Internet Celebrity - Interview with Marley
"Biking While Fat" - That title caught my eye like a neon sign. I moved my cursor to the link, clicked, and began to read. It seemed impossible. It was certainly unprecedented. Was someone truly writing about cycling with a body type other than that of a fit-and-chiseled athlete?
Yes, she was. And she was doing so with self-loving brilliance and honest humor. I fell in love with the author before I even knew her name: Marley Blonsky. And now, I feel lucky as all hell to publish this exclusive interview with her.
Marley Blonsky is a Seattle-based environmental manager, bike advocate & blogger, and women’s ride leader. She refuses to let our image-conscious culture interfere with her love of riding bikes, and loves to explore the Pacific Northwest on her Surly Straggler 650b!
What do you bring to the table as a woman, cyclist, blogger, activist?
I bring authenticity, vulnerability, and a sense of fun.
"I bring authenticity, vulnerability, and a sense of fun.
Where do you live now (and how did you end up there)?
I've lived in Seattle, Washington since 2004. Sounds crazy to say I’ve been here for 13 years, but yep! I’m originally from Texas, and spent some time in Spokane, WA before moving to Seattle to go to college at the University of Washington.
What’s your love story with cycling? How did your passion start?
I started riding in 2014 after getting divorced and moving from West Seattle to Capitol Hill. I had been in a pretty unhealthy relationship and a bicycle represented freedom and fun and rediscovering this city that I love so much. I had a good friend who worked at a bike shop and raced who was instrumental in getting me onto a bike. From there (as I think is pretty common), my obsession grew and I suddenly had 4 bikes!
"A bicycle represented freedom and fun and rediscovering this city that I love so much."
What role does your bicycle play in your life?
My bike has been a catalyst for adventure and social activities in Seattle for the past few years. I’d say that I’ve made more friends through biking than I have with any other “thing” in my adult life. Many of these friends are people I've gone on a ride with, but many others are people whose style of riding is way different than mine, but we connect over a shared love of the bike.
What's your style of riding?
My favorite kind of riding is long rambles with no specific purpose or destination – especially on a warm summer day. I also ride socially, leading group rides for women, and used to be an active bike commuter (I need to get back into that). My absolute favorite is bike camping and adventures- planning the routes and exploring along the way.
What side of you does your bike represent? What part of your personality is fed by biking?
This is an interesting question because biking for me fulfills a couple of different needs in my life. Traveling by bike has opened up the curious side of me. I see a road and think “Oh man, this would be amazing to bike on. How can I make that happen?”
Its also been an amazing tool for the social butterfly side of my personality. I have made so many friends through biking and it seems like if you want to ride somewhere, you can always find a buddy to ride with.
What excites you about bike culture in Seattle?
I love the adventure culture in Seattle. There are so many people going on rad trips all the time, and I think a lot of that has been stoked by Swift Industries. They host an annual route-sharing and storytelling event called Stoked Spoke that is dedicated to sharing bike camping adventures. I’ve presented for the last 3 years and the community that comes together in that room is something else. Supportive, engaging, and exciting people.
"Traveling by bike has opened up the curious side of me. I see a road and think 'Oh man, this would be amazing to bike on.'"
I’m also really excited about the growing diversity in people who bike in Seattle. As more people move here (seriously, this city is growing like crazy), I see so many more faces out on two wheels. I help put on a WTF (Women/Trans/Femme) Alley Cat ride every summer and we’ve seen our numbers go crazy in the last few years. In 2017, over 130 women participated in our race!
Tell me about "Gals Ride the Dalles"!
Gals Ride the Dalles was a trip that I led last summer with 18 women in Dalles, Oregon for my birthday. I'd done most of the ride before during the Dalles Mountain 60, an annual gravel ride that takes place in early March.
When I originally rode the Dalles Mountain 60 I fell in love with the landscape of Central Oregon, but not the vibe of the organized ride. There were tons of people out there riding the route as fast as possible- I think I literally got passed by every single other person on the route. For me, there were countless opportunities to stop, take photos, learn about the history of the area, and just enjoy the ride that I really wanted to extend it.
I did some map-scouring and developed a route that would turn the Dalles Mountain 60 into a two-day bike camping adventure. We would still get the best parts of the original route, with an added overnight into the Deschutes River Recreational Area.
How did you get the idea to turn your Dalles bike tour into a group ride?
I really love biking with groups of all women. The power in numbers, resourcefulness and support that comes with riding with other women is something special. So I decided to send out an invitation to join me on this route.
18 women heeded the call – from Montana, Portland and Seattle. We all met in Oregon on Saturday, May 20th and ended up having an amazing weekend. Many of the women had never ridden this much gravel before, so for them it was a learning experience. For others, it was an opportunity to make new friends, try out new skills (hello, pinch flats), and enjoy a gorgeous bike ride. Overall, it was a perfect birthday weekend ride. I can’t wait to do it again!
How does cycling alone compare to riding with others?
I really cherish riding alone. It gives me an opportunity to reflect on all sorts of thoughts – it’s almost a meditative experience. I can go my own pace, stop whenever I want to, and not feel pressured to talk. (This might surprise you, but I’m actually pretty introverted. I recharge when I’m alone and being on a bike alone is wonderful!)
"This might surprise you, but I’m actually pretty introverted. I recharge when I’m alone."
What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done, that involved a bicycle?
