8th March 2018
#WOMENDURANCE | 1 | JENN
We very often build up a personal relationship with our customers, the first communications instantly break down barriers because we are often talking about the customers physical dimensions and this can move on to back pain, injuries, struggles to raise the cash for their dream bike and the races and adventures that they have planned.
This is a really important side of Mason for me, I love to know where my creations are going in the world and where they are carrying people. It’s incredible how many Mason owners report back that their new bike has had a significant impact on their riding and sometimes inspired and encouraged real change in their lives.
I’ve always admired the more ‘left field’ and independent spirits in life, not so much the rebels but more the people who choose to go their own way, who are driven by something different, have an aversion to ‘normal’ and an open minded feeling of wonder at the world.
So, when I feel a real connection made with a new Mason owner, it is inevitably one of those types as above. Recently, it’s been really striking how we keep noticing the incredible rides, races and adventures of the women that own our bikes. We haven’t been deliberately looking but it’s just been impossible not to be enthralled by what these people are doing.
I’ve wanted to write something to highlight these impressive endeavours for a while and then ‘International Women’s Day’ arrived, so I was spurred into action and contacted 5 female Mason owners with some Q’s.
The idea was to run them all in the blog post you see here but once I started reading I was blown away by the emotion, honesty and integrity in the writing and didn’t want to edit out a single word. So, we are going to run them all in full, starting today and posting 1 a day for the 5 days following International Women’s Day.
Jenn Wicks approached us because she and her husband were entering the ‘BikingMan Oman’ ultra-endurance race, they had done their research and wanted us to build them a Bokeh AdventureSport bike each. An instant connection was made and we followed them through their training and build up to the race and delivered the bikes.
Then, weeks before the event Jenn's husband injured his foot badly during an MTB ride and had to cancel his race. Jenn bravely went to the start line alone and rode an incredible race to be awarded ‘Bravest Rider’ at the finishing ceremony. The following are her open and moving answers to my Q’s.
1. Please describe your Mason bike : ]
My Mason Bokeh is my first foray into the world of gravel cycling. Bikingman Oman was a perfect excuse for a new bike, but I also wanted something a bit more versatile for future adventure riding that will take me from road to gravel with ease. My Bokeh perfectly complements my other bikes, allowing me greater flexibility and a unique riding experience. As we always say in our house: the correct number of bikes is n+1. My 'Element Grey' Bokeh is an aesthetically beautiful and playful bike fitted with SuperDura Dynamo disc wheels, and tubeless Schwalbe G-Ones. So far, I have ridden her in the muddy trails of the New Forest in the UK, the long smoothly paved highways of Qatar, and recently in the mountains and on the highways of Oman.
2. Why did you first get into cycling and what drives you to do the type of riding that you do?
I have ridden a bike since I can remember. It was my transportation as a child, and allowed me to wander away with a sense of independence and freedom. But I really got into cycling when I met my husband, John, here in Qatar and we started mountain biking in the desert.
What drives me is always raising the bar and stretching myself just that much further. I am always looking for the next big thing that is going to scare the crap out of me.
I still have the exact same feeling of freedom I have always had when riding a bike. Only after we started cycling in Qatar, I started racing. We have a small but vibrant cycling community here in Qatar, and I have tried it all. I race in the local road and MTB races, and I even tried triathlon once, but decided it wasn't really my thing. I have come a long way since my first race in 2013, but the common element is the simple love of just riding my bike. I'm not very fast but I am stubborn, which goes a long way in endurance races. What drives me is always raising the bar and stretching myself just that much further. I am always looking for the next big thing that is going to scare the crap out of me.
3. We are noticing more and more Women riding ultra-endurance races and expeditions, we've recently seen female Mason riders heading off all over the world and competing in very testing rides. Do you think more women are now doing these rides, or is it that we are just noticing them more?
I'm quite new to the sport of ultra cycling, so I can't really speak for other women or the trend. But I do know that role models work. Every time I see a woman taking on a big challenge, I am inspired to stretch myself a bit more. The thought creeps in, "Hey, maybe I can do something like that!" and it circles around and around until it materializes into something real. And then the planning and preparation begin. That's why it is so important for me to speak and write about my experiences. I am genuinely just an average person who has a real job and very eclectic set of interests and talents. Cycling is just one thing I love to do. Women ultra endurance cyclists like Juliana Buhring, Sarah Hammond, Naomi Freireich and others inspire me to be braver, more adventurous, and to boldly believe that my limits are a mere illusion. I think the more women who show up to these crazy races and talk about their experiences, the more women will be inspired to follow.
