|After the "drop". Its a really steep hill. For real.|
We had heard that the riding was sick, and that they were developing their bike school, so we headed out to say hi to Fred Rumford, the ski school director, and see what Keystone had to offer.
This blog post could really just be this long:
Ahhhhh! Oh my God! wheeeee! Tree! Yipes! Yay!
In other words, the terrain is gnarly. Their greens are almost like our blacks. Just imagine what their blacks are like! And yeah, we rode em. We rode Wild Thing, and a double black called Sanitarium, and all I could think was "Lead with your hands follow with your feet!" there wasn't time to think much else.
The concepts that not only saved my hide that day, but made it fun to ride the gnarliest terrain live ever seen, let along contemplated riding down were:
Twos not Fours
Hands lead feet follow
Don't anticipate moving back, let the bike move you back
Loft that front tire over and over and over
Stand on your bottom bracket, let the bike rotate under you
|Thank god someone knows where they are going...|
Twos not Fours is basically using your human suspension on top of the bike suspension, so that your center of mass stays driving straight down over your pedals (heavy feet, light hands). This means that if your bike rolls over a bump, your arms flex first and then straighten back out (although they should very rarely be "straight", and then only for a moment), and then your legs bend to absorb the bump. If you can do this, you are riding dynamically, rather than being taken for a ride.
Hands Lead, Feet Follow is another way to think of riding twos not fours, when you watch someone coming down a series of drops, it often looks like they are riding a galloping horse, hands then feet, hands then feet. When they go together, you are stiff, and if your front tire is dropping off of something, this is a recipie for disaster.
Don't Anticipate means that when something drops away from you or it gets steep, we often move back in anticipation before the bike has reoriented. When you move back, and then the bike drops down, you often get yanked over the handlebars. Instead, stand on your feet, let the drop of the front tire be the thing that lets the bike rotate under you while you stand firmly over your bottom bracket. As the tire drops, you can add loft as your weight moves back with the terrain. Now you are in dynamic balance with the bike, rather than anticipating and getting punished!
Loft Loft Loft: I'm still learning to float rocky sections of the trail, but learning a manual, wheelie or lofting the front tire is probably the most useful skill I've found so far. Practice on the flat grass, find a rock to loft off of, a ditch to manual over. This is tiring on your hands until you learn to compress the front suspension and use the bounce you get to help get the front tire up, and move your weight way back at the same time, driving your heels down. That's probably why its scary to do, but its rare to pull your bike too far back when you are learning. And if you do, well, you are on the grass!
I needed these skills like never before while encountering drop after drop after drop onto tight switchbacks, over huge rocks, roots, skinny bridges, more slippery wood (although it is mostly covered in chicken wire for an extra grip, thank god), jumps, bumps, steep gravel filled slopes, huge rock gardens and a big spiral bridge that drops away about 20' on one side and about 12' on the other side. I rode the top, dropped off the first of two step downs that leads onto this monster, hit the brakes just in time and sat there.
Stopped. In the middle of a double black diamond trail, bike perched precariously with back tire still on top of the first drop and front tire almost ready to go off the second, and just stared at the bridge. Kurt was through it, this was the first time that I wasn't going to come shooting out of the woods a half minute off his wheel, I knew he was wondering if I was lying in a crumpled heap under the bridge.
But I wasn't. I was sitting there staring at it and wondering if I could get myself to let the bike take me down it or not. Down Hill Mountain Biking is a lot like a roller coaster that you get to drive yourself. How fast do you want to go? You pick. But speed, if you can handle it, is most often your friend. Things are easier to drop, float and curl around if you are willing to get off your brakes and let the bike roll.
I couldn't do it. For the first of four times that day, I stared into the maw and happily accepted that "hike a bike is part of mountain bike". It was the right choice. This is a feature you either ride with confidence or you don't ride. I didn't even walk down it. I clambered down the steep loose dirt with my bike bucking and sliding next to me and then let my breath out. I was halfway down the 2300 vertical foot descent, and hadn't let go and relaxed my brain, eyeballs, or adrenal system since 10 that morning. Whew!
Kurt hiked back up the trail and saw me walking down. It was the first time all day that I hadn't come squirting out of the trees off some gnarly rock or drop and rolled up next to him. All day, he'd been riding at moderate speed and then waiting for me patiently. And I have to say, that's just fine. I rode over stuff at Keystone that I didn't even know you could look at let alone walk up or down, let ALONE ride a bike over, forget finding something in that huge mess of a rock garden to hop over! But I'd done it. I'd known that Kurt was about 30 seconds ahead of me, and that he'd ridden it, and not much faster than I was, because he was being nice, so I figured I could do it, too.
Which may be a silly thought, I mean, this is a boy who has been really really into racing and riding his mountain bike for uh... a long time. But I knew, too, that he expected me to make good choices about what I could roll and what I couldn't, he has re taught me this accountability piece, where I feel expected to rise as high as I can to the occasion without doing something stupid. He expects me to be on my game, but he expects me to know when I've hit my limitations. And for that, I'm grateful. I'm more on my own two feet because of it. I've never made so many decisions so fast in my life as I did at Keystone that day.
|This bridge was okay, but the "little one" is a minimum 3' drop|
Ya, that's not how this thing went. It went like this: drop drop drop TREE! drop ROOT! rock drop waterbar BIG jump into BERM drop rock rock switchback switchback BRIDGE! Man, you better be in the right place all the time and moving along at just the right speed or you are in for a world of hurt.
Thank god I stayed rubber side down (so far down, in fact, that on one long section that was about 30 degrees and went straight down the fall line on a double track for about 150 yards that I got a tire mark on the ass of my shorts. I kid you not. Knobbie enema.) and pulled up to Kurt, sitting casually on his bike waiting for me, as though I hadn't just dodged 150 ninjas hiding in the trees who had the magic ability to pull the ground out from under you while you were trying to get away.
"Ready to roll?" he'd say.
"Yup." I'd say back, trying to be cool. But the truth is I was STOKED! I couldn't help myself. As soon as I settled down and we were pedaling along the road, I was babbling, whooping, I was covered in goose bumps.
"Ready to roll?"
"Ya, right after I pee myself, because I was too scared and busy concentrating to actually do it on the trail even though I thought I was going to. Then, my parade should come by with confetti and monkeys with cymbals because HOLY WOW JESUS H YEAH, I just RODE MY BIKE down that crap!"
He grinned at me. "Yup. Mountain biking is good." he'd say. And pedal on. Five laps later, I was cooked. Cooked from Adrenaline, cooked from hanging on for dear life, cooked from descending almost 12,000 vertical on a bike in a half a day.
It was an incredible day, the terrain is unreal, and Erik at Keystone Sports set us up and went for a lap with Kurt later, I decided to sit that one out by doing their 7 1/2 mile green single track top to bottom while the big boys went and played.
|I earned my frosty beverage today!|
When we all hooked back up, I couldn't believe the difference in Kurt's riding already, its amazing what following someone who really knows what they are doing can do for your riding!!
He was pumping the trail more, riding with more speed, and flowing over everything. And then, he dropped the bridge that I was too chicken to drop. It was awesome to watch!
Keystone launched their bike school that weekend, and have great plans for next year. With an already awesome trail system in place, I'm excited to see what they do with their school. A new skills park, beginner area and more green trails low down were talked about, and I'm looking forward to heading over there next year to see how its going!
All in all, it was an awesome experience! (Oh and the food at the Tavern at the bottom of the hill was awesome. Their village has a really "authentic" feel in that it includes small, privately owned shops, so it feels a little less "Disney" and a little more real. Very nice!)
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