My teammate Sam has been breaking the Internet (okay, maybe just our team Instagram and Slack channel) the past few months with a steady stream of increasingly impressive footage of her mountain bike feats. She’s always been better at jumps and drops than me, and while she was derailed for most of last summer with a dislocated thumb, she’s back with a new downhill bike and better than ever.
I think that everyone is experiencing some HSE right now, and where each of us fall on the spectrum of “the heady mix of disbelief, admiration, and envy” depends on how close we are to being able to replicate her achievements. When I imagine myself watching her in my XC days, I would fallen into the disbelief category, thinking, “Okay, apparently that’s a thing people do when they have downhill bikes and body armor?” While last week when she hit the “Patio Drop” at Mountain Creek, which is something that’s roughly on my two-year plan, it was more 40/60 envy and admiration. While she definitely has a high ratio of talent over forks given, as evidenced by her landing the largest progressive drop at Blue Mountain on a rented downhill bike her first time there, she’s continued to give a steady stream of the right kind of forks over the last couple of years to be good at what she does. And what she does looks good on camera.
I, on the other hand, discussed in detail my fear of drops just a couple of weeks ago, and this spring was the first time I actually tried to jump instead of just rolling all the tabletops. In the fall I was doing a lot skills drills in the local park and posting videos to try and show my progression, but I quit after that invited more man-(and woman)splaining than I wanted to deal with. Despite all that, I am lot faster this season on a wide variety of trails. While some people love the “flying” feeling of jumps and drops, I’m just not there yet. My buzz comes from whizzing down trails like Old Laurel, where I used to get hung up carefully choosing my lines, and now, at least on a good day, I’m starting see many moves into the future, pushing over large rocks at speed when I would have braked to avoid them before, and working the contours of the trail to gain my momentum back when I do have to brake. I’ve still got a long minute and 35 seconds to shave off if I want to break Meg Bichard’s 3:06 QOM on Old Laurel, but her time doesn’t seem as insane as it used to. I now know that there’s path to get there besides to let the brakes go and pray. Each Wednesday night, the circuits get burned in a little better and fire a little faster, but sadly this doesn’t show up on video. My skills aren’t Instagram-able, and most days I’m okay with that.
I had a good day at Blue Mountain this weekend where I got to improve my skills of both the photogenic and non-photogenic kind. Gloria and a bunch of Emmaus-area people were down in Rothrock Saturday to pre-ride the TrailMix course, so I mentioned we would be going to Blue the next day. We ended up with a six-person enduro crew at the park, and then we picked up another guy who’d never been there before and thought we looked like his sort of folk. Sam and Michaela were there with their downhill bikes, as well as Sam’s husband Kyle and their friend Carl. So we had a lot of people to ride with, which was super fun.
I’d gone to Blue with the objective doing some remedial drop practice since I regressed so much in the off-season. Despite not being that fun or exciting by many standards, the Happy Yummy Fun trail is the best trail out of any park that we’ve visited so far if you want to gain confidence at doing drops. The middle one is the perfect little baby booter, which is only about a foot from lip to base, has a nice straight run in and out, and the ground slopes away just enough that you can get air with a little bit of speed, but a last-minute brake check won’t send you over the bars. I probably could have spent my first hour there sessioning that trail, but I didn’t want bore everyone else with a million Happy Yummy laps.
I managed to sneak in a couple of passes on Happy Yummy Fun as we worked our way through most of the trails of the park. I was pretty happy to have ridden Night Train, the hella chunky enduro-specific trail at the outer edge of the park, cleanly for the first time. I also joined Sam and Michaela for a couple of laps of the downhill race course, which they will be competing on in a couple of weeks. I rode this run cleanly without stopping on the closing day of last year, but my hands were basically useless claws afterwards. This year we rode a slow, scouting run and then a full-ish speed run back-to-back. I wasn’t as fast as the rest of the group on my enduro bike, but I still felt very smooth and went a minute and a half faster than last year. However, the best part was at the end when they were all complaining about their legs cramping while my legs and back felt fine. I guess the combination practice and good form are starting to pay off, and it’s definitely easier to go faster when I’m not thinking about my burning quads.
People started leaving throughout the day, and we got separated from the rest of the Laser Cats, so the end of the day boiled down to a fun run with just me, Frank, Gloria, and Damien. It turned into the Happy Yummy Fun session that I’d been wanting, where Damien and I rode the easy middle drop a bunch, Frank and Gloria took a bunch of pictures, and we eventually got confident enough to link the second and third drops together. The one downside of the trail is that the biggest drop is at the beginning and it’s a lot harder to push back up to and start over, so we didn’t get that one. The third one was still a pretty good step for me, and some clever photography made it look cooler than it was. Or maybe it made the picture match the size of the personal accomplishment?
Admittedly, pictures are one of the more fun and easy-to-share ways to mark your improvement as a mountain biker, but there’s so much to it that a camera can’t capture. Sometimes it is something that even a GPS or race results can’t capture, like legs that don’t hurt after a downhill run, and those should be celebrated, too.