Bittersweet No. 2

“We are here to empower, not overpower.” It was with that intention that over 60 women of all riding abilities gathered in the Northeast Kingdom last weekend braving rain, sleet and plummeting temperatures. But leave it to a group of cycling-minded women to embrace the elements and see this as just another opportunity to connect, create and unite.

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It all started when Heidi Meyers began counting up registrants for the 2018 Rasputitsa spring gravel classic and noticed something: far fewer women were signing up than men.

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Her remedy? Do as she has always done and build community. So Heidi teamed up with Colavita Cares, the community outreach branch of the Colavita Women’s Pro Cycling Team and some of the female leaders in the cycling world to put on events centered on empowerment, learning, and cameraradie for women’s cycling.

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Last weekend, in its second iteration, Bittersweet came alive as a one-day, action-packed retreat based out of The Hub Trailside at the Kingdom Trails. As noon approached women from all over New England gathered around an outdoor firepit, and the event kicked off with a skills clinic hosted by Andrea Smith, bike mechanic for Team Colavita and the only female mechanic on the pro circuit. In this hands-on workshop participants worked in groups to fix flats and get acquainted with some of the gnarlier parts of bike maintenance. And the pros dished out their secret tips for cleaning and tinkering with your bike both at home and out on the road.

Next, ultra-inspiring women from across the spectrum of experience and expertise gave FEM Talks (like TED talks, but all-female) on a range of topics from writing and podcasting in the cycling world, to working through the disappointment of injury, dealing with saddle sores, starting a bike apparel business, leadership in the cycling event business, and life as an “adult on-set” racer addicted to cyclocross. Following the talks we bundled up and saddled up, divided into guided riding groups, and set off on hour-long rides on the Kingdom Trails and a local gravel route.

As the rides wrapped up the beer and conversation started flowing. The Colavita ladies cranked hearty, wood-fired pizzas out of their oven trailer and the film Project Y drew a crowd to the big screen. A feeling of shared purpose and understanding emanated from the group. In much the same way that the day began, conversations returned to a reality that many of us live: we struggle with self-doubt, wondering if we can, if we should take that leap out of our comfort zone. This day was about setting new goals and dreaming bigger, supported by a team of women who share a common goal: more girls, of every age, on bikes. And as we boogied down to the tunes of Chickweed, it was clear we were already making some progress. On top of a little hill in rural Vermont we’d created a new community of shared belonging and a renewed confidence that “strength happens with you let go of self-doubt.” And that truth is pretty damn sweet.

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