When you’re new or returning to outdoor activities, planning how to work up to them or find like-minded others can be daunting. In Bellingham, there’s an organization dedicated to empowering women toward achieving these goals: Shifting Gears, a recreational nonprofit with programs for biking, hiking, kayaking, and climbing.
Shifting Gears started in 2017, when they received their 501(c)3 nonprofit status after organizing several outdoor outings.
“It was formed by a group of women who started out on a bike packing trip,” says Executive Director Krysy Keller. “They had invited all their friends to join and [for many] this was their first time.” Amazing conversations took place on that initial trip: what it’s like to be new to a sport and how intimidating that can be, but also how amazing it was to be on a trip with a group of women and how supportive everyone was.
Shifting Gears has grown to serve over 400 women in their programs, with a board of around 10 people.
“There was a need for other activities, so we started exploring things like day hikes and backpacking,” Keller says. “It’s really grown into this amazing organization that serves so many women in the outdoor space by creating outdoor recreational opportunities where women can participate and feel confident and learn some new skills — and also meet other women that really want to be in the outdoors.”
Programs in Whatcom’s Great Outdoors
Shifting Gears hosts mountain biking and road biking outings, typically once a month, along with other activities on seasonal schedules.
“We also offer day hikes and backpacking trips,” says Keller. “We’ve built incredibly strong partnerships with the Community Boating Center where we offer weekly sea kayaking paddles, and also with VITAL Climbing Gym, where we offer monthly climb nights.”
Keep on eye on Shifting Gears’ events calendar for updates on upcoming programs and special events.
“You’ll also find us doing workshops and seminars, like panel discussions about women in the outdoors,” Keller says. “We host workshops around bike maintenance clinics and things like that, and other ways women can meet other women and learn new skills.”
Shifting Gears also hosts events ranging from special occasions, such as film screenings, to large annual gatherings like the Bellingham Bike Swap each May.
“That’s associated with Boundary Bay Brewery and is essentially a bike swap,” says Keller. “People can bring any sort of biking gear to sell, and a portion of those sales goes toward Shifting Gears to support our programs.” The event has proven to be an effective way circulate gear in the community people may no longer want or need — and an awesome place for people to purchase gear at an affordable price.
Every March, Wild Women Week provides new opportunities for women to get outdoors through Shifting Gears’ full lineup of activities.
“Centered around International Women’s Day, it’s usually a week to two weeks of different activities and events that celebrate women in the outdoors,” Keller says. “Those are usually heavily attended and a ton of fun.”
Shifting Gears also collaborates with Lost Giants Cider Company and other local cideries for the annual Sippin’ on Cider festival in October. From November through December, they also host an annual holiday auction.
“We have over 80 businesses participating and donating items to our auction,” says Keller. “It’s all done virtually and participants can bid on different items that are supported by local businesses.”
Shifting Gears Into the Future
In just a few short years, Shifting Gears has cultivated a space for women to hone their athletic abilities regardless of age, experience, or economic barriers.
“Women get different things out of it,” says Keller. “The women are able to take away this level of confidence and growing in the outdoors, and feeling like you’re able to participate in an activity — that you belong there. And you’re creating this sense of community with other women that enjoy the outdoor space.”
With community support, Shifting Gears continues to expand its reach.
“We hope to explore winter offerings and create programs people can participate in all year round, and then obviously grow a lot of our events,” Keller says. “One of the big goals for the organization is to create a gear library where participants are able to get gear that can be extremely expensive in this industry.”