simple ways to check your mind and emotions can really help when you feel any doubt. This is my mental toolkit:

What is stopping me?
Physical - I’m not fit enough.
Mental - I’m not good enough.
Society- I shouldn’t do that; my familiy are worried; it’s not safe.

Is that reason logical? Is it true? Is the risk real?
Physical - You’re capable of so much more than you think. If in doubt start small and work up.
Mental - Think of all the things you’ve managed before that you thought you couldn’t.
Society - Sadly there is some element of truth to this, our loved ones will always worry for us. But, we do what we can to minimise risk and remember: it’s your life, sometimes we need to do things for ourselves and you’re going to be stronger from this.

How have I prepared for these issues?
Physical - I done my training, I have the correct kit.
Mental - I researched and planned, I know that things can go wrong and that doesn’t mean I’m a failure, I will learn from this.
Society - I’ve made plans to keep myself safe, I will keep in touch with my loved ones to reassure them.

Just give it a go. You’ll probably succeed and if not you’ll have learnt something about yourself and be all the stronger for it. That is a success in itself.