Bedrocks at the WTF Bikexplorers Summit. Photo: Gritchelle Fallesgon.
Tessa Hulls is a writer, illustrator, bike adventurer, and is no stranger to our blog (Bikepacking Thru Cuba). Tessa takes us on a journey-by-bike to Whitefish Montana where the women/trans/femme (WTF) summit took place this summer. In the piece, Tessa shares insights gained from this inspiring community as well as illustrations! Follow Tessa on instagram and learn more about the WTF Summit.
When I signed on to give a talk at the first-ever Women, Trans, Femme (WTF) Bikexplorers Summit in Whitefish, Montana, the fact that I would ride my bike there was a foregone conclusion; the unknown lay in deciding to ride out with two complete strangers from the internet.
Brittany Lee, Sarah Udelhofen, and Tessa Hulls (AKA Team Snack Pack and its individual members Cliff, Pouch, and Meat Stick). Photo: Tessa Hulls.
Until the night before we left, Brittany Lee, Sarah Udelhofen and I had never met, but we were each experienced riders who had bicycled across the country and wanted to show up at the summit on two wheels. So after connecting via a “looking for ride buddies” post in the WTF Bikexplorers Facebook Group, we hurriedly threw together a Google doc and launched into route planning, gear logistics, and group expectations. After consulting everyone’s schedules and geographic locations, we decided we had time to ride just over 500 miles from Walla Walla, Washington, to Whitefish, Montana.
Meeting for the first time to review the route over burritos and beers. Photo: Tessa Hulls.
None of us had ever ridden with other women before and from the outset the process felt different. In addition to figuring out how to divvy up stoves, fuel, and tents, our planning conversations included questions like:
What are your strengths and weaknesses, and how can our group dynamic best support them? What does showing care look like for you? What is your communication style and what do you need in order to feel heard?
The WTF Bikexplorers Summit came into existence when a group of women, trans, femme, and non-binary bikepackers were on a ride and found themselves lamenting how the cycling community consistently failed to represent, support, or see them. This core group of organizers decided to create a gathering where WTF riders could be in community to connect, celebrate, and brainstorm about what a more inclusive, liberatory cycling culture might look like.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the result felt revolutionary and in our own ride, this radical emphasis on generosity and collective nurturing began before we even met.
Day 0: Meeting in person the night before
We converged at Sarah’s house in Seattle, where Brittany showed up with surprise group burritos and I brought surprise group cold beers. As we sprawled our gear on the living room floor to go over what we’d brought—oh, I packed extra of this in case you wanted some, and I have this as a treat for all of us to share—we all remarked on how different it felt to plan with a group of women: Even though we’d never met, we had each already considered each other’s needs and thought of ways to contribute extra gestures to the group.
Sarah mulls over the eternal debate—how cold is it going to get, and therefore which sleeping bag do I bring? Photo: Tessa Hulls.
Day 1: Shuttle to Walla Walla, WA ride to Pomeroy, WA
Our ride began with our dear friend and fellow bike adventurer Reed doing us a very large favor by shuttling us to Walla Walla.
Brittany strapping her bike onto the top of our teleporter. Photo: Tessa Hulls.
We arrived at 1pm, which would have been fine except that our start date lined up with the worst heat wave of the summer—so we had no choice but to begin riding during the hottest part of a 109-degree day.
We managed as best we could, but I’m not gonna lie: it was rough, and ⅔ of us puked from the heat. But at least the landscape was glorious!
Day 2: Pomeroy, WA to Kamiah, ID
After the near-heatstroke-inducing sufferfest of day one, we hit the road well before sunrise, crossed the Idaho border, and put sixty miles behind us before taking a six-hour siesta to hide from the worst of the heat. The temperature eventually climbed to 111 (??!!!) degrees, but we were happy to wait it out by reading, snacking, napping, and jumping in the river. We ended up putting in 102 miles in spite of the heat wave.
Bikes at a rest area just before a gorgeous descent. Photo: Tessa Hulls.
