What I Learned at the Rowdy Gowdy Women’s MTB Camp


What I Learned at the Rowdy Gowdy Women’s MTB Camp

During her review period with the Ibis Cycles Ripley, Hailey Moore attended the 2024 Rowdy Gowdy women’s mountain bike camp outside of Laramie, Wyoming, with hopes of gaining a better understanding of full-suspension fundamentals. In the age of internet tutorials and DIY culture, read on for a recap of what she learned in this directed and supportive setting.

You can hear Rowdy Gowdy camp founder Jenn Hess’ laugh a mile away: It’s a delightfully electrifying escalation and, importantly, it’s contagious. It creates an air of immediate camaraderie and positivity, the exact qualities that will put you at ease in an otherwise challenging situation. While Jenn may be the one who sets the tone, I found it was one shared by all of the coaches on a weekend in early June at the Curt Gowdy State Park, where myself and a few dozen other women gathered to practice a little collective vulnerability and improve our mountain biking skills.

Jenn (left) illustrating a ‘ready’ position; coach intros (center); box drops for the Saturday skills circuit (right)

I first met Jenn a few years ago at a Pearl Izumi women’s event. A career wildlife biologist, Jenn’s self-described “fun-time job” is directing and co-directing mountain bike camps and clinics for all ages and abilities. One of her longest-running camps is the two-day Rowdy Gowdy, a weekend event for women of all skill levels, from those entering the sport looking to learn the basics, to more advanced riders seeking to progress further and/or correct bad habits.

Along with her characteristic laugh, my impression of Jenn at that first meeting was: she’s the real deal. The word “community” gets bandied about a lot these days, but in hearing Jenn talk about her motivation to start and maintain events that get more women on mountain bikes like the Rowdy Gowdy, that word no longer felt overused. I listened to her tell a story about being at a bike park not that long ago and being the only woman there going off the big jumps, that is until she noticed a younger girl – 10 or so – also taking the bold lines. In the retelling, Jenn’s face beamed as she recalled asking the girl if she wanted to ride the lifts with her, recognizing something of her own younger self. But behind the enthusiasm, I thought I discerned a splinter of sadness, an acknowledgement by omission of how lonely it can be when you’re the only one.

After filing away the idea of attending the Rowdy Gowdy at some future date – the Curt Gowdy State Park is less than a two-hour drive for me – I finally got the chance to make good on that mental note this spring while trying out a full-suspension mountain bike for the first time. Even though I’d spent some time riding hardtails, the Ripley opened up terrain that also exposed my technical shortcomings. Furthermore, I’d never really gotten any formal trail-riding tutorials and I wanted to start practicing some good habits before any bad ones got too engrained. With some first-day-of-school butterflies, I packed up the bike and myself and headed towards the rolling open plains of southern Wyoming.

Sign in and setup

After the initial sign-in, bike safety check, and coach intros, both days of the camp followed the same format: a three-hour skills circuit in the morning, lunch, then small-group rides on the park’s surrounding trails. Even participants local to the area were encouraged to car or tent camp on-site for Friday and Saturday nights and four meals were included in the camp’s cost throughout the weekend. For the skills circuit and riding portions of the event, we were divided into small groups that we would stay with for both days, though the coaches we worked with would change throughout.

Waiting out a short-lived shower.

Day 1

Saturday started somewhat ominously with a few passing showers – weather moves fast in Wyoming skies! – but fortunately that was the only real precipitation to speak of for the weekend. The camp kicked off with the first skills circuit that took us through different stations, with each station dedicated to practicing certain fundamentals: balance and body position, sighting a line, braking, dismounting on off-camber terrain, cornering, and obstacles. Saturday morning, the very first station my group and I were assigned to got to the point and focused on body position and balance in steeper scenarios, both climbing and descending. The two coaches asked for a volunteer to go first then hoisted the rear wheel of the volunteer’s bike up onto a picnic table bench (maybe 18″ off the ground).

Learning “heavy feet, light hands.”

With one coach sitting on the table stabilizing the rear wheel and the other holding the front and checking the brakes, they instructed the volunteer to get on her bike (dropper down, of course). From that static position, the challenge was to see if she could hover behind the saddle and keep her hands lifted over the brakes, to illustrate how to keep your weight centered over the bottom bracket as the bike takes on different angles. In short, “heavy feet, light hands.” To escape the position, the rider would take over the brakes and the coach holding the front wheel would give a 3-2-1-countdown before giving the bars a firm pull forward; for riders who may be less familiar with larger, roll-able drops, I thought this was a creative and controlled way to introduce that sensation.

Trust the bike! (left); box drops (center); braking – how close can you get without skidding? (right)

The other Saturday stations included anticipatory braking, low-speed cornering (where we practiced making tight circles by only ratcheting the pedals), small and medium-sized box drops, and working on trusting our tires when leaning our bikes from side to side. After an on-site catered lunch that was above and beyond any brown-bag-sandwich-and-chips situation I was anticipating, we regrouped and rolled out to the trails.

