Love At First Descent
Meet Blake, Our OUTdoors Spotlight Of The Week
Backcountry partners with the Utah Pride Center (UPC) to support our local LGBTQ+ community and raise awareness about the UPC’s work toward advancing mental health and inclusivity in the backcountry and beyond. In our OUTdoors Spotlight series, we’re sharing the stories of LGBTQ+ outdoor athletes.
Blake Hansen (she/her) is a gravity-fed mountain bike racer with a true love for speed. Utah-based Blake is a seasoned desert rider and has shown promise in the freeride space, proving to be a rising talent to watch for. She’s known for logging some of the fastest laps around, as well as her appearances in catalog covers and brand videos—not to mention her role digging at Red Bull Formation. We sat down with her to talk about her experiences as a trans rider on and off the bike.
How did you first come to mountain biking?
When I was 11 I moved from Florida to California and my uncle asked my brother and I if we wanted to try mountain biking. Of course, my brother got to use a cool mtb of some sort and I got this loose, janky loaner from my younger cousin. I fell in love at that first uncontrollable descent.
What are some of your favorite trails, or places to ride?
Bobsled in SLC—it’s memorized like the back of my hand, Undertow at Deer Valley, and Lithium to Jimmy’s Mom in Jackson. I may or may not have been a bit of a Strava sniper at one point in time? I’m sorry for scaring your dogs when I was being irresponsible (for like, three years). I also really love Trestle bike park, I feel very fast when I ride there.
You recently dug some big lines at Red Bull Formation. Tell us about the event and what it means for women and LGBTQ+ folks in the MTB freeride world?
Red Bull Formation is an opportunity to work together and learn from one another. Eight days straight, from well before sun up to after sundown is a pretty long time—you can learn a lot from each other. Being invited by Katie Holden to participate was a landmark moment for me personally; I learned so much from all those girls.
Cycling is a unique beast in terms of where and what the industry invests in. There is no doubt that the heaviest investment goes into racing but racing isn’t the only way to ride or sell a bike. I recently internalized this myself so I stopped chasing the golden dream on Strava. The event is an attempt to show what women are capable of doing on bikes and I’d say it’s been a huge success so far. The level of participation & progression happening right now in the sport is unprecedented. The industry is finally starting to grasp what we’re capable of.
It’s really cool to start to see people in the industry supporting the LGBTQ+ riders with more opportunities. We deserve it just like anyone else—we’re all out here working hard.
What barriers–and what solutions–do you see for trans athletes?
I think first and foremost, the biggest barrier to entry was telling myself it wasn’t possible to go very far competitively before I would run into issues. With all that we’ve seen over the past four years and specifically this year, maybe you can imagine why a trans athlete would tell herself that.
I do think a lot is changing right now though. More people and more companies are waking up and starting to stand up for us and I hope to keep seeing that. It would be really cool to see more opportunities given to more trans athletes to excel at whatever they’re up to.
What was your coming out experience like?
I grew up in a conservative Christian household so even coming out to myself was pretty much impossible. I didn’t even accept my identity for myself until I was 24. Once I did, I still had to navigate what to do with it all. I was in a committed relationship (with a straight girl whom I eventually married), I worked with a lot of people I didn’t want to “let down” or lose relationships with for fear of losing work. I didn’t know anyone like me personally so I had no one to ask questions, the list goes on.
The one thing that made it easier was finally deciding to go to therapy where my amazing therapist helped me to unpack all of my preconceived notions and reshape them for me instead of for others. It was definitely a time where I learned to develop self-esteem in new ways.
What’s next for you, in terms of both racing and advocacy?
I think I’m at a bit of a crossroads now actually. I’ll keep racing because I love the challenge of learning how to become a faster racer (not the same as being a fast rider), but I’m also popping into this whole freeride thing now so we’ll see how the balance shakes out.
Advocacy feels a little more straightforward to me. First and foremost, I ride bikes mediocrely and I’m just trying to get better all the time. Second, I am me and that draws attention I suppose, so I hope I can keep that part of my journey transparent enough that someone, somewhere can see that it’s possible now.
What can companies do to better support LGBTQIA+ folks in the outdoors especially?
The more the outdoor community is exposed to queerness, the more comfortable they’ll begin to be with us existing in the same spaces and thus the more comfortable the LGBTQ+ community will be with existing openly in those spaces.
Also, not just giving us a voice and some opportunity but internalizing the topics yourselves. Trans people are under attack across America. If you doubt that, you’re part of the problem. True allyships are so important and the people behind the marketing campaigns need to understand that.
Authenticity has to sit at the core. Supporting more LGBTQ+ people (athletes included) for what they actually do, not just including queer people in marketing campaigns. If people had more exposure to our points of view, maybe they wouldn’t feel so foreign.
Is there anything else you’d like our community to know?
I love pepperoni pizza.