In continuation of my back to basics bike skills discipline, I started to look around at clinics. Google pointed me to Celia Graterol's website (link HERE) After reading one glowing testimonial after another I decided to sign up. I wanted to join those beaming people who's MTB lives had been improved at the hands of this Marin legend. So, after an introductory chat over the phone we arranged to meet at China Camp for some drills and practice. This was to be a precursor to a more downhill intensive session at Pacifica.
We started the session by climbing up to the Nike missile pad to session the drops there. Celia went over the physics of downhill riding and how these can be used to keep the bike in control on steep sections. Keeping control means there's no panic so you can ride with confidence. I've sessioned these drops before, but have always rolled to the edge, put faith in the bike and the big, flat open area at the base of each drop and held on. Good for the grin factor but not proper downhill technique. So we focused on keeping the bike under control ; getting the weight over the back wheel and feathering the brakes to control speed. In particular using the front brake's power to modulate speed whilst anchoring the rear with body position to prevent spillage over the bars. Sounds simple, but on a steep descent its a tough discipline. But keep your faith in the physics of it and you should be ok. So that's what we worked on. Progressively hitting each drop and applying the same, controlled, technique. It did feel good to ride the drops feeling like I was actually riding them, not just rolling down them and using the flat bottom to save me. We then went over some drills - manuals, drops, bunny hops etc. All good stuff and the type of skills I don't practice enough. So it was good to work on the fundamentals for a bit.
The rest of the session was spent exploring China Camp's dark side. The regular trails are often described as been quite tame compared to others in the area. However, hit the backside of China Camp and the terrain is an entirely different beast. With names like "Hitler", you get an idea of what to expect. I've ridden some of them before, with mixed success. Having Celia coach me through was fantastic and allowed me to clean sections I would have previously walked. Where necessary we'd stop and session a section until I either got it, or got a better understanding of what I need to practice.
We finished the ride by hitting the 7/11 trail. Those that know it will know why it is named so. The entrance to the trail is awesome. Celia told me to pick up speed and just follow her. Riding down Heart Attack Hill (or the Dyno as others call it) Celia veered to the right, up a near vertical bank! A grin hit my face as I followed, up and over, to the trail head. The 7/11 trail is truly awesome. A hidden gem. Twisty turny single track and steep sections with drops and roots. I put everything into practice as I followed Celia down the trail and started to feel the flow in my riding which has been lacking over the past few weeks.
Having recently done the Bikeskills downhill clinic at Northstar, I knew the leaps and bounds possible from spending time with the pro's. But having focused, one on one attention makes a big difference. Celia quickly assessed my ability and we rode appropriate trails. Taking me to the edge of my comfort zone to make progress, but never out of my league. So the whole experience was extremely satisfying and rewarding. I learned a lot. I'm already looking forward to the Pacifica session. In fact I bought a new full face helmet and body armor in anticipation!