Resting by the river before inflating my thermarest and using it as a pool floaty. Photo: Tessa Hulls.
Catching up on sketching during the heat siesta. Drawing and photo: Tessa Hulls.
Day 3: Kamiah, ID to Weir Hot Springs, ID
Our route thankfully kept following the course of the Clearwater River, which was a source of both physical and psychological comfort in the oppressive heat. A local we met during second breakfast (our group quickly adopted a Hobbit eating schedule) at a cafe full of novelty postcards and mediocre taxidermy gave us a tip about some hot springs up the way.
Days 4-5: Weir Hot Springs, ID to Missoula, MT, rest day in Missoula
To our great relief, the heat finally dropped into the double digits and we crossed the Montana border (where I stopped to become a Junior Ranger) in high morale. The landscape shifted back into washes of parched yellows and golds after we dropped down from Lolo Pass, and bizarre rock formations peeked out from the hills like globs of melted black wax. We battled a fierce headwind and confusion over the sudden reintroduction of urban traffic as we rode into Missoula to spend a rest day eating ice cream and visiting old friends.
An early morning start before climbing the pass into Montana. Photo: Sarah Udelhofen.
Catching up on sketching. Image and photo: Tessa Hulls
Days 6-8: Missoula, MT to Whitefish, MT
By day six, we had fallen into a beautiful autopilot: Our bodies felt joyous and strong, and hours of conversation and vulnerability while riding and in camp had turned three strangers into friends in the way that only a bike tour can. Over and over again, we remarked on how different it felt to ride with other women—how this was the first time we had experienced a group dynamic that lived its principles of generosity and support. In myriad tiny ways we showed one another care, and I felt both an incredible gratitude for the experience and a deep sadness that something so basic as attentive kindness in the backcountry had to feel so radical.
504 miles, three flat tires (all mine), two full salami logs (almost all mine), and three down-the-shirt-while-riding bee stings (Sarah: 2, Brittany: 1) after setting out, we arrived at The Whitefish Bike Retreat and took a celebratory swig of whiskey before throwing ourselves into the melee.
Rolling up to the WBR sign.
I was too damned excited to take any pictures because there were too many amazing things going on.
WTF session schedule. Photo: Tessa Hulls.
But here are my notes:
Sketchbook pages. Images: Tessa Hulls.
Spending three days in the woods with a hundred or so women/trans/femme people exploring the intersections of wildness, wilderness, gender, race, generosity, and activism provided a sense of kinship I wouldn’t have thought possible. It was about bikes, but it wasn’t about bikes; it was about tearing down the patriarchy and collectively building the future we want to ride into.
A session on Bags and Gear with Martina of Swift Industries and Lane of Oveja Negra turned into an hour-and-a-half discussion about the realities of existing within female bodies while in positions of power; we didn’t talk about gear at all and it was PERFECT; Kaitlyn Boyle and Jocelyn Gaudi Quarrell presented a crash course on the history of public lands and how we can rally our voices behind protecting them; Molly Sugar and Sarah J Swallow gave a no-nonsense lowdown on the ins and outs of basemaps and GPS route building; Mary Ann Thomas and Katelyn Durst hosted a writers workshop where we talked about how to best use our skills as wordsmiths to bring diversity to the outdoor world; Tenzin Namdol held incredible space for asking hard questions while also teaching us an array of new ways to care for our butts during those long days in the saddle.
Everywhere I turned, I saw models of what it might mean to couple power with generosity; of what it might look like if a community crafted its bones around a sense of accountability to both itself and its impact on the culture at large. The WTF Bikexplorers Summit came into existence because we were tired of our voices being treated as worthless, and we suspected that we could build a better system. After spending three days buoyed by the kindness, ferocity, intelligence, and care of the community that formed in the Montana woods, I absolutely believe that we are right.
Really, let’s #shredthepatriarchy together.
Photo: Gritchelle Fallesgon.
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