Monday night came forth and Travis asked “Where do you want to bike tomorrow?” The river trail came up and I said “That would be fun!” A friend and I had tried to go along the newer beginner path earlier this year. However, when we had tried to go, it was very muddy. All that we accomplished was getting dirty and gagging over the slew of many dead earthworms. Tuesday would be different! Success would be had! Well, at least I was hoping for success.
I found the river trail, or at least the areas that we started off on, which were very nice and easy to maneuver around. I was pleased to find that there was a beginner section that was close to where I lived, that I could easily bike to, and bike alone. Not that I couldn't do all of that up at Van Peenan. I’s just that I would be so out of breath before I even started my actual adventures (big hills and lack of bike transportation). The river trails would be a way for me to go out on my own and practice building my speed and confidence.
Today's lessons in mountain bike handling were going to take place on a hill that I would partially tackle. The best way to describe the location, is that it’s a large hill toward the Palisades end of the trail. The hill itself was one that I was told I could attempt, but I likely was too new to accomplish it. The topics discussed: You must know how to stop properly on an incline, and also how to “thread the needle” in terms of maneuvering your bike tire between a root and the trail (or anything else that could potentially trip you up). Otherwise I’d be falling, rolling, smashing the lady bits, or some other calamities would likely happen.
The hill was steep, with a sharp right turn that takes you up further. I decided that perhaps today wasn't the best day to try it and felt very sheepish with admitting it. The other hills I had tackled had more traction. This hill was dry with loose rocks. The other hills were all-in-all, shorter with their incline. This was one that would drag out a ways. “Let’s walk up it.” Travis said, so I could get a visual feel for it. We were at the top and looked down the hill that wouldn’t be conquered today; going down it as a decline was out of the question as well. I felt boring! Exasperated, I said, "I’m not accomplishing anything today!” We turned around to see the decline that was behind us and Travis got excited “This will be perfect!”
I was continually feeling sheepish, but had faith in Travis. He wouldn't make me attempt anything dangerous. Heck, he had already said he wasn’t sure if he should teach me mountain biking skills. He was afraid of my getting hurt. I told him there really wasn’t much of a choice in the matter, he already was! The decent down the hill looked scarier than what it was. The ground was smooth and the rocks were manageable. The worst obstacle would be those darned walnuts that had fallen from trees, so before our ride down we went on foot to kick them off the trail.
The lessons of the day were to be learning about weight distribution as well as “letting go.” I was given fine points about how far back to stand up above your seat based on the steepness of the decline you are venturing down. My adrenaline levels were high. When I made my way down the hill, my heart pounded hard and fast in my ears. The next lesson would be learning how to ride up the same hill I went down, and that had new challenges with it. With the terrain, you have to ride up the hill with fast bursts while sitting or crouched slightly above the seat with your elbows bent.
I was able to successfully make it up the hill pretty easily, and with that, we went back down the hill again. This time I didn’t have the most graceful of push-offs, and ended up starting several moments later after Travis. I went down the hill a bit faster than I intended to, and caught up to Travis very quickly. I stopped at the bottom of the hill and I looked up at Travis, apparently fighting back my smile. “Stop fighting your smiles! They’re beautiful!” So, I quit holding back and let out a happy, but slightly nervous giggle.
Back up the hill we went, and I tried it crouched over my bike. Success was mine! Hill climbs take the breath out of me, but I had used my inhaler before the ride, so it definitely helped my recovery time. When we went downhill this time, my tires gave a skid. I had used one of my brakes too hard (most likely the back brake). Travis heard my tire skid, and when we got down to the bottom of the hill we discussed our next lesson. I was going to take part of the hill in sections and not squeeze my brakes, for there wasn’t a need of them until I was down at the base. I had to ask, “Are you KIDDING me?!”
We worked the hill in sections, walking our bikes to start points, then going down brake-free. The rush was indescribable, and I totally felt a bit “bike drunk” over it. It really is fun when you can trust your surroundings for a moment and just “let go.” Of course I was given permission to have my hands on the brakes, but work on not slowing myself down until it was necessary. We moved mid-way up the hill, and I successfully went down without squeezing my brakes a few more times. “I just want to do the whole thing again.” So we did. I would need my brakes at the very beginning, but not toward the middle. I went down the hill faster than I thought I would let myself go! I let the bike float under me, over the dirt and rocks. The rush was amazing. When I stopped at the bottom, I let out snort-filled laugh! The smile on my face was ear to ear, my heart was pounding, and I felt fantastic.
We went farther, to the end of the river trail. There was a creek crossing that I did not attempt. It was a bit tricky to maneuver for my skill level, and I was shown where you want to avoid one, and how one can go about tackling it. We rode around on the river bed a bit, through a culvert and back out again just for fun. I felt bad we didn’t have a more hugely success-filled ride. I defined success by learning more technically challenging skills. Perhaps I was feeling bad we just tackled a mostly flat, off-road trail. Either way, Travis told me to not worry about it, and that I accomplished more than I let myself think I did. He was proud of my accomplishments and said sometimes learning rides are more like this than adventuresome. Some rides are more exciting, and some rides are about learning the basics. All that does, is make me wonder what my next adventure will be!