Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Slaty Fork Enduro: Chaos is a Rock Garden

Don’t fight in the North or the South. Fight every battle everywhere, always in your mind. Everyone is your enemy, everyone is your friend. Every possible series of events is happening all at once. Live that way and nothing will surprise you. Everything that happens will be something that you’ve seen before. – Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, Game of Thrones


While reflecting on what I wanted to say about the Slaty Fork Enduro a week later after I’d finally returned to a reliable Internet connection, I was a bit uninspired at first. Was it even worth going back and writing a report for a race that I had “won” unopposed? What I had I really learned or achieved other than getting one step closer to securing the Sport women’s series title for the West Virginia Enduro Series? Aside from the ever-present mud, the Slaty Fork Enduro was very different from the previous WVES race at Valley Falls. Unlike the drop-filled Valley Falls course, there was nothing that I “couldn’t” ride at Slaty Fork, but that still didn’t translate into a flawless race by any means. In that realization I began to contemplate the fluid definition of “can ride” and “can’t ride” when it comes to enduro.

Frank and I got up at 5:00 last Saturday morning to make sure that we were ready to ensure that we were fed, dressed, and ready to board the single noon shuttle for pre-riding in Slaty Fork, which was five hours away. Once we were on the trails and I realized how long and brutal the transitions after Stages 1 and 2 were, I started to wonder if the pre-ride was doing me more harm than good. It took me three hours to get to the end of Stage 3 and it was around 4:00 p.m. at that point. I’d seen video of most of Stages 4 & 5, and I was pretty sure a shower, food, and a good night’s sleep would probably do me more good than two more hours of bumbling through the woods trying to scout lines. I don’t regret my decision to get a ride back and get cleaned up and fed early in favor of pre-riding the last two stages.

TFW the first professional race photo of you all season is on a transition

On race day, the first three stages were mostly just fast and slick with no especially prominent features. I was pretty happy with my Stage 2, which didn’t necessarily suit me with its multiple transitions between pedally sections and fast, loose no-brakes stuff, but I stayed focused and did well within my current capabilities. The last few weeks I’ve been coming to the realization that as much work as I’ve been putting into increasing the bandwidth of features that I “can ride”, what’s really standing between me and the next level is weaning myself off my brakes when it’s fast and loose. So I spent a lot of Stage 2 trying to be hyper-aware of my urge to brake and trying ease my discomfort through attention to balance and body position rather than slowing down.

Luckily a couple more surfaced later.

After a slick and sloppy Stage 3 and shuttle to Stage 4, it was time to enter unchartered territory. Having not pre-ridden the last two stages, all I’d heard about was the “mile-long rock garden” at the beginning of Stage 4. It was actually funny listening to people in line complaining about it, while I was mostly looking forward to it, rocks kind of being my thing and all. At the same time, I didn’t really go in with expectations that I would clear the whole thing riding blind. Spoilers, I didn’t. I actually probably made as many mistakes as the self-professed rock haters did.

For all of its lack in features that I “couldn’t” ride, Slaty Fork still presented a vast array of challenges. Just because I have the capability to ride something cleanly still doesn’t always mean that I always will. It’s just that the consequences of failing to clean a rock garden are a lot less than failing to correctly land a drop.

I knew going into the day that I was the only Sport woman entered, so in some ways I didn't feel much competitive pressure. However, I was still disappointed to see that I had finished six minutes behind the last-place Expert woman when it was all over. To be fair, the same woman beat me by eight minutes at Big Bear and by four at Cooper’s Rock, so the margin has been pretty stable relative to the overall finish times all season. I just wish it was shrinking a bit more quickly. I have one more race left in West Virginia before I feel morally obligated to move up to expert, but a long way to go ability-wise if I don’t want to get utterly destroyed when I do.

In the time since the race I’ve reflected a lot about all of the areas in which I need to improve before next season. I thought about how, up until this point, I’ve focused so much on riding things that I previous couldn’t, which is of course cool and useful. However, with the exception of rare courses like Valley Falls, riding bigger and harder things won’t close that much of the gap between myself and the Expert women. My real gains will come from learning to do what I already know how to, but better and more consistently. Like the “mile-long rock garden”, it’s not enough to be theoretically comfortable with something under the best circumstances; I need to be ready to see multiple lines and executed any of them…and do it fast.

This is why I thought of quote at the beginning. Enduro is an amazing combination that requires a rider to be good at everything. As I finish up this season and prepare for the next, I’m challenging myself to let go of ideas about my strengths and weaknesses as a rider. Every trail is my enemy; every trail is my friend.


"Chaos isn't a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some, are given a chance to climb. They refuse, they cling to the realm or the gods or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is." - Also Littlefinger

No comments: