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Melinda Davie (left) and Isabelle Faucher of the Wild Bettys stop for a moment along the bike trail on Ms. Davie's property in Mono, Ont.Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

One afternoon in August 2021, Isabelle Faucher watched as a fellow Wild Betty pedaled her mountain bike up a giant boulder then down a steep, narrow wooden ramp. The Wild Bettys, a women’s mountain biking club (based in Toronto with two Ontario chapters) were together for a cycling vacation through Saint-Sauveur and The Laurentians in Quebec. That day, they were riding with a few local women who were sharing secret trails and coaching advice.

It was Ms. Faucher’s turn; nervous and a little shaky, she told herself, ‘I can do this. Just commit to it.’ In the background, she heard shouts of encouragement.

For a split second, she feared falling as the bike edged too far right; but instead of braking and launching herself over the handlebars to certain injury, she composed herself, relaxed and steered her bike safely onto solid ground.

Sitting at her desk the Monday morning after the ride, Ms. Faucher says she still felt the afterglow. As an environmental consultant working in recycling and waste diversion, her workday involves juggling many different issues and responsibilities. Mountain biking is her mental reset.

“After a great ride, I’ll get good ideas and be able to think about solutions to obstacles,” she says.

Getting into the flow

What Ms. Faucher describes – flow, or more formally, psychological detachment – is a mental state in which someone becomes so immersed in what they are doing that everything else, including work stress, slips away. (As riders know all too well, if your mind starts wandering on a mountain bike, chances are you’ll crash, or in biking parlance, “eat it.”)

Psychological detachment is a concept that Julie McCarthy teaches in her executive programs.

Dr. McCarthy is a professor of organizational behaviour and HR management at the University of Toronto Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management.

“We have to be really intentional and strategic about our work recovery activities,” says Dr. McCarthy. “It’s not enough to just get the physical component of exercise. If you’re on a mountain bike or in a yoga class and still thinking about your job or what happened with a client, we know from research that you’re not capitalizing on that work recovery.”

People who develop emotional resilience often participate in activities that enable this detachment, resulting in them becoming more mindful and engaged, she adds.

Melinda Davie, a retired pediatrician who started the Wild Bettys in 2010, finds the exhilaration from mountain biking incomparable.

“When you conquer an obstacle, you want to say ‘woo-hoo’ out loud. And that ‘I am invincible’ feeling stays with you,” she says.

As a former co-chair and member of the Ontario Physicians and Surgeons Discipline Tribunal, Dr. Davie often wrote reports on tribunal decisions. She says that after a good ride, she was able to better articulate her thoughts.

“That deep concentration that is required to master these physical challenges then makes the mental and intellectual challenges just seem less daunting,” she says.

Calming the mind

Erin Campbell, a physiotherapist in Rossland, B.C., says that riding demanding mountain biking trails enhances her work life. Ms. Campbell is co-ride lead director of women’s mountain biking club the Muddbunnies and says that biking calms her mind in a way that other activities can’t.

“If I’m running, I can [get on] that hamster wheel of ruminating sometimes,” she says.

The learning aspect of mountain biking also feeds her confidence at work. “Every thirty feet, there’s an opportunity to succeed on micro features like a rock roll or a log. Sometimes you have to walk around one, but maybe you hit the next one,” Ms. Campbell says.

According to Dr. McCarthy, the ability to master a skill in a hobby or sport is an important part of the activity’s value to an individual. “More challenging mountain biking courses [can] increase your self-efficacy because you’re developing that mastery that also feeds into your work,” she says.

Mountain bikers Melinda Davie (left) and Isabelle Faucher say that being out on the trail benefits them in their work lives.Tijana Martin

Rejuvenation and comradery

Stephanie Dupont, who started the Rossland Muddbunnies chapter five years ago, says she moved to Rossland from Montreal for the lifestyle. Her daily routine for the past few years included riding each afternoon at 3:30 p.m. with her dog. (She’s currently on hiatus because she’s expecting a baby any day now.)

Ms. Dupont says challenging downhill features feed her confidence, while climbing mountains builds stamina and determination.

Working in the male-dominated mining industry as a reliability specialist, Ms. Dupont says that men take her more seriously when they learn she’s a mountain biker – she earns their respect.

“I am a firm believer that getting more women in mountain biking and action sports in general allows women to take their place. And that also resonates in the workplace,” says Ms. Dupont.

Dr. McCarthy says that while everyone must find the activities that work for them, mountain biking ticks off many boxes.

“There is a lot of research showing that being in nature is also incredibly rejuvenating,” she says. “And, being with other people, you’re sharing that comradery.”

Isabelle Faucher knows that feeling well. As a consultant running her firm alone, the Bettys have become Ms. Faucher’s community on and off the bike.

“That you’ve done it with other supportive and like-minded women who share your passion just amplifies your sense of accomplishment,” she says.

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