You see the term “self-care” bandied about in order to sell everything from beauty products and chocolate to yoga and meditation. You see it so much it starts to get a little watered down. But the most important self-care item is TIME. At bikekitz we take seriously the idea that women need to give themselves permission to take time to take care of themselves. Traditionally, stereotypically, moms are the caretakers of their families. They spend so much time taking care of everyone in the family that they end up with none for themselves. We feel guilty for leaving the family behind to do something just for us. This is especially true when the kids are little.
This is how Carrie Tomczyk felt after she had her first baby. Carrie is an amazing badass of a woman. As the owner of the Hub Trailside and co-owner with her brother of the Village Sports Shop in Lyndonville, Vermont, Carrie runs a pub and coffee shop in a nook at the back of the bike shop. This is the story of how she got from being a new mom “pretty far down the rabbit hole” of depression to a woman who inspires women every week to get out and ride mountain bikes at Kingdom Trails.
Carrie grew up in the Village Sport Shop in Lyndon, Vermont. Literally. Her dad, John Hibshman, opened the sporting goods store in 1978 when Carrie was 5. She and her younger brother spent their time in the store, playing among the racks and stacks of gear. The store carried equipment for every sport you can name: skiing, biking, canoeing, fishing, hunting, all the ball sports—everything. The Hibshman kids practically lived at the store and then worked there when they were old enough.
After getting her bachelor’s in nursing from UVM, Carrie was ready to get out of Vermont. She was sick of small town life, with everyone knowing everyone else’s business. So she and her future husband moved to Park City, Utah, to live, work, and play. They lived there happily for a few years, but when it came time to start a family, Carrie knew she needed to come back home. The community that had seemed so oppressive when she left now seemed like an extended family, and she missed it. She wanted to be surrounded by her family and extended family as she raised a family. Her husband—whose name is Pete but everyone calls him Chief, including Carrie—didn’t have to be asked twice. He’d never wanted to leave Vermont in the first place, and was more than ready to return.
Back in Vermont, Chief was now an OR nurse at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital and Carrie was again working with her family at Village Sport Shop. When she found out she was pregnant, she thought, “Wow, crazy! What will we do? Well, I’ll just keep working and I’ll bring the baby to work.” They welcomed baby Avery on Christmas Day of 2003. Working with her Dad and brother at the shop, Carrie had a super supportive work environment. “I shared an office with my Dad and my brother and I’d be, like, pumping and they’d come in and be like, ‘oh, sorry kid,’” Carrie laughs. “It was really a nice thing, except that I. Was. Struggling.”
“She was this perfect baby… she was large and in charge, nursing like a champ. She wasn’t overly cranky or anything. But I was like, holy smokes. Turns out I had no idea about how to take care of a baby, or what this all meant. I thought,” and here Carrie’s voice goes a pitch higher, “oh, la-di-da, I’ll take the baby to work with me and it’ll be so cute, so easy.” Her voice drops again. “No.”
With a history of depression in the family and within her “own emotional being,” Carrie was steamrolled by the 24-7 demands of caring for a newborn. “By the spring of that year, I was pretty far down the rabbit hole. I couldn’t see the light through the trees. How come no one told me!?”
Even with a helpful husband and support network around her it was all too much.
“This is where mountain biking came in,” Carrie says. A good friend of hers, Margi, told her, “Come on a bike ride. Come ride with us.” Carrie balked at the idea. “First of all, I suck at mountain bike riding. Second of all, I gotta nurse this baby like every hour. I can’t leave her, it’ll just stress me out. Plus, I’ll slow you down.” But Margi got her way. By promising to have her back within an hour, Marg convinced Carrie to come out with her and two other good friends, Viv and Chris. “So I left this screaming baby with my husband,” and rode up the road to get on the trails, thinking, “I can’t believe I’m doing this. This hurts. It’s hard. What am I doing?”
On the trail, her friends asked how she was doing and it opened the floodgates. She told them how hard it was, how miserable she felt. She didn’t know what to do. And her friends, two of whom also had kids, understood. They heard her. “They listened, and I got it out, and we started talking about other stuff.”