4. 'Adventure Riding' and 'Bike Packing' seems to be exploding right now, many riders are discovering what lies either side of the roads that they have been riding for years! I'm often encouraging people to head out into the unknown, get a bit lost and 'discover their inner caveman/woman'! But our lives are increasingly busy and a proper adventure needs time, so how do you manage to fit your essential riding into your busy lives?
Cycling is a central part of our lives, and I can't imagine us not making it a priority. John was nearly killed in a head-on collision while cycling in 2016 here in Qatar. His injuries included a TBI, fractured spine and wrist and he broke almost every bone in his face including his eye orbits. It was terrifying. After his surgery, we made a pact that we would do something amazing to make ourselves proud and to give John the incentive to recover. We registered to race joBerg2c - a nine-day MTB stage race in South Africa - together just one year after his accident.
I choose less busy roads and avoid road cycling where possible. I definitely see more off-road adventure racing in my future! That's where the real fun lies for me.
We signed up when he was still in the hospital. Setting this goal was important for me because I was traumatized after the incident and couldn't even ride indoors without crying at first. Since then, I have had a heightened sensitivity to sharing the road with speeding vehicles, so when I have the choice, I choose less busy roads and avoid road cycling where possible. I definitely see more off-road adventure racing in my future! That's where the real fun lies for me.
As for fitting in the training when our lives are so busy, that is getting easier as my goals get bigger and more attractive. My training here in Qatar is focused mainly on fitness and strength. I train as much as possible for different kinds of races, and I do most of my training during the week indoors using Zwift. On the weekends, in preparation for Bikingman Oman, I have been driving an hour out of the city to get to a safer place with less traffic where I can ride on smooth roads and put in some longer hours with my bike fully loaded with bags, gear, etc. It gets pretty boring after awhile, but you have to get creative when you are training in places where the landscape is monotonous. That's why choosing races in beautiful locations is becoming a bit of an obsession. I always look forward to going back to Canada where I can venture out on my bike surrounded by natural beauty and clean air, where even a short ride can present that sense of adventure and novelty.
5. Describe that 'Take your breath away moment' that you have experienced when riding, racing or adventuring.
At the moment, I have to say reaching the summit of Jebel Shams - the 2000m climb in Oman that I just completed last week. The scenery was stunning and I managed to arrive at the top before the worst heat of the day, so I was really able to enjoy it. Everyone had built up this climb as the biggest challenge of the 1050km ultra-endurance sprint, but for me it was the most fun I had all week. As a mountain biker, I think we tend to engage in those long slogs with the expectation of a big reward for it at the end! Usually it's the downhill, and often it's a beautiful panoramic view. That's how I felt about Jebel Shams. I hiked a bit of it, but every step towards the top gave me more energy and I was almost giddy when I could see the summit was in reach. I ate quickly and forced myself to take a quick rest because I was genuinely excited about the ride down. My Bokeh was the perfect partner for the descent! I felt like I was flying on some of the downhills, and my MTB experience kicked in as I spotted the best lines, and tried to avoid the giant pointy rocks everywhere. I had to adjust my approach slightly when I realized I was lacking front suspension - ha! - but really enjoyed coming down that mountain.
6. Modern life puts all sorts of pressures on us, riding is undoubtedly good for us physically but can you describe how it helps you mentally? Would you mind sharing something in particular that riding has helped you through or helped shape things for the better?
John's accident is the best example of how riding has helped us overcome a big hurdle together. It was through our common cycling goals that we were able to support each other through a very difficult time and find joy again very quickly. Finishing that race together with our hands held proudly over our heads as we crossed the finish line was a moment we will never forget.
Also, the endurance races are becoming more appealing to me as I can see a direct parallel between the mental and physical effort and the challenges we face in our day to day lives. I, of course, love the satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment when I complete a long tough race. But reflecting on the roller coaster of emotions and effort after the fact provides me with so many lessons from which to learn. I think modern life has put artificial pressures on us, and in many cases we use those pressures and conflicts as distractions to keep ourselves somewhat comfortable and safe. When we choose to put ourselves through something grueling like an ultra endurance race, we are choosing discomfort over comfort, suffering over ease, and those choices help us grow and learn. I don't know for sure, but I suspect the superstars of ultra racing have mastered the art of bringing ease to suffering and finding comfort in the pain. I glimpsed this in myself in Oman last week, and the seed has been planted to explore this side of myself more.
You can read more of Jenn's (& John's) captivating stories on her blog Pedal Powered Adventures. Headlining the entries right now is Jenn's race report - a must read.
Wouldn't expect another update soon though as she'll surely be recovering from the 1000km of desert-racing for a while! Then again, it is Jenn...
Next up in our #Womendurance series is #MASONite Naomi Freireich - British 24 Hour MTB Champion. We've asked the same questions to Naomi and we're super excited to share the inspiration with you in #Womendurance Part 2.