Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Windrock Beneath My Wings

It’s been seven weeks since my last post, so I’ve obviously fallen off of my plan to make bi-weekly updates on my mastectomy recovery. As I mentioned in my previous post, work quickly ramped up to an unsustainable level pretty much as soon as I came back full-time, and I’ve spent the better part of three months digging myself out of a hole, which often included working a couple of hours at home most Saturdays and Sundays to try to catch up. I simply didn’t want to spend any more time in front of a computer, making updates on my physical health while my mental health was falling apart.

Frank and I just returned from a five-day trip to Tennessee, and I took an additional day off of work today to recover from the trip. I’ve caught up on all of the work email that came in while I was gone, and I am happy to say that, despite having back-to-back meetings for my entire morning tomorrow, it appears that my upcoming workload will finally be manageable for the foreseeable future. Today is the closest that I’ve come to feeling relaxed and sane in about a month, and even then, that was a very short window.

Despite the stress, my physical health has continued to improve. I realized soon after returning to riding that I would need to choose whether to focus on my pedaling fitness or my downhilling skills for the rest of the summer. Ultimately, I made the fun choice to just do a lot of practice runs and bike park days for the rest of the season and not to worry about the stamina that I had lost. It’s better than it was a couple of months ago, but it’s more incidental improvements that come from pedaling up to downhill runs than any concerted effort to get back into shape. I figure that I can work on that this winter when the weather is too crappy for fun stuff.

The good news is that, as far as downhilling speed, I’m 100% back to where I was last year and even beginning to set PRs again. My stability and muscular endurance still have room for improvement, but I can basically make it down any trail in Rothrock fully pinned without falling apart now. Any fears that I might not be able to return to enduro racing after my double mastectomy have been officially put to bed.

However, despite knowing that I’m physically capable of returning to racing, I’ve still decided not to do so for a while. This weekend was supposed to be my first race of the season at Cooper’s Rock, but race weekends can be exhausting and stressful, despite how fun they can also be. A big part of my feeling relaxed and sane right now is the fact that I decided to stay home, rest, and do chill rides in Rothrock instead of racing. There are no WVES races in July, so I also decided the ESC and MASS “maybe races” that I had on my calendar for July also weren’t worth it. We are taking a big trip to Colorado in August, which conflicts with any races we would have done in that month, so it’s looking like my entire race season will be eight days long in September. The WVES final in Snowshoe is September 22, and the Raven Enduro is September 29. Snowshoe is my favorite race, and the Raven is, well, the only one State College has. (That’s a little Crazy Ex-Girlfriend joke for you.)

Besides just needing more time to rest, my reduced race season can also be attributed to the feeling that I’m “behind” on my bike park riding for the year. We went to Blue Mountain once a few weeks ago, but we still haven’t been to Mountain Creek or any other of Northeast or Mid-Appalachian parks. Leaving July open for bike park trips definitely seemed like a better use of the time than races. Luckily, we did get cross Windrock off our list for the year, albeit much later than planned.
We headed down to Maryville, TN on Thursday and returned yesterday. We got to see three out of four Prater brothers, as we stayed with Sarah and Josh, and Jayne and Luther were staying there, as well.

Friday was an easy warm-up day with a few leisurely laps of Baker Creek Preserve. Last year we rode all three of the downhill trails, including Devil’s Racetrack, but ultimately just ended up doing laps of the green trail, which we liked the best. This year we skipped Devil’s Racetrack, knowing that it was still well outside of what we would actually enjoy at our current ability level. However, it was a pleasant surprise to find that the green trail was now a little boring and that the blue trail now served the size of jumps that we enjoyed the most.

Saturday was our big day at the Windrock downhill park, and it was extra fun because Josh rented a downhill bike and joined us. He used to race downhill professionally in the early ’00s, so even with a rented bike and slightly rusty skills, he was still way faster than us. We benefitted from being significantly less rusty than the last time we visited, since our previous visit was an attempt to escape winter in late March of 2018, and we found Windrock to be quite a shock to the system when you haven’t been riding much.

Although I can still attest that a Windrock blue is equal to a black at most parks and even a double black at some of the places we visited last year, we were much more confident and capable this time. This time we were smart enough to ask locals about the progression of the black trails, and we did pretty okay on the two “easier” black trails that we tried this time, Shark Fin and Snake Rock. I pulled off a few moves that on these trails where I really surprised myself at how far I’d come, even to the point where I found myself passing Frank and singing “I’m a Big Kid Now” while cleaning a gnarly section that he had walked. I definitely enjoyed Windrock much more this visit and left feeling sad that it was 10 hours away.

Our final day of riding was the Windrock XC trails, which we’d never ridden before. Sunday was the hottest day, and I was very sore from so many long, strenuous runs at the bike park the day before. The singletrack climb to the top of the ridge is called “EZ Up”, but it is anything but. The grade is rideable but unrelenting steep, with very few flatter parts on which to recover. There are also quite a few very tight, steep switchbacks, and enough technical spots to mess me up when I’m already gassed.

Mixtape also offers a good #scenicvistaselfie opportunity, if you're willing to slow down.

While I was glad to be wearing my lighter-weight “XC” kit (I’ve officially broken up with spandex), half-shell, and no knee pads on the climb, it did affect my confidence on the two downhill trails we did. The first one was called Mixtape, and it was really fun, but the second was called MR2, and I was not a fan. It started as narrow, technical bench cut with a steep drop off from the edge, which always scares me, and dissolved into WV-style off camber where you can see where people have slid down the hill. We ran into a giant, impassable downed tree before we finished this trail, but luckily, we were able to find a reasonably easy way back to the car. Although my first visit to these trails wasn’t the most fun, I would love to come back less tired and better protected to try them again.

Although taking a big trip after weeks of work stress was difficult, I’m glad we got to visit our human friends and trail friends to the south. I’m also happy that I’ve built some time into my schedule to recuperate the next couple of weeks. Hopefully, the rest of the summer goes a lot more smoothly and is filled more PR’s, bike parks, and just enough pedaling.