Monday, 24 May 2010

Quantum of Solstice

I've been MTB riding for exactly two years now. For the most part I've enjoyed leisurely weekend rides with good mates on my Orange hard tail - no dramas, just good fun and fitness to boot. Moving to Cali' has inspired me to be a better rider. The trails out here really deserve no less. I apsire to ride with more finesse, definitely more speed and with enough skill to elevate me above the weekend rambler level that I feel stuck at right now. I've been riding with highly skilled people, signing up for races and devouring MTB literature in the hopes that my abilities would improve. So, I'm at a point now where I know where I want to be and I know where I deffinitely am at. The problem is there's an aching chasm between the two. Each weekend spent trying to bridge it inevitably leads to swapping some DNA with the trail and nursing another harsh lesson through to the next ride. (For the record, this week's injury is nice set of bruised ribs.) Still, all I can do is learn from the mistakes and take it to the trail the next time. Oh, and keep buying new bits of body armour.

The penultimate weekend before my 33rd birthday. The weather in Marin is beautiful. Perfect conditions to hit Tamarancho for a quick spin before being introduced to pastures new - the Solstice trail. Me, Jason Spangles and my good friend Jason Rosson met up at a teeming Fairfax java hut on the sunday. Us and dozens of roadies and dirties all getting limbered up for a solid day's riding. Solstice was heavily anticipated. Jason usually rides it at night with his hardcore downhill buddies, so we knew it was going to be tough. But I looked forward to the challenge on my (still) new Nomad.

Tamarancho was its usual mix of fun and technical challenges. It was Spangles' first time riding there. He's also doing the Dirt Classic so it was good for him to get a taster for the terrain. Once we'd ridden most of the loop, we headed out along B-17 and Porcupine towards the start of the Solstice climb. Porcupine really is a great way to end a Tamarancho session. A good way to give the legs one final stretch and to warm down the bike kung fu on the lovely sweeping singletrack.

The climb to the Solstice trail head is borderline brutal. Borderline in that its very long.... veeery long, but its a constant grade. So once you find a good cadence you really have no excuses but to push on and enjoy the view. Rosson - with his single speed legs - soon left me and Spangles behind. We eventually caught him at the top. Whilst we took in the stunning Bay Area panorama, Jason - a veteran of this climb, tinkered with pixel pets on his iphone.

We'd climbed for a reason. We were about to meet that reason. Rosson is an excellent rider. And he's a good guy too. Always happy to offer advice and tips to help your skills. His best advice of the day (appart from his post ride pub suggestion) was to use speed for stability. This is advice I knew well. Coupled with confidence, speed will get you through many a sketchy moment. But its hard to apply it 100% of the time. My problem was, I decided to disregard it at the exact moment that we crossed a ditch. Target fixation, not enough momentum, thinking about what might happen instead of where I wanted to put the bike - all school boy errors which led to me falling, ribs first, into said ditch (at a -40% grade - thanks for that handy piece of info my Garmin friend.)

All this was before we'd hit the scary stuff. By now, my mettle was well and truly shaken. But we cracked on. A few stumbles and a nosebleed were had, but nothing major. The waterfall section of Solstice is where Jason's friends strap on armour. That gave me and Spangles some idea of what was to come. In truth, I wasn't really feeling it. I rode part of the steep, rutted stuff, but played it safe and walked down the really sketchy sections. It left me frustrated at myself, but keen to come back and tackle it with fresh confidence.

Its not hard to be taken out of your comfort zone in this sport. That's a big part of the appeal for me. But I need to get some confidence sessions in to up my game. Momentum and confidence. Sounds simple when you write it down, but its amazing how fragile those words become when you're poised at the top of a trail that will either lead to a huge grin or a night in A&E. For now, I'm checking out body armour online and hoping my ribs heal before the next weekend's ride.

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