10/03/12: Natural

In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare wrote, “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em”.  I sometimes think of this when mountain biking, mainly because when it comes to mountain biking, I wasn’t born great, I haven’t achieved greatness and I’m fairly certain that at no point have I had greatness thrust upon me.  Unless you count that time I accidentally got fat air on a tabletop on Glentress blue.

There have been a few occasions where we’ve taken people new to mountain biking out.  Some struggle with it, nervously making their way across the bumpy singletrack and stopping before every feature.  Others fly around as if they’ve been riding all of their lives.

I fell more into the first camp.  It’s taken me a loooong time to get where I am now, and I am geniunely chuffed with my progress.  In 2007 I could barely  ride a bike full stop, and now I’m getting around a red route in about an hour.  Yay me!

Last week I volunteered to show a new rider over Cannock Chase.  She wanted to get into mountain biking, but was worried about not being able to find the route and getting lost.  As it turned out, that was all she needed to be worried about.  Fitness-wise, she pretty much kicked my ass, and despite not having the best of bikes, cheerfully rode all of the Follow the Dog without any issue.  She went straight in over the rock and bridge obstacle at the start, straight over the rocky steps on the exit from two and the Stegosaur, over the boardwalk, and probably would have ridden Werewolf Drop if she’d had a slightly more competent guide.  She was definitely considering it on the second lap.  Yes, she did two laps, and is now looking at getting a new bike.  Job’s a good ‘un! \o/

Sometimes it does make me wonder if I’m just genetically a bit wrong for mountain biking.  I definitely get the fear a lot, sometimes even on stuff I’ve ridden plenty of times before.  I spent the hour before my first night lap at Sleepless in the Saddle sobbing uncontrollably.  I didn’t ride the Monkey trail at all last year.  But I do enjoy mountain biking despite being a bit naff at it, and I’d rather be a bit more fearful and cautious than pushing myself beyond my capabilities and ended up injured and unable to ride.  And it’s nice helping people get into mountain biking… even if they manage in one ride what it’s taken you nearly five years to achieve.  Derp.

The following day it was Mr Toast’s turn to ride, so I took t’boy for a walk.  On the way we visited the trail builders, who are working feverishly on the end of Follow the Dog.  Dave of Clan Pearson was helping get the rockery down on the rollers, which will stop them from being eroded and provide a nice comfy landing for anyone who comes off.



The upper end of the repairs are also looking good, although the two steps are looking terrifying now – althought they’ve not changed in height.  Normally when I look at an obstacle from the other side and on foot, I think, “Oh, that actually looks really easy”.  Not so with the steps.  Hopefully I’ll still have the ovarian fortitude to tackle them when they’re re-opened!

03/03/12: Good Dog/Bad Dog

I set out on Saturday with the intention of doing two laps of Follow the Dog.  With Mountain Mayhem and Sleepless both firm realities now, I need to get more miles in, need to get back up to speed and get my fitness to something slightly above embarrassing.

Despite the forecast predicting only light showers and sunny skies throughout the day, I arrived just as a downpour was starting.  I quickly got my bike off the rack and set of in pursuit of mountain biking excellence.

It didn’t start well.  First section seemed unduly slippy and annoying, and I had to come to an abrupt, precarious halt on the exit to two as a small child from a walking group that had stopped to let me exit decided to do a runner.  I shuffled the bike down, slightly shaken – it would have been a remarkably low speed collision if it had happened, but I don’t like to think who would win out of an 11 and a half stone woman on a lump of aluminum and a three year old.  On the plus side, his mother apologised and thanked me for not ploughing into her wayward progeny.  And that’s why you don’t come screaming out of sections at warp speed.

The lap continued to be a royal pain in the arse.  Everything just felt very skittish, and I began to wonder if I’d somehow lost all ability over two weeks, or maybe the Orange 5 had ruined me with its comedy wide bars.  The litany of ineptitude was unrelenting and horrible.  I realised at the start of the fireroad climb up to 8 that I had my rear shock completely locked out, so I was hoping that perhaps that could explain the horror.  I completely failed to exit section 8 twice, as every time I approached it my front wheel hit the same pebble and poinged off to the side.  I nearly came a cropper on the most inconspicious of corners.  On section 11, I managed to clear the two smaller steps, albeit with some rear wheel spinning on the second, but by the time I got to the bigger steps, I just couldn’t arsed.  I was riding rubbish, and I had a persistant stabbing pain in my left knee. I eventually bowled up at Swinnertons feeling fairly surly.

Jez was there, so I had a good whinge at him, and soon he was joined by other members of the Chase Trails posse.  Andrew asked about my tyre pressure, and gave them a squeeze.  There was then much laughter, and theorising that Al (who had recently switched my wheels for his spare Hope/DT Swiss combo) was trying to kill me.  Something like minus 20 psi later and my tyres were noticably squidgier.

I’d been pondering the second lap.  Obviously I’d set out with the intention of doing two laps, but I’d had a terrible ride and my knee was a bit stabby. But the weather had finally turned nice, and… well, it would have been rude not to try. I decided to do at least the first section, to see if matters improved with less pressure.  I’d probably only do the first section or so, as I’d promised my mom I’d pop in and I had a roast dinner to cook in the evening.

