by Stephanie Nitsch
The race description read like a trashy fantasy airport novel: “Hot on Your Heels will not be held responsible for any harassment directed towards the volunteers during the day. This includes the after party.” And the criterion for the volunteers was strictly enforced: scantily clad men only.
Finally. Someone built a mountain bike product that women actually want.
I’m not much for racing, but the appeal of riding in a women’s-only event that’s supported by trailside eye-candy was plenty for me to change my opinion. So on a hot August day in Squamish, B.C., I heeded the lure of 50-or-so half naked men and excitedly zip-tied a racing plate to my handlebars during the third annual Hot on Your Heels all-women’s Enduro race.
All around me, racers in tutus and thigh-high fishnets shuttled to the start by the vanfull, traces of glitter and sparkly tassels scattered across the passenger seats. For the majority of the 143 registered riders, this was no competitive race. You see, it’s hard to take a race too seriously when the chief male volunteer – the one in charge of the loudspeaker – is parading around in Daisy Dukes, a fake mustache and a sombrero.
Those that did have the race mentality, however – the same women who were also likely here to rack up points for the overall Squamish Enduro Series – stacked up in the first wave, weeding out the rest of us who were keen on a slower pace and taking our time at the aid stations (generously stocked with decadent goodies like mimosas, daiquiris and bacon). That mentality, admittedly, left all but a dozen or so of us in the third and final wave, a telling sign of who was here to party and who was here to actually race.
The uphill slog on the first leg didn’t elicit many conversations from my fellow anti-racers, but as we queued up for our first descent, laughter and chatter spread through the lineup. It was here, at the top, that I learned how many of us, myself included, had never raced before. Their rationales echoed what HOYH race organizer Melissa Sheridan revealed to me later.
“I started organizing this race when I realized that the number of girls racing compared to the number of girls [recreationally] biking was low,” she said. “Plenty of women were getting out on the trails, but they didn’t want to push themselves to race. So I wanted to run a very non-intimidating and very supportive race. The trails have always been intermediate, and the length has always been just long enough to push us, but never too long to wipe us out.”
That’s great news considering the race was capped by an evening soiree atop Squamish’s enchanting Sea to Sky Gondola and an after-party dress code that recommends high heels for all the participants. Turns out, walking in four-inch stilettos easily requires more energy than riding a four-stage Enduro race. “My heels didn’t make it past the parking lot,” one woman admitted that evening.
With no access to a shower before the party, I scrubbed off the crusted remains of the ride with a few baby wipes and changed clothes in the car — stripping just out of view from small children and an inquisitive middle-aged man, and hidden by two open car doors. Makeup, mascara and eye shadow were applied by the reflection of the rear-view mirror. Last night’s coat of baby blue nail polish (part of the pre-race day checklist) was already chipping at the tips. Red bruises had surfaced on my legs, the result of a few tangled encounters with my bike early on in the race.
All of it complimented by a pair of black wedge heels that have been a permanent fixture in my car since I started living out it two years ago. And though they’re usually jumbled in the back seat amid a pile of hiking boots and camping accessories, their presence somehow makes me feel better when I go days without showering and drive a car that perpetually smells like ripe chamois. The bottle of lavender body spray stashed in the center console somehow helps those situations, too.
As we trickled into the gondola cabs, cocktail dresses and all, I felt a certain “je ne sais quoi” about trading in body armor and a sports bra for lipstick and high heels in the same afternoon. Because, in an industry that’s keen on having a big set of balls and the chops to huck oneself off gnarly shit, it’s easy to dismiss the more humble and feminine virtues of the minority. Which perhaps explains the unusual attitude of our bunch throughout the day — that is to say: supportive, friendly and graceful.
Even HOYH’s greater mission is fueled by similar traits: part race, yes, but part fundraiser for Go Girls, an empowering youth program with Big Brothers, Big Sisters. It’s an organization near-and-dear to Sheridan, who’s been a Big Sister to the same girl for the past six years. “She has participated in Go Girls twice, and it has made such a huge impact on her,” Melissa told me later. “Go Girls focuses on healthy lifestyles, active living and positive self image — something that so many of these racers represent.”
Half-naked men notwithstanding.
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