Monday, August 27, 2012

The day the Tail Whip came to town.

I really never thought I'd actually be able to do it. At the beginning of the mountain biking season, I had a couple of goals that I said out loud. I would like to pedal enough that I learned if I could like pedaling or not. I would like to ride a road bike up independence pass, I would like to commute to work on my bike at least once.

I want to learn how to corner, squash and scrub, I want to learn to ride clippless and ride more xc so that I can take an xc ride with my friends without them wanting to strangle me. I want to learn to roll a rock drop. Ride a rock garden, and go off the the medium drop in the fruit bowl.

And one day, I wish I could go off the green fruit bowl itself, and throw a big ole gnarly whip on my bike. And ride skinny bridges high off the ground.

Those last three, those are pipe dreams for me. At 40, with a fused neck and only two summers on a bike, riding at that level is really not a reality. So I watch it in the movies, and I fall asleep to Red Bull TV World championships DH race video, and I have a blast riding my bike.

And I kind of suck at riding a bike. About five years ago, you will recall, I fell UP Smuggler mountain. The only reason I won the DH races all summer last year was because I was one of the only women racing! Now all the girls I taught intro to jumping to last year (who are in their 20s and 30s) are kicking my butt. (And I kind of love that. That means I did my job.)

Last week, in Crested Butte, I pushed my bike up the ROAD on the way to the 401 trailhead. (But I rode about 30 miles in clip less shoes and didn't eat shit once, so CHECK and CHECK off some of the seasons goals! Boo yeah! Hike a bike is part of Mountain Bike and I aint afraid to push that sucker uphill!)

In other news, I was on that trip with Kurt, who was riding one handed the whole time and probably had time for lunch and a latte after every switchback... I didn't mind pushing as long as he didn't' mind that I was pushing, so onward we rolled, and I felt AMAZING when we got back to town, so CHECK CHECK, I like to pedal, and I feel like I can ride with my friends and only torture them somewhat.

Then I hoped in my car and drove to Steamboat all by my lonesome to ride with my great friend BT. You remember him from epic cat skiing of doom last winter in Whistler. He builds trails for Gravity Logic and he was in Colorado for a short time working. I jumped at the chance to go play with him, we always have a great time. BT was working so we didn't ride a huge number of laps, but I was out on a road trip on my own, making new friends and riding in a new place.

I loved meeting the trail crew and seeing their passion for how fun the trail would be when it was ridden in, and it was awesome to meet Lana, the only girl on the trail crew. She had an amazingly sunny disposition, so happy to be working outdoors. So psyched to learn to ride her bike even faster. (Apparently, she rips). The energy was so good, I felt inspired, free, and happy.

I haven't done that in biking yet, just taken off to go ride and visit and just see what happened. It felt really really good. Expansive. Happy. While I was there, I started tipping my bike over with more authority, keeping my knees more open, twisting down into the turn more, screwing my body down into the bike.

Something was changing. In me, in my riding.

When we got back, I found suddenly I didn't really care about racing right now. I had coached Michelle a little, and I really enjoyed watching her become blisteringly fast. I wasn't ready to ride that fast, and I was really stoked to see her take that leap. I wanted to keep practicing my cornering so that WHEN I rode that fast (one day, maybe), I would feel solid and happy whipping around the berms.

Riding that fast to try to win while putting my body at risk was not on my list of things to do. I just didn't have the skill set to hold the turn and feel really good in it at that speed. I needed to change something technically first. And that change might never come. And I had accepted that.

I taught a lot and didn't free ride that much because I was doing massage every afternoon and I needed to save my hands and my neck, both of which get tired from riding. I spent all the time that I was riding trying to demonstrate good cornering. Consequently, my patterns in my cornering changed.

Then I had a couple of jump lessons in a row, and suddenly all the work we had been doing in cornering on body position and my understanding of how to push my feet into the turn, to snap and bump the bike started translating into understanding the trajectory of the bike in the air so much better. I could finally begin to FEEL when to push my feet into the face, how to adjust the flight of the bike, at speed. With less guessing and more instinct. With less "Oh shit I hope I'm right" and more "wheeeee".

