Monday, January 11, 2010

Still Not Out of The Woods

I seem to be suffering from some kind of rectocranial inversion when it comes to picking my cycling conditions. On the two debatably coldest days of the year, I hit the road. When the weather improved appreciably over the weekend, I headed back to the woods. Today, Monday, was beautifully sunny and almost 60 degrees and I was barely able to take time for a bite of lunch, much less get in a ride. I probably won't get much sympathy from folks whose jobs preclude them from ever getting in a wintertime lunch hour ride, but the same forces that allow me a bit of flexibility in my schedule can also be very demanding. While thankful for the occasional midday hour on the bike, I am ready for longer days and evening rides that don't involve headlights, shoe covers and piles of fleece.

Friends Chris Irons, Chris Shaw and Patrick Newton called up a ride at Camp Robinson on Sunday. I had done some exploring on my own on Saturday and was ready to get out and play with the boys. It warmed to at least freezing and we had  one flat, one bent derailleur hanger, one clean launch over the bars, a few rock and tree encounters, some map reading, cussin', discussin', and a big ol' time.

Why is this man smiling? He's the one with a flat.

The structure of some of the ice and mud on the trail made for some
odd sensations under the wheels.

This puddle was solid Saturday, if a little slick.
 Last week this was hub deep mud.

I've been trying to improve my technical skills on the mountain bike, learning to use more front brake, maintaining some speed in some situations where I might have tended to stall out due to indecision, and generally riding enough to understand how the bike works and how to drive it.
Friends have tried to sell me on mountain biking over the years by making comparisons to kayaking; a comparison that I consider to be a bit of a stretch. As I see it, the primary similarity is that in both endeavors, most of the fun involves going downhill in an environment defined by its proximity to large rocks. The mountain bike environment expands beyond the streambank to include a large number of firmly rooted trees and, in the process, leaves behind the water that softens the impact of most screw-ups in the boat. I've never turned over on my bike without hitting something hard, while a roll in my boat is the natural and expected result of play. This is not to say that there is NO water factor on the mountain bike. I usually find enough to soak me, chill me, cover me with mud, trash my bike and create some really weird textures and surfaces when frozen.
Back to "boats versus mountain bikes", the similarities are more of mindset and attitude than of technique, and the learning progression in mountain biking seems to be a familiar one. For most people, getting down a whitewater stream for the first time is a matter of  survival instinct and luck. Not all of that luck is good. Nothing is instinctive about being upside down in cold, fast-moving water and things often seem to happen way too fast; however, somewhere along the way, those giant waves become easy riffles. The eddy lines that sent you spinning become friendly refuges and the holes that you avoided in terror become inviting play spots. Things slow down, as instead of getting blown down a rapid, desperately avoiding obstacles, you begin to pick your way from eddy to eddy, controlling your pace and using the features to your advantage.Things are shaping up similarly on the mountain bike. The trails that appeared frighteningly tight, and had me swerving and braking like a drunk with a beer spilled in his lap, have seemed to open up, and the once-challenging stretches are getting easier as my recognition of both obstacles and the good lines improves.  I'm still very much a beginner and enjoying the usual rapid rise in confidence that comes with acquiring some basic skills. I'm starting to look at some harder terrain and I'm having more fun.Of course, it is inevitable that the rocks and trees will continue to have their way with each of us along the trail of progress.

1 comment:

Ironman said...

Yes, it was 20 degrees and I had a flat, which is not usually a smiling moment. However, I was in good company and having a blast.