The following story, written by Cathy Zimmerman, appeared in the Daily News on September 14, 2010. Check the video at the bottom of this post.
They back their blog videos with a heart-racing rock beat. But when the Growlers Gulch Girls careen down the trail, it’s all quiet but for the cry of a bird or their own breathing as they take a curve.
Mountain biking is an interesting mix of balm and bruises.
As the September sun throws orange beams through the trees, trail riders roll on a forest floor cushioned by brown needles and fir fibers.
Dara Muldoon likes to stop, listen, look at the textures. “It gives me inspiration,” said the 33-year-old Battle Ground potter. This is a woman who broke a hip riding mountain trails.
Melanie “Mel” Norris, 39, loves the peace and beauty. She broke her collarbone once and rode another five hours.
Adrenaline is the main hook for Tonya Breedlove, 26, of Longview, who works in human resources for Unfi. “I like to challenge myself every time, to get faster.”
“I just like to get out on the road,” said 28-year-old Samantha “Sam” Loney of Longview, a contract pipefitter. “I love it out here.”
The Growlers Gulch Girls, a biker’s dozen of 20-something to 50-something women, celebrated their one-year anniversary as a trail-riding group in July.
Mel and Dara hatched the sisterhood around a campfire one night in 2008.
The name is borrowed from a bunch of local guys, including some of their boyfriends or husbands, who build and ride mountain trails with leader Jim “Jeep” LeMonds, who lives on Growlers Gulch Road in Castle Rock.
The two groups now pitch in together on trail maintenance, organized rides, blog videos and camaraderie.
They call their kids “Baby Growlers.” And after some rides, they gather at the LeMonds place to share bragging rights and microbrews.
From the Growlers Girls’ blog: “The GGGs celebrated New Year’s Day by attending the 2010 Bike and Brew at Growlers Gulch. Rob Larson and Jack Berry hid beers in the woods for us to find during our ride. The only bad thing was we had to share with the guys …”
A new kind of sweeping
They started so they could set their own pace, but the GGGs have become competitive.
Mel, who moved from Arkansas to Kalama with her husband, Paul, started to ride 15 years ago at his suggestion. “It was my first test as potential girlfriend material,” she said. “I was not a mountain biker; it scared me half to death.”
After Paul joined the Growlers Gulch entourage, Mel said, “I realized there were other women that did this. Before, I was intimidated” by riding with the guys. “I would hold them up.”
Again urged on by Paul, she sent out invites to women who might want to ride together.
“The response was overwhelming,” she said. “Thirteen girls showed up for the first ride. We had always ridden with our husbands. It turned out to be easier to take criticism from somebody you didn’t live with.”
They did more talking than riding at first, but they soon shifted gears.
The Girls ride about once a week, year-round, in groups of four or five. Summer is not as organized due to vacations and summer activities.
In one year, they’ve ramped up their confidence in the woods.
The boys are taking notice.
“If you ride with the GGG, you need to adjust your male ego because they are fit and skilled and can ride a lot of guys into the ground,” said Dave LeMonds, 56, an administrator at Peace Health.
According to Ryan McMaster, a 28-year-old electrical engineer, the Girls “are more competitive and mentally tough than the guys. One of them, Mel Norris, finished a very hard ride after breaking her shoulder. She hit a tree about seven miles in and somehow managed to finish the entire 30-mile race.”
Berry, 54, director of Imaging Services at Pacific Imaging Center, said the Girls’ endurance “makes me believe that I need to suck it up and try harder.”
“We’re getting much faster,” Mel conceded, but she said the Girls still plan rides to accommodate different paces.
“We try to stay together,” she said. “We have a leader and a sweeper,” someone who rides at the end “in case anybody takes a fall or a crazy turn.”
Most ride full-suspension bikes, with shocks in front and back. “It’s good for my old back,” said Mel, who’s got a 40th birthday coming up.
Riders wear helmets, gloves, knee and shin guards, and flat shoes or bike shoes that clip to pedals.
Mel said clipped shoes make it easier to ride up hill, because you can bring the pedal up in a full circle, but they also make it harder to part from the bike during a fall.
“The bike takes a good beating. Lucky for me, my husband is an awesome mechanic.”
Mel combines parenting with full-time work at Kyocera in Vancouver, but she’s riding trails as often as she can, she said.
How does everything at home get done?
“It doesn’t,” she said, laughing.
Beginners start on wide, cleared trails, but the go-getters hanker to ride over piles of logs, along mountain ridges and up steep inclines.
Using handlebar and head lamps, they stay out past dark. And several GGGs are now racing.
Better health through spills and screams
Dara, the potter, moved here from Montana. Riding for her is “therapeutic,” she said. “It’s a great stress reliever. All you can think about is what you’re doing. If you think about work –”
“You fall down,” Mel finished.
Sam said they wear bright clothes during hunting season and bells to scare off bears. “Once, we heard a big cat screaming,” she said.
Sam’s husband, Eric Loney, races bicycles, and they flew to Brazil this month so he could participate in a downhill race there. The women ride around Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens, and load up their bikes whenever they travel and camp.
Riding trails along cliff faces or steep drop-offs, “you go as fast as you can, and you don’t look down,” said Tonya.
“If you look at a tree, you’re going to hit that tree,” added Sam. “I saw Tonya hit a tree, She slid down like Tarzan.”
For Jane, Tarzan and everyone in between, mountain biking is a workout.
“It keeps me eating cheese and butter,” said Mel, who said she’s hardly the fittest.
“Compared to rest of the U.S., I’m fit,” she said. “Compared to other folks I ride with, I’m not fit at all. They take it far more seriously.”
The Girls have skinned their knees, broken bones and required stitches. They heal and get back on their bikes.
Do the women worry about long-term consequences of biking wear and tear?
Not much, said Dara. “This is low-impact riding.”
Added Tonya, “If we sat on the couch eating baked potatoes, we’d have a lot more problems than we will from this.”
They want to share the glory, in fact.
“We really want to encourage women that haven’t ridden before to join us,” said Dara. “We take our time. We like to help other women learn.”
The group sets up learning stations for beginners “to practice log-overs, bridges and tight corners,” Tonya said. “We’ll take pictures — you can show your husband.”