Now the only problem I'm having is I'm starting to overshoot the jumps and my cornering still isn't quite... I know that one of the solutions for overshooting the jump is to scrub or whip. But I just really don't think, even though its the next step, and its time to learn it, that I'm ready or really even capable.

And then I started riding with Ryan and Dean. I met them on the trail at Snowmass, Ryan was riding in a big pack. A couple of them split off and joined us, a little bike school group rolling, but not ripping. Mostly because they were waiting for me.

Ryan took off, Dean followed, and, tired of waiting in the back of the pack because I knew I was slowest, I jumped in. I hoped I could ride fast enough to let the guys behind me have a good time, not be held up, and to follow someone who I'd never ridden with before and see what the difference was.

Right off the bat, we were rolling faster than I usually do. I figured "Oh well, they are going to drop me and I'm going to be riding alone. But I'm gonna do my best to hang on and follow his line." Being dropped and riding alone is fine, and can be really fun, but there is something amazing about ripping along with a group of people.

Its hard to see what other people are doing on a DH trail, you have to stay fairly close, and manage your own flight through the berms and jumps while trying to watch the person in front of you do it well.

But something happened. They didn't drop me. Either Ryan was waiting up for me a bit, or I was rolling faster, or some combination of both, but I wasn't completely dropped. I started following Dean's line.

"Early and High", I always tell my students. "That gives you more time in the turn". And it does. But what I had failed to realize is that the faster you are going, the earlier and higher you have to enter. I never even SAW the line that Dean was taking before I rode behind him. It never occurred to me to start my turn THERE.

Suddenly, I didn't feel like I was going to slide up the berm and out of the turn. I was able to tip the bike more, drop into the turn further, enjoy the sensation of the force pulling me into my bike without worrying if I could handle it and hold the line. I had time to dip my foot and push on the up bar. I was RIDING!

Over the next couple of days, I practiced at speed more. This morning, I ran into Job, an amazing rider from Brazil who can throw his bike around with unbelievable athleticism. He's also super easy going and encouraging. Last year, I taught his girlfriend how to ride downhill, and we had a blast.

Waiting at the water cooler for Ryan to get to the top, Job and I started talking about whips and scrubs. "You just take your inside foot and push the bike like that." He showed me.

"Ohhh!" I said, as though I was going to try it. I really want to learn to do this, but I really just don't think I have the skill level for it. I asked all the questions I had, because I really do want to learn, but I think more so that I can help coach people who want to do it than because I ever thought I could do it myself.

We talked about the pattern that the bars make in the air, how you bring the bike back around by moving your head. We talked about how you counter steer into it off the lip of the jump, how important it is to try it in both directions.

Ryan came up, and suddenly we were a posse of six or so. I wasn't hanging off the back. I was third from the back, kinda almost keeping up, but not really. The boys up front were rolling pretty casually, it was Job's warm up run. I was pinning it, but I never felt loose, for some reason, riding on the shops 2012 Giant Glory (I destroyed my front fork jumping my old Slayer and don't have the $700 to fix it) I felt like I was on a cush ride that just wanted to help me out.

Up at these speeds, the bike actually feels much more stable, and now that something has clicked in my cornering (LINE CHOICE, thanks, Dean!), I feel like I'm just rolling along, like I can play, not like I'm holding on for life and praying that I don't fuck it up.

The next lap, we are lined up at the hay bales at the top of Valhalla, and Job says, just before we roll out, "Hey Kate, lets work on those Whips, okay?'

Really? I was going to just work on them in my mind and never really try it until I went to a Whip Clinic in Whistler one day and sucked at it under the watchful eye of a trained coach. I was putting it off.

Mostly because I hadn't talked to anyone who could voice a concise understanding of the steps one could take to learn this in a safe progression. I was pretty sure I was going to whip the bike come down sideways, jackknife the handlebars and bury myself in a broken heap in the dirt.

Stay positive. Thats something else I tell my students a lot...

