Megan Doerr is an endurance mountain biker and a fantastic storyteller, who had me laughing out loud throughout this interview. Megan was one of only ten women (in a field of 137 riders) to complete the incredibly technical and challenging Marji Gesick 100 mile mountain bike race in Northern Michigan this past fall.
In this interview, Megan shares the story of how she became an endurance mountain biker, her experience as one of the few women participating in a male-dominated sport, and why this year’s Marji Gesick 100 finish meant more to her than any prior race podium.
How did you learn to mountain bike?
The short answer is that my dad signed me up for a new mountain bike team because they needed some females, and he told me to buy a mountain bike. It took me a full two seasons of mountain biking before I started to find some enjoyment in the sport. Now, it’s all enjoyment!
The long answer is that I was a runner first, but I got a road bike to do triathlons in 2008. I thought biking was so boring, and I was quite terrible — plus my bottom side always hurt!
I moved back home during the summer of 2012. That fall, my dad informed me he had signed me up for a new mountain biking team. It was my current team: McLain’s Race Team out of Traverse City. He also informed me that I needed to go buy a mountain bike. To be clear, I was broke after having lived in Costa Rica for awhile. So, what did I do? I spent more money than I could imagine spending on a single item — $1200 — and I had myself a mountain bike that sat in the garage all winter.
Come spring, I was a member of McLain’s Race Team. I was signed up as a beginner for a race called Mud Sweat and Beers. I did a few training rides on some two tracks on state land around my house and went to Hungerford to ride singletrack once prior to the singletrack race. I was pale white and terrified. I finished. I kinda had fun I guess, but the best part was the afterparty and the people, who were so amazing and positive.
I yelled out loud: “This is awesome! I love this! I’m so badass!”… It was at that time, through all my suffering, that I realized how much I liked doing things that few people do… and how much you can convince yourself of something: be that feeling bad and incapable or feeling good and fully capable. I think that’s the day I became a mountain biker.”
During 2013, at the age of 30 — my first year riding — I hated mountain biking. I admit I cried a lot when Dad would force me to go on that scary trail crap and ride, and he’d just ride away from me and leave me lost in the woods when I got whiny. I had some fun when I rode with my girlfriend, Arian, and I gave her some good laughs at my screaming. I was then — and still am — known for my very vocal riding habits. I yelled a lot. I often screamed “I’m going to die!,” and I was very brake-heavy on anything downhill or tight.
In 2014, I shocked my dad by informing him that I registered for the Lumberjack 100 mile mountain bike race. What?! I hated mountain biking! Yup, but I loved doing hard things and proving to myself that I could. My dad and his friend Jack Kline took me on many rides in the woods of Traverse City, sandwiching me between them and pushing all of my limits to the max. I hated it. I’d either be yelling at them, shedding tears quietly to myself, or smiling bigger than ever because I had just accomplished something new and amazing to me. I could see the pride in their eyes as well. I still hated mountain biking, but I kept doing it because my dad assured me I was getting better and he knew I could be good.
Come Spring 2015, I loved mountain biking. I finally got the hang of it. I met amazing people and felt like I was joining the cool kids club by having the most care-free, adventurous, hard working, persistent group of super random friends ever. The rest is history.
When did you first realize you enjoyed mountain biking?
I think I first realized I enjoyed mountain biking when I was in a very dark, painful place at Iceman 2014. I yelled out loud: “This is awesome! I love this! I’m so badass!” I yelled that to myself to make myself feel better because I was so cold and couldn’t move my hands and was seeing carnage all around me. Yelling that was my only chance at finishing that race.
Though I was miserable, I started to believe myself. At that time, through all my suffering, I realized how much I liked doing things that few people do and how much you can convince yourself of something: be that feeling bad and incapable or feeling good and fully capable. I think that’s the day I became a mountain biker.
What bike maintenance skills are needed to ride the Marji Gesick 100, and how did you learn them?
In short, how to fix a flat tire, fix a broken chain, and replace a bent derailleur hanger.
Knowing how to fix a flat is a must. I know how to do it, but the reality is I rarely can physically do it. I have some issues with my hands and have very little finger and hand strength. I’ve been very fortunate in races. I always have the repair stuff with me during a race. My hope is that race adrenaline will give me the strength to do it.
My dad originally taught me this stuff. My boyfriend has worked as a bike mechanic and has more patience than my dad, so he’s helped me work on these skills more. My friend Jill Martindale, winter-ultra extraordinaire, has encouraged me and other women to practice and improve these skills. She’s given me some helpful tips as well.
What was it like to see other women on the Marji Gesick 100 course?
