Monday, 23 February 2015

Getting’ Some Oats

There's nothing quite like the anticipation of riding new trails. Riding new trails on a new bike is even more exciting. So I was more than happy to rise early this past Sunday and join Eric and Chris in Calistoga to ride the Oat Hill Mine trail.

Oat Hill is, as the name suggests, an old quicksilver mining trail. Evidence of its former use could be seen carved deep into the craggy rocks ; wagon wheel ruts that lead us to the summit, eight miles up the trail. What starts as a fairly pleasant climb through shaded hard-packed singletrack opens to yawning views of the Napa Valley far below and boulder strewn road ahead. Technical climbing acrobatics quickly gave way to hike-a-biking as we ascended the 2000ft plus climb (kudos to those dudes who managed to get wagons up here back in the day...)

As the ride was to be an out and back, each rocky hurdle on the way up was mentally noted as a challenging feature to look out for on the way down. Multiple line choices were evident with plenty of gnar to test my new Monarch Maestro and Pike suspension. I felt dry anticipation in my mouth as we drew closer to the top. Keen to see what my new steed could do, but also wary of how treacherous the descent might be. Was the new bike burly enough to smooth these menacing lines and tame the trail? Would my lovely (expensive) carbon bits be smashed to pieces? Would I? As we climbed we passed a few riders tentatively making their way back down the trail. Each of them looked mildly terrified, especially one poor guy who tipped and fell OTB right in front of us. He picked himself up, regarded his newly dislocated finger with a sad face and limped on down the trail. As the wind whipped around and chilled our bones, one thing was clear ; new bike or not, the ride back down was going to be a challenge for the three of us.

Over two hours of climbing and hiking later we reached the end of the trail. Surrounded by huge, jutting crags of rock it felt like we'd stumbled into an alien world. The landscape, though beautiful, was exposed and extremely unforgiving. We dropped our seats, padded up and made a pact to look out for one another on the way down. A mechanical (or worse) would be a disaster out here. I also fired up the GoPro, keen to document the first real ride on the new bike. Unfortunately a splodge of lens condensation ruined the day's footage. Still, I have the memory of the day's ride seared into my noggin and a good excuse to go back and ride there again. Capturing the trail on camera isn't my only motivation for returning though. The insanely fast and ridiculously fun descent is something that needs to be repeated too!

When I chose the Giant Trance Advanced I did so knowing that it was a very different animal to the Nomad it replaced. I loved the wide, slack and long stability of the brawny Santa Cruz' but having ridden it hard for a few years and looking honestly at the type of trails I typically ride (and the type of rider I want to become) I decided I needed a bike that was much lighter, more nimble and capable of crushing climbs - even if all that meant sacrificing some descending prowess. My logic being ; I should rely on and develop rider skills to conquer the descents rather than fall back on having a big burly bike. Well, as it turns out, I need not have worried about the sacrifice. The Trance does climb like a startled goat (uber lite curb weight and a state of the art suspension platform make for an almost eBike like experience.) But the descending capabilities blew my mind. Anything that had been a niggling worry (the Nobby Nic tires being too tame for example) disappeared in a cloud of trail dust as I opened up the Maestro suspension and let it fucking fly!!!!

Everything about the Trance felt perfectly dialed. The lovely stiff wheels hugged the gnarly rockiness of the trail and the shocks did an amazing job of delivering such plush suppleness that I couldn't help but take increasingly riskier lines over the crazy landscape. The razor sharp blades of rock that formed our route went by in a blur as my confidence increased. The reassuring, unwavering poise of the bike combined with scalpel precise feedback coaxed me to go faster... Faster! Its been a while since I've had a riding experience like it! I hugged Chris' rear wheel the whole way down, aware I was going faster than I would normally dare on a trail such as this. The familiar (yet elusive) feeling of flow washed over me as we left the rocks and swept through the final leg - beautifully tacky singletrack with bermed corners to boot!

We arrived back at the trail head grinning, exhilarated and only 20-something minutes later than when we'd left the summit. Oat Hill Mine is a giddy roller coaster ride and well worth the challenging climb up. I'm looking forward to our next visit. Until then, I can't wait to get back on the Trance. I felt this Sunday's ride was a glimpse into a possible future. One where my current level of skill and speed is enough to generate a big grin of satisfaction, but there's so much more on offer. I just need to put in the time and miles and unleash what my beautiful carbon beast has in store for me. Good times are ahead!

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