Field Notes: Sharing the stoke with Naomi Freireich
Thanks for stopping by. And welcome along to our first ever 'share the stoke' campfire-side-chat type thing. And we're beyond stoked that MTB endurance champ and friend of Stohk Naomi Freireich not only agreed to join us by the virtual campfire as our first ever guest...
But more importantly for International Women's Day '21 will be taking over our ‘gram, to hang with, ride with and share the stories of seven other women doing extraordinary things outdoors. To celebrate their achievements. And to call out bias and inequality in outdoor sport.
One of our founders Gareth, got the lowdown from Naomi on the challenges of lockdown, some of her incredible achievements, and the things that inspire her to keep on keeping on...
Gareth - Who is Naomi Freireich please? Maybe from a few perspectives. Yours. Your families. Your friends. Your peers.
Naomi - This is the hardest. From my own perspective, I’m an IT professional, mum and endurance biker. Survivor of domestic abuse and advocate for mental well-being.
My daughter thinks I’m famous. I love her for it!
My friend Niki says the same, but also that I’m badass.
My work sent me a gift for winning a prize in a photo competition and said I was someone to look up to. That gave me a huge rosey glow!
G - Badass! Ha! Big open question now. Tell us something, anything, that you really want to talk about, that you really want to know, or just that you really want.
N - let’s talk about respect. Lockdown has been amazing for seeing more people getting outside and enjoying the countryside. However, as a regular user of my local hills I’ve noticed a change in attitude. And I think it boils down to respect. Increased littering - please respect the countryside. Remember the country code: Leave no trace. If you carried it in, you can carry it out again. Increased traffic - please respect one another. If you’re on a bike, slow down and let walkers or horse riders know you’re there. The countryside is for everyone to enjoy. Increased erosion - this one is harder. More people means greater erosion, but it’s not any one person’s fault. If you see a trail that is muddy and the path round the mud is getting wider and wider, please consider turning round and using an alternative route. When it’s drier it’ll still be there to enjoy.
G - Okay, so...badass AND epic wisdom dropper! This year's International Women’s Day theme is #choosetochallenge. Could you tell us what this year's theme means to you?
N - It’s twofold I guess. In part it’s about challenging perception and bias. Being vocal about inequalities, like the prize money for female athletes in Saturday's Strade Bianche race. How is that still a thing?
At the same time, it’s about elevating women so that creating this bias becomes harder, and encouraging women to feel empowered, whether that’s by getting outside or whether that’s in using their voice.
G - Here here Naomi. What are the things that challenge you every day? Or what is the challenge you have on your bucket list?
N - Lockdown has meant that racing has been on hold, and racing used to very much be my motivation for training. It’s definitely been a challenge to keep pushing myself hard without that looming reason, but I’ve also managed to sit back a bit and really enjoy getting out simply for the fun of riding.
G - Your training looks next level to us mortals. What is the biggest challenge you've faced on the bike or trained for?
N - I think I started 24 hour racing as that challenge. Something that seemed so difficult, I wanted to push myself. I guess the beauty of a challenge for me is that it doesn’t have to end when you get there. Once I feel like I've succeeded, I’m looking for the next thing. For me, challenge is about exploring what it is like to feel uncomfortable and to deal with those feelings. So every day you can give yourself a little challenge, or challenge yourself a little further. It doesn’t have to start with you climbing Everest.
G - I love that! Advice for riding, and advice for life! I really love the endless 'no finish line' mentality.
Over the last week you’ve been out celebrating the success of seven women who do extraordinary things outdoors. Well now it’s your turn. What’s the achievement you’ve had in your time adventuring outside that you’re most proud of, that when you think about it, makes you smile from ear to ear?
N - 2018 was a really massive year for me. After winning the British 24 hour champs in 2017 I wanted to really push myself and entered the European 24 hour champs and the UK champs. No biggie? What if I said that they were to take place two weeks apart? Winning them both individually was such a massive achievement for me, but to win two tough 24 hour races two weeks apart is probably the hardest thing I’ve done.
Of course, it’s not all about winning races. Last year’s ride along An Turas Mór was a real confidence boost for me. To sustain high mileage over 3 days, with no prize except completion was a real turning point in my mindset. And to top it all off I got to see some of the most beautiful parts of Scotland along the journey.
G - Nice. Sounds beyond epic to us! How did you get into endurance and adventure riding? What do you enjoy about it?
