Who are you riding with?

Who you ride with is so important. It can truly make or break your whole experience. If you’re surrounded by the right people, you can coast through things you never would even consider attempting alone.

I have been very fortunate in my riding buddies so far. Even though pretty much all of them are leaps and bounds ahead of me in years experience and skill, they’re never annoyed by my frequent stopping, being generally slow, or asking questions. They’re happy to teach me a new skill or just encourage me to roll over that tiny step and celebrate with me when I tackle a terrifying wood berm. I will take a moment to give a shout out to Ryan, Laura, Geoff, Chee, Bryan, Matt, Mike, my class with Escape Adventures, and anyone else I happened to cross paths with so far. All of these people have been overwhelmingly supportive and pushed me to do things I never thought I was capable of doing.

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All different skill levels come together.

Alright, the award acceptance speech portion is over. Now to the ride! Ryan and I headed up to Squamish to ride Half Nelson, purposely bringing my GoPro to get some footage of me for this blog. I am definitely nervous about putting my riding out there because of the overwhelming number of videos of people absolutely killing it out on the trails. I am definitely not a super fast, amazing rider and for some reason filming makes it seem like you’re going even slower than you are. So if my videos are boring compared to what you usually watch, I apologize, but if you’re someone just starting out then maybe they’re stepping stone videos showing something a bit more realistically achievable.

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Road trip!

The first proud moment was one of endurance. I managed to ride all the way from the parking area to the switchback up to Half Nelson without walking at all! This is a massive achievement for me as, just earlier this year, I couldn’t make it from the Fromme parking lot to the gate/washrooms (for non-locals, this is not very far). What made it easier was that even though Ryan was on his massive downhill bike and basically had to walk the whole way, he didn’t mind me riding up ahead instead of keeping pace with him. He also cheered me on when I was slowing down and thought I’d have to stop and walk. SO proud!

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When it’s blurry it looks like you’re going really fast… despite what’s actually happening.

Other than that, I rode a few little features that I’ve always been too afraid of before and went way faster on Half Nelson than I ever have! All in all it was a successful day and Ryan’s cheering and encouragement definitely contributed to that success.

So when you’re picking people to ride with make sure they’re people who push you to do your best without overdoing it. If you feel like they’re always on your case or forcing you to do things you feel are unsafe or, frankly, you just don’t feel like doing that day, consider getting different riding buddies.

To those of you amazingly talented riders who are going out with beginner friends, remember that they’ll need a bit more support and will be running a lot slower than you. Be prepared for a day where you may be spending a lot of time waiting or riding slower than you usually would.

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4 bikes + 4 people + 1 car = an interesting ride up the mountain.

Also, to anyone, when making plans make sure you’re all on the same page of what kind of ride it will be. Are you just carpooling together and meet back at the car at 5? Is the faster person going to zip ahead and wait for you in intervals? Will they ride behind you and help you out with some encouragement? It doesn’t matter how you do it as long as everyone is mentally prepared for the same thing. Enjoy each other’s company. This sport is fun on your own but don’t discount the value of being with others. Happy riding.

From the Streets to the…. Trails.

Every day I cycle up to that hill. I think we all have that stupid hill. I ride up to it and as I’m getting closer and closer I’m hoping and praying that the light just before it will turn red so I have an excuse to stop and rest before tackling it. It stares me down and I stare it down. It knows I’m tired from work and it’s trying to break me. I remember the joy I felt zipping down it this morning on the way to work at what feels like light speed. Everything was so fast and so easy. But the way back up isn’t easy. The way back up sucks. This is my off-the-trail training journey.

Let’s face it. Getting all your gear together and heading out to the mountain isn’t always in the cards. I work ten billion hours a week and am usually pretty exhausted most of the time. Combine that with the non-summer sun going down at 6pm and it’s a recipe for no riding for a long time. So I have been trying to find other things I can do in the meantime to not lose any of the progress I’ve made out on the trails.

The first thing has been actual hitting the gym time. I’ve done both in the gym and at-home workouts. I do enjoy this time but, ultimately, I prefer to actually be DOING something.

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Post-workout “why?!”

Probably similar to sticking a trail runner on a treadmill. Sure it’s fine and all but to actually get out on the move is where you really want to be. Either way, I find it extremely helpful to get my muscles in shape in order to last longer on my bike when on the trails. I have noticed an improvement for sure, but the only down side is still dealing with the sore legs from the squats you did that week while trying to shred. Doesn’t work so well when you start out tired.

The second is where the beginning of this blog comes in. Road cycling time. I’m not a great road cyclist. More of a semi-reluctant commuter if anything. If you saw me out on the road I definitely look like a mountain biker on her way to work. But I do have some great friends who are very skilled in this area and I was very happy to take one of them up on his offer to show me the ropes. Bryan and I hit the streets and he showed me some good routes to take, general roadie etiquette, and some general bike control type stuff (including shifting pointers). He’s great on the road, competes in cyclocross, and is a mountain unicyclist which is amazing to watch.

