I went to Interbike for the first time this year. It was my first time in Vegas, my first time at a bike show this big, my first time trying to write so many articles in such a short amount of time and see so many different products within the span of a couple of days. When my colleagues at Singletracks asked me to go along with them to the show, I was really excited for the opportunity. I knew it would be overwhelming and tough, but it would also be a great learning experience.

It was definitely all of those things, and more. What I didn’t expect was for it to have such a profound effect on me. I didn’t expect it to cause me to re-examine what I am doing and why. I didn’t expect it to cause me to shed so many tears, doubt myself so much, and then, in the end, rise above it all to come to a higher understanding of myself and my role in this world.

Yeah, all of that from a stupid, blinged-out bike show in Sin City.

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First, let me start out with some of the great things about my Interbike experience before we dive into the deep and messy.

I met some cool people. Really cool people. I even got to meet Nick Carman (check out his blog gypsy by trade) and Lael Wilcox, recent Tour Divide and Trans Am Race winner, dirtbag endurance queen (I mean that in a very complimentary way), and basically my cycling idol. I’ve been religiously following both of their blogs for several years.

I got to hang out with friends I don’t get to see very much—the Dirt Rag crew, my coworkers at Singletracks, my friend Brendan, who drives the Pivot demo rig.

I also got to look at lots of neat bike stuff. I visited brands I’d never heard of. I spent two days riding bikes in the desert and that was fun. Even though it was 100 degrees the first day and I felt like I was going to die, it was still fun. The southwestern U.S. is a place I’d like to explore more, because it is such a contrast to what I’m used to and what I grew up with. The landscape is so barren, but there’s something incredibly beautiful about it.

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cactus

But here’s the thing—Interbike was also so many things that I hate. It was loud, it was bright and shiny, there were too many people, and I never got my much-needed alone time.

I knew it would be like this. It’s not that I was surprised. But somehow, in my head, I thought I was prepared, and it turns out that I wasn’t. I was still caught off-guard, which resulted in a situation that, in my stress and lack of sleep at the event and upon arriving home, I had been calling a total personal and professional disaster. By now, I have spun it into a much more positive light, and call it a learning experience.

In the months, weeks, days, and hours before the show, I knew that at Interbike, I’d need to put myself out there and talk to people about bike stuff and ask lots of questions. I knew I’d be outside my comfort zone, and maybe I’d clearly be the rookie who didn’t know what she was doing. But I was okay with that, because I was being sent to this giant bike trade show, so someone must have had at least a tiny amount of confidence in me that I was good at my job.

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The problem was, when I got there, I let social anxiety get in the way of doing my job to the best of my ability. I failed to ask all the questions I should have for fear of sounding stupid. I didn’t have business cards. I dressed too casually. I didn’t take enough pictures. I realized too late that I didn’t do enough research into the companies that I wasn’t familiar with, so I failed to gather all the information that I should have. I spent a lot of time in between appointments wandering on the showroom floor, dazed by sensory overload, without a concrete plan as to where I should go or what would be interesting articles to write.

After the expo closed, I should have spent time preparing for the next day, so that I could be as efficient as possible. I should have paid less attention to what everyone else was doing, and listened to myself a little more, in order to figure out what works for me. That might mean spending a little more time with a bike on a test ride to make sure that I could provide a quality review and photos. That might mean skipping the social events for a night in order to get some alone time and collect my thoughts. That might mean making sure to get enough sleep, even if no one else is, because I know that my mental state suffers badly when I am sleep-deprived for days on end. I should have taken my running shoes with me so that I could get out early in the morning and clear my head on the streets of Vegas. I should have been confident in what I bring to the table as a writer, cyclist, female, and human being, and blossomed into my uniqueness rather than hiding from it.

