Event date: November 17, 2019
Fayetteville is known as much for its natural beauty and cool college town vibe as it is for its warmth and hospitality. The convergence of those characteristics, as well as an outstanding network of spectacular mountain biking trails, has attracted the exciting launch of Grit MTB Festival—a grass-roots event for women (cis and trans) and non-binary riders. Set for November 15-17, 2019, the festival is based in Kessler Mountain Regional Park and includes a packed weekend of camping, meals, group rides, clinics and workshops. In addition, an optional race is scheduled, as well as a film screening, keynote speaker, yoga and a used-gear swap.
Friends and cofounders Beckie Irvin and Anna Claire Beasley have been working for quite some time to organize an event that is focused as much on personal empowerment as it is on the fun and culture of biking. They have a motto of #AllBikesWelcome and their vision is that it’s not about the equipment or competition—it’s about the ride and where it takes a person. We had an opportunity to learn more straight from the source, so we thought we’d share the actual words of these two well-spoken visionaries who are making the festival a reality.
EF: Why did you choose Fayetteville, Arkansas as the site for this year’s Grit Fest?
Beckie: We love the city’s atmosphere! We feel like Fayetteville is a welcoming, come-as-you-are kind of city, and that’s the experience we want to provide to our festival attendees.
EF: What makes this festival unique?
Beckie: Grit Fest is a grass-roots festival for the women (cis and trans) and non-binary folks. Camping and meals are provided. Participants can expect a variety of programming from group rides to beginner and intermediate skills clinics, in addition to yoga, a keynote speaker, and a used-gear swap. Workshops will run throughout the day to give folks a break between rides. We are excited to partner with the Ozark Off Road Cyclists on Saturday night of the event and offer discounted race entry to Beast of Burden. We hope to see several all-womxn teams out there racing into the night! For those who aren’t ready to race, they can purchase a discounted spectator pass (food and drinks!) or head on over to Fossil Cove for a screening of the film Afghan Cycles.
Anna Claire: Our mission is to create culture change in the cycling industry to promote inclusivity and help break down barriers to mountain biking participation. We believe everyone benefits when the sport diversifies, and we hope that our festival is an enriching community and educational experience, not just a stoke fest.
EF: What are some of the special considerations you have to address when planning an event of this nature?
Beckie: When people ask me what I do and I respond, “I’m launching a women’s mountain biking festival,” they seem to think that I spend my time on the phone with beer vendors and hiring entertainment. But that’s less than 1% of my job. My co-founder and I invest hours every week listening to and learning from athletes in outdoor spaces who identify as a member of an under-represented population. We are learning from athletes of color, athletes who hail from native tribes, immigrant athletes, folks who grew up in different socioeconomic situations, gender nonconforming athletes, those in the LGBTQ communities, and women with different body types. Each of these groups face different barriers of entry to sports, especially a sport like mountain biking that is gear-dependent and skills intensive. If we are truly going to work to diversify cycling, we believe we have to listen to people’s needs and find ways to uplift them so they have better representation in the sport.
A lot of people think that Northwest Arkansas is not an ethnically diverse place. People have told me this over and over as I’ve shared the vision for Grit Fest with them, but that isn’t true. The Northwest Arkansas region is diverse, and according to the report Diversity: A Look at How Northwest Arkansas’ Population is Changing published this year by the Northwest Arkansas Council, almost 27% of the population in the region identified as a race other than “white” in 2017. That percentage is expected to rise to almost 31% by 2022. We’re talking about 150,000 people in Washington, Madison, Benton counties and McDonald County in Missouri. If you compare these numbers to other metropolitan areas of similar sizes, which the “Diversity” report did, our diversity ranks in the middle of these areas. So… I’m not going to say that Northwest Arkansas lacks diversity.
EF: Do you have any special anecdotes about how a festival like this can impact or empower women?
Beckie: My cofounder, Anna Claire, and I both found mountain biking when we were in college/graduate school, and it completely changed our lives. For me, it’s changed the course of my career, my research in grad school, and how I view myself as a capable and strong athlete. I’ve dabbled in a lot of outdoor sports but riding dirt (I love gravel grinding and single track) is the first sport that I’ve felt excited to push my limits and see what I’m capable of riding. I love the cognitive load that I have to work through in a 100- mile race of pace, speed, body position, nutrition, hydration, and drafting. And I think damn, I wonder if I can ride 200 miles in one push. I never arrived at that headspace with other sports.
I can’t speak for Anna Claire but what I see in her is a desire to ride her bike through natural settings. She wants to pedal through landscapes and be immersed by the flora and the fauna that she rides past, as a way of dealing with stress and being more present in her body and environment. She’s done bike tours and bikepacking trips all over the country and I think that girl would ride into her next beautiful existence if the world would let her. And she has great style when she rides.
Two very different relationships with the bike. Two very empowering experiences.
Anna Claire: I think it’s also important to note that women have always biked—this event isn’t about getting more women riding because lots of women already have been and are. This is about cultivating space in the cycling industry for all riders to feel safe to fail, grow, and cycle for the rest of their lives—no matter what they look like, what they wear, or how they ride.
EF: Is there anything else you would want people to know that really encapsulates the nature of the Grit Festival?
Beckie: This event isn’t going to look like other cycling events. Upon arrival, we want it to be obvious this is a welcoming and safe place. We’ve considered so many aspects of this event carefully from our aesthetic to offering non-alcoholic beverage options. This is much more grassroots than it is bike-y. Like…my mom is probably going to work the registration booth, but it’s perfect because she is so kind and encouraging to everyone she meets!
And just to reiterate, whoever the rider is, she/they is welcome at Grit Fest.
To learn more, visit gritfestival.com.
Photo by Anna Claire Beasley.