Hmm, this is a good question, as I’ve done lots of dumb things on my bike like riding on the side of I-90, and riding trails that were beyond my skill level, but I’m not sure those count as brave, so much as stupid.
So with that in mind, I think the bravest thing I did was a 3 day solo tour a couple of years ago. I had only started bike camping that summer, so taking the leap to plan a 3 day tour felt like a really brave thing. In retrospect, and with a few years more experience, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. But at the time, it felt huge.
"The bravest thing I did was a 3 day solo tour a couple of years ago... at the time, it felt huge."
Tell me about that first solo bike tour.
I rode 180ish miles over the course of 3 days, including 2 nights solo camping. I went to a part of the northwest I wasn’t super familiar with (the Hood Canal), and on roads I’d never ridden. I’m still really proud of this trip and would love to ride it again.
I started on a Friday after work and took the ferry to Bainbridge, where I then biked about 18 miles to Kitsap Memorial State Park. Day 2 I biked across the Hood Canal Bridge, through Quilcene, and ended up at Potlatch State Park. I had initially planned to only go to Dosewallips, but found myself feeling good and kept riding. Day 3 I rode back home through Bremerton and took that ferry home.
What was that first night of camping alone like? Were you nervous?
I don't think I slept more than I few hours. I was jumpy and super nervous to be out there alone. I woke up in the morning and found that another cyclist had shown up (sometime after I went to bed) and we ended up having breakfast together and a great chat. He'd been traveling for a few months and talking to him made me feel better.
"I don't think I slept more than I few hours. I was jumpy and super nervous to be out there alone."
What were your biggest fears on that first solo tour?
My biggest fears were honestly my route choice and how safe they would be. For a large portion of the ride I was on 2 lane roads that I thought were low-traffic, but turned out to basically be highways. I definitely would choose alternate routes next time.
Other than that, I felt pretty prepared for my trip mentally and physically. I was comfortable with my setup, including bike, tent, and cooking gear. It was also comforting that I wasn't truly that far away from home and if I got into a pickle, I could call somebody to rescue me. Thankfully it wasn't necessary.
Has anyone (friends/family) ever expressed fear about your cycling or sharing your stories publicly?
No, in fact most of them are very supportive and want to hear more. I think they see it as inspiring, and I’ve heard from a number of friends that they have ridden more/camped more/explored more because of my stories.
"Most of [my friends and family] are very supportive and want to hear more."
Tell us about the "With These Thighs" campaign.
With These Thighs was actually started by Leah Benson of Gladys Bikes. She posted a photo of the stickers on Instagram and I fell in love with the message and the story. At the "Gals Ride the Dalles" ride, one of my friends from Portland actually brought me a few stickers.
From there, I posted the photos on my social media and the response was overwhelming. I contacted Leah to ask if she’d be cool with me printing these as well to distribute. She was, and the rest is history. I have a link to them posted on my blog and would love to continue spreading the message. It seems like regardless of your body type or size, as a cyclist the message resonates. I’ve seen photos of some professional cyclists with the stickers on their downtube, which blew me away!
You mentioned you fell in love with the "With These Thighs" story. What's the story?
The message behind With These Thighs is that you are doing amazing things with your body, regardless of what it looks like. It's meant to be a rally cry - like "With These Thighs I biked up that mountain." or "With these thighs I ran a marathon/danced forever/had a child/etc." The important thing is the action- not what you look like.
I’m inspired by your wit, warmth, and honesty in articles like your recently-published “Biking While Fat”. Conversations among women about body image and self-love are essential, and yet difficult to initiate. What’s it been like to share your personal journey in a public setting?
It's a weird thing. For me, it’s just my life and to hear that people are inspired by my writing is a strange feeling. I guess I’ve always been an honest person, and to me it seems like common sense that if you’re fat, you’re going to have extra considerations when riding a bike. But as a society, we don’t talk about these things.
"It seems like common sense that if you’re fat, you’re going to have extra considerations when riding a bike. But as a society, we don’t talk about these things."
Many people who have a blog or social media make their life look perfect – curated photos of sunsets and camp sites and all that other nonsense. But that’s not real life, and I don’t think that would resonate with my readers. From what I’ve heard, real-life stories and practical advice are what people want to read about and get inspired by.
You mentioned parts of your public life feel weird. Can you elaborate?
The strangest experiences are always when people recognize me on the street. I’ve heard things like “Oh my gosh, you’re an internet celebrity!” Or “You are so cool. Can we take a photo?” Which is mind blowing- honestly I feel like all I’m doing is riding a bike and sharing my experiences that could enable other people to do the same.
"The strangest experiences are always when people recognize me on the street. I’ve heard things like 'Oh my gosh, you’re an internet celebrity!'"
Your work is amazing, and I'm glad to hear the responses have been so positive.
Yes, overall it’s been very positive. I was very nervous when Ella Cycling Tips featured me and also my blog posts, as they have a very different audience than I do on my blog. I was concerned that I would be fat-shamed for sharing my story, but it turned out completely awesome! People loved the article and the advice I gave, and while there were a few nasty comments, they’re easy enough to ignore.
What are you looking forward to this year? Any pie-in-the-sky bike rides you’re scheming about?
I’m super excited for the WTF Bikesplorer summit in Whitefish, Montana. While out there, I’m hoping to re-do the loop I did through Glacier last summer. I’m about to start a new job, so I’m looking forward to getting settled into that and hopefully lots of bikecamping trips!
Keep up With Marley!