And then, I made the ultimate mistake. I focused on all the things I was doing wrong, instead of realizing that it was just awesome that I was there, and accepting the fact that this was my first Interbike and my first event of this nature. Of course I wasn’t going to be as good at doing my job as people who have been in the industry for years. Of course I was going to need more preparation. But I had a hard time accepting that. I tried to pretend that I knew exactly what to do (fake it til you make it, they say), and screwed it up, because I don’t fake well. Then I lost it, and spent way too long crying on the phone to Evan about how I had no idea what I was doing, and how maybe I should just quit writing and quit working in the bike industry, because clearly, I suck at it.

The reality is, I know I don’t suck. But I also know that there are certain things I do better than others. I love talking about the experience of riding a bike, and I think I’m pretty good at it. I enjoy testing products in the real world over the course of several weeks or months and writing about it, and I think I’m pretty decent at that as well. What I know I’m not the best at is cranking out articles super quickly, or writing a quality article about a product with which I only spent a few minutes, or a bike on which I rode 3-5 miles. That doesn’t mean I’ve resigned myself to being terrible at those things. I’d like to be better. Interbike was great practice for that. I know I have a long way to go until I feel like I’m really an expert at it, but I really want to keep trying, because this is what I want to be doing. I love writing. I love bikes. And I love writing about bikes.

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Maybe it’s dumb of me to admit my flaws and my weaknesses. Maybe I shouldn’t be presenting myself in a less-than-flattering light to the world if I expect to be successful. But I think affirming that that I’ve made mistakes, and that I am willing to learn and grow from them, is important. In the future, I can and will do better. I value honesty and transparency, and as I’m creating my “personal brand” and deciding who I want to be and represent, I know I want those two things to be a part of it.

So there you have it, my honest-to-goodness, full-disclosure Interbike experience. Ultimately, it was positive. It took some doubts, fears, tears, overcoming, learning, and accepting to get there, but that’s all a part of the picture. I went outside of my comfort zone, and I grew because of it. That’s what life is all about.

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9 thoughts on “Interbike virgin.

  1. 1st – ur pics are AMAZING! Love the one w/ the bike and the cactus
    2nd – I know exactly what u mean about Vegas – I felt the same way the 1st time I was out there – wayyy different than PA, but I actually learned to love it!
    3rd – way to go getting out there. It’s more than most people would do!

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  2. You are the type of person that 90% of the bike world needs! We don’t want super technical jargon that we can only stare blankly as someone spews at us. We need you, as a so called “novice” to trip through not asking all the right questions the first time… And then tell us what you did wrong. In some ways I hope you never get “great” at this since that would might mean the common folk won’t be able to relate. Stay really good.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Interbike is tough, I’ve been there a few times and even if you go into it with a concrete plan you can get swept up in everything and have a sensory overload. The industry needs more people like you! Stay rad!
    JB

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  4. Wow, Helena, sorry you had to go through this whirlwind of emotions in your short trip. Nothing can really prepare you for your first time at Interbike, but in retrospect I wish I had taken the time to give you a woman’s perspective of Interbike. Shame on me for being a horrible colleague and friend! Most importantly I’m glad you came to realize that you don’t suck! You are really awesome at writing and riding! Going to trade shows is not everyone’s thing (especially in Vegas), living the dream in the bike industry is not always fun but the mountain biking, challenging yourself, and sharing your experiences are always rewarding!

    ps – sorry we blew it on the biz cards too, ill get you some for next time!

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    1. Leah,

      First of all, don’t be sorry. A whirlwind of emotions means that I’m out of my comfort zone and learning and growing, and that’s a good thing. It’s okay. You’re right, nothing could have prepared me, and you are definitely not a horrible colleague and friend!

      Don’t worry about the biz card thing either. I should have thought of it, and then when everyone started asking for my card I was just like uhhhh…. And felt very non-legit. Haha.

      Yes, it was stressful, and going to huge trade shows is never going to be my favorite thing, but it’s a part of the job that I want to be doing, and I hope I get the opportunity to keep going to them so that I can keep getting better at it!

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    1. Oh no, Moe! That makes me sad/mad too…. I would love to hear what you have to say but I understand if you don’t want to go to all that effort again…

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