Heather & Cat:

Freerid­ers Ex­trao­d­i­naire!

Mountain Bike for Her - - Front Page - Words & Pho­tos by Paula Bur­ton

Deep in the wilds of sub­ur­ban Fair­field County, Con­necti­cut, yes, Con­necti­cut, Heather La­Palme and Cat Mur­phy Ia­caponi are busy on Sun­day morn­ings, rid­ing moun­tain bikes and launch­ing off ten foot rocks. While most of Fair­field County is highly de­vel­oped, be­ing a short train ride away from New York City, it is blessed with many lo­cal parks and with to­pog­ra­phy shaped by the re­treat­ing glaciers eons ago. The ledges and boul­ders are ideal for free rid­ing. This is the land of roots and rocks. For moun­tain bik­ers, the lo­cal parks are a retreat from the fast paced life and an on­go­ing chal­lenge to hone tech­ni­cal rid­ing skills.

No, Con­necti­cut does not have the huge moun­tain ranges of the west, but do not be fooled into think­ing that it is a tame place to ride, and do not be fooled into think­ing the two 40-some­thing, “chicks in full face hel­mets” that you will see on Sun­day morn­ings are out for a ca­sual ride. Heather and Cat’s lives are busy with chil­dren and fam­ily and com­mu­nity, but find the time to fol­low their pas­sion.

I first met Heather at Trout Brook Land Trust in Easton, CT. She was rid­ing an an­cient fully rigid steel bike, but seemed to be nav­i­gat­ing the dou­ble tracks with­out much dif­fi­culty. Rid­ing the old clunker was no prob­lem, but fig­ur­ing out to get a sip of wa­ter from her camel­back was. Turns out, the reser­voir was up­side down.

Heather be­gan rid­ing as moun­tain bik­ing burst on the scene in the early nineties. Mar­riage and chil­dren and re­lo­ca­tion fol­lowed not long af­ter. About 7 or 8 years ago, she pulled the old

moun­tain bike out of the garage. At the time, she had three chil­dren at home. Now two are in mid­dle school and one is in el­e­men­tary school. Find­ing time to ride has al­ways been a chal­lenge for Heather, but she ap­proaches her sched­ul­ing in the same or­ga­nized and an­a­lyt­i­cal man­ner that she ap­proaches a big drop.

Pe­tite, blond, and soft-spo­ken, Heather says, “I al­ways look at the baby steps needed to work up to a big fea­ture. I en­joy fig­ur­ing out the line and speed, un­der­stand­ing the take-off, and hope­fully land­ing smooth. I am happy when I land drops like the Red Bull Drop and Road to Nowhere at Moun­tain Creek Re­sort in New Jer­sey.”

She owns three bikes, a 45 lb. Can­field Jedi for down­hilling and drop­ping, a Knolly with 6?” travel for tech­ni­cal rid­ing at lo­cal parks, and an Ibis for trail rid­ing. She is also a fan of Avalanche sus­pen­sion prod­ucts tuned for her ride style.

Her chil­dren ride bikes in the yard, but they also have other ath­letic in­ter­ests and Heather does not push them to par­tic­i­pate in moun­tain bik­ing. She prefers to help them fol­low their own pas­sions.

Heather’s ad­vice for women get­ting into the sport is, “Find a group that rides how you want to ride. It’s help­ful when ad­vanced rid­ers show you how to do some­thing new. I al­ways ask ques­tions and watch how other rid­ers ap­proach fea­tures.” It’s also im­por­tant to find other women to sup­port you. “Cat has hung out with me for hours while I try things over and over. So many times I see women come out once or twice and then leave the sport. Don’t be afraid to prac­tice un­til

you get it right!”

In con­trast to Heather, Cat is out­spo­ken with a quick wit and dark, curly hair. I first met Cat through Heather, and didn’t re­al­ize un­til later that Cat has five chil­dren, aged 7 to 15-year­sold. Of­ten there is a cousin or neigh­bour in tow also. All five ride. Ev­ery sum­mer, Cat trav­els out west with her chil­dren. 20 to 40 mile rides on rail trails are a big part of their adventure. An avid hiker, skier, rock climber, eques­trian and moun­tain biker, Cat is quite the ath­lete. She also works as a swim in­struc­tor.

So of­ten other women will say that,” I have to get in shape first be­fore I can ride.” Cat’s ad­vice, “Just ride. Be­lieve me, I was there. I felt I wasn’t good enough. But you have to start some­where. Make it a pri­or­ity.” Be­tween work­ing, shut­tling her chil­dren to var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties and tak­ing her son Paolo to the walk -in clinic for a bro­ken bone or two, Cat is lucky to have a two hour win­dow to ride her bike.

Cat does not ride for ex­er­cise. Her goal is not phys­i­cal fit­ness. “I en­joy the men­tal as­pects of free rid­ing. I can blank out daily life and en­joy the woods.” While she had rid­den a road bike for many years, and when younger dated a guy who rode BMX bikes, moun­tain bik­ing was new to her. A friend lent her a bike, and Cat fell in love with the sport on her first time out. “I was to bor­row a bike. It wasn’t the best bike, but I was out in the woods and that made up for the crappy bike. Many women ride on old beat up bikes that don’t fit them well. Get your­self a good en­try level bike.” Her rid­ing sta­ble in­cludes a Pivot Mach 5.7 and a Santa Cruz Bullit. “The bikes sit in the shed and don’t re­quire the con­stant at­ten­tion that horses do. Much eas­ier than horses!”

Both women feel very lucky to have four or five great spots to ride so close to home and to have a close knit group of rid­ers to hang with on Sun­day morn­ings. There ad­vice for those get­ting into the world of freerid­ing, “Just get out there, the rest will work it­self out!”

Cat on Pi­pleine

Heather on the Red Bull jump

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.