Curt Gowdy trails

With a base elevation around 7,500′ and a high point just over 9,000′, the terrain comprising Curt Gowdy is deceptively rolling, weaving in and out of open, boulder-studded meadows and stands of evergreens. While not quite as coarse and kitty-litter loose as the decomposed granite trails surrounding Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs (for those familiar), the riding surface did reflect the abundant rock in the area. And, for me, the huge embedded slabs were a new type of feature.

Navigating off-camber corners, pinch-points in the trail between boulders, and descending Curt Gowdy’s distinctive slabs were the primary focuses of my group’s Saturday ride. With two coaches for our group of six riders, we were able to efficiently stop and session different sections of trail, something I’ve hardly ever done in the past. I know this isn’t the best approach for technical progression, but when I’m out on a ride, it’s hard to want to break up the momentum by stopping and returning to a problematic section.


In the context of the camp, sessioning different features was a lot more fun with the group. Being able to first watch a coach expertly execute a tough section helped create a visual to aim for (and made the terrain less intimidating), and then having the coaches spot and give verbal pointers while the rest of the group cheered on created an incredibly supportive atmosphere. By the end of the ride, just as features that had seemed too daunting at first were feeling accessible, I had the thought, “But would I come back and ride this solo?” Although I now knew that I was capable of cleaning everything we’d just ridden, I still felt a little lingering reservation that, I think, speaks to the power that confidence can play in these scenarios. Watching the coaches calmly set examples and having the verbal encouragement of the group had tricked me into feeling more confident and I’d ridden terrain that I might have shied away from otherwise. Now, I just needed to take that confidence with me.

Based on conversations in the group, I think other women felt the same. I heard one rider say that, just the previous week, she’d walked a lot of what we’d just ridden. Another element of the group dynamic was feeling our individual successes create a collective momentum that contributed to the high-spirits vibe.

Day 2

Sunday started with the kind of relaxed yoga session I can get behind, with the instructor’s cues including, “I don’t know the names – move into Warrior Of Some Number” and coffee sips in between. After limbering up, I heard riders over breakfast say things like “Yesterday was my longest day on my bike,” and “I’m a little sore today!”

The Day 2 skills circuit built on the groundwork from the previous day; moving around the bike for cornering at faster speeds (“laser-beam hips!”), games of foot-down, practicing wheel lifts and track stands, boosting off ramps and table tops, and bike limbo (the station that I was perhaps the best at; unfortunately, this skill seems least transferable to actual riding).

Everyone loves bike limbo (left); table tops (center); playing foot down (right)

Following another impressive lunch spread, we were given the option for Sunday’s ride to self-select into new groups based on what we wanted to work on: faster riding, more technical descents, a recovery spin, or climbing. Although my legs still felt fatigued from Unbound and were further tired out from the weekend, I elected to go with the climbing group in an effort to compliment the previous day’s descending-focused outing.

While several of the skill stations throughout the weekend had left me with a list of things to practice—reminding myself to rotate my hips and shoulders through corners, get out of the saddle earlier than I think on climbs—Sunday’s climbing-focused ride felt the most applicably beneficial. Our group was small – maybe four or five riders and two coaches – and working through the park’s rock steps and up the slabs felt like a day out with friends. Watching one of the older coaches, Anne, clear steep sections on her singlespeed Soma hardtail was especially inspiring.

It was during this ride that I felt the effectiveness of keeping my gaze ahead in practice, as the coaches constantly reminded us to keep our eyes up. It was also during this ride that I was reminded of the power of expectations; if you don’t expect to ride through something, you probably won’t. I was impressed, if a little abashed, when after almost clearing a particularly rocky pitch, one of the coaches chided me good naturedly, “No! You anticipated putting your foot down!” Oops, got me.


As the weekend wound down and people and bikes started trickling out, I was sad to feel that it was already over. Something that struck me during the weekend is that, as adults, we have few opportunities for real guided learning. Sure, there are infinite YouTube tutorials, certificate programs, self-help books, podcasts, and apps. While valuable, those resources offer a different, more self-starting kind of learning experience with limited amounts of social support. My most profound take-away from the Rowdy Gowdy was how refreshing it felt to be taught, gently corrected, and pushed in an environment where the encouragement of others was there when my own confidence found its limits.

I was also truly impressed with the details of the event. The venue and the food created a delightful camping experience. The low coach-to-rider ratio made it feel like each rider was receiving thorough attention and none of the skills stations felt rote. In addition to simply wanting to get more women on the trails, Jen told me that she wants to get more women on more advanced terrain by removing perceived barriers to entry. This goal also felt palpable at the camp; if a rider quickly mastered a skill, a coach would urge them to try the next step up. There was never a ceiling imposed on what any rider should try.

The last thing I heard as I rolled out of camp – windows down, body and brain spent from a weekend of learning – was Jen laughing. I wondered how many women had come through her camps over the years, how many women had laughed here, how many women had gotten to take a little piece of community and confidence with them. I’d like to think those two things can be as contagious as laughing with new friends, but sometimes you have to go out of your way to catch them. I’m glad I did at the Rowdy Gowdy.