There are are a growing number of female mountain bike leaders out there - but we are in the minority. So this is a real inspirational story.
We sat down, virtually, with Carrie and asked her for her perspective on her achievement and some other stuff we thought you'd like to know.
Insightful and an awful lot of sense!
So Carrie, you qualified as a level 2 Mountain Bike Leader last summer, but you have now gone on to achieve the Level 3 Award which is a great achievement; the riding is highly technical and you can operate in really remote settings, it is our highest level award. So first and foremost, Congratulations!
Thank you. When you have focused on something for a period of time and worked really hard for that goal, it still feels like I am dreaming.
As you are no doubt aware, there are very few female Level 3 leaders and there will be many folk, women in particular looking to what you have achieved and wondering if they should take that next step so can you tell us what inspired you to continue your leadership journey?
I started on the MTB Leadership journey in the Spring of 2019 as I was looking for a new challenge, something to do that was for my own personal development by choice and also to look at improving my safety and that of my friends out on the trails. I had considered L2 several years ago at the time I didn't have the confidence to go for it, but actually when it came down to it, with my riding experience and solid navigation skills I gained a strong pass. Maybe because I work in a male dominated environment and have spent years trying to change those boundaries (when I first became a team leader there were only two other female team leaders out of 24), the low numbers of women doing L3 leadership wasn't at the forefront of my mind, it isn't something that would stop me.
Many moons ago, at school I wanted to be an outdoor instructor or park ranger, I studied physical geography at university and followed an opportunity to work in environmental management hoping to make a difference to the environment and society. Now 20 years down the line, I needed to do something for myself, focusing on the MTB leadership I have been able to draw upon skills I have developed through my career and in a sense coming full circle back to my hopes when I was younger.
Rightly so, L3 is a significant jump in requirement from L2. I have always loved being in nature. I am grateful that I feel at home in the hills, particularly those of the Cairngorms National Park having grown up in Aberdeenshire. We are so tiny in both geological time and space, being in the mountains gives perspective to our often hectic lives. As a geographer I have a fondness for maps, interpreting the landscape and looking for new places to explore. You don't often see women alone in the outdoors, but I am comfortable in that environment and am eager to share those experiences with people who don't necessarily have the confidence to head out into the wilderness. As a L3 Leader you have the opportunity to make a really positive difference in peoples lives, by guiding them safety through these remote environments. So for me working towards and attaining L3 Leadership was the natural progression to making that happen.
What is it about mountain biking in particular?
I am passionate about mountain biking, the freedom it brings and the adventures it facilitates, topped off by meeting new like minded people and shared experiences. As a hobby it has been my way of resetting, mindfulness in action bringing you into the moment while you concentrate on line choice and your route down the hillside.
I love the way with mountain biking, we all have our limits and you may come to a challenging obstacle on a trail one day, you pass on it leaving it for another day. Then you come back and ride straight over the obstacle and it was easy. You make progressions without even realising, it is brilliant.
At times mountain biking has really tested my inner strength and resilience. There are times when I look back and I can't quite comprehend how I managed to do something. For example in April 2018, I set out with friends to ride the Badger Divide (Inverness to Glasgow off-road), four months previously I had hurt my back and couldn't get out of bed. Here I was still in pain heading out to do the ride, fear of missing out driving me on. The first two days were 66km and 44km respectively, the third and fourth days were 99km and 110 km, not to mention the climbing, these were the longest days I had ever ridden on the bike and after the previous days riding, I really don't know how I managed it.
What challenges did you meet along the way and how did you overcome them? Did you expect them?
Allowing self doubt to creep in, I am my own harshest critic. I found myself concentrating on all the elements I felt I wasn't so good at, which is ok for identifying areas for improvement, but those thoughts can hold you back. I had lists for everything that I needed to learn more about or skills I needed to improve, but it was important to remember all of the things I could do well. I was chatting to Jules (Cycle Wild Scotland) one day about self doubt and he pointed out he'd learnt that women will only go for a job if they meet the bulk of the criteria on the job description whereas men will give it a go regardless. It is so true. Men take more risks and they appear to be less afraid of failing, they also have more confidence in their abilities even when they shouldn't. Believe in yourself and with the right support you can achieve your goals.
