Two weeks from now we're taking a road trip to British Columbia for a week's shredding at Whistler. I'm so excited I can barely think straight. Every ounce of skill learnt and enthusiasm gained for this awesome sport will be flexed at the world's best bike park. We've been talking about it and planning it for months. I have new tires, grips and other bits and pieces. Everything is getting dialed in, except one thing ; Me and jumping. I've watched my MTB dvd's over and over and it's clear that jumping is such an important part of keeping good flow at bike parks. Not to mention, it looks like a huge amount of fun when done properly. So, in order to dial in a little jumping confidence I got in touch with the guys at Mountain Biking Marin for help. I've done a couple of clinics with them before and have always come away feeling super stoked about riding and far more confident than I'd ever achieve under my own steam. So, Celia put a clinic together with instructor Mike Brill and me and Jason Spangles headed down to Pacifica to catch some air!
We arrived and I was a little concerned about my brakes. They've always been temperamental and today they felt especially spongey. Not good, but what was worse was my feckin' shoes.... still sitting in the kitchen airing out! I feel utterly dependent on clipping into the bike, especially on gnarlier stuff, and here I was about to push my boundaries with my comfort blanket left at home! I felt devastated.... but as it turns out, riding flats (and with slightly ineffective brakes) was probably the best thing that could've happened to me!
Mike and Ceila are both Whistler veterans so the clinic was designed with our trip in mind. We started out by warming up on the Mile trail. Not too steep, but fast and rutted, it served as a good way to warm up and let our instructors gauge where our riding was at. Mike gave me good feedback about loosening up my upper body and using my arms more. I have a tendency to stiffen, especially in armor, so it was good to have someone help me keep it in check and relax into the trail. We began by sessioning a couple of small jumps and focussing on breaking the technique down into it's component parts. First : we rolled the jump's face and then pushed the bike away from us as we crested the lip. No air, just rolling and getting used to the feeling of pushing the bike away. Then, adding a deliberate pump the front face of the jump before pushing away. The pump preloads the suspension so you can't help but get some air. Pushing away then helps to get the right balance point for control in the air. As we progressed, Mike stressed the importance of looking beyond the lip and eyeballing the landing point. Staying relaxed, focussed on the exit and keeping the bars straight will keep you on target for a nice, smooth landing. I felt pretty good and started to pump and little harder and pop off the lip to get more air. My fear of feet detaching from the pedals was yet to manifest.... focussing on the technique and feeling comfortable catching a little air meant the feet stayed where they should. I overcooked it a bit and took a couple of spills. Good though. I needed to experience screwing it up to know where the technique would save me next time.
Next it was time to hit the Boyscout jump section. Full of big, gapped jumps and armored up fellas on burly rigs, it's easy to be intimidated by this place. But we were in safe, encouraging hands. Mike had us get comfortable with popping off the jumps, but landing flat off to one side rather than trying to clear the gaps. This allowed us to progress each time until we were jumping higher up the front side and getting a good feel for the techniques. Mike's encouragement and my own growing confidence meant that I was soon hitting and clearing gapped doubles, including a gnarly 10ft drop jump that had me weak at the knees the first time I saw it. The feeling of popping off the front side, controlling the bike... feeling weightless and enjoying the moment, before smoothly landing the backside of the jump is amazing. Feeling good about the technique made it a little easier to drop the hammers, swallow fear and commit to the launch. Having crappy brakes also helped as bail outs were made that much harder ;o)
I would never have gotten to the level of comfort and confidence that I reached today were it not for Celia and Mike. Sure, I still have a ways to go before I'm hitting 20ft table tops, and it's up to me to get there. But the Mountain Biking Marin guys have, once again, pushed me to a new level in my mountain biking that I was never really sure I'd achieve. An extremely satisfying, awe inspiring day and I gained a whole new skill to practice at Whistler in a couple of weeks!