Apparently, Job thought I had the skill to do this, and hey, we've taken all of one lap together, who am I to argue with him about my skill and his ability to evaluate it?

(By the way, this is also how I broke four ribs three summers ago. Learning how to drop into the big bowl on a skateboard because a 13 year old told me I could do it. (To be fair, I trust this 13 year old, he has pretty good judgement)). (Side note, don't ever get the flu after you break your ribs, Throwing up sucks.)

Now, with a fused neck and healed ribs, I've been trying to be more adult. I walked through a lot of Psycho Rocks at Crested Butte, unwilling to take a fall with consequences like that. On the other hand, I had ridden all the little rock gardens with good energy and I felt solid helping the tire over the back side of the rocks while dropping down. Things were changing... maybe?

Also on the other hand, I had surprised myself at Steamboat, rolling along a skinny and dropping about  6 feet onto a bridge. I surprised myself again rolling down a steep rock drop. (Oh wow, CHECK AND CHECK off my seasons goals! Can this really be happening??) And then, who knew, CHECK on one I didn't even know I could aspire to; take a bike road trip and ride with a bunch of people I don't know just for fun. Hang with the group. Try hard stuff and pull it off. Make new friends who love to bike.  (Hi, Holly! We miss you guys!). (The hot tub incident and its ensuing late start consequences the next day were NOT on my list by the way...)

"Do you want me to follow you?" I asked Job, thinking he was going to say, "No, just work on your whips." "Yes. Follow me." He let the rest of the guys pull out and we hung off the back. Am I really going to do this?

We railed through the berms and pulled off at the top of the jump portion of the run. "Try this on these step-downs, you will have success here."

He said it with so much certainty that it just seemed rude not to try it.  And what the heck, we were not going that fast. Yet.

He dropped and whipped.

I dropped and scooted the tail of the bike to the side about three inches. Step-up, he throws a huge whip.

I follow him off of it and surprise myself. The bike goes out, i look and pull and it comes back under me. Step down. No time, wall ride. Im thinking about the whip so much that the corner takes care of itself and we are rolling at a comfy pace that makes the bike suck up the trail like I've never felt before.

Through the second set of berms, snap through the chicaine and then: jump line. These jumps are regular enough and far enough apart that I want to try it again. Mini whip on the table top, choke on the drop, straight air on the step up. Last chance. There's a big step down coming with a great landing and the group is waiting on the road. Kodak courage. I push the bike out from under me and everything slows down.

I have plenty of time. The bike is floating through the air, stalling, floating out to the side. I push the bar over and down, thinking about putting my knee across the frame. I'm not there by a long shot, but the action makes the bike do the strangest thing. It tips over sideways as the bars float over and suddenly, I'm riding in three dimensions in a way I never thought I'd experience.

I push the bars down in space as I crest the apex of the arc, and the bike floats up. I turn my head back to the trail and the bike follows. The landing falls away just perfectly and I land, SQUISH, two tires at the same time at the bottom of the transition.

I can whip.

I, me, nearly 41 years old and who fell UP Smuggler mountain, today went 34.8 miles per hour at some point on that ride and whipped the crap out of that bike.

Now, just like everyone who gets a teeny tiny bit of air on their skis for the first time feels like they went huge, I'm sure that my whip has a LONG way to go. The bike is probably not going that far up, that far out, and I'm probably not landing truly straight yet.

But I feel it. and out of those 55 jumps, I got to practice about 10 whips. And on the next lap, probably 30. And out of those 40 attempts, there were three that felt like time stopped and space was there to play with.

Like the rules of gravity and force still existed, but I could experience riding my bike at a right angle to the mountain and feel as though gravity applied in all directions, sucking my tires down into the earth when I was cornering. And when I was airborne, it felt like everything was timeless and slow and smooth.

And then I wanted more time up there, so I adjusted bow I was hitting the face of the jump with my feet, and suddenly I went from passively guessing to some beginning of kinesthetic understanding of when to push with my feet, the bike was getting so high in the air, I had all the time I wanted.

Six more days to practice flying. Six more days to ride Snowmass.

Don't let it pass you by!

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