N - When I first started riding bikes, the work bike club had a few crazies who were entering the Strathouffer in a Quad. When a call went out for riders, 10 people replied. I was one of the two people who said they’d ride in a pair if no one else wanted to. So my first race on a bike was a 24 hour race in a pair. We won. It spiralled from there really!
G - Your friend Niki is right. Badass! Who inspires you to still get out there when it’s wetter than wet?
N - There are so many people I follow on social media who get out there no matter what the weather. Steve Bate, a cyclist and paralympian is one. He puts in insane mileage in all weather. Meg Fisher is another. She’s my Canadian sister of the cog. Also a paralympian, she embodies everything that is good about being outside. They’re also both bloody lovely people.
G - 'Bloody lovely' has to be a common trait of folk who really love the outdoors right?! Aside from the people, what keeps you going and getting back out there for more?
N - I noticed such a common theme when talking to all these amazing women, and it’s one that resonates with me too. Being outside is a real mind cleanser. You can be having a really tough time at work or at home, you can be juggling a billion stresses, but outside you can clear your mind and just be. Stress ebbs away and it becomes about you and the outdoors and little else. It has helped me so much in managing my depression.
G - We hear you. With that in mind, where’s your favourite place to ride? Have you got any dream destinations lined up?
N - I’m so blessed to live in Scotland. With land access rights being as they are, you can ride (responsibly) any trails you can see. It’s such a gift. I’ve loved exploring my own back garden during lockdown and am itching to travel a little further afield, but not out of Scotland for a while. There’s too much I haven’t seen here yet!
G - Okay, so as with all of us, it sounds like lockdown has been a really big thing for you in many ways. Fast forward a few decades. What will be the stories you most remember from the Covid times?
N - Night sledging with the whole family. Because of schools being shut, Charlie’s kids were here midweek for a change and we had a huge dump of snow. We all got dressed up really warmly and took head torches and sledges to the local hill for a spot of night sledging. Then home for hot chocolate. Our kids are all teenagers so being able to do something that everyone wanted to was amazing.
G - Nearly there. Important one now though. What does the outdoors mean to you?
N - Outdoors is my sanctuary. If I’m having a bad day, I know I’ll feel better after being outdoors. I love big weather and being outside in all sorts. There’s something really powerful about braving the elements that makes you feel invincible. (Disclaimer: always take necessary precautions tho! I’m used to big weather and have the right kit).
G - "I love big weather." Awesome. Right, let's sprint for the line. Some quick fire stuff to wrap this up!
We like a few tongue in cheek rules over here at Stohk, #rulesofstohk...do you have any fun rules or superstitions that you can share with us? Any routines pre or post ride? Or any rituals or things you treat yourself to after a ride?
N - If you’re not falling off you’re not pushing hard enough.
The training sessions you do when you don’t want to count double.
Earn your descents.
G - Tunes or wind noise?
N - wind noise every time
G - Sunrise or sunset?
N - stay out long enough and you can have both!
G - Fenders or wet bum?
N - Waterproof shorts! (Never fenders!)
G - Solo or buddy? Favourite person to get out there with and why?
N - I’m generally a solo rider, but love to ride socially with anyone who will still be happy after 2 hours of carrying through bog and heather.
G - Any heroes in the sport or sport in general?
N - I’ve always loved Jena Voght. He’s so badass and yet totally down to earth. Right now tho, I’m loving following local legend Isla Short as she grows as a rider. Plus I sometimes ride bike with her dad so I feel like I’m 6 degrees of separation from greatness!
G - Physical health vs mental health and riding?
N - Yes. Both! I’m definitely stronger physically from riding bikes. You can’t do this amount of training and not be, but the beauty of riding bikes is that you don’t have to be strong like a pro or technically gifted to get the benefits to your mental well-being. That comes every time to jump on your saddle and ride.
G - Is there anything else you want to let us know?
N - My DMs are open. If there’s advice I can giveto help you get out and on a bike please do drop me a message. I love to chat bikes!
A huge thank you from all of us over here at Stohk Naomi, for the inspiring stuff here, and for the incredible stories you shared from Elizabeth Adamson, Natalie Berry, Anna Neubert-Wood, Alex Long, Emily Scott, Jac Marquis and Zara Mair for the International Women's Day takeover. And to the equally awesome Charlie Lees for the photos.
To see the stories from the takeover, head to the IWD2021 highlights on our instagram here.
All that's left to say is 'go you good thing'. And see you out there...
Best enjoyed after a while sitting near a