After her own existential crisis following an adventure gone awry, new mum Kristin Kent talked to other mothers to find out how they got back on their proverbial (and literal) bikes.
I had an existential crisis on a fat bike.
After 10 months of caring for a baby, I was ready for my big ride in the Canadian Rockies. I trained hard to get my body back in shape. I was mentally ready to leave my little love for two short days.
Fast-forward to the trailhead. We’re riverside, surrounded by mountain peaks and glorious blue skies. Water droplets fall from the snow-covered pines. There’s a group of us checking our brakes and testing turns on our fat-tires—and there’s no way anyone or anything is wiping that woohoo-ing smile off my face. This is what I live for. This is who I am.
I couldn’t wait. For the first time since before my pregnancy, I was adventuring in the mountains. I was going to be me again.
About 10 minutes into the heart-pumping ride on flat terrain, we take a sharp right and head up into the backcountry towards Sundance Lodge in Banff National Park. I’m told there’ll be campfires, and card-playing, and the best kind of banter. But first, I have to make it up this damn hill.
After that right turn, I quickly fall from first to dead last in the pack and I have no choice but to get off my bike and push. The snow is slushy and I’m sweating like never before. Hour after hour of slogging that bike up the Canadian Rockies, I’m completely deflated. And if we don’t get there soon, I’m going to have to whip out this breast pump from my pack to relieve my lactating boobs.
This is when the up became a down and I’m soon whipping around those turns like I knew I could. I’m full of adrenaline and ego—“See, you’re doing it”—when I go head-over-handlebars into the snow pack.
Here, in the middle of the backcountry on this bluebird day, I questioned all my life choices. There was little compassion in my pitying self-talk: “What in the hell are you doing, Kristin? You’re a mom now!”
“Honestly, I still don’t feel like as strong as I did. But I never questioned whether or not you can still be in the mountains after kids.”
It was not my best moment.
Seasoned parents have been quick to ensure I could do everything I used to do pre-baby. Travel? No problem! Marathon? I have three kids, look at me go! But this wasn’t my experience. And after months of soul-searching and chatting with other adventuresome new moms, I learned I’m not alone.
Izzy Lynch is a professional skier based in Revelstoke, British Columbia, who skied during her pregnancy right up until her due date. Surely an athlete of her caliber would bounce back right away? “Honestly, I still don’t feel like as strong as I did,” she says, noting she gave birth to her son Knox in the spring of 2017 and expects to be back in top condition for the 2019 winter season. “But I never questioned whether or not you can still be in the mountains after kids.”
Weekend after weekend, her own parents would pack up their four children into their van and venture out into the mountains. “My mom would stay up all night on Friday nights packing, but it didn’t matter because she just wanted to be out there,” says Lynch. “That’s what I’ve learned and so that’s what I’m doing with my son.”
Lynch says she’s watched a lot of mothers in her community struggle with the compromise that goes along with having a baby. “They feel like they’ve lost so much of themselves,” she says. “I also watched other mothers fully embrace motherhood, and that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be sad that I wasn’t out skiing at the same capacity because I’m on this really cool new adventure. It’s different now. I’m different now and that’s okay.”
“I felt more fragile than usual, and I probably should I have chosen sleep over exercise more than I did, but getting outside and doing the things I love were, and still are, just as important to my health as sleep.”
Before her twins were born, Katie Teed, a communications manager from Vancouver, spent much of her time in the mountains; skiing, mountain-biking and camping. But after a tough pregnancy and health challenges afterwards, she could “barely walk around the block.” Adding to that the demands of two newborns, Teed had zero time for her own self-care. “It took me a year to get the all-clear from my physiotherapist to really begin exercising again,” she says. “I had to learn to be kind to myself and my body, step back, and adjust my expectations on what adventure looks like.”
Even with physical challenges and persistent sleep deprivation, Teed was determined to take her then 12-week-old twins camping. “I didn’t tell friends or family we were going because I didn’t want anyone to talk me out of it,” she says of her now-fondest accomplishment.
Teed says it was a lot of work—and even a comedy of errors at times. She recalls having to find someone to jumpstart her van after draining the battery by pumping milk every four hours. “I don’t ever want the twins to miss out on experiences because it was too hard for me,” she adds.
Tess Strokes, a writer and editor from Aspen, Colorado, knew prioritizing her own health would help her be a better mom. She got back on her skis 17 days postpartum, and was in the backcountry 10 days after that, despite her son having colic. “I am not exaggerating when I say he didn’t sleep more than 60 minutes at a time for six months,” she says. “I felt more fragile than usual, and I probably should I have chosen sleep over exercise more than I did, but getting outside and doing the things I love were, and still are, just as important to my health as sleep.”
Chelsey Magness, an athletic trainer and mother from Bend, Oregon, took the same approach. She gave birth to twins at 39 weeks, but one, who she has named Spirit B, was stillborn. “The only way for me to get through my grief was physical exertion, and to be out in nature,” she says. “For me, I felt physically fine, but I would just cry and cry every time my heart rate went up. Every woman is different, emotionally and physically.”
Looking back on my fat-biking misadventure in the Rockies, I now know exhaustion took more of a toll than I thought. The night before my trip—and every other night for the 10 months before that—I was up breastfeeding three to five times per night. Don’t get me wrong, I love being my son’s mom. He brings me so much joy. But the transition into motherhood turned me into an emotional basket case.
The skier Izzy Lynch said it best: “It’s different now. I’m different now and that’s okay.” I think that lesson has finally sunk in.
It’s now four months after my fat-biking misadventure, and I’m now in Whistler on a family getaway. I had planned on a full-day hike with my mother and son, traversing the new suspension and hiking among wildflowers towards Black Tusk mountain. And though we made it into the alpine, my soon-to-be toddler had other plans … and so, we learn to adjust on the fly.
But there is one nagging thing I’m determined to make happen, with a woohoo-worthy smile: I’m getting myself back on that bike. And this time, with realistic expectations.