Friday, August 19, 2016

Magic Kingdom

Last weekend Frank and I took our somewhat belated honeymoon to the Kingdom Trails in Vermont. Due to my general travel anxiety, expecting me to take on the stress of a trip immediately after the wedding would have been too much to ask, not to mention pulling me away from my W101 training. Now that both of my challenging but satisfying milestones of 2016 are comfortably behind me, we took the opportunity to sneak in some new trail experiences between Frank's summer and fall class sessions.

We'd planned this weekend for several months, but as our departure approached, the forecast looked pretty rainy and threatened to put a literal damper on our Kingdom Trails experience. There was an additional complication in the fact that chasing down Vermont unicorn beer is a lot harder than we had perceived it to be in our first pass of research. The line at The Alchemist starts forming at 10:00 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday and you need to get there slightly thereafter if you want to acquire some Heady Topper. We'd already made plans to drop off Princess Monster Truck (my Lust) with her new owner in New Hampshire Friday evening, so that left only Saturday morning after a late arrival on Friday night as the only window for the requisite Vermont beer mission. My advice to future travelers is to come earlier than Friday if you're planning a Monday departure. Monday is kind of a useless day in Vermont.

After the beer excursion, I was a little worried that we wouldn't get to ride, as the rain continued to fall through the morning and through our trip back to Burke. The Kingdom Trails website indicated that the trails were still 100% open, so we pressed on, and the rain miraculously stopped around the time we got changed and got on our bikes. Things were still a lot damper than ideal, but they had physical signs to close the trails at the entrances, so we decided we'd ride unless they told us not to. It was a little weird to be worried about wet trails again, since green, yellow, red has not been a regular concern in my life for more than two years. Although swoopy, flowy, purpose built trails are fun, I've definitely come to prefer the experience of riding my chunky, hard, old school backcountry trails in Rothrock, where rain just means you have to be more careful not to slip and rarely see more than 1-2 other people in a five-hour ride. But I guess it's good for the even the most curmudgeonly bike hermits to expose ourselves to new experiences sometimes.

We ended up only doing about 10-15 miles each day due to travel fatigue and wet conditions. I guess my other lesson learned was that, even if I stress about traveling, it's worthwhile to make longer trips when I do so that I have time to settle in and get more time to explore the new area. Rides on new trails feel way longer than the same distance at home, so if we want to fully see what a new area has to offer, we need to schedule more time for that.

Finally, on the way home Monday, we did a little detour to check out the Millstone Hill trails in Barre. In a weird way, I enjoyed this ride more than I did the Kingdom Trails even though we had a terrible time with navigation and it took us over two hours for a 5 mile ride. It was still very satisfying for me, though, as those five miles contained some of the hardest features that I've actually talked myself into riding. As I've mentioned before, a lot of Rothrock is technically difficult while still presenting a pretty low level of danger. If you mess up, you just fall over sideways at a 2 mph and bruise your hip or something. Endos and high-speed face plants have been rare, although that may change now that I'm focusing on getting faster at TSE enduro segments. At Millstone Hill, I found the courage to ride a lot of wooden features, drops, and steep sections that scared me, but I made it through them, so in a way, that was the highlight of my trip.

Of course, Tormund got his first scratch due to a dumb decision on my part, so we both rode away from the experience changed, although perhaps in ways that are for the best. He's a gnar bike by trade, and I'm trying to become a gnar rider, so maybe living through scary sections and scratches is what needs to happen for us to reach the next level together.

"Oooh, there's that church that people always post pictures of when they visit the Kingdom Trails!"

The #cambyfambly got to stay in the room with us on special bike hooks. Did I mention Frank got a Camber of his own?

Shredding some of the swoopier stuff on Day 2.

Climbing the fire tower seems like a great idea until you remember you have a crippling fear of heights.

The most ostentatious mountain bike trail entrance that I've ever seen at Millstone Hill.

#scenicquarryselfie at the the lookout in Millstone Hill.

Millstone Hill was full of features

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Our Week As Free Folk

After three whole posts dedicated to my recent bike purchase, the actual arrival of my 2016 Specialized Camber Expert Carbon 650b, aka Tormund Giantsbane, was overshadowed by the Wilderness 101. Since I’m on a Game of Thrones bike-naming theme of late, it was convenient to have a character with the name “Giantsbane” for the bike that pulled me away from my typical Giant brand fangirldom. The character Tormund is a wilding, one of those who reside north of the great ice wall that serves at the border of Westeri civilization, who prefer to call themselves “the free folk”. I think the name fits the bike well, as his arrival marked my freedom from months of rigid Wilderness 101 training and for how he indulges my refusal to reside in either the XC or the enduro boxes that Giant was offering. Our first week as free folk has been refreshing, and I can only hope it gets better as my legs continue to recover.

