View From the Back of the Pack: Part 2 – Changing Perspectives

I last left off on a depressing note.  I highly suggest you read my last post before reading this one for it to make sense.  Fast forward a couple of weeks after Kamloops with some fairly unpleasant riding experiences in between.  There’s a point I would really love to add in here because I feel like it’s a factor that has been an issue in the past and really contributes to how I’m feeling on a ride.  That is the issue of the sweep.

For those of you who don’t know, the sweep is the person who brings up the rear.  In a race or event it’s the person who leaves after everyone else and makes sure that everyone gets down safely.  In my experience as a slow person, the sweep really can make or break that ride.  I have experienced wonderful, lovely sweeps who are just out to support everyone and make sure we all get down and/or have fun.  I have also experienced sweeps who feel the need to make snide comments about the slowest rider (me), about how much of a hurry they’re in (when there’s plenty of time left on the official clock), and in some cases straight up bullying.  I’m already feeling self conscious about being slower than everyone else.  I’m not just being lazy and taking too many breaks.  I’m doing the best I can and, especially when it’s a more casual and fun race, it seems unnecessary to give me shit for not being as fast as you want to go.  Again, that being said it is not everyone I have encountered and it won’t be everyone I encounter going forward.  I just wanted to mention this in case someone reading this is a sweep one day and is waiting for someone struggling.  Trust me, they’re not doing it just to annoy you and you very well make someone want to completely quit the sport.

This brings us to the morning of the Canadian National Enduro Series Fraser Valley race on Vedder Mountain.  I was, in a word, miserable.  I didn’t want to do the race.  I didn’t want sweeps to spend the day giving me shit for being slow.  I didn’t want to feel like a failure.  But I was there and registered.  I didn’t want to sit in the car for 7 hours waiting for Ryan to finish.  So I frowned and whined about not wanting to do it and I took off on my bike alone (staggered starts for different categories of riders).  Then something magical happened.  I don’t know if it was how beautiful the forest was or how peaceful it was climbing by myself but I got smacked in the face with an undeniable truth: I was there to have fun.  I can stop whenever I want.  My goals are my own and the only person I can let down is myself.

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A smile?! On a climb?!

It seems simple but after feeling so much pressure and disappointment it truly felt like a sudden realization.  The sun coming out between parting clouds.  Suddenly I was smiling on my sweaty walk up.  I cheered people and made jokes as people passed me.  I set a new goal:  get to the top.  This doesn’t seem like much of a goal but, honestly, if you’ve ever done the climb all the way up Vedder you’ll understand.  It’s brutal and steep.  It took me 3 hours.  I was doing stages 1 and 2 with the pro men and women who left 2 hours after me.  But we all suffered through it together and I actually enjoyed my death march up the hill.

In the end, I only completed 2 stages out of 6 or 7 but I felt so pleased.  I made it to the top!  Something I honestly felt almost impossible until I was standing at the stage 1 start.  I was beaming.  I am not a failure.   That’s why I’m still writing.  For the person who’s scared they’re not good enough to tackle that race, group ride, or even mountain biking in general!  You set your own goals.  If someone else decides to give you a hard time for it, that’s on them.  Maybe they’ve missed the whole reason why we’re all out there in the first place: to have fun.  Even the most serious racers find joy in being out on their bike. Keep that in mind and you’ll never have a bad day on the trails.

Another thing happened during the after party for this race which I am both proud and ashamed of.  An announcement came on saying that anyone who has an “ugly or shitty bike” come over to the Race Face tent for a contest to pimp out your bike with some amazing new parts.  As soon as I heard that I proclaimed, “I got this!” and ran poor Jenny over to the tent.  There were a couple of other people with their bikes mingling around, waiting for judgement and when they saw my bike coming they, no word of a lie, hung their heads in disappointment and WALKED AWAY!  This feeling was cemented as the judge took one look at my bike and said, “what the hell is that?!”  He was particularly interested in my ancient dropper post.  Long story short, it was no contest and Jenny won some amazing carbon cranks, bottom bracket, new chain ring, carbon handlebars, and a new stem.  It was incredible and even I know that those pieces are too baller for my old bike.  I still put them on.  Unfortunately the stem and handlebars didn’t fit my poor, old Jenny, but the cranks went on and she lost a full TWO POUNDS.  I was shocked!  They’re so smooth and I love them. Maybe I’ll get a new fork and put on the stem and handlebars one day.  This particular situation also ended up with my picture in an article and had people recognizing me at the next race.  Pretty crazy, huh?

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The kindness of strangers…. someone gave me a much needed fruit cup!

I felt completely renewed by this experience and I was so excited to tackle the next weekend’s race in Kelowna.  That story is up next!

Conclusions: The Skills

One of the biggest things that I was hoping to notice at the end of 45 days was an increase in skill. I was worried I may come out the other end still having the same struggles and not having progressed at all. How much is natural ability (that I may or may not have) and how much is practice and training? To help myself out in this regard, I took every chance I could to learn. I asked questions about skills and lines, watched ‘how-to’ videos, I rode with some awesome folks, I spent hours working on a single skill some days, and I even took classes. There were a few days for sure when I would just ride to get my ride done and move on. Something easy on my mind and body. But most of the time I continued to challenge myself with new skills and new trails.

If you recall, I took a video of my first day on this challenge with the intention of filming the same trails on the last day. I was at Coast Gravity Park on the last day so this ended up being Day 46 instead of 45. I think the idea is still the same.

As far as timing goes, I shaved 20 seconds off of my Bobsled run and a whopping 1 minute and 7 seconds off of Floppy Bunny.

