Thursday, July 1, 2010

Mountain Biking

When Erik and I first started dating, he tried to get me out mountain biking. We would go out on the trails in Crawford, now known as Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park, and he'd try to teach me to ride. I was terrified, fairly unfit, and had zero technical skills. Subsequently, I was not a very good student and I soon convinced Erik that it was more fun to ride on the road. Later, once I bought my road bike, I parked my mountain bike and I think the last time I rode it was at Long Beach in March of 2008, and I have not been on any kind of trail since 2007.

Since I started trail running last fall, I have begun to think a lot more about mountain biking and even more so whenever I hear a few of my work colleagues talk about mountain biking with other women. Then, when Erik and I were at Crawford for the ultra last weekend, we both really had the urge to get back on the trails again. So today, we got pulled our bikes out of the garage, cleaned them up a bit and checked them over, and then packed them into the car and drove back to the Crawford trail system where we used to ride a few years ago.

Erik spent many years riding, and even racing, on the Crawford trails back in the 90's and was part of the group of men who originally created many of the trails that are still there today. There are main dual track trails that climb steadily up to the KVR, and plenty of single track trails of varying difficulty available to choose from. Since it was my first time on the bike in awhile, and knowing I was never very good on the mtn bike in the first place, I insisted we start slow, and head up the Lost Lake trail to start with. Although it is a climb all the way, it is mainly easy dual track and a nice trail to warm up on. My heart rate was up in the 170's for much of the climb and I found it a good workout although I must admit it was nice to have mountain bike gearing again (more choices than on a road bike), with several very spinny "granny" gears.

Riding down the wider section of single track.

Once at Lost Lake, I still didn't feel I was ready for downhill single track yet so we turned around and started heading down the way we'd just come so I could practice my skills on an easy trail. A first I was afraid of picking up any speed at all, and my hands got sore holding the brakes so tight all the way down. I think at first I rode uphill faster than I rode downhill. I don't have clipless pedals on my bike, thank goodness, and I kept having to put my foot down to keep from getting out of control or falling. After a little downhill, I was starting to feel more confident and ready to try some single track so when we got down to Teddy Bear Junction, we started to head down a trail called the Pink Highway. This was mostly single track but a bit wider and more open so I didn't have to fear losing control and going off the track. The Crawford trails run through an area that was burned in a major forest fire that ran through the south slopes of Kelowna back in 2003. It not only destroyed thousands of acres of beautiful pine forest, but burned 250 homes in two major subdivisions, including my mom's house. Now, seven years later, open area are peppered with 3-4' pine trees, and in a few more years, they will once again begin to block the views of Okanagan lake. We climbed again all the way up to Flamingo Flats where we turned off the trail to go down some closer single track called Race Classic, Klassen, and Horse. The picture on the right is of me coming down a steeper section of the trail. If you look closely, you can see I am scared. :)

After that, we slowly made our way downhill and I tried a little more single track. We came to a section that had some roots across the trail with a small drop off to more downhill and I stopped to walk my bike over the section. Erik stopped me and said it was easy to go over and he showed me how, telling me to just stand up on the pedals and put my weight to the back of the bike. I was scared and started to give it a try but hit the brakes and stopped right at the root. Sigh. I turned the bike around and went back up a little higher to try again. It was all mental - I just had to get over my fear and go for it. OK, I was ready, start rolling, up out of the saddle, weight back, over the root, front wheel drops, and then - I don't what happened but I think my right pedal hit something, or maybe, I just instinctively hit the brakes, but over I went, crashing down onto a log. Erik was there ready to catch me but wasn't able to. I landed with a thud but wasn't really hurt, just shaken and a little angry. I stomped off down the trail for a minute, my knees just shaking. All I could think about was my friend who crashed hard a few weeks ago and who still doesn't have any feeling in her arm. Then I went back and got back on my bike to continue on down the trail. I wasn't ready for that kind of challenge yet, but I will come back and tackle it another day.

And the longer I rode, the more confident I became. I began to realize I was MUCH better on the bike that I had been three years ago. All those miles on the road bike had given me a great deal of bike "sense" as well as climbing power and speed. I felt that all I'd have to do would be to ride the trails once every week or two and I'd develop the technical skills quickly. The main thing I worked on today was to try to keep my focus on the trail ahead and not on what I was riding over at that particular moment. I tend to look down, see two rocks and try to steer between them and then lose control. Instead, today I glanced down, saw the rocks, and then refocussed on the trail ahead to see what was coming up next, and just trusted that I'd ride between and/or over the small obstacles. It worked really well and by the end of the ride, I was much more confident.

I am positive Erik and I will be out riding the trails in Crawford again. And with any luck, I will be able to ride over that damn root by the end of the summer. Mountain biking, trail running, hmmm, maybe an off road triathlon in the future?

Erik was awesome as usual, being patient with me, waiting for me, encouraging me, and carrying the camera in the back of his jersey and taking pictures several times on the trail. At one point, he turned the camera around and took a self-portrait. Kind of a cool shot I think. :)

2006 Rocky Mountain Fusion (hard tail, disc brakes)
Sugoi RS Flex bike shorts
Sugoi Zap vest
Specialized BG Sport Gloves
Newton Motus stability trainers (no clipless for me ;)


Kovas Palubinskas said...

How great you tried mountain biking again! It will also help your road skills, so that's a bonus as well.

Stuart said...

Great pic of Eric!

Glenn Jones said...

Nice Barb! I used to moutain bike several years ago, but found that I just didn't have the big brass ones required to head downhill. Looking forward to reading more of your adventures in BC!

Gina Harris said...

Great job, Barb. I just don't see myself EVER mountain biking, but you look like you're on your way. Awesome!

Jeff said...

The one picture of you on the brakes shows at least three fingers from each hand on the brake levers. Tip 1 - the fewer fingers you use to brake, the faster you'll be able to go while in control. You should still be able to attain your needed braking, so fewer than two fingers might not be practical. The biggest gain I've gotten from hydraulic discs is being able to single-finger them. Try to get by with two fingers per lever.

Tip 2, which you've probably already heard - The further out you look from your bike (while riding, of course), the faster you should be able to ride in control.

Last tip - when the terrain gets tough, if you can go over the toughest of it without using your front brake, you'll generally be better off.

The above tips factor into being more relaxed. 'Cuz when you're tense on a mountain bike, you're hosed. I hope this is of some help. Initially, all of the above sounded counter-intuitive to me, but I practice it all and feel it makes a big difference.

I'm glad to see you're giving mountain biking a try again! :-) Have fun, and keep the rubber side down!

Best Regards,

Kelownagurl said...

Thanks everyone! I can't wait to get out there again!

Jeff - Erik told me the SAME thing about the brakes. I need to adjust them a little because I can't seem to brake very well with only two fingers. Tip 2 - yes, I tried to remember to do that on my 2nd trip out.

And ok - which Jeff is this? I know at least 4 who could potentially post a comment here. Help?

Jeff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.