Lap two felt better – I’m assuming it was thanks to the lowered pressure rather than the trails drying off, but I was skidding about the place a lot less, so felt able to go faster and lean into turns without fear of the Professor deciding to go his own way.  The exit to two was still a bit shakey as I clipped my pedal as I went down, but other than that – splendid.  Less poinging off pebbles, exiting section 8…OK, it took me two attempts as I clipped my pedal again, but I had to keep telling myself that I couldn’t get a mental neurosis over something I’ve ridden countless times just because the weather’s a bit grim.  After successfully clearing the exit and chastising myself for being a bit stupid, I took a few moments to take a photo of the Professor with his new red grips.


Section 11 was a bit of a revelation – all steps taken with no skidding, spinning, or slipping.  IN YOUR FACE, UPHILL STEPS! By the time I got to Tackaroo, however, I started to feel a bit off.  My knee hadn’t played up as much on the second lap, but I was starting to develop a bit of an ache in my left arm for no real reason, and my thighs were protesting.  Still, aching from “Oh, exercise!” is better than pain from “You’re fundamentally broken on a genetic level”.  I was also feeling a bit woozy, possibly because it was about 3pm and I’d only had a bowl of cereal, a cup of tea and two bottles of water that day, which for a cake fiend such as myself is a bit of a break from routine.  Although not really on biking days – I always end up eating less on biking days than on workdays.

According to Dave and Andrew, who caught me up at the end of Hugh’s Bridge, I’d done my second lap in roughly an hour (they’d given me about a 20 minute headstart).  So, that was better than a poke in the eye with a horrible stick.  Incidentally, it was Dave’s birthday at the weekend.  You should totally help him out trailbuilding on Sunday to celebrate.  I’m pondering if we can get Benny to carry materials and tools like a small pack donkey, but I have my doubts.

After my second lap I rushed around my mother’s to say hello, and to steal her bacon.  She didn’t have any bacon.  She did have chicken soup though, so that wasn’t too bad.

26/02/12: Flirting

I love the Professor, I do.  He has been a faithful steed, taking me on my journey of being a rubbish mountain biker to being a slightly less rubbish mountain biker.  But he won’t be around forever, and sometimes it’s nice to have a back up plan.

So, whereas Saturday saw me spending over two hours walking around the Chase with t’boy, Sunday saw me demoing an Orange Five.  For me, there have been two consistent facts on demo days:

1: There will be a cock up with the booking on at least one of the bikes

2: If it’s a Leisure Lakes demo day, I will fall off in spectacular fashion at some point.

These facts held true on Sunday.  Firstly was the mix-up – I’d asked to demo a 14″ Orange Five or an Orange Five Diva Long, but I’d been put down for a Diva Short.  Fortunately the Orange chap was fabulous – he quickly assembled a regular 14″ Five and let Mr Toast and I go out seperately to the guided ride.  So, off we went.

As the demo was at Tackaroo, we got on Follow the Dog from there.  The bike initially felt a little alien to me – it’s lower than the Professor and a little longer.  The tyres were also fairly horrible compared to my High Roller/Captain combination.  The suspension felt lovely though, and it cornered really well – I actually managed to get around the nobbly zig zag just before Werewolf for what I think is the third time ever.  Said hello to the trailbuilders who were busy fixing the end of the Tackaroo section, and continued over the road and onto section two.

By this point I felt more comfortable on the bike, but there was one thing that really wasn’t right for me.  Handlebars.  Handlebars that were as wide as a wide thing.  It made me a little overly cautious between some of the narrow trees, but the bike still felt great.  Very confidence inspiring.  Too confidence inspiring.  Onto fact 2…

As I was approaching the end of section 2, I was literally thinking, “This corners really well!” as I washed out on one of the switchbacks.  Somehow one leg went in one direction, and gravity and the bike took the other leg in the opposite direction.  It’s the nearest I’ve gotten to doing the splits since my Tae Kwon Do days.   Fortunately there was no damage done other than a few impressive bruises, so it was back on the bike.  As we were on a time limit, we skipped six and seven and headed straight up the fireroad to eight.

At this point, I felt that the Five was at a disadvantage to the Professor as it didn’t seem to climb quite as well.  However, I had just battered myself a bit by sliding across the trail, I was a bit achey from my sudden upswing in weekday riding, and  I was a bit achey from the previous day’s fairly long walk. Eight was fairly uneventful, but the slippery pebbles were a bit problematic with the horrible tyres.  Headed back to to Tackaroo fairly pleased with the Five – a few home comforts (like sensible handlebars and tyres) and it’d be awesome.

Evidently I wasn’t as pleased as Mr Toast was with his 22″ demo, as he’s now got one on order.  Apparently he’ll now have to give up trail riding in favour of riding around the car park, and we’re going to have to swap the Vectra for an Audi.  Herp derp.

On the 2012 event front, Dave and Andy headed over to Pat Adam’s house in person to hand in our Mountain Mayhem entry forms.  They were the first people to ride there and hand in the entries (some others had gotten there earlier, but had driven), and massive thanks go to them for being so utterly bonkers and getting the entries in.  Although that thanks might be revoked when I’m doing my first lap, probably in torrential rain…

On the Dog Front, Benny had his first training session this week.  There were many puppies – spaniels, cockapoos, many, many pugs, a strangely vicious whippet, rough collies, a chihuahua, a pomeranian, border terriers, an English Sheepdog… and all of them could walk to heel better than our boy.  ALL OF THEM.  He was kind of the derpy remedial pup.  Still, I’m sure he get it eventually…