So how do I feel? Did I progress? Did I progress enough to feel like it was all worth it? I have to say absolutely. In these 45 days I’ve learned (at a basic level) how to jump, do manuals, bunny hops, and started on drops. I’m way more confident on bikes in general (“less squirrley” is what my friend Bryan called it), my stamina is way better, and I achieved things with ease that I couldn’t even THINK about doing before.

Did I achieve everything I wanted to? No. I was determined to be able to do drops by the end so I could do the wooden drop on Floppy Bunny but it was just too high risk and I wasn’t getting it fast enough to risk it just for the “after” video. I will continue to work on drops, however, and hopefully will have figured them out by next summer.

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A lot of my progression came from “just ride your bike” for sure, but I think that if I had not been so curious and wanting to learn I may not have achieved as much as I did. Actively seeking out information about the skills you want to learn is definitely the best way to do it. You get the benefit of many peoples’ years of experience. Their trails and errors. So no matter what your level, never stop being curious. To those experienced riders who rode with me or just met me on the trail and put up with my questions, thank you! Never forget, we were all beginners once.

Day 18/45 – Going the Distance

To anyone who's been reading along with my journey, you'll know that I'm not great at climbing… or distance. Throughout this 45 day challenge I must say that my endurance has improved, however, it's definitely not where I'd like it to be yet. Recently I was asked by the organizing team at the Innovative Fitness Adventure Challenge (http://www.ifac.ca/) in Port Moody to check out the mountain bike portion of their 3-part challenge. At first I was completely stoked. In fact, I wanted to do the whole challenge: kayaking, biking, and running. Then I took a look at the biking course and realized it was 17km and thought, "oh no what have I done?" BUT, not to be dismayed by a seemingly giant distance (I'm basically toast after 4km usually) I called up my buddy Bryan (of the unicycle fame) as a road cyclist and cyclocross star extraordinare to hold my hand through this harrowing experience.

When I picked Bryan up it was apparent we were a mismatch. Not including our foot and a half height difference, we were definitely geared out and dressed for different outings. The person who took this picture even said, "you two weren't riding together, were you?"

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Even though I was terrified of going such a distance (and so much of it steeply uphill), we set off with determination and excitement for something new. I have to say…. we had a lot of fun! Luckily on race day, the course will be marked for everyone because Bryan and I definitely got lost and had to backtrack quite a bit. Somehow we still made it to the 17km by the end and tested our exploration abilities.

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The trails themselves are a combination of paved and gravel walking/riding trails through the park, residential roads, and proper trail climbs complete with roots and rocks. There are some downhill segments but definitely beginner-friendly and easily done on a cross country bike.

What was not ideal, however, was me on a full mountain bike and Bryan on a cyclocross bike. We took turns leaving each other in the dust: him climbing over flat, grippy surfaces like a champion, and me shredding anything downhill or with less traction like a bat out of hell. What WOULD be perfect is either an enduro or a cross country bike. Don't be like us. Dress and gear appropriately.

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There's still time to sign up for the Innovative Fitness Adventure Challenge (https://raceroster.com/events/2017/11617/innovative-fitness-adventure-challenge?target=blank) which supports two charities: Physical Literacy For Life and I AM SOMEONE Ending Bullying Society. The race itself is September 9th. If you want a fun day out with friends and a very BC way to get some exercise go ahead and sign up. If it's not your thing, come out and cheer the awesome folks who are out there killin' it or donate to one of the participants.

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Day 28 – My First Race!

The North Shore Mountain Bike Association here in BC runs enduro races called Fivers every couple of weeks in the summer.  It’s a great way to get out and have some fun at any level yet still feel the excitement of a race.  It’s only $5 to enter as long as you’re an NSMBA member.  Through this 45 day challenge I have kicked around the idea of finding something to race but was always too intimidated.  When I saw last night’s race course posted on the website, I couldn’t resist.  The climb was manageable, I knew 3/4 of the trails really well, and I had a day to try out the last trail.  Ryan and I scouted out the trail I’d never been on before (Oil Can) the night before the race to make sure I was actually able to do it.  It was challenging but went well.

Overall, I had the very achievable (I think) goal of just finishing the race before they took all the timing sensors down.  If I didn’t come dead last, that’d just be gravy.  While I’m still waiting for the results with other people’s times to be posted, by the looks of my Strava I went faster than I ever have before on those trails so in a race against myself, I definitely won.

 

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All day yesterday, I was filled with nervous energy.  I was so worried I’d crash, not finish, hold people up so they got mad, and any other number of panicky things that popped into my mind.  This led me to pacing around Ryan’s living room, waiting for him to be ready to leave and asking the VERY important (at the time) question:  “should I brush my teeth!?!?”  Just in case you’re curious, the answer was, “if it’ll make you feel better and calm down, go for it.”

After nervously lining up to get my timing chip and signed in, I got on my bike and headed up.  It was at that point that I realized that this experience was strikingly similar to….. just riding my bike.  I will admit, knowing you’re on a timer on the actual trails probably led me to be a touch zippier than normal, but for the most part I felt calm and confident just like a normal day on the trails.  Everyone was absolutely lovely.  No one made fun of me for being a newbie or slower than others and we were spaced out well enough that I only had to let someone pass me once in the whole course.

Ryan was waiting for me at the finish line which was the best feeling in the world.  Getting cheered on and also knowing that my very tired body got to stop soon left me beaming with pride.

After the race, we headed to Norco John Henry Bikes who were the sponsors for this ride.  They had food and drinks and a really fun mini bike race.  Yes, we got on the mini bike and raced.  No we didn’t win.  But it was a ton of fun and a great way to get to know the community of racers I’m in.

If you have a low-key type race like this near you, I highly recommend checking it out, even if you’re nervous.  If you’re upfront about your newness, I find that people are really understanding and kind.  Hopefully this is just the start of my racing career and I look forward to posting more race stories in the future.