As a fat person, I have not always felt welcome in outdoor-recreation spaces. Often I’m limited by clothing sizes or equipment, but even more frequently, the culture around outdoor recreation can feel exclusionary for folks in larger bodies. That all changed when I moved to Oregon and found groups like Unlikely Hikers and Fat Girls Hiking (both based in Oregon), which were working to make the outdoors accessible to more types of people.
Watching along on social media as other people in larger bodies went on Oregon hiking adventures, I became inspired to start speaking about my own experiences as a fat bike rider. This past spring I got the opportunity to tell my story through a short film produced by Shimano called All Bodies on Bikes, which follows my friend and I as we bike-pack 60 miles from Corvallis to the Oregon Coast.
Finding My Way on Two Wheels
I arrived in Corvallis in the fall of 2017 with a few bags of clothes and my bicycle. I had moved, sight unseen, to pursue a Ph.D. in forest ecosystems and society from Oregon State University. With no car, I quickly found the best bike routes to school and the grocery store. I’ve always loved the dense coastal forests of Oregon, so it’s no surprise that I found my way into the McDonald Research Forest, about 5 miles north of campus, which is managed by Oregon State University.
There I was delighted to find countless steep gravel forest roads and single-track mountain bike trails that challenged me physically and mentally as I struggled up the hills and faced my fears on the way down. There is something so special about being able to spend time on my bike in the forests that I research and study.
Before long I was traveling farther from town by bike. A classmate invited me on my first adventure outside of town, the Cinnamon Roll, a 23-mile bike loop from my house in Corvallis to Hiatt Farm. I’d been nervous to say yes, wondering if the group would be riding too fast for me, or if we would have to climb big hills. I’d always struggled to ride in groups where I was typically the largest and often the slowest rider, falling many miles behind the rest of the group.
This time was different. We rode in a small group at a conversational pace through the rolling Willamette Valley fields and took a nice long snack break at the farm with cinnamon rolls and free coffee (that’s right, free coffee!) under the shade of an oak tree. It felt so great to find people who wanted to include me on their group bike rides, and who focused on fun and a good time outside.
Discovering the Corvallis to the Sea Trail
Eventually I overheard talk of the Corvallis to the Sea Trail, also called Corvallis to Coast, or C2C route. It’s both a hiking and biking trail that covers about 60 miles through the Oregon Coast Range. The ride can be done in a day but is also a great overnight bike-packing trip. Before moving to Oregon, I’d been on bike-packing trips many times before, but never one that left from my house.
I was immediately intrigued by the possibility of traveling by bike from my front door to the Oregon Coast. In 2019 I rode the route for the first time with a couple friends. We left from my house in Corvallis on a Saturday morning and pedaled 32 miles of gravel roads and single-track trails up and over the side of Marys Peak to Big Elk Campground, where we set up camp near the creek and cooked our meals next to a fire. It was a tough ride for me. The uphill seemed to last forever, and there were some technical descents that were made even trickier as they had become overgrown with blackberry bushes and stinging nettle. But the views of the Coast Range were spectacular, and the day was filled with laughter as my friends and I stopped for frequent breaks to take pictures and cool off.
The next day we climbed up a paved road and sailed down forested coastal mountains pushing ourselves and our bikes until we reached Ona Beach, just south of Newport. The excitement of reaching the ocean was overwhelming. I kept thinking about how my body had brought me from my house all the way to the beach, where we sat on the sand. We watched the waves roll in and ate celebratory fish and chips from South Beach Fish Market.
Encouraging “All Bodies on Bikes”
I’ve ridden the C2C quite a few times now, each trip offering a good time spent moving my body, catching up with friends and admiring the forest that I spend my days researching.
In our film “All Bodies on Bikes,” my friend Marley Blonsky and I bike-pack the C2C and share our experiences as fat people who ride bikes. We talk about the joy that cycling brings us, the challenges we’ve faced as people in larger bodies, and our goals to make the bike community a more inclusive place. Marley and I are working with the bike industry to make safe bike equipment for bigger people, and we’re working within the bike community to create a more welcoming culture.
Our hope is that the film inspires people of all sizes to get out on a bike and have some fun. We’ve created an All Bodies on Bikes Facebook group as well as an Instagram page for people to share their stories of joyful bike riding. We’re also hosting a series of virtual workshops (watch for more dates to come) on biking for bigger people — offering both support and practical tips on topics like choosing the best bike clothes and equipment, dealing with discomfort, and making the cycling community more inclusive.