Monday, August 8, 2011

Total airgasm. Part one.

Alright! So here's what happened! We went to Winter Park, we watched Crankworx, I was scared of my bike still a little (having ridden one day on my own at Snowmass the week before).

Monday comes, and Kurt is bouncing out of his skin. I'm gonna join the mountain biking 101 clinic at 10 am while he goes and rips around with the big kids.

We get there, and first of all, it's as busy as a ski area in the winter, but really really well organized. The rental and retail is really well done. Everything flows, there are people pointing you in the right direction, you don't feel like a gaper for being a renter... It really feels like they love this sport and they are psyched to share it with everyone and help the sport grow.

I was surprised that there wasn't an elitist attitude, there was no exclusive feeling, even though it's been around for years, and lift served mountain biking has been in Tahoe for... What, 18 years? How long has dh MTN biking been in Whistler? We've all seen the videos, I just fought it was for 18 year old kids who didn't think the skate park was thrilling enough for them.

(perhaps I'll include a link to the post where I broke four ribs in the skate park two summers ago here so we can reminisce together on the fact that skateboarding is plenty dangerous, Thanks very much.)

(Folks waiting in line to get their bikes after going though the body armor fitting.)

(just some of the awesome bikes they have for rent. Yes, that's an $8000 bike. Yes, you can leave your crappy hard tail at home and come play on this one!)

(A truly great rental gang, they set up and test shocks, brakes, seats, sag, all of it.)

(armor for everyone!)

(as busy as it was, I was in the door and out in 20 minutes. Awesome.)

(one of four mountain biking 101 clinics that went out that morning!)

Anyhow, I was stoked to join a group of college kids out from LSU who were excited to try it out, and it turns out that Barnie (Bob Barnes, who is the ski school director at Winter Park and and awesome fearless moto guy) was going to be teaching the clinic.

I am a Huge fan of Bob Barnes, we had skied together at the national academy two years before, and he had taught me my first retraction turn in shin deep mank. Our group had so much fun, I couldn't wait to play with him again.

Now, my neck, as many of you know, is rather severely injured. I have clearance from my doctor to play hard, because I already need surgery, but I still feel it pretty strong all the time. Jogging hurts, yoga doesn't. Road biking hurts, skinning does too, skiing doesn't. So I was a bit trepidatious about the body position and how it would feel, and I was a bit nervous abut what I might do to my neck if I had a bad wreck. So I was mindful of keeping it cool, trying to learn, but stay well within my skill zone.

The group split along the gender lines, 10 girls went with young, hot Ian, who apparently rips, and all the boys (and me) went with hard charging wise cracking Barnie. I worried that I may have put myself in the wrong group for a minute because I remembered that Barnie had ridden his motorcycle on the Bridger Ridge before it was closed to that kind of traffic. I'm scared to be up there in my tennis shoes let alone on a dirt bike. This guy has a pair. And he was about to see if I did, too.

(Barnie schools us in the ABCs, action stance, braking and cornering)

We rode up and got to visit on the chairlift, and I confessed that if I could get decent at riding a bike, it would certainly be a dream summer job. Barnie liked the idea and coached me toward that goal, filing in my vocabulary and clearly showing his passion for developing strong pros who ride and teach well. I had heard that his crew was top top notch, and I was really grateful for the coaching tips.

As a group up top, We went through the ABCs of riding, and it's funny, you know, everyone "knows" how to ride a bike. But the skills you use in balancing on a bike in the dirt are really specific. Fifteen minutes on top helped immediately with feeling safe and in control. Being coved head to to toe in full body armor didn't hurt, either. I knew that if I went down, it would be like the difference between falling on the ice in full hockey pads and falling on the ice in a skating dress.

I'll take the pads, thanks. Thats been one of the main issues so far with me and bikes. The consequences are so much higher on a mountain bike. You have further to fall, the ground is less forgiving, and the rocks, stumps and twigs want to eat you alive. With armor on, you bounce, you may bruise, but you will probably keep all your skin and if you are smart, you aren't going to break a bone unless you are really riding on the edge. This was not part of my plan.

