Mountain biking is my act of resistance

In predominantly white Colorado, I bike to beat my fear.

 

As an immigrant seeking a place to belong, I couldn’t have felt more out-of-place than when I moved to America shortly before the 2016 presidential election. And as the vitriol escalated, I never expected to find solace on two wheels. 

Here’s how it happened: Nearing 30, I found myself yearning for a previous life. As an international economist, I lived and worked in Africa for most of my 20s. But after a while, I longed for familiarity, to not be instantly labeled and treated as an outsider because of how I looked and spoke: a South Asian woman with a North American accent. I missed, too, my home in Canada. Jobs in international economics are rare in North America, so I was delighted when I found one in Denver in September of 2016. Colorado seemed to offer everything I wanted: a short flight to my mom in Calgary, the mountains, and a climate that made it easy to be outside year-round. Only after I arrived, in a daze of reverse culture shock, did I look up the statistics: 80 percent of Denver’s population was white. I was nearly as much an outsider here as I’d been in Africa.

Though confident while out riding on trails, Raksha Vasudevan constantly pushes up against a culture of mountain biking that is predominantly white and higher income.
Courtesy of Raksha Vasudevan

That sense of alienation only mounted after Donald Trump’s unexpected victory. The day after the election, I wanted desperately to go to the mountains, far away from people who had chosen a leader who seemed to hate people like me — people of color, immigrants, women. But, like most women of color in Colorado, I’d realized after I got here that I earned a disproportionately low salary. Given Denver’s growing cost of living, I could only visit the mountains when my few car-owning friends did — and none of them wanted to leave their homes that day.

In the following weeks and months, as rhetoric and violence against people of color escalated, I hesitated to go beyond the city, into rural areas, where diversity was likely to be even lower, making me all the more visible. The lack of crowds — something I used to love about wide open spaces — now scared me, my sense of adventure troubled by visions of being attacked and left in the forest. In Fremont, California, a South Asian woman who went hiking just a few weeks after the election returned to find her car window shattered and a note calling her a “Hijab wearing b—--” who should “get the f--- out.” I debated leaving, perhaps returning to Canada. But that seemed like a defeat, a confirmation that people like me didn’t belong in the outdoors — or anywhere in America.

Things began to change in the spring, when a mountain-biking friend convinced me to try it. “There’s nothing that makes you feel more alive,” he said. That’s what the outdoors had always done for me — before it started to appear both inaccessible and hostile, reserved for people with specific levels of material wealth and melanin. Partly to challenge my own perceptions, I rented a bike and started riding with him. Immediately, I was hooked: the searing uphill climbs, the adrenaline of hurtling downhill. There was no time for self-consciousness, no opportunity for other trail-users to ask, “Where are you from?” I started saving to buy a used mountain bike. But once again, in outdoor gear shops and biking groups, surrounded by pale-skinned people with visibly larger budgets, I felt not only poor but out of my depth.

Despite the challenges, I kept biking precisely because I didn’t fit in on the trails, the sports shops or groups. Yet I craved a future where I did. After all, people of color and immigrants also pay taxes that fund state and national parks. We, too, deserve the sight of forest green and sky interrupted only by mountain peaks — and to have a choice in how we experience the landscape, whether by foot, bike, horseback, kayak or some other way. But I wasn’t willing to wait for everything to become easily accessible for people like me — I had to start now. And perhaps by doing so, I’d help to create that future.

Still, that dream is continually threatened. Recently, a friend and I traveled to western Colorado to bike, Mesa County’s trails being among the best in the country. On the drive to the trailhead, we passed at least three trucks with MAGA stickers. I knew Mesa County had voted 64 percent Republican in the 2016 election. At the trailhead, I sat in the car for a long time before setting off, filled with trepidation.

On the trail, I stopped to take a picture of yucca clinging improbably to slanting canyon walls. A man in a camouflage shirt walked towards me. As he got closer, he blinked noticeably, as if surprised to see someone like me there. But he nodded as he passed by, and I released the breath I hadn’t known I’d been holding.

All my worries — money, my U.S. visa, the perceptions and reactions of others — were still with me on the trail, sometimes bubbling up, but gradually dissolving the longer I biked. The trail demanded my attention urgently — jagged switchbacks, tree roots swelling up suddenly from the soil—and at other times, gently. The wind brushed my scalp through my helmet vents. A jaybird call broke the slog of pedaling uphill. A flash of red appeared as my front tire passed blooms of Indian paintbrush. I couldn’t have anticipated any of it, yet it was exactly what I needed.

Raksha Vasudevan is an economist and writer living in Denver. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.    

High Country News Classifieds
  • NATURE EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Our mission is to inspire a life-long connection to nature and community through creative exploration of the outdoors. We are seeking an educational leader who...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND MARKETING DIRECTOR
    The Development and Marketing Director is a senior position responsible for the execution of all development and marketing strategies to raise funds and increase public...
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Coordinates all Wyoming Wildlife Federation philanthropic activities. Tasks include identification, recruitment, and retention of donors, organizing fundraising events, and assisting with grant writing.
  • REALTOR NEEDS A REMOTE ASSISTANT
    This is a business assistant position, The working hours are flexible and you can chose to work from anywhere of your choice, the pay is...
  • CORPORATE & GRANTS PARTNER MANAGER
    Forever Our Rivers Foundation Corporate Partnerships Manager February 2020 www.ForeverOurRivers.org Forever Our Rivers Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was formed in late 2016 with the mission...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Central Oregon LandWatch is seeking an Executive Director to advance our mission and oversee the development of the organization. Job Description: The Executive Director oversees...
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • MEDIA DIRECTOR
    Love working with the media? Shine a spotlight on passionate, bold activists fighting for wild lands, endangered species, wild rivers and protecting the climate.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY - NEVADA
    The Center for Biological Diversity is seeking an attorney to expand our litigation portfolio in Nevada. Come join our hard-hitting team as we fight for...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Montana Wildlife Federation seeks an energetic leader to advance our mission, sustain our operations, and grow our grassroots power. For a full position description,...
  • EARTH CRUISER FX FOR SALE
    Overland vehicle for long distance travel on or off road. Fully self-contained. Less than 25,000 miles. Located in Redmond, OR. Offered at $225,000. Call 541-526-5164.
  • HISTORIC COMMERCIAL OPPORTUNITY IN DOWNTOWN NOGALES
    Nogales. 3 active lower spaces and upper floor with lots of potential. 520-245-9000 [email protected]
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • DIRECTOR, TEXAS WATER PROGRAMS
    The National Wildlife Federation seeks a Director to lead our water-related policy and program work in Texas, with a primary focus on NWF's signature Texas...
  • SPLIT CREEK RANCH
    Spectacular country home on 48 acres with Wallowa River running through it! 541-398-1148 www.RubyPeakRealty.com
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...
  • NEW MEXICO GILA NATIONAL FOREST HORSE RANCH
    43 acres in the Gila National Forest. Horse facility, custom home. Year-round outdoor living. REDUCED to $999,000, 575-536-3109.
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • COPPER CANYON MEXICO CAMPING & BACKPACKING
    Camping, hiking, backpacking, R2R2R, Tarahumara Easter, Mushroom Festival, www.coppercanyontrails.org.