top of page

Moving Past Proving Myself: Finding Freedom (& Friends) on the Trail

I recently posted a quick story about my experience in my local dirt bike shop, where I was told a larger size bike was too much power for me and a smaller one I could maybe handle easier.

This story, while brief, is one that reached and connected with many women. Largely because interactions like the one I had aren’t as rare as we’d like them to be in the dirt bike world.

It’s incredibly meaningful to be able to connect with other riders, especially with other female riders who have experienced similar interactions as my recent chat in the local shop. However, it is important to me to share more of my story, as it’s one that I believe is worth sharing and might prove helpful to anyone new to the sport or just navigating the dirt bike world as a female.

If you read my previous post, you saw a small glimpse of a typical interaction that happens with females in dirt bike shops. Not ideal, and certainly not everywhere! However, for the sake of sharing my journey, I must go back about 9 years, when my first experience like this happened:.

It’s 2013 and I’m preparing for the 38th annual Colorado 500 Charity Dirt Ride. A 5 day ride in the rocky mountains (Up to this point, no female had ever done the 500). The ride is about 6 weeks away and I’m getting my gear in order. I needed elbow pads. (I’d always hated riding with them, but my dad insisted I get some).

I go into the local KTM shop, find the gear section and their inventory looks low. Adult M/L is too big and youth S is way too tight. An adult S would likely be great. I’m helping myself climb up to get items off the hooks. There aren’t any other customers in the store, but I don’t mind self exploring the protective equipment section.

Eventually I got it all back hanging and looking the way it did before I tried on each size. An employee makes his way over, and I ask about sizes - if they have any orders arriving soon to fill the size gaps in the inventory. The answer is ‘No’, with no other follow up. I persist and ask if it would be possible for them to order a set of size Small elbow pads for me. The response I received, “You know, why don’t you try Sports Authority, in their rollerblading section. Maybe they will have elbow pads for you”.

Now, I can’t say with 100% certainty, but I would be willing to place a hefty wager on the fact that not a single male rider has been directed to the roller blading section of a sporting goods store when looking for protective equipment.

As you can imagine, being recommended to a sporting goods store didn’t exactly sit well with me. I was pretty fired up, and swore off ever going to that shop again. However, life on the bike continued - I rode in the 2013 Colorado 500 and was one of the first ever female riders. I rode with my Dad and a handful of his riding buddies that he’s had for nearly 20 years. They all treated me with absoluterespect and kindness -

At the bottom of the sair steps coming down Black Bear Pass, above Telluride, CO

I had been on my Honda CRF 250x maybe 5 times before that ride, it was my first ‘big bike’. (When I signed up, I was on a CRF 150 and we had to hustle to find a bigger bike in time for the ride!) As soon as I was invited, I signed right up - it was the first year invitations went out to women! I signed up for that ride based on my confidence in myself, my determination and grit, but never really factored in time on the bike or training. I look back now and am glad I didn’t have concern for experience on the bike (or lack thereof), because I surely would have played it safe and trained for a season or two before throwing myself into the longest and hardest ride of my life. At the end of the ride, among the 225 plus riders, I was voted Rookie of the Year. I was shocked, proud and excited! I remember I gave a speech and said something about starting out just riding with my Dad, but finished the week with a group of Dads. My mom told me that my Dad teared up during my speech and was so proud of me. It was an incredible moment and one I’m forever thankful to share with my family. The next summer, I sent out about 5 fathers day cards. My moto family was expanding.

Accepting Rookie of The Year Award. Left to Right: Peppy Dallenbach, Maurine Fitzpatrick, John Fitzpatrick, Kat Fitzpatrick, Wally Dallenbach Sr.

The following year as the 500 approached, I was really hoping to feel respected as a female rider. Thinking I had broken through the glass ceiling and hopefully changed the way women are treated. I was rudely brought back down when one cocky rider said “we have a rookie with us this year who isn’t any good, I think he will be great for your group, mind if we send him with you guys instead?” I was so annoyed, - so are you saying my group isn’t any good? Or are you commenting on how we are a group with patience, and respect on the trail? I wanted to tell that rider there wasn’t enough room on the trail for him, his bike and his ego. But I held it inside. At this point in my story, I want to point out that this was 1 rider, in a group of almost 250. And the 249 were incredibly supportive, respectful, complementary and kind! Truly, for 5 days of riding in the mountains with 249 guys, only that one rider had the lack of awareness let that subtle insult slip. But all it took was one and my mind was fired up again, there I was -back to the feeling of having to ‘prove’ myself as a female. On the ride, I was consistently reminded and shown how incredible this group is. I had help with anything and everything possible. Nobody tried to change what trail we rode because I was there, they all said “we will get through it together, don’t worry” and with that sense of ease and trust, I ended up getting over, up, down and through things I had no idea I could ever have done! It wasn’t until watching GoPro footage the following week that I really grasped the landscape we were riding and what the consequences could have been, and how challenging the stuff really was! At the time, I was riding with a group of guys who believed in me, never doubted my ability for a second and were truly setting the example for what it means to be a dirt biker, and a teammate on the trail.

