2019 WTF Bikexplorers Summit: Bike as Healer for All

The outdoors can mean many different things to people. For those into bikes, especially mountain biking, the woods are a place to send and shred. We trade leads and follows, lines and trails. We might not admit it, but for a lot of us riding is a form of therapy. Instead of therapists invoices we sink our cash into new bikes and wheels for the same mental result, and a lot more sweat. Those of us who enjoy unrestricted access to outdoors might be unaware that not everyone experiences that same ease of access. As a result, the benefits one gets from riding through through the woods or in the mountains with friends are not evenly felt by all.

The WTF Bikexplorers Summit – part skill share, part retreat – is a forum for WTF folks that aims to change that imbalance. This year, the second annual summit (the first one was in Montana) featured a pre-summit camp out and ride from the Chris King Farm outside of Portland, OR to the summit in Vernonia.

I came to the 2019 WTF Bikexplorers Summit to take photos and facilitate a talk on diversity in the outdoor industry hosted by Specialized Bicycles, a brand partner of the event. I also attended because, as a transgender man who’s been into bikes my whole life, it was a coming home for me. Back in the early 2000’s I helped start a WTF workshop day at the local Santa Cruz community shop, The Bike Church. I never dreamed that a WTF space would find an eventual incarnation of the magnitude expressed in the Summit. One thing for sure, the desire for the WTF Bikexplorers Summit is high – this year’s event sold out entries in less than 2 hours and people came from all over including Japan, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and the central and eastern US.

Which brings me back to the need. The greatest theme from this year’s WTF Bikexplorers Summit was the importance of access to the outdoors as a means for self-care, and the greatest need for that access was coming from the QTIBIPoC (Queer, Trans and Intersex Black, Indigenous & Persons of Color) communities within cycling. Throughout the sessions at this year’s summit, this theme was expressed again and again. Sometimes through discussion, sometimes through ceremony, sometimes through skill-sharing. In their own words, several session leaders from the Summit share the reasons why they chose to lead sessions around themes of care and healing. Here are their key take-aways.

Jesi Harris – Cheap, Black and Grateful in LA

I’m cheap. Notoriously so. In fact, though I may shroud it in rhetoric about environmentalism and exercise, the primary reason I ride a bike is to resist going into debt over my form of transportation. So, when I was invited to this year’s WTF Bikexplorers Summit, my first question was “How much does it cost,” itself a thinly veiled declaration that “I ain’t gonna pay for it!” As is my MO, I looked to reduce the cost of my attendance by applying to present about one of my passions – access to natural space for marginalized communities.

This is a topic that hits me deeply as a black person in an urban space and a person interested in the biological basis of human cognition. Many of my community suffer from a combination of disconnection from, underexposure to, and fear of the “great outdoors” and, to be fair, much of the time we’ve spent there has historically been involuntary, to say the least. This has grave effects on our mental and physical health – more than most of us are able to realize and name. From my arrival to setting up camp and joining the din of voices in the pavilion area, I knew that this convening was different. I’m used to being the only black person in these kinds of spaces – it’s how I’ve lived my life – so I was surprised to find that there were others. I wasn’t even the only black queer non-binary person – and that’s saying a lot!

The ways we laughed and smiled and talked about each other in loud, raucous voices already felt like family. I arrived completely expecting to make my presentation to a crowd of white people sitting cross-legged on picnic blankets, moaning and nodding their agreement but having no lived experience with the topic. I was wrong. The discussion framed by my presentation was rich and rewarding. It expanded even my working knowledge of the problem and solutions at hand. (Also, we were indoors.) For that, I am grateful. For that, I remain connected to this incredible menagerie of humans and ideas. Heck, I’d even pay for it.

Jesi Harris

Ale Villalba – Creating Safer Spaces: Recognizing Power to Heal Ourselves

Creating community requires bravery. It requires constant self-reflection, and it requires that we develop a sense of compassion first and foremost towards ourselves. At this year’s summit, my hope with the workshop “Creating Safer Spaces: Recognizing Power to Heal Ourselves” was to teach an interactive way we can engage with, imagine, and create a community off the basis that the life experiences we carry with us shape the way we take up space and interact with others.

Those of us who are a gender, sexual and/or racial minority are taught that the world doesn’t want to see us, hear us, or fight for us, and as a result we begin to live our lives out of a politics of resistance. Allocating time to talk about our pain, resilience and healing (whether it be in regards to the cycling community or beyond) is very intentionally creating space to be tender, to be our whole selves without the oppressing weight of the outside world. After all, we carry those experiences with us on our bikes. We work through them, embrace them, and let them go. The bicycle is merely our common, beloved tool.

Ale Villalba

Nicole Villegas – Mind, Body, Bike

In the Mind, Body, Bike session, Dr. Nicole Villegas, OTD, OTR/L (she/they) talked about healing trauma and building resilience on and off the bike. They explored the phenomenon of the similarity between body-based responses while riding a bike, like increased heart rate and breathing, to experiences of anxiousness or intense stress. What makes the difference? How can we harness the positive experiences on the bicycle, like feeling joy, connection and gratitude, to cultivate resilience in day-to-day life?

Together, the group shared and practiced body-based techniques to tap into soothing responses for the nervous system. They reflected on the potential for flexibility and change. The session closed with an excerpt from the poem Holy Love by Talia C. Johnson. “Who are we when we embrace holy love in our spirit? We are connected with who we are, embracing ourselves…Who are we when we embrace holy love in our body? We are full human beings, able to be in the world…”

-Nicole Villegas

The Future

Self-care and healing through being outdoors was such a persistent theme that I found it suffused into almost every discussion I attended. Clearly there is a desire, and a need. The Summit just gave it a fun summer camp-like structure through which 150 lucky people could gather and learn. What’s clear to me from the Summit is that the WTF community is growing. WTF Bikexplorers organizers Sarah Swallow, Tenzin “Nam” Namdol, Whitney Ford-Terry, Mary Lytle, Jocelyn Gaudi Quarrell, and Molly Sugar are planning ways for the group to reach more people. Next year’s efforts will expand into media, a grassroots local ride series, and a gravel race team. Sarah will be leading the gravel race team, Mary and Molly are launching the “Get Rad, Be Radical” publication, Whitney is launching the “Within and Without” podcast, and the grassroots ride series will be expanding and building local WTF Bikexplorer groups regionally to host and lead rides. Be on the lookout for ways you can get involved.