While I grumbled and suffered through some of this time, overall it was just nice to be on a bike, any bike, and doing my thing. There’s nothing quite like feeling the wind on your face and that sense of freedom knowing you won’t have to pay for parking when you get downtown. Of course there are negative moments (like the hill of doom) and idiotic moments (no matter what the weather says or what it looks like outside, it will rain in Vancouver and I really need to learn to prepare for that) but the days come where maybe you don’t need t use your granny gear to get up that hill. Maybe you’re not as sweaty and out of breath. Maybe you made it to work in record time. Either way, these little accomplishments add up and suddenly you’re riding all the way from your car to the trail head when before you couldn’t even make it to the gate. Riding on the road isn’t my favourite thing in the world, but it’s a great, eco-friendly, free way to commute, helps me with my overall fitness goals, and has definitely helped me on the mountains. IMG_0590

Whatever your off-mountain fitness routine is it all adds up to help you out when you just have to get in one more run to perfect that feature that gave you trouble last time. I’ll definitely be checking in with more of the off the trails fitness tales as time goes on. What works? What doesn’t? What’s fun? We’ll see…

Fear

Fear is normal, fear keeps us safe. Sometimes fears are perfectly reasonable. We should fear rattlesnakes or bears or steep, sharp rock faces. I won’t lie, I am an anxious person. I can be afraid of anything and everything (including loading the lift at Whistler). So I’d like to talk about fear and failure today.

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all wiped out at least once. We’ve all been injured, serious or not, and it can leave lasting marks in your thoughts. The second time I ever went out riding it was in Squamish on a rental bike. This bike and I did not get along all day and it culminated in me crashing, twice, on corners. I scraped my elbow up pretty good and ended up with a pretty bad infection, a tetanus shot, antibiotics, and a nice case of C. Diff. It was not fun. It stuck with me. I was already afraid of cornering and this cemented in my mind that when I corner, I will crash and it will hurt. It took ages for me get over it and realize that cornering is okay, just be careful and stay in control. Cornering is hard to avoid if I was to continue biking, but sometimes it’s not a skill that freaks you out, it’s a feature.

When I was taking a mountain bike 101 course we rode on Roadside Attraction on Fromme. This is a great beginner trail for sure but it has one feature on it which is ridiculously easy compared to a lot of things I do, but I wiped out on it the first time I tried it and now I’m terrified. To this day, this stupid feature, which I call the wiggle bridge, kills me.

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The wiggle bridge of doom.

I panic coming up to it, my whole body tenses up, and I barely make it across. This is extra interesting considering I don’t even think twice about features that are almost the exact same. Same thing happens on a bridge on John Deer on Seymour that I wiped out on once. I sabotage myself when I know it’s coming by slowing down way too much to be able to make it over smoothly.

I can’t tell you why these tiny traumas build up in our heads and render us knee-knocking, sweaty, hammering on the brake messes. I’m sure there’s a lovely psychological explanation but I don’t know what it is. I just wanted to express my fears and find out what gets under your skin? Is there a feature or a trail that just freaks you out for no good reason? Comment and tell me about it!

I would also like to share some strategies I’ve learned to help when these almost irrational fear moments bubble up.

The first strategy was introduced to me when I was learning how to ride a motorcycle a few years ago and then I was reminded of it during a bear situation. This is to sing! Sing quietly to yourself or really belt it out if you want to. For some reason I naturally leaned towards show tunes and spent a day in Smithers singing “If I only had a brain.” It helps keep your mind off what you’re doing just enough to cut down on the heebie jeebies of a particularly scary part of trail. You also get to surprise people standing on the trail with your tiny one person show.

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That fear face…

This second one came from a glib comment that Laura made one day when we were riding. I was worrying about some kind of feature and was saying “but it’s so scary!” Laura looked me in the eyes and said “so pretend it isn’t.” How could something so simple be so effective? So now whenever I’m faced with a challenge and I find myself thinking about how scary it is, I just do my best to pretend it’s not. “It’ll just be a couple of little bumps and then a zoom down that hill and it’ll be done and I’ll get to celebrate!” It sounds dumb but just try it.

The last one has to do with tricking your mind as well and I use it for any wood or rock features. That would be “what if this was dirt?” followed by “pretend it’s dirt.” Honestly, this has gotten me over many a ladder bridge rolldown. If you can look at it and think to yourself “I wouldn’t even hesitate if this was dirt and not wood” then you’re well on your way to conquering the fear! Again, sounds a little silly but give it a try.

On my latest ride, I got freaked out and ended up using all of these strategies all together.

Of course I definitely don’t mean that you should just jump in and do everything that you’re afraid of. You’re scared for a reason and a lot of that reason is because you simply don’t have the skills to do something. Or you’re tired that day. Or it’s slippery. Listening to your fear is important in keeping yourself safe. And just remember, if you decide to skip something one day, that just gives you something to conquer next time.

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Next time!