The days on the 500 with those guys were transformational for me, I gained confidence, and began to somewhat shed the ideas of ‘proving’ anyone wrong. Those emotions would pop up from time to time as riding ebbed and flowed into my life. There was tremendous joy when riding with my 500 family, but I felt the ‘proving’ mentality come back when I would ride with other groups, especially male riders closer to my age. Maybe it was a form of playground style flirting to put down my bike or make comments about me being a girl and what trails I could handle. Suddenly, an average beginner/intermediate trail felt so much harder. Mistakes came easier and I wasn’t feeling the joy that I had felt with the riders on the 500. I felt like I was floating down Black Bear Pass when I was with the incredible group of supporters on the 500. Yet, there I was with a group my age, feeling like a pinball bouncing side to side on the trail, hitting every rock possible. Only to arrive last to the group, hear a comment about my Honda and want to cry. I would hold it in, throw back some witty comment, get a few laughs and I guarantee nobody knew how much my feelings were hurt. How was I to ride and get better when I didn’t have anyone to ride with and the season is incredibly short in Colorado. Well, I just stuck to the regular schedule, riding the 500 and then the desert in the fall and spring with the group I’ve known all my life because those groups were safe from the criticism and comments. I was craving riding more, but didn’t have a group to ride with. It was hard to not let the comments of years past begin to pile up and take over. Despite the incredible experiences I had riding with supportive riders, and encouragement from male riders who didn’t even ride with me. I still let the short comments of a very few guys pile up in my mind and I had a heavy pot of resentment simmering.

For the most part that pot was in the background, and never boiled over, because I was able to ride with amazing people and riders who were excited to ride with me! The thoughts of others and those comments didn’t guide my actions in any way but I hadn’t fully let them go yet.

My #1 supporter always

Fast forward a few years. Life takes over, as it has a tendency to do and I hadn’t really been on the bike in years. With the exception of a few weekends here and there. I'd even upgraded to my 2020 Husqvarna TE 150i, but it sat alone in my garage with only short rides around my property to fend off cabin fever as quarantine regulations set in. I was in the middle of a pretty difficult separation and in the process of moving back home. Riding was something I had craved more of, but I didn’t make it happen over the years, as I had let the needs of others take precedence. Moving home it was my goal to ride as much as I could; that was it - even if it meant riding with other groups again, I was determined. When I shared with others that I wanted to ride more, I was met with excitement and “I’ve wanted to ride more too, let’s make it happen”. And it began to actually happen. I met great riders and made new friends, the moto family began to expand! However, when It came to my riding, I didn’t feel fully comfortable or like I was riding at my ability. Maybe it was nerves or anxiety from meeting new people, I would tell myself. And yes, largely that was true - riding with new people would give me a ridiculous amount of anxiety because without being fully aware of it, part of me was worried about what they would think of me and the ‘proving’ mentality would peek back in to make an appearance in my life. The comments made years before would play out in the back of my mind and it was hard to completely get away from them.

But I persisted and continued riding, tip-toeing my way back into the world of dirt bikes, a world I knew I loved so much. I jumped on Facebook, and noticed there were groups all over of women riders! Planning rides, asking questions and getting out there! It was incredible, and intimidating all at the same time. I wanted in. So I joined a bunch of them!

Previously shy and introverted, I slowly became so tired of being on the sidelines that I began to push down the walls that were keeping me from getting out on the trails. It would take a little bit to realize these walls were ones I had put up. When I allowed the comments and opinions of a few guys to pile up and grow, I shrunk myself and stopped participating. It was easier to tell myself “not that many women ride” or “there isn’t anyone who would want to ride trails and get after it” because those thoughts helped keep me in my comfort zone. It was easy to blame the few guys with stupid comments for me not having a group of people to ride with.

At some point I got sick of my own BS, and the desire to ride overpowered the discomfort of stepping out and facing some fears. I let go of caring what people thought about me, and continued to ride and meet new people. Now, for the most part - my riding to ‘prove’ others wrong was in the background and not driving the show anymore. But it wasn’t officially wiped out until one day in September when I met with my Naturopath.

I meet with the most badass Naturopath to keep on track with my health; mind, body and spirit - it is all connected, so she can also essentially function as my therapist. Because things in the mind can quickly turn into physical ailments and the Naturopathic approach works for me in staying healthy overall. Anyway, the day before I met with her, I had the best day of riding I had probably ever had in my life! I rode and didn’t care what the guy riding with me thought about me, released any worry there and felt on top of the world! At some point, the riding got a little more difficult and I was really in the zone, and started to ride even better than when it was more mild. What was this magic?

Sure enough, the brain pops in and delivers the ‘proving’ pot that had been simmering. This time it wasn’t comments said by previous riders, it was comments made by my previous partner in regards to me riding and following that dream and something about needing to ‘grow up’. “I did it. I proved him wrong. Look at me, I am out here crushing it and he would never believe it if he saw this. But I did it. I proved him wrong”. Yeah yeah yeah, sounds good and like I’m the champion of the story? Not quite. Suddenly the riding began to feel harder. So I kicked it up a bit in my head “yeah, bring it on. I can handle anything. Who else wants to doubt me? Bring it”. I was fired up. Still riding pretty well, but feeling a bit more tired.