Losing and Getting My MTB Groove Back

With all this snow and ice that Georgia has been working through this past week, I haven’t been out riding my mountain bike and won’t be able to until the ground dries out enough for the trails to re-open.  So rather than wallow in frustration and angst, I figured it would be better if I wrote about my experiences since the maiden voyage.
I’ve ridden four more times since then, and I’ve learned something from each ride.  Heck, I’ve even managed to notice some terrific improvement in that little bit of time.  So, I’m stoked for what more mountain bike riding could do for me come the “launch” of the road riding season in the spring.

Do I still love being on the singlespeed?  You BETCHA!  …to the point where my hubby has even entertained the thought of going SS on his bike after seeing both the enthusiam I have for my bike and how quickly I’ve improved my times on the intermediate trail.  Just a thought, mind you–a passing musing, really.  I told him it would be cheaper to pick a front chainring and rear cog and simply neglect to switch gears to get a feel for it.  Well, not quite…since his bike is a bit heavier than mine.  ;)  

Anyway, my second ride was on a doubletrack trail in a state park near us.  The trail is approximately 4 miles long, is bi-drectional, and is shared by walkers and runners, too.  (Thankfully, it’s a fairly quiet trail.) 

The day was sunny but chilly and getting cooler quickly.  We had picked the middle of the afternoon to go.  It seemed like a good idea, but when we got there, we realized the sun was beyond the point of heating for the day.  Not only that, it was peeking through the leafless trees from the west.  Orange sunlight intermixed with light brown shadows make a trail more difficult (unless you really know that trail like the back of your hand).  It’s even worse when the sunlight is almost “eye-level”, meaning that when you make certain turns, it blinds your vision.  You have to pay close attention to make sure an unidentified obstacle doesn’t dismount you!  So, not only are you exerting tremendous physical energy for mountain biking, but the added mental energy required for awareness makes the ride extra taxing. After a short period of time, you’re spent.  I wish I could put in an order prior to hitting the trails for a bright, cloudy day to manifest.  It’s just so much easier to get to know a trail in this lightening.  Alas, my fairy godmother forgot to leave me that particular wand.  So, I’m at the mercy of what Mother Nature wants to dish out.  Maybe in my next life.

But…back to riding.

This state park trail is quite a bit different than my main mountain bike trail.  This trail is covered in gravel and doesn’t have roots or rocks sticking out of the ground.  While it does have some gentle rolling hills, it doesn’t have the short steep hills on the trail, nor does it have the tight curves, etc.  I’ve gotten quite used to all that “terrain noise” on our favored trail system, but this one is rather quiet in that regard.  By contrast, this trail seems almost boring and rather easy. 

Before you assume that this trail didn’t give me a good workout, remember that (a) I’m on a singlespeed.  That alone steps up the workout factor, no matter the trail’s “level”; and (b) I had to peddle extra hard in order to TRY and keep up with my hubby.  (Actually, that’s a bit laughable, b/c as I’ve covered previously, he’s a tall, strong dude with 8 years of experience, pedaling a fully-geared, full-suspension ride.  So yeah, it was more like, he slowed down – a great deal – and I worked my assets off endeavoring to make the speed something more than a snail’s pace.)

While riding, I did enjoy a nice view because this trail is right next to a lake for about 75% of the time.  However, I missed the technical aspects of the other trail.  On this state park trail, I didn’t have to come out of my seat much at all.  Since I’m running flat pedals, it wasn’t really conducive to come out of the saddle as it would slow me down when I did.  Lastly since I’m “gun shy” about gravel [teen crash memories] , I was uneasy about riding on it.  Sure, I’ve got wide, knobby tires.  However, there’s still no guarantee, that in the right circumstance, a turn taken too quickly or at too much of an angle wouldn’t cause those tiny little stones to give way.  Despite that when we were finished, I was happy to have ventured out, and I enjoyed the great cardio workout I received.  

A few days later, our favored trail system re-opened, and I craved to hit them once, again.  I had missed those wonderfully technical pathways!  However, I was quite unprepared for how riding the state park trail had messed with my …hmmm…how do I describe this?  (I’m having hard time finding the right word.)  Let’s just say that smooth terrain had numbed my “quake handling abilities” – you know, your mind and body’s ability and willingness to wiggle, wobble, take knocks, hits and duck trees, branches, other riders?  Yeah, all that stuff.  It was as if I’d lost my “groove” with respect to mountain bike riding!

 
So as I “warmed up” on the beginner trail, alarm bells began to ring, and my confidence was shaken.  “Aw crap.  This stinks.  I need to get my mountain-biker body back!”  It was almost as if I had to teach myself how to ride on these trails all over, again.  I was surprised and disconcerted how much riding the other trail messed with me!  After all, when you go ride a different route on a road bike – even if the terrain is hillier or flatter than what you’re used to, it never makes you feel as if you have to re-learn your basic riding skills all over again, no!  So, you can imagine the level of astonishment I felt when going over the smallest of roots and wobbling in between trees left me with white knuckles!  It took a few runs on two beginner trails, but slowly my sense of adventure re-awakened as did my confidence and my body’s memory of how to respond to this terrain.  Finally after a couple more runs on both trails, I was ready for the intermediate trail.  Even so, trepidation vibrated through me as I entered it.  The day’s designated riding direction was the same as I’d ridden it during the two previous times I’d hit it.  So, I was thankful for at least that little bit of familiarity.  I figured that even with this fear that I’d run it no matter what.  Facing fears tends to make them disappear.  So off I went.

I was doing well until…I got extra brave and decided to tackle one of the four log pile obstructions on the trail.  I made it over the logs but wasn’t going fast enough.  That had left me too unsteady, and I unceremoniously keeled over just as my rear wheel had cleared the last log.  We’re not talking a simple drop from a complete lack of momentum.  Indeed, I did have some momentum.  However, the rear wheel caught that log, barely cleared it…and me? Well, my body was still going forward.  My front wheel spun ’round in an instant – even before I hit the ground.  I had some separation from my seat and top tube but not quite enough.  As I hit the ground, the handlebars and my top tube made contact with my legs, especially the left one.  Ouch.  I could feel the beginnings of a new set of bruises.  However, I got up, dusted myself off and immediately started pedaling, again.  Nobody saw that, but frankly, I don’t give a rat’s axx if anyone had.  I’m new, and I’m entitled to make loads of mistakes.  It just comes with the territory.  The tumble wasn’t “awful”, either.  It’s certainly not enough to prevent me from trying to tackle that log pile, again, or some of the other ones on the trail.

I finished the intermediate trail and managed to knock 8 minutes off my previous time (as noted in the maiden voyage, post).  Yep, despite playing the marimba with my leg bones.  ~46 minutes.  Progress!  Oh and yes, I got my mountain biking groove back, too.

  • alpainter

    Epic post! You pretty much encapsulate what it’s like to pick up mtbing. All of the subtle nuances are so much different than the road side, but that’s what makes it awesome!

    I’d recommend “Serious Mountain Biking” by Anne Trombley as well as “Wildflower Mountain Biking for Women” by Sue Haywood.

  • chicobrian

    Thanks Scott for the comment as well as reading the Blog. I just read your posts…looks like you’ve got quite a shop. Great photos.
    Thanks, Brian