Meet Grinduro CA’s race co-director who’s spearheading an outdoor renaissance and doing everything in her power to accelerate equity in the outdoors, while bringing Grinduro CA to life.
There are easier jobs than spearheading an outdoor renaissance, but for Justi Hansen, who has spent more than half her lifetime on the 4,322 metre-tall Mt Shasta, there’s no better purpose than accelerating equity in the outdoors – especially when the role includes bringing Grinduro California to life.
As executive director of the Siskiyou Outdoor Recreation Alliance (SORA), Justi says being tasked with bringing Grinduro to Mt Shasta was a no-brainer. “The opportunity to be the non-profit behind this round of Grinduro came along at exactly the right moment,” the former mountain guide and long-term gravel addict says with a grin. “It’s such a funny story,” she chuckles, recalling the chain of chance conversations that brought her and her team’s playground to the epicentre of the sport and unlocked this opportunity to raise money for their cause, which centres – at its most basic – around happier, healthier and more fulfilling lives doing things outdoors.
Justi is easy to get on with; someone you know would always bring the snacks and lend a wheel when you need it. When it comes to singing the praises of the outdoors, she’s probably the best advocate we’ve ever come across: “The town of Mt Shasta is sub-Alpine but we’ve got this giant, incredibly special volcano that backs onto it. With Grinduro California, we’ve tied in so much of the good stuff over the course of the weekend. There’s this syndrome in the town we all jokingly refer to as RSS, recreational stress syndrome, which sums up the feeling of being overwhelmed by the choice of whether to gravel ride, run, do some fresh powder skiing from the summit at 4,322 metres/14,180 ft to the car parking lot, kayak on the river or go to the MTB park followed by the pub.”
For people that don’t know the area, Justi admits the vibe is pretty standard for far-northern, funky California. “I came here 20 years ago to work as a guide and then as a ski patroller and I still can’t get enough of the outdoors. Having shifted from mountain biking to road riding as an adult because the landscape felt more inspiring, it was eye-opening to explore the extent of the logging roads when gravel hit. We’ve also got some insane singletrack called the Gateway trail that our course director Sean Doyle naturally made part of the Grinduro course — I totally recommend riding it right now before the trails get too dry. That singletrack is on the cusp of exploding in popularity too, so the parking lot will definitely have to be expanded.”
Justi stops mid-sentence. “Oh dang, that’s another thing we need to do before the event,” momentarily distracted by her obviously lengthy to-do list, just 7 weeks out from Grinduro CA. She scribbles a note-to-self before raising her head again: “Amanda and I have to remind people to bring their BMX and skateboards, too.”
Of course, we should have known.
If Mt Shasta sounds like a healthy place, that’s because it is. But the emphasis on the outdoors doesn’t tell us the full story of the humanity of the community. Here’s where SORA steps in, with all proceeds from Grinduro CA going directly back into the non-profit’s ambitious work. But what exactly does an outdoor alliance do and what steps will SORA be making for the greater good once the Grinduro campsite has cleared off?
SORA’s aim is to reshape the outdoors for the better through gathering the larger community of outdoor recreation non-profits and initiatives into one single alliance to enable more accessibility, more inclusivity and more sustainability for the environment and endorphin-seekers. It’s a lofty goal. From grooming the ski tracks to hosting ski clinics, opening an equipment lending library and funding the purchase of adaptive sports equipment for people with disabilities – “You wouldn’t believe the impact that the bi-ski we funded has had on the experiences of some residents with disabilities,” – SORA lends a leg up to various charities and ensures that the current model of fundraising, lobbying and support-seeking becomes more effective to benefit the entire community.
It’s fair to say SORA has a lot of balls to juggle – but their enthusiasm is contagious and their energy infallible.
When it comes to Grinduro CA, Justi’s focus on inclusivity will be visible throughout the weekend: “I’m so proud of how the event is engaging other groups in the community to leverage resources.” And these aren’t just volunteering roles: “I’ve recruited the swim team to run the sign-on and the local high school ski team to organize the on-course catered lunch. By paying a small stipend, it’ll create accountability and a sense of truly being integral to the event – plus it’ll help support the futures of these important schemes.”
Ok, so you’re registered to ride, but you’ve got the whole weekend to fill in Mt Shasta. We’re definitely feeling a little envious. What will it be? Hot laps on your BMX or skills on your skateboard? Vertical metres on the volcano? Hop on your bike and ride downhill for two minutes from the Grinduro site until you hit the town, where Justi suggests paying a visit to the Pipeline, an achingly hip pub with outdoor seating, grabbing a wood-fired pizza outdoors at Garden Tap, or picking up a kombucha from Thrive Bar (although, this vegan eatery with an emphasis on fresh, local produce will have a truck up at the park all weekend anyway, alongside a pop-up from Berryvale, a local natural food store and much, much more besides).
“There’s definitely no formula to Grinduro. We put in everything we can to make it fun and creative. Right now, I’m chatting to local musicians to get them out on course. That’s what is so important about Grinduro – it’s basically everything we want in an event. I think that by putting on a really good, well-organised weekend that models inclusivity, we will set the standard and word will spread. We’re a really small team and we all contribute in our own way: Sean, who sketched the route, is SORA’s board president and someone that can ride any bike—and ride it well. Then there’s Dave, another lifelong rider who makes sure the punk ethos doesn’t get cut short, and, of course, Mandy Burkholder, a critical team member on the admin side of things.” As we’ve said before, Grinduro is all of us – it’s the sum of the people who make it, but also none of us, and that’s what makes it, well, it.
“If I had to make three guarantees to the riders at Grinduro CA, it’ll be to expect gorgeous scenery, fun riding and a friendly, welcoming environment. We’re so stoked to be hosting the event after the pandemic. I’m just glad I’ve had time to ride the course multiple times already as I know I’m going to be flat-out on the day making sure the logistics are all running smoothly.” She feigns fatigue and gives a broad grin, clearly more than happy to be exhausting herself in the name of other people’s endorphins. And for that, Justi, we applaud you and the work that SORA does.
Visit the Siskiyou Outdoor Recreation Alliance website to find out more about the great stuff SORA do.