When it comes to bike mechanics I have definitely been learning from my mistakes. At the start of this process I really wanted to be able to stand on my own two feet when it came to looking after my bike and of course you need the skills to pass your L3. As a kid I would dismantle my bike and put it back together again, ok the consequences seem higher now when you are an adult (have saved for months to pay for the bike) and the bike is your pride and joy, but there is no reason to be afraid of maintaining your own bike. I have used the same mechanics shop for a number of years and I have bombarded them with so many questions, I am sure they must think oh here she comes again. Recently I have been asked "have you read the instructions" and at least now I can say with confidence that I have as it is the first thing I do before attempting something new. But only after I broke a gear lever and couldn't manage to set up my Shimano front derailleur after changing the cable on my cross bike, which it turns out is set up in its own unique way, and was simple after reading the instructions. I still have plenty to learn, but I look back a year and the L3 training combined with velotech silver training has given me the confidence to carry out maintenance on my bike which I wouldn't have considered previously. It is OK to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. It is also important to ask questions, however daft they may seem. I achieved 100% in both the L2 and L3 written papers, this is such a huge indicator of how much I have learnt over this past year, I am sure if I had been given the paper a year ago I would have struggled to answer many of the questions.
As soon as I had completed the L3 training in October 2019, I had booked my assessment for early May so that I had something to aim for. Just before lockdown hit I was swinging from I can do this to I can't do this. I paid the remainder of the assessment fee to confirm my place and within days lockdown kicked in. We were all adapting to the situation. Living in the City of Edinburgh I found it pretty hard going outside as the streets and greenspaces felt so busy and didn't ride for a month. With cycling being such a large part of my life, as you can imagine not riding started to impact on my headspace, so sticking to “no car no gnar not far” I decided to get up earlier and head straight out on my cross bike before it got busy. I turned local trails on their head, riding up the trails which are usually fun descents and the tame rooty footpaths became interesting line choice puzzles to solve on the cross bike. That really helped maintain a head for riding technical trails once restrictions eased. I had been feeling isolated, Cycle Wild Scotland set up weekly zoom workshops, which gave us all some focus and the sense of community helped us all through a difficult patch.
Why do you think there are so few female leaders?
I am sure there are lots of reasons why. L3 is a big commitment, you need the time and to be passionate about mountain biking. You also need fitness and endurance. I am 5ft 2in and I look like a tortoise riding a bike with my 9kg leaders pack on my back.
We aren't always confident in our abilities when we should be. Mountain biking can at times feel intimidating, it can be easy to get caught up in comparing ourselves with others, what bike people are riding, the people they are riding with and the trails they ride. It is not a competition, it really doesn't matter what everyone else is doing. Yes you must have the technical skills (and more) to become a L3 leader, but there is so much more to being a good leader you don't have to be the best rider to be the best leader, it is about getting the best out of the people that you are leading, transforming their experience and providing a fun and memorable ride.
How do we break down stereotypes? I stood recently at the top of a hill looking at trail forks with a friend deciding which trail we fancied taking and a guy came along and felt the need to help by pointing out the "easiest" trail down the hill. Was this because we were female? Safe to say we made it clear that we weren't looking for the easiest route down.
What can be done to help grow the numbers of female riders?
It is brilliant to see more and more women on mountain bikes, it still is a male dominated sport though. Men and women are physiologically different, we can't change that, we just need to be true to ourselves. As I mentioned earlier, women seem to be more afraid of failing or putting their heads above the parapet. That's where women's only events really help to provide a supportive environment and place for women to grow and express themselves without being afraid of looking stupid. At the same time I am sure I speak for all women when we want to be seen for our talent and skills and not just achieve something as the token female. With the drive for equality, it is like company boards only having one female, you can't help but think they are there because they are a women.
British Cycling could make more of all the great mentors and growing community out there. Jules and Chris at Cycle Wild Scotland were brilliant throughout the process, especially during lockdown. To have mentors that aren't your tutors is also really beneficial. I rode a couple of times with Liz Peacock and chatting through how I felt and my concerns with a fellow woman who had gone through the process gave me a huge positive boost. I wasn't alone in the way I was feeling.
It shouldn't matter whether you are a male or female rider. If you are passionate about mountain biking give it a go, male or female we all have something to learn from each other.
What will you do with your qualification?
Times are uncertain at the moment but gaining the qualification is only the start of the journey, I hope to use the qualification guiding.
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