Have you ever wanted to learn to kayak or mountain bike, but have no idea where to start? You’re not alone. Breaking into outdoor sports can be daunting, especially for women— but Shifting Gears is dedicated to leveling the playing field.
Shifting Gears is a Bellingham based organization that breaks down barriers to accessing outdoor recreation. They offer welcoming, positive programming where women from all walks of life can make their outdoor dreams a reality, whether they involve finding a hiking partner or learning to ride a mountain bike.
According to Board President Kari Humphreys, the organization began with a group of four female friends. Each shared a common experience: “being intimidated by male dominated outdoor recreation, sports, and having that be a barrier for us.”
Photo courtesy of Shifting Gears
“Through that conversation, we started to envision a different way,” says Humphreys. “And realized that we might have something here, with this idea that a group of women learning something together is often a really powerful experience.”
Humphreys says that Shifting Gears’ programming is aimed at women because, historically, women have not been included in sports like climbing and mountain biking. They envision a future in which all people— regardless of gender, race, or socioeconomic status— can take up space outdoors.
“We are just trying to level the playing field in that way, and build access through knowledge and through experience, through confidence building,” Humphreys says. “We’re like that friend that says, ‘Oh, you’re interested in mountain biking? I mountain bike; let me show you, come with me next week.’”
Photo Courtesy of Shifting Gears
Shifting Gears offers programs for mountain and road biking, hiking, backpacking, sea kayaking, and rock climbing. These include weekly sea kayaking excursions with the Community Boating Center, climbing nights at VITAL Climbing Gym, and group rides that are accessible to all skill levels. Most programming takes place during the summer months, and details about programming (including equipment and registration info) is available online.
In addition to learning new skills, participants create camaraderie with other like-minded women. Shifting Gears’ programs might be the starting point, but Humphreys says that these connections often go deeper than the activity alone.
Photo courtesy of Shifting Gears
“Getting a group of women together has a special sort of magic,” she continues. “We found that people were willing to be vulnerable and share what they were afraid of, or share how they surprised themselves that day, or something they’ve learned about themselves that day.” Humphreys also loves how supportive, inclusive outdoor recreation lets participants reconnect with their inner kid. She recalls a beginner mountain biking excursion where one of the participants was initially very nervous. Once beginning the ride, however, anticipation gave way to unbridled joy.
“I hear, while we’re riding, this high pitch squeal and laughter and somebody exclaiming, ‘I feel like a kid again!’” she says. “[It was] this beautiful moment of like, we’re adults, and yeah, we get scared sometimes. But we can still do scary, hard things. We can also remember how to play again.”
Want to get involved? Shifting Gears offers a variety of volunteer opportunities and community events, including the Sippin’ on Cider fundraiser taking place at Lost Giants Cider Co. on Sept. 9. Proceeds from the fundraiser support the organization’s current offerings as well as expanded programming in the future. After all, Shifting Gears is a growing organization, and Humphreys wants to continue introducing new opportunities both through their own programming and community partnerships.
“I would just say keep an eye on us,” Humphreys says. “And if there’s something that someone is really wanting to do with us that we don’t currently offer, we want to know about it.” Bellingham, 360.746.9841, letsshiftgears.com