They rode for about 45 minutes and at the end of the ride, Carrie realized, “Oh my God, I don’t feel anything right now. I mean, I feel great. I don’t feel bad, I don’t feel sad, I don’t feel crazy. I feel like the cobwebs have cleared. Then I got back and nursed the baby and there’s endorphins from that too, and I was just like, Ohh!”
The biggest thing she got out of the experience, aside from wanting to be on her bike, was “I wanted to be with women. I wanted to be back there with them. They’re this safe, supportive, nurturing, caring… They care about me, they understand.” So they planned to do it again. But this time, Carrie convinced another new mom, Amy, to come along. (At this point in the story, Carrie says the same thing about Amy that she’s said about the others: “She’s so amazing.” Then she laughs and says, “I guess all women are amazing.”)
The mountain bike rides with her women friends was a turning point. “That changed my life,” she says. “It changed my ability to parent, it changed my relationship with my husband, it changed the core of my being from whoever I was before…I always identified with a sport. I was a skier. I became a mountain biker. It was how I defined myself. Aside from friends and family, it’s the most important thing in the world to me.”
From there, the mountain biking group grew. Carrie was a mountain bike evangelist, encouraging, coaxing, and pleading with women to get them out riding with the group. They set aside a time and day for a women’s ride. “That was our time. Chief and I actually built that into our relationship too. We would pay babysitters—not to go out for dinner, but to go for a bike ride.”
The babysitters themselves became a part of this sisterhood of women. “And those babysitters became some of the most incredible women in my life. They understood. I was like, ‘Listen, I’m going to leave this screaming baby with you because I need to go get this.’” And they totally handled it. They saw how important it was for Carrie—or any mom—to have time to recharge. “My kids still know,” Carrie says. She came back from a really big ride recently, something she hasn’t been able to fit in much this summer, and “my kids were like ‘Mom, you’re so happy, right?’ and I’m like, it feels sooo good.”
“It’s so great for these kids to grow up with all these role models, including myself, but all these other women who are out there getting this… that feeling of self and health and strength and adventure and being part of this community.”
And the circle continues to expand as Avery is now old enough to babysit the babies of her former babysitters. Recently one of these babysitters returned home to announce she is expecting, saying “I need Avery to babysit for me. I know she can handle a screaming five month old” because you trusted me with your baby.
That original group of riders evolved into the women’s weekly ride, now in its tenth year. Once she was back on her feet and her kids were old enough, Carrie felt a need to share the sport and the strength it gave her with other women. It was always important to her to make the ride welcoming and inclusive. It’s not about selling bikes. “[As a business owner] I’ve never been about the numbers—to a fault, just ask my brother! I never wanted to make anyone feel bad about their equipment or their ability. Just come out. There’s a place for you.”
But it wasn’t easy to get women to come out. “It was like pulling freaking teeth.” She begged and cajoled women to come out, telling them “We’ll have beers afterward!” or promising to ride 15 miles before the group ride so they’d be sure she wouldn’t want to ride fast. “You live here,” she’d say. “You should get to experience this.”
What started with a few friends grew slowly as participants would bring new friends into the group. Carrie started gathering email addresses to let people know when the rides were and to keep communicating her message of welcome and inclusivity. As the group grew larger, they started splitting into groups according to ability, with more experienced riders leading the groups. Eventually it grew enough that Viv, a great organizer, created a spreadsheet sign-up so they always knew who would lead various group rides, “so we don’t spend 45 minutes before the ride trying to figure it out!”
It took a long time, but eventually the group of riders swelled to 60 women, with an email list of about 300. The Facebook group has 400 members. Riders who began as participants have taken on group leader roles. And the ride is completely commitment-free. There is no requirement to RSVP and no fee to join the group. The only requirement is to have a Kingdom Trails day or season’s pass.
Over the winter, women would start emailing to find out when the group would start in the spring and what day of the week it would be. Nowadays the group starts after NEMBAfest (the annual mountain bike festival held at Kingdom Trails in late June) and goes until the fall. And the group has developed to the point that it practically runs itself. Women who have met through the group will organize their own rides.
As much as Carrie was the driving force to create and grow this group, she is quick to dismiss any praise. “I don’t feel like I’m doing anything,” she says. To those who want to thank her she says, “Thank you for being here. If no one shows up, it’s nothing.”