WORDS BY EFFIE BOURGIN ~ PHOTOS BY RAR GRAVEL TEAM
On the second weekend of June 2021, sixteen months after our team formed in the Arizona desert, the RAR Gravel Team was finally able to gather in person. Finally, after hundreds of hours of zoom calls, thousands of slack, and text messages, we could bask in the glow of togetherness.
Our team gathered on the ancestral lands of the Ohlone, Coast Miwok, Amah Mutson, Ramay Miwok, and Awasas people, now known as the San Francisco Bay Area. With teammates spread across the US, the Bay was a perfect spot for team camp. The Bay had a temperate climate, access to high-quality gravel riding near major urban centers, and three team members, myself included, based there for local planning.
With only four days to spend together, we dove right in with a shakedown ride to see the coast, the first sight for many of our team. Our first full day together was spent in Santa Cruz with a couple of gracious hosts from one of our primary sponsors, Specialized. We met for breakfast and introductions at the Specialized Experience Center in downtown Santa Cruz. From there, we rolled out, led by Fiona Swartz, Starr Walker, and Jay Melena. The route wound along the coast to Wilder Ranch State Park; an old dairy ranch turned state park just outside of the city center. The shaded single track brought us to wide fire roads, with plenty of stops to take in the views of the coastline and redwoods.
I was reminded of the many forms that joy on the bike takes; joy can mean savoring every moment, slowing down to appreciate the new scenery, and talking quietly with your fellow riders. Joy can also mean flying downhill at mach chicken, pedaling so hard that you don’t have breath to spare for conversation. Is one form more honorable than others? Certainly not. I believe that all forms of joy on the bike are equally valid. These equal and opposite reactions to the same stimulus could easily be a source of division; an indicator to some of riding incompatibility. Instead, our team holds space for all forms. Seeking to nurture one another through our goals and delights.
We moved from a wide gravel road to winding single track and tested our mettle riding narrow bridges, drops, and stacked wooden features. Whoops of joy and shouts of surprise punctuated the playful banter as we rode through coastal redwoods and into the expansive ocean views which seem to define coastal California trails.
Our goal for Santa Cruz was to ride together, as a group. We accomplished that with flying colors.
Later that evening we shared our “happies and crappies” of the day before discussing the ride plan for the next. We all wanted to ride in the iconic Marin Headlands but the group varied on how much, how far to ride; some hoped for a longer mileage day while others prioritized shorter mileage with ample time to soak in the landscape, trails, and company. We talked about options and tried to brainstorm but it didn’t feel like we were making progress. Then, the topic of “goals” was thrown out; our goals for each day and for the weekend. Our goal for Santa Cruz was to ride together, as a group. We accomplished that with flying colors. Our goal for Marin would be to respect our individual needs, whether that be covering more mileage and greater elevation gain or a shorter ride with time to sample the finest bougie toasts of the Bay.
The next morning we mulled over some larger programmatic questions about the future of the team and the state of gravel racing, before preparing to ride. One of the great strengths of our team is the breadth of experience and goals we each have for ourselves, for gravel events, for on the bike, and off. We come to the team with different professional experiences, different experiences with racing, different approaches to training and riding, but united in our belief that everyone who shows up to a bike race is a racer. United in our belief that the onus is on event organizers to make Open Gender categories, hold registration spots for BIPOC, queer, trans, femme, and non-binary racers, and abolish the toxic hypermasculine culture which has dominated competitive cycling.
The reckonings of 2020 are too many to count. Racism, ableism, sexism, and classism (along with a multitude of other -isms) all manifest in this small and specific world of gravel racing. The work of the RAR Gravel Team is to show up and support FTWNB racers, advocate on their behalf with race organizers, and insist on a change in competitive cycling culture.
As the last day’s ride began, we were met with the quintessential Bay Area weather: blowing fog blanketing the coast, quickly becoming a distant memory as we rode inland. We stowed wind jackets and extra layers in our handy Swift Industries snack sacks while climbing a steady 2200 feet up Mount Tamalpais.
These trails, which I’ve only ridden alone before, were transformed. I felt my gratitude grow, for the weather, the rocks, the loose descents. My favorite ferns and the sweet smell of hot evergreen litter. Sharing these experiences with my teammates was an incredible privilege and one I won’t forget for a long, long time.
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