First Ride

Tormund actually arrived on Thursday afternoon before the W101, and training/taper plans be damned, I had to try him out. He climbs just as well as my Lust did, and I got a nearly one-minute PR on Bald Knob, a chunky, slightly downhill ridge top trail on which I’d fought to improve a mere 37 seconds on during the previous 15 months. One ride on Tormund, and BAM!, my Bald Knob game is at a whole new level. Rolling over chunk at reasonably high speeds seems to be his forte. The first time down McGuire was not my fastest, but I also wasn’t pushing as hard as I did when I set the QOM. I took it kind of easy while I figured out how he cornered and stuff. Although it wasn’t a blazing fast run, I can tell that he’s a lot more stable through the corners than my Lust, so I think we’ll rip with a bit more practice. The only downside is that the 130mm rear end does have a tendency to get bogged down and/or bounce weird when going over bigger rocks at slower speeds. It was a lot more manageable that it was with the Trance that I test rode, and I think I’ll be able to overcome it with practice and some adjustment to my monster-trucking technique.

Although our first week as free folk after the W101, was mostly spent trying to recover and doing trail bike inappropriate “easy” rides that didn’t turn out to be that easy, on Sunday Tormund finally got glimpse into his destiny. We took our first tentative steps (and yes, there were nearly as many steps as tire revelations) through the enduro stage of the Transylvania Epic.

Posing before Wildcat

You see, while part of me is relishing the freedom of having my big goal race done for the year, aimlessness on a bike is never been something that I’ve been able to enjoy. I think what I’ve really been wanting freedom from was not goals in general, but the panicked, cramming for finals, I’m not allowed to do anything else feeling that I’ve been feeling about the W101 the last couple of months.

This is mostly what drove my decision to put ‘cross on the backburner for the year. Last season I learned that “being in good shape” wasn’t enough for a successful ‘cross season, and that if I wanted to do well this year, it would mean jumping into a rigorous interval regimen as soon as the W101 was over. I’m just not willing to do that right now, so I’ve resigned myself to another season of “going through the motions ‘cross”. Since that is the case, I also figured why bother putting myself through those horrible, hot, dusty early season points grab races when I could be enjoying the real mountain biking that I’ve been missing out on all summer. I would probably skip the season altogether, except that ‘cross is an important part of the Laser Cat lifestyle and the only time of year that the whole team comes together at the same races. So it’s worth a few weeks of going through the motions for the social aspect.

Instead of cramming for ‘cross in August and September, I’ll instead focus on more relaxed pre-work for my big goal 2017, which is the Transylvania Epic. Although the race covers many of my old standard trails, with five days of racings, there’s still a lot of stuff that I’ve never seen. My focus for the next 6-8 weeks is to explore as much of the unfamiliar parts of the TSE as possible, as well as reacquaint myself with old favorites that I’ve missed out on because of the W101 (Hello, John Wert). In keeping with my tradition of weird, hard, obscure goals that more dependent on knowledge and stubbornness than speed, I’m following up my basic goal of simply finishing the week with no regard to GC placing with the stretch goal of actually being competitive in the enduro classification. While my enduro career has not been a rousing success so far, I have the advantage of practice, practice, practice on my side, as well as the fact that I don’t think that many women show up with the focus of actually trying to win the enduro category. I think Meg Bichard’s appearance this year was the first occurrence of an actual female pro enduro racer showing up with the intention of winning that classification. I chose the Camber for the specific purpose of being the biggest bike that I thought I could comfortably pedal around for five days of hard, climby stages, while still having better descending ability than an XC bike.

Bottom of Old Laurel

Yesterday was my first time down Wildcat and Old Laurel, which wasn’t an impressive start to my journey, but the beauty is that I have many, many chances to improve in the next 10 months. Hopefully, my recent experience with learning to ride No Name on a hardtail is typical on how quickly I can improve once I conquer my initial fear of something. I also can’t wait to see what No Name with Tormund will be like!

During the next few weeks I look forward to being able to work towards a goal without feeling like it consumes my whole life. Besides TSE trail time, we’ll also try to work in other fun things that I didn’t make time for while training for the W101, namely a honeymoon. We’ll be heading to the Kingdom Trails in Vermont in a couple of weeks for our belated honeymoon (mine and Frank’s, I mean), and we’ll try to check a few other trails outside of Rothrock before settling into ‘cross. I doubt we'll run wild forever, but for August and September, I'm looking forward to being one of the free folk!