The women of Marji are connected, and I felt that out on the course! We don’t all know each other, but we are connected via the Marji women’s Facebook group, which is awesome. I also am fortunate to be friends with a lot of women who race Marji.
Seeing the other women out there, few and far between, was filled with yells and cheers and smiles. You really felt like you were part of the cool kids club. I’d like to think all the men around us were jealous they couldn’t be part of the cool kids club… because we were freaking fun!
When you ride the Marji Gesick 100, are you thinking about the fact that you are a woman and most Marji riders are men? If so, can you give me an example of a situation during the race where you were thinking about being a woman?
In general, when I’m mountain biking, I’m not thinking about the fact I’m a female mountain biker — same at Marji. I am thinking about how I want to be the best rider I can be, push my limits, beat my limits, and encourage others to do it alongside me. I love the encouragement of the mountain bike community. I feel like it’s like no other sport. As divided as we sometimes can be, with so few women in the sport, it seems to bring the sexes together.
I feel fortunate to have been trained by my father, who reminds me on many occasions that women are the toughest ones out there. He tells me stories of times he has been baffled by the smiles and laughs of women as he’s in the pain cave. He knows women have the mental edge on men.
However, there are those unfortunate times… one of which did occur during Marji… where a man makes it about you being a female (or at least that’s how they make you feel). As a female mountain biker, you’re the minority. You can constantly feel like you’re being judged, if you allow yourself to feel that way. I try never to let myself feel that way, but sometimes it creeps in. Sometimes that’s my own fault, and sometimes it’s the fault of someone less considerate.
As a female mountain biker, you’re the minority. You can constantly feel like you’re being judged, if you allow yourself to feel that way.
I am not the best technical rider. I am also not the worst — male or female. I unfortunately was having some trouble getting into a groove at Marji. I was riding along, and there were two tight trees with a cute, approximately 3-year-old on a bike with his dad standing on the other side of the tree just off the trail. It made me nervous, as I didn’t want to risk hitting the boy. I fumbled and had to put a foot down and scoot through the tree. I did so as quickly as I could and got off the trail.
The man behind me yelled in a mean way: “Geesh, she can’t even ride.” I was in shock. I already felt like an idiot for fumbling and was already mentally struggling with my groove, so it just ate me alive inside my head.
I owe a huge thanks to that dad. The dad turned and, in a very classy fashion, scolded him for his treatment of me and reminded him we were all out there to have fun. He then turned and looked at me, as I stood there in shock. The dad told me I was doing good and not to listen to him.
I think it’s a lesson to everybody, male or female, watch your words and your grumbles on the trails. Later, I played back and forth with that same guy, and I was angry at him. But, I gave him encouraging words hoping he might learn from that moment. My friend Chelase Strate rolled up on us, not far after that, with a group of guys. I told her what had happened, trying to vent and get it out of my head. The encouragement she provided made me so proud to be a female Marji rider, and the guys with her providing further encouragement made me proud to be a Marji rider and a mountain biker.
Why race the Marji Gesick 100 mile, rather than a shorter mountain bike race?
Not to quote Todd [the Marji race director] or anything, but… I like to do hard things. Living in the lower peninsula, we simply do not have technical terrain to train and build skills. Marji has it all. Marji pushes me to want to improve those skills during other times of the year. Racing Marji makes me try things throughout the year I otherwise would not.
What was most memorable about this year’s Marji Gesick 100?
Finishing the race with my dad Jeff Doerr! A 36-year-old woman and daughter with a 66-year-old man and father: not just family, but a team. I’ve trained with my dad since I started in 2013. We’ve done most of the same races since then, but we’ve never raced together.
Marji offered us an event where neither of us cared about our time or our place. It offered us an adventure together as a father and daughter team, and a team we were! We both needed each other out there. It gave me the warm fuzzies when others around us found out we were father and daughter and were so excited.
I finished Marji in 2017 as well, solo. Marji 2019 meant more than any other race finish I’ve had — including any wins or podiums — because I got to share it with my father.
What is bringing you joy during the quarantine?
I tend to get the most joy from accomplishing something HUGE, like completing La Ruta de Los Conquistadores [a three-day stage race in Costa Rica that Megan completed last November]. However, I recognize the toll that big efforts can take on one’s body.
I am focusing really hard right now on finding joy in the smaller things: learning a new skill on the mountain bike, working on balance-based strength exercises, smiling at a day when my body is free of aches and pains, and following our new household motto of ‘crafts not carbs.’ Quarantine has been hard on my sugar addiction. Instead of baking or eating junk, I am supposed to craft or write a card and get it in the mail… because I can’t just ride my bike all day.