Monday, 13 December 2010

Bike Skills 3.0 - Clinic Weekender

That's it. Another year's shredding in California under my belt. Filled with up's and down's (figuratively and literally) and many adventures shared with great riding buddies. All good. Awesome, in fact. Physically, I'm reminded of the recent weekend's adventures. My legs are black and blue..... more so than usual. Why? Because I spent the whole weekend elevating my skill levels with some fantastic tutors at a couple of clinics.

Firstly, Saturday am and me and Chris made our way to Pacifica to meet up with Celia and her team for a Mountain Biking Marin organised downhill clinic. The session was to be a small, focused affair designed to arm us with the mettle necessary to tackle the bay areas only legit black diamond runs. Pacifica is not for the fainthearted. Rugged and unforgiving, warming up consists of riding/hiking up the steep, rocky terrain until you hit the trail heads. From there it's straight into downhill mayhem. We caught a glimpse of what was to come as we ascended and it looked terrifying.

Hauling burly bikes upwards, clad in full gladiator get up was one hell of a workout. But looking at the large drops and harsh rocks, we knew we'd be glad of the padding later. Instructor's Celia, Dave and Mike gave us tips on line choice to help our preparation and calm our nerves. The air was crackling with anticipation as we grouped at the top of our first descent; The Crack. My heart was pounding. Equal parts fear and excitement. Trails like this scare the hell out of me, but they're EXACTLY the sort of trails I've wanted to conquer and feel good about riding since attempting Northstar's double blacks. Here and now, was my chance!

The plan was to break the Crack down into sections and session each of it's trickier features. First up was a large drop near the start of the trail. Dave demo'd a nice, controlled line using technical skills to negotiate the drop and making it look easy enough to inspire our confidence. Talking about body position he stressed the importance of getting the elbows and knees out to act as secondary suspension for the bike. This little nugget served me well the whole day as it really puts you in a more commanding but relaxed position when hitting the gnarly stuff. Me and Chris we're first up. My focus tunneled as I bounced down the trail. Just about remembering to move my weight back slightly as I hit the drop, I didn't quite move enough. Luckily the 6 inches of my front fork absorbed my error and stopped me from flying over the bars. The recoil sent me flat on my back though. Cartwheeling overhead, the Nomad landed - saddle first - in the one place I'd neglected to strap on padding. First blood (or at least bruise) drawn and it was time to lose the anticipation anxiety and focus on technique. I'd hit the trail too fast and blundered through. My next run was more controlled. My body position improved and more consciously aware of my technique I cleared the drop no problem. By the fourth run I'd cracked it (pun intended.)

By now we were all getting psyched for the next section; a technical drop followed by an immediate steep S curved section - or, blast through a straighter line and hit another big drop. Kung Fu warmed up a treat, we were hitting the first drop no worries. The S curve was undoing everyone though. Requiring a fearless approach and precision threading, the technical challenge had us trying the straighter line instead. A steep, rocky descent, then a big drop onto more rocks. Doable, but definitely requiring skill and nerve in equal measure. My first shot and I made the drop ok but screwed the landing. I wasn't worried though. In fact I felt elated. Approaching the gnarl, something happened inside my brain. A mental switch had been thrown. Alive with firing synapses I didn't feel worry or fear, I felt great! Excited and overjoyed to be riding such challenging terrain and confident enough in my line and body position to feel relaxed and ready. This was exactly the feeling I was hungry for! Replacing fear with something far nicer - fun! Some of the guys were keen to hit Pacifica's jumps so they split off with Dave and Mike to session. I wanted to capitalise on my embryonic downhill confidence so stayed with Celia and Meredith to continue sessioning the Crack. Hitting the drop again, I nailed it. Time to move on.

Riding the rest of the Crack felt great. New found confidence had me pumping the track where before I'd be dragging my brakes or cautiously picking my way through. Great set up for the next trail: The Mile. Maybe not quite as gnarly as the Crack, the Mile has some long, steep technical sections that require full commitment to line choice. I'd normally be tempted to hike a bike sections like this, but the Crack had awakened a desire and confidence that I was keen to build on. We sessioned a particularly steep, tricky section that had a few line choices. Celia was keen to have us make our own choices and see our own route through. Being able to see the line and imagine taking it gives the mental advantage needed to tackle tricky terrain. If you only see boulders and danger, you'll spill. But seeing a clean line makes the whole thing doable. Convince your brain of that and you're halfway there. The rest is up to good riding technique and plush suspension.

Completing the rest of the Mile took us to the jump park where the other guys were hitting the ramps. Re-grouped we rode the Boyscout trail back to the cars. Muddy and rutted, Boyscout was not ideal for riding, but it gave a taste of what to expect in the Spring. Hopefully Celia and co will organise a jumping clinic there early next year. Then we'll be fully prepped for our planned Whistler trip in the Autumn.

On Sunday I headed down to the Nomad's spiritual home for a skills clinic with Adventure Out. As it happened I was the only person doing the course, so I had a one on one session with instructor Shaun. We started with a quick blast around some of De Laveaga Park's trails. Fun and fast, it was a good chance to warm up and for Shaun to asses my skill level. He spotted cornering was my weak area so we decided to work on that whilst riding one of Santa Cruz's signature trails; The Mailboxes. Though slightly boggy from the recent rains, Mailboxes was a hell of a ride. Santa Cruz trails tend to be beefier and more hardcore compared to the Bay area. This was no exception. Steep descents, Rough Go-esque boulder gardens and northshore style features built by the locals added up to a fun, challenging ride. Glad to be warmed up by the previous day's downhilling, I hit the trail with new confidence. I baulked at some of slippier sections. The thought of sitting on a 10 hour flight to blighty the following day with broken bits was enough to instill a little caution. But the focus was to be on cornering and flow, so we sessioned some of trail's sweeping sections until I was confidently hitting them with good technique and zero braking. Shaun also spent time teaching a tail flick technique. I've seen it done before - Chris does it all the time and it looks tres cool. But putting into practice it's practical application - that of quickly setting up line position - felt great. Shaun also spent the whole session giving great tit bits of info. Both for tweaking body position, ride technique and bike set up and maintenance. Riding fantastic trails with a top notch rider/instructor was an awesome experience. Soaking up as much info as I could, I now need to get out and put the weekend's combined learning into practice for myself. Cement the new found skills and confidence and build on it ready for next year's planned adventures and races. It's gonna be epic!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Fuddy Munsters

Cracking ride around China Camp this past weekend. One of those purely-for-the-fun-of-it jaunts that ends up registering as one of the best rides of the year.... or at least the past few months. Though spared a downpour whilst actually riding, the trails were thick with mud from the previous week's rain. The start of the Norcal winter riding season ; a few hours riding, a few more hours cleaning up afterwards. But China Camp holds it's own in such conditions and rewarded our venture into wintery weather with an awesome ride.

Climbing the front side, me, Spangles, Aubrey and Chris hit the Nike platform. From there, the usual rip down the backside - Hitler and so on. We finished the ride with China's fantastic front side singletrack. I'd forgotten how much fun mud riding is. Even more so on the Nomad which slips and slides but always digs in and gives you confidence to plough through. My technique is improving too. Using tips from Celia I felt totally in control on the steep (and wet) rutted descents. My cornering and flow was also on form. The whole place started to feel like a dirty big pump track. I even kept Chris and Aaron in my sights for the descent back to the cars. Great fun. And a ride to be repeated a few more times until Spring hits and the mud turns back to familiar California dust.