“Being a perfectionist in retail, school or business is an asset, but man, try to apply it to parenting? It’s hard.” Bree Thorlakson has the take-no-prisoners energy of someone invincible and a little bit ball-busting. “I’ve always known what I wanted,” she admits. Being taken down by an infant was not part of her game plan. But five years ago, after her daughter was born, down she went, and hard. “I had a baby that didn’t sleep until she was 22 months. I knew I was drowning. I knew everything was wrong everywhere, but I am a strong person and no one really knew how to support me.”
If you met Thorlakson out on the trails, or on a Wednesday night Bike Club ride, you’d be surprised to hear that she ever unraveled. She doesn’t seem the type.
All summer long, I’d been hearing about Bike Club – from every female friend I had in Pemberton who mountain biked, across completely different social circles, in completely different age groups, at completely different ability levels. Despite their differences, they were effusive, and wanted to share it: “You should come!”
“Bike Club” is a free social ride, run under the PORCA umbrella, for women who want to explore the trails, build their skills and get out on their bikes in a social supportive environment. This past summer, 80 different women and girls went out on one of the Wednesday night rides. The rides start somewhere different every week, and end at someone’s house for a casual beverage. The Facebook page announces the details, and women use the space as a forum to arrange other casual rides throughout the week. Typically 15-20 women will show up on any given Wednesday. “One day was pissing rain, and I was prepared to cancel, but it was our highest turnout,” shrugs Thorlakson. “People really look forward to it.”
When I finally caught one, in August, I marveled at the ease with which I instantly made a dozen new friends, and the number of those people who said, “this is my sanity, my salvation.”
Bike Club is Bree’s other baby. “It’s changed my life,” she says.
Now 39, with the bike season winding down and her daughter just starting kindergarten, Thorlakson has been reflecting on the wild ride she’s been through. “I wanted to have a baby, but I couldn’t imagine how hard it could be.”
Her Facebook timeline just excavated one of those random memories: ‘Slept 2 nights in a row for the first time in 14 months, I feel fantastic!’
“I probably should have sought help then,” she notes, drily.
It actually took another 8 months before Thorlakson was diagnosed with post-natal depression. She’d forgotten how to eat, lost 15 pounds. “I had always been successful. I was in denial that anything like that could happen to me.” Her employer had been supportive, let her return three days a week – but when they asked her to decide whether she was ready to resume full-time employment, she met with her store manager and sobbed for four hours straight. “In the 9 years I worked there, I don’t think my supervisors had ever seen me cry. But having struggled with depression himself, he saw it straight away. I’m embarrassed that he had to identify it for me.”
She was also relieved. Thorlakson walked out of the store, and straight into Northlands Medical Clinic, where her doctor diagnosed the obvious. She began a mission to get healthy. It involved taking anti-anxiety medication for 6 months, counseling, and marriage counseling. “And I had to get back to what made me happy.”
Spending time in the forest was curative so she started social mountain bike rides for women.
“I started it as a kind of self medication, a recreation outlet, a social outlet. And I started to get so much positivity back from it, from people I never would have met, because everyone tends to stay in cliques in this town. Through Bike Club, I found connections in totally different places.”
Four years on, Thorlakson has overseen Bike Club’s evolution from “a couple of moms trying to get back in shape, vent about their problems and have a drink afterwards” into “a pretty dedicated group of women” including many people brand-new to town who find an instant community.
Inclusive is the goal. “The mountain bike scene in Pemberton is pretty elitist,” says Thorlakson, not as a judgment, just as a statement of fact about the caliber of riders here. Thorlakson has joined the Board of PORCA, and alongside Suki Cheyne, is committed to being a voice for women and children of the local mountain bike community. “We need more people to make it accessible. I want to champion that. I know how much mountain biking has given me, and I want to pass that on.”
Photos via Bike Club.
This column originally appeared in the Whistler Question on October 10, 2016.