One of the hardest and scariest parts of riding is making a flatland turn where there is loose dirt or gravel, or descending on a work road where the turns arent burmed and speed can get away from you quickly. I've always hated this, hated that the easiest way down is on a fire road, and I've always felt more comfortable on a single track than on a road. Apparently, I'm not alone in this... The Mighty Flynn, a local aspen rider who shatters the course record at the snow mass downhill every week, has confessed to me that he is terrified on the roads, it's the most likely place to wreck. So I'm in distinguished company.

(the mighty flynn wins again at the aspen snow mass downhill)

We worked on pressing the outer knobbies of the tires into the earth by tipping the bike under you without tipping the rider. I'd done this before of course, everyone does when they are riding a bike. But with some specific instruction Germaine to the conditions, suddenly i felt less terrified that my bike was going to come out from under me while I was going down the road.

Flat pedals, elbows out, knees out, a good action stance, balance in the cockpit of the bike... It's a lot like skiing!

After taking the time to go through the basics, we took off and suddenly all was right with the world. The bike has this huge squishy suspension that lets you get away with everything. It rolls over everything, it forgives your lousy balance, it corners easily, and absorbs everything.

The answer to how was this going to feel on my neck was terrific! The bikes suspension is so good, add your humans suspension to it, and you are just floating down the hill.

We spent the morning going down "green world" a green run that's gotta be 10 miles long, practicing all the skills.

At the bottom, we picked up Kurt, who had already done five laps to our one, and he joined us for a blue run. Little did I know that a blue run at winter park means introduction to wood, bridges, trestles, drops and jumps!

But there is something to be said for trusting the process. If it was time to go to blue, and this was the intro, maybe it was appropriate to do! The whole crew went for another go, the boys from LSU gamely working hard at 9000 feet above sea level. I rolled on after Barney over a little jump and was shocked to find myself completely off the ground, both tires.

A little bit of air, a little bit like flying, a little bit like Tigger.
I landed, squishhhh, and rolled on. Suddenly I had the strangest feeling all through my body. It was like the first time I made a real turn in powder. Felt free. I felt like I had a teeny tiny inkling of what this bike could allow me to do. I got giddy.

We went over tiny jump after tiny jump, every time, both tires off, float, land and bounce, right in balance, right where I wanted to be. The boys from LSU were doing it too.

About halfway thorough the run, Kurts inner honey badger came out and we all stopped to eat wild strawberries that were growing on the side of the trail. Wow! What a sweet treat after being full of fear and adrenaline and seratonin and endorphins and sweaty and dirty and scared and happy! Those strawberries tasted sooo good.

(the boys from LSU forage for well earned wild strawberries.)

Lunch time came and I was cooked, more from the fear than from the workout, although, just like skiing, I'm pretty sure I was working way way harder than I needed to trying to make sure I didn't do anything stupid, while trying to stay loose enough to let the bike work.

It had been a morning of discovery and exhilaration,of constant and rapid fear management. At one point, we rode over a long long boardwalk type bridge, which was about 3 feet wide, but went on for quite a while through the woods. Now you weren't going to fall off of this thing, but let's just say that you did. It's about 12 feet to the ground on one side, and about 20 on the other.

I was gripped just from the constant thought trying to invade my mind "if you fell off you'd be fucked!" but of course it was a great opportunity to practice the positive go message, what do I need to do to stay rolling smoothly across this, to stay in the center, to let it feel good?

It was a great exercise, especially because it went on about three times longer than I wanted it to, so I had to stay in it, to keep working mentally on acceptance of the fact that I was on the bridge, I wasn't getting off, there was no stopping or slowing down. Just roll on. Find the bliss, find the trust, enjoy it. It was a battle in my mind, and when we got off the bridge, I was sweating that gross smelly fear sweat.

I had done a good enough job internally to have enjoyed it, and to have learned that I was indeed balanced enough on the bike to not only survive that bridge, but to be just info on it. Later in the day the wood we would go over would be ten times scarier, so I was glad to have had the opportunity to build that trust between myself and the bike in that first encounter.

I was thinking we were going to bak for lunch, sit down and de adrenalinize, breathe, reboot, but it turns out Barnie can go for another run with Kurt and I, and Kurt is dying to go down Rain Maker, an awesome black diamond run with big jumps on it. Barnie says I'm ready, so off we go, the three of us.

To be continued.... In the air...

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