Katherine Donnelly | 08.08.2018

As part of Outdoor Project's Women In the Wild series this summer, I have had the honor of working with outdoor women from all over the industry to dig a bit deeper into who they are, how they got to where they are now, how they approach the outdoors, and more. These women are all rad in their own right, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or how "badass" they might be. Whether they're mothers, daughters, sisters, professional athletes, beginners, weekend warriors, "instafamous," or anywhere in-between, their unique stories, journeys, opinions, and perspectives are incredibly valuable and insightful as Outdoor Project - and the industry as a whole - progresses and evolves to become more inclusive to every type of outdoors person. 

Through in-depth and often thought-provoking interviews, I hope to highlight these women's stories, their work, their adventures, and so much more with an eye toward giving them their well-deserved share of the spotlight while inspiring and empowering even more women to get outside!

In this feature we talk to Serena Bishop Gordon.

It takes tenacity, passion, and a whole lot of grit to climb (yes, pun intended) one's way into the professional mountain biking world, and this Woman In The Wild exhibits these values in spades. When she's not riding and racing her bike at a global level, she is coaching others, sharing her love for the outdoors, and working hard to protect nature through her work at The Conservation Alliance. And if you've ever doubted the power of mental strength, be prepared to be enlightened after getting the full scoop below.

Photo by Jeff Clark.

OP: Give us the skinny on who Serena Bishop Gordon is.

Serena Bishop Gordon: I am passionate, motivated and love my morning coffee almost as much as I love being outdoors. I live in Bend, Oregon, with my husband, Ben, and our pup, Piper. I race and ride bikes for Liv Global and the Giant Factory Off-road Team, and I work as the Program Director for The Conservation Alliance connecting businesses with non-profit organizations working to protect North America’s last wild places. I help other cyclists achieve their goals as a coach and spend as much time as possible outside, on my bike, at the river, on skis, in the garden, and in the mountains. I don’t like being idle and always seem to have one too many things on my plate at any given time. I believe positive energy is contagious and the power of the mind is drastically underestimated. I feel it is my privilege and obligation to be a positive role model; I strive to set a good example of what it means to be a kind human and work to be the best version of myself each and every day. 

OP: When did you first know that you were going to spend your life in the outdoors?

SBG: As a child, I spent most of my waking hours outdoors. My mom would make us come for dinner or when it got dark, whichever came first. On Sundays we had to come in a bit earlier to take a bath. I played in the dirt and climbed trees and chased insects in the stream. By Sunday, I really needed a bath. 

When I was 12 years old I visited Yosemite for the first time, and it it changed my world. I decided I would become a park ranger. I never did become a park ranger, but I did visit Yosemite every summer for the next four years. These summers made a mark on my spirit that never left. 

After college and a stint in corporate America, my spirit was called back to open spaces and big landscapes. I sold my house, quit my job, spent six-months as a snowed-in winter-caretaker in the Opal Creek Wilderness, and then a summer thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail with my now-husband, Ben. 

OP: What does it mean to you to be a woman in the outdoor industry?

SBG: Let me rephrase the question: What does it mean to be a part of the outdoor industry. We are all humans, people, part of a community that is larger than ourselves. We lean on one another, share ideas and strength, and challenge each other to be better, do better, and set a better example. We are ambassadors of our sport, we are role models and adventure-seekers. To be a part of the outdoor industry is a responsibility and a privilege I take very seriously. 

OP: What has the outdoors done for you, and how do you pay it back?

SBG: The outdoors have given me strength and confidence. It has given me the space to tackle big questions, sort out daily challenges, and be 100% myself. As a cyclist, I take to the trails and ride for miles and miles; dirt roads, singletrack, over rocks and roots and buffed-out Central Oregon dirt. The outdoors challenges me every day and rewards me with fresh air, majestic views, and a feeling of contentment and happiness I can find in no other place. I could never “pay it back” in full, but I try. I work for The Conservation Alliance, working to protect North America’s most threatened landscapes for their recreational and habitat values in the hopes that future generations can experience the same awe and wonder that I find in these places of solitude. 

OP: Conservation and protection of our public lands are central themes in today’s outdoor recreation narrative. As someone who spends a significant amount of time on outdoors and on public lands, what role do bikers - and outdoor enthusiasts in general - should play in this evolving conversation and landscape?

SBG: We need to respect the places we play. We need to view these spaces as awesome privileges and as benefits of our democracy. And we need to get involved and make our voices heard; we need to tell our elected officials that we value our public lands, that protected public lands and the recreation economy associated with them are valuable to our communities, both where we live and where we travel. We need to find common ground with diverse user groups and come together to protect our most valued asset, our playground. 

OP: Who has inspired you along the way?

SBG: My parents. My husband, Ben. Edward Abbey. Louisa May Alcott. Mary Oliver. Nancy Ride. Katerina Nash. Carl Decker.

OP: What does adventure mean to you?

SBG: Adventure can take so many different forms. Anytime you challenge yourself and step outside your comfort zone, you are on an adventure. A journey with an unknown path, or unknown destination, actual or metaphorical.  I challenge myself to keep challenging myself, because that is how we live and grow and lead a meaningful existence. 

OP: What does the term "badass" mean to you?

SBG: Confident, beautiful, strong. Doing the things that scare you, so they scare you no longer. Sitting with the butterflies, and getting them to come along with you, instead of against you. Being your best, most beautiful self, all the way through, and then passing it on to others. 

OP: How have you managed to align your career with your passion for the outdoors? And do you have any advice for someone who is looking to do the same?

