Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Week #6: Southbound and Pointed Down

Last week was full of ups and downs, both literally and figuratively.

It began with the arrival of my new Liv Hail 1, named Brienne the Beauty in keeping with my Game of Thrones themed mountain bike naming convention. I know you may be thinking, “Hail, what?”, since a few shorts months I devoted a three-post series to my pursuit of the ultimate Rothrock-worthy quiver killer. I still stand by my Specialized Camber 650b aka Tormund Giantsbane, as the best all-around bike for “Rothrock XC”, but the more I was able to push myself on bigger and scarier descents with Tormund’s help, the more I was struck with an ever-increasing case of big bike FOMO. Frank ended up buying a Camber of his own about a week after I bought mine, but kept his BMC Trailfox and would regularly remind me how much fun it was to just plow over stuff at full speed during our enduro rides. Even though I did find the single best all-around Rothrock bike in Tormund, “N+1” are the ever-resounding words of House Stec, so finally I was like…

Now I have an appropriate bike for trying out some bike park riding later in the summer, and if I still suck at enduro racing this season, at least I won’t be able to blame the bike. Tormund will still be my go to for the Tussey and Cooper’s Gap stages of the TSE, and Brienne will get the enduro stage in the middle.

The joy of my new big-girl beauty quickly turned to frustration mid-week when the previous week’s dump of snow had completely melted off by Wednesday and the temperature rose to a mountain-bikeable 50 degrees. But, you know, work. I probably should have had the forethought to “get sick” on Tuesday evening after pedaling Brienne to the local park in the rain and hucking her into the wood chip-covered drop into the playground a few times before dark. Then the temperature dropped and six inches of snow fell during the night on Wednesday. The weekend temperatures were predicted to be in the mid-to-upper 40’s, which would be just enough to turn the snow into a slushy mess but not actually clear it. Luckily, Frank pointed out that the weekend forecast for Harrisonburg, VA was 62 Saturday and 69 on Sunday. A call to a local bike shop confirmed that the trails were clear, and our weekend plans were set.

We had a bit of trouble planning our routes, since our bike choices favored non-technical and preferably not-too-steep climbs and technical descents. Not knowing the area at all, we had to rely on MTB Project suggested rides, which all seemed like 6-9 miles of climbing and then 6-9 miles of descending per loop. I guess their mountains are just bigger down there, but I think I prefer our 1-2 mile climbs and descents that allow you to fit a few runs per ride. Still, you take what you can get in February, so upon our arrival in the George Washington National Forest, we proceeded to climb the 8.5 paved miles to the top of Reddish Knob.

Our hardest-earned #scenicvistaselfie to date

For the descent that followed, imagine this video with less snow, more mud, and the riders arriving at the windy, overcast top sweating in their shorts and short sleeves from grinding their 30 pound bikes up for over an hour and a half, then getting hypothermic.

Stokesville from Salsa Cycles on Vimeo.

Needless to say, I didn’t look that cool bumbling through the first section of singletrack with my numb hands and bike that I hadn’t quite learned how to handle. “Big floppy bike!” became the rallying cry for the weekend every time I went off line in a slow rocky section. Bri was definitely made for high-speed plowing, not low-speed finesse. Sadly, we didn’t get as much of the latter as we had hoped, because we took a wrong turn shortly after getting to the actual good downhill singletrack and ended up at the road we had originally climbed up instead of the good descent we were supposed to go down. The good news was that we weren’t really lost or far from the car, but the bad news was that the 3-mile paved coast back to the car wasn’t the reward we were hoping for when we set out on our 8.5 mile climb. With less than an hour before sunset, we resigned ourselves to getting dinner and beer earlier than planned and hoped for better navigation on Sunday.

Sunday’s ride was more successful navigation-wise, but even less Big Floppy Bike appropriate. First we rode the Lookout Mountain Loop, which only had 7.5 miles of mixed pavement and gravel climbing before some rolling, rocky benchcut, and finally a mostly-sustained descent at the end.

We then jumped in the car and headed a few miles down the road for the Narrowback Loop, which was very obviously not Big Floppy Bike appropriate, but it was highly rated and looked like a relatively easy way to get a couple more hours of riding in before we headed home. It was actually a pretty fun loop, although it might have been more so on the Cambers. It started with a more-reasonable length gravel climb up to a rocky ridgetop trail that rolled along for a while before descending to another gravel road. Another gravel road transition took us to the next section of singletrack, which upon our arrival, I recognized as the section that Harlan took us on during the women’s MTB camp last fall. I knew that the climb up to the top of the ridge was tough, and with four hours of Big Floppy Bike riding already under my belt for the day, my ego was not above walking a lot of it. I rode the little droppy-jawn that we’d sessioned during camp without hesitation, and proceeded to the long, screaming descent back down to the car.

Said Droppy-Jawn

All in all, it was really awesome to escape winter for a weekend and get some Big Floppy Bike acclimation in with Brienne, even if she wasn’t quite in her element. So far the forecast is looking good for this weekend, so I’m hoping to introduce her to Wildcat on Sunday and really see what she can do. Since I haven’t seen Wildcat in five months, I’m afraid that I’ll have lost some of the nerve that I built up at the end of the summer, but I think last weekend was good for blowing out some of my MTB cobwebs. I’m really excited for the possibilities that this season presents now that I’ve fully achieved by my mountain bike #squadgoals. Now it’s just up to me to make sure they reach their potential.

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