There is a saying in mountain biking, and it’s not very wise, that if you’re not crashing you’re not trying hard enough. The sentiment is good enough, that if you are crashing you are probably pushing your limits and trying new things, but really you can push your limits to an extent without falling on your head, I think the line was intended to make some bruised individuals feel better about their silliness. Why the ramble? Well a week ago I was at a loose end, wanted to ride my bike up near Perth after visiting a friend and asked on social media for ideas and riding buddies, I ended up at Dunkeld with a bunch of the usual suspects, all the makings of a great day out.
We set off from the car park after a bit of practice on the snow with some skidding and drifting from the more vertically coordinated and some slipping and wobbling from me. The initial pedal was a bit of a slog, it would probably be quite easy without the foot of snow but even the flat bits were hard work, the uphills were very challenging and the downs were fun! After my legs gave up on me and I resigned myself to pushing I admired the tenacity of some of the other riders in the group, still slogging on in the deep snow on a steep incline, sadists. Some guys passed me but I told myself they were fresher as they had parked closer and continued to push up, unaware of what lay ahead of me. Eventually the fireroad ended and I thought we were at the top but no, we were to push up further in increasingly deeper snow zig-zagging up a steep hillside to the mast at the top, the views made it all worthwhile and by the top the snow was fresh and a couple of feet deep.
After the obligatory time spent at the top faffing (my dropper post had frozen in the up – climbing- position) and taking photos we set off, I took the last position as I am quite aware I am slow and wobbly (and I am ok with that). No more than three meters into the trail and Laura was on the deck in front of me, instinctively I slammed on the anchors to avoid her and my back wheel overtook me, I skidded to a halt and was pinged over the bars, over 2 small pine trees and into a 3ft snow drift. Awesome, no, really, it was the most fun, silly crash I have ever had, I was too busy laughing about it to get up, I was stuck in the snow giggling like a kid and that is a brilliant feeling.
Back on my bike and I tried to follow the tyre marks down the hill but I have no idea what was up, I kept getting stuck in wheel ruts and being pinged off my bike at each corner, luckily it was always into a big pile of snow but it was very frustrating. Eventually I got down to the group to discover the last section was pretty techy and having already had enough of crashing I grabbed my bike in one hand, sat on my bum and slid down the last bit, wheeee! The next stage, I was warned, was a fair bit steeper and more technical than the last, oh great, I had already crashed four times, what could possibly go wrong?! I watched the group leave one by one, nailing the first tricky corner and pinballing down a steep, twist chute of a trail. Now my biggest weakness is steep stuff and one of the reasons I tagged along to Dunkeld was to push my limits on steep and try to beat the fear, so I just told myself to follow the group, look toward the next corner, the exit of the entry line, relax and go for it. I did. I rolled about two feet, straight into a log buried in the snow to the side of the trail, in my determination to look ahead at the next corner I had plowed right into the edge of the trail and came to a dead stop with my shin and forearm striking branches poking up from the log. Ouch. Ouch ouch ouch. I tried to get back on my bike but it was too steep, so I shouted to the group to carry on and decided to cut my losses and roll down the fireroad we had climbed up. Eventually. First it took me what seemed like an hour of slipping and shoving to get myself and my bike back up the 3 feet of slope to the fireroad, I was actually praying for someone to come down the trail and find me and help me get myself and my bike up as I felt totally stuck! I managed though, all by myself!
Fireroad down in the snow, wheeeeeeeee, splat! Oops, I decked it again, ok carefully now, avoid the big drifts. Wheeeeeee…. SPLAT, ouch that one hurt, ok a bit slower, stop being silly, seven crashes now, this must be a record, just get back to the van alive. Full face helmet, all the gear and rolling down the fireroad passing walkers on their way up and travelling at about 1 mph, I must have looked a vision, what a doofus!
Back at the van I was exhausted from trying to stay upright, my seatpost had frozen down by now so I had to stand to pedal on the flats, I had had enough and was happy to head home so I cleaned off my bike and had just finished when the others arrived. Apparently I didn’t miss much after I bailed but they all seemed happy enough. “Come and ride the next trail”, “It’s right up your street”, “Nothing like that stuff, not as steep”… so yes, I allowed myself to be peer pressured into getting my lovely clean bike all muddy again and off we went to ride the DH track. Now alarm bells should have gone off at this point, DH, Downhill track, the kind of track that you usually get a lift to the top of and ride down as it is too steep to ride up. The kind of insanity that the Athertons relish. I am not an Atherton, I do not like steep, I was cold, tense, nervous and bruised, so of course I went along with it. Fool.
The top of the downhill track looked ok, all stuff I could ride normally, just a bit of snow which is fine and creates a soft landing as long as you avoid the hidden logs and rocks, relax and enjoy I told myself. I think it was about 10 feet in this time before I was pinged off the trail as my bike hit some roots and my tense body refused to absorb the energy and instead rattled me off line. Relax and roll it, it’s all fine I said in my head. I tried my best to enjoy it but I was too tense and though I got to the bottom of the section without further incident I was unhappy, achy, stiff and really fed up, I really should have gone home when my bike was clean. We re-grouped at the next fire road and I asked for the easier route only to be told “you’ll be fine, just commit”, yes commited, I should be, I was ready for an early bath but once more I gave in and followed the group like a lemming.
Actually looks ok, I thought. Not too steep, I told myself. Just walk that big rock garden, you can do all the rest, I assured my body. Ow, ow, ow, this is sore, every root was hurting my arms and legs and I just could not relax, then SPLAT! I had missed the rock garden and realised halfway over it as my bike and I parted ways and I landed with a thud onto my lower back. Lying across the trail, looking at the tree tops I did think it looked rather lovely, once it all stopped spinning.
So now I am a week and a half into my 4-6 weeks of “taking it easy” under doctors orders. No heavy lifting, no backpacks, yadda yadda. I have never had so many hot baths in my life, I have done a bit of walking, some yoga and even got a TENS machine to see if it helps (the jury is still out on that but it feels nice). I have coaching this weekend with Jess Stone of Ridelines, I will be taking it easy but I NEED to get out on my bike, I am not good at rest. I will listen to my body and stop when I need to though. I guess the moral of my story is as much as it is good to push your limits and improve your riding you also need to listen to your body and mind, a broken body will not help your riding. When your arms and legs say “STOP” maybe, just maybe, you would be well advised to listen and take a break for coffee and cake. The trails will still be there when you are ready for them, I know I intend to get back to Dunkeld and show those slopes who is boss, just don’t tell my back that just yet!
Happy trails folks and stay safe!