SBG: I put energy into the things and people I care about, I prioritize the important and (try to) let go of the rest, I focus my energy into things that make me a better human and the world a better place. If you do this, your career and passion will align. I love the outdoors; it is my playground, my cathedral, and my lecture hall. I spend my time celebrating, enjoying, and working to protect these places. I share these places with others who also fall in love. I crave not a fancy title or a big paycheck but meaningful experiences and valuable lessons. What can you do to align your career and your passion? Follow your passions, and your career will follow. 

OP: What mantra or set of words do you live by?

SBG: Be kind. Stay vigilant. Keep showing up.

OP: In a perfect world, what does the outdoors (the people, the places, the community as a whole, etc.) look like to you? And what can outdoor brands and media companies such as Outdoor Project do better to help get us there?

SBG: In a perfect world, everyone would agree, enough is better. Have enough, not more, not less. There is plenty to go around if everyone had enough. The demands on our natural resources would soften, the developers and extractors and lobbyists wouldn’t be talking about drilling in the Arctic or coal-mining in our national monuments. Our open spaces would be valued for how they enrich people’s lives and be protected for future generation to enjoy. User groups would be respectful of one another, find compromise on access, and understand that everyone needs a place to enjoy their sport. But those places don’t need to be the same, and they don’t need to be everywhere. We would express gratitude for our natural world and leave behind and take away not a thing. We would respect mother nature and embark on adventures knowing and assuming the risks and understanding that we are responsible for our actions. 

Companies that rely on recreation, clear air and water, and with customers who enjoy the outdoors have the responsibility to share the importance and the economic benefit of protected public lands, clean air, free flowing waterways, uncontaminated soil, and access to our birthright, the U.S. public lands system. Businesses have exponentially more power to influence elected officials than any one individual. Businesses represent jobs, income, and economic stability. It is time for businesses to take a stance and be political, go to Washington D.C., visit their state capitals, write letters, make phone calls, put themselves out there. Some people might not like it, and business may lose a sale or two, but in return they will gain a community of committed customers who will vote with their dollars; and what is good for our public lands will soon be good for their bottom line. 

OP: What is one thing that you never leave home without?

SBG: A friend once told me to never get on a plane without your passport and your bathing suit. I think that was pretty sound advice. Oh, and a $20 bill. Because, you never know when you are going to need snacks. 

OP: Let’s talk gear - what are your thoughts on women-specific gear? Love it, hate it? Are there any companies out there doing it right? And how so? When does it matter to you most to have gear specific to women versus unisex products?

SBG: Women aren’t men. We don’t wear men’s underwear, and we shouldn’t have to wear men’s ski boots, or down jackets, or ride bikes or skis designed for men. Men’s bodies and women’s bodies are different. That’s not rocket science. Our center of mass is different, we have narrower shoulders, and boobs. And butts. Our hands are smaller, our pelvic bones are shaped differently. We carry babies, for goodness sake. We are different. That doesn’t mean we are less, it just means we are different. And no, not all women’s bodies are the same, but generally, the above holds true. 

So, my thoughts on women’s specific gear fall in line with my thoughts on women’s specific underwear – it’s a no brainer. I want shorts and pants and a bike that fit me. I don’t love a product because it’s women-specific. I love a product because it fits and feels good and lets me do the things I love to do efficiently and comfortably. And 98.5% of the time, I feel better in women’s underwear, I mean women-specific gear. If a unisex piece of gear feels and fits better than the women-specific version, then I’ll get the unisex, but I can’t recall a piece of equipment for which this was the case. I wear women’s ski boots, and women’s cycling shoes, and have a women’s backpack and a women’s micropuff jacket – so yeah, I want a women’s specific bike. And let me clarify, women-specific gear does not mean pink, smaller, or narrower. It means gear designed from the ground up for women. Liv Cycling is an example of a brand doing it right. They are designing bike specifically for women, using data gathered from thousands of women to develop women-specific geometry to improve the fit, function and form for the female rider. Are all women going to love this geometry? No. And that’s okay, because the majority of women do. And having choices is good. 

OP: What is the greatest piece of advice or direction that you’ve ever received, and what’s the story behind it?

SBG: Stop trying, just do. My good friend Don Leet would correct me when I would say, “I am learning to race my bike,” or “I am trying to be a bike racer.” He would say, “You are a bike racer. Stop trying, just do.” In order to accomplish something, you first have to believe it is possible; So believe, just do. Only then can it happen. 

OP: If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you were just starting out with biking, what would it be?

SBG: Ask for help. No one can do this alone. It takes a community of people, and they want to help. Find your tribe, love them hard. 

OP: In a world seemingly run by online personas, how do you approach social media and how does it play into your lifestyle - both work and play?

SBG: I try hard to not have an online persona – I want to be the same person in real life as I am on the internet. I want to be real and kind and grateful. I want to use social media to tell a story, to inspire others, and give thanks to the people who support me. 

OP: The world of biking is rapidly progressing. How are you stepping things up to stand out from the crowd?

SBG: I do the work, I follow the plan, I love the process. I want to be the best I can be, that is all I can ask of myself. 

OP: What’s next for you in the coming months and years?

SBG: Great question, lots of good things. Ideas are coming to fruition, balls are in motion, wheels are turning. Life continues to carry on and I want to be driving the ship, not simply going for a ride, so what’s next….Life, lived to its fullest. 

OP: The title of your autobiography would be...

SBG: I should probably write it first.

OP: If our readers were to take one thing from this interview, what would you like it to be?

SBG: Don’t be afraid to chart your own path and change directions along the way. Create your own definition of success and surround yourself with people who lift you up and challenge you to be better. Be kind. Stay vigilant. Keep showing up.

Learn more about Serena online and by following along on her adventures on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Make sure to also check out her work with Liv Cycling as a member of the Liv & Giant Factory Off-Road Team and Trail Squad.


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