Of Offseasons and Mountain Bikes

Oct 15 - Nov 11 (4 weeks)
S:  20,700 yds - 5hr 2min
B:  249.67 mi - 19hr 31min
R:  29.15 mi - 4hr 3min
Total:  28hr 37min

The last 4 weeks has been rather nice.  Wake-up times for the first 10 months of the year were usually between 5 and 5:30 am.  In the last 5 weeks, I don’t think I’ve ever woken up before 6:30am.  It’s been great!  I've done some baking, some eating, some good beer drinking, some traveling, some light training, and in general just whatever I want:

the bluff of Shades Mountain at sunset via bicycle
pumpkin bread, ready for the oven
pumpkin bread, final product
Houston at sunrise

Training over the last month has been pretty non-existent, which is how it should be for at least some portion of time after a tough season.  After almost a year of grinding at the millstone, it was time for a break.  I’ve enjoyed the copious amounts of free time that I now have at my disposal, although admittedly it does get kind of boring sometimes.  To ease my boredom, I did what any rational person would do: buy a new bike.  Per this simple formula n = c + 1, where n is the number of bikes that one should own and c is the number of bikes that one currently owns.  In all seriousness, however, I’ve been thinking about buying a mountain bike for a long time now.  Intense peer pressure at work to buy one has been going on for the last 5 years.  Although I’ve always thought that riding dirt sounds fun I have just been putting it off, telling myself that I’m too scared and that there was no need to potentially kill myself on the trails.  However, as the years have gone on I’ve been getting more and more of a desire to try some new things in the world of endurance sports so I finally decided to pull the trigger on a Specialized Stumpjumper hard tail 29’er.

new addition to the collection
all shiny and clean, for now

I feel like I possess a decent amount of knowledge in the realm of road and TT bikes.  I can install or remove pedals, cassettes, cranksets, wheels, and I can make somewhat successful tweaks on both the front and rear derailleur.  But mountain bikes are a whole different story.  Hydraulic disc brakes, front suspension, wider wheels, handlebars, chain ring and cassette size, what’s good and what’s not in all these areas…everything is just different.  This made the decision making process slightly overwhelming, but luckily I’ve got some really good friends…a number of bike mechanics, long time mtb’ers, and people that have been around the industry for decades that were willing to answer the bazillion questions that I had.  After finally pulling the trigger, it was time to get on some dirt!  Now, I have known all along that I’m pretty much a wuss when it comes to cycling.  Over the years, I’ve become pretty comfortable riding in pelotons and such on the road, but the thought of riding on very narrow singletrack on rocky, rooty, and loose/uneven terrain really scares the crap out of me.  I’m always thinking of the worst possible thing that could happen, and it’s just plain scary.  On the road, I have no problem riding in groups, bombing down hills at 50 mph (at night even), or laying the bike down in a sharp turn, so that kind of tells me that I just need to get some miles on the trail and everything will be fine. 

With that being said, for the past 3 weekends I’ve taken the mtb out to Oak Mountain for some dirt ridin’.  Ride #1 was slightly terrifying, and by that I mean it was the most terrifying thing that I have done in quite some time.  New bike, new terrain, trails I’ve never seen…it all culminated in this feeling of complete vulnerability.  Frank Gable (a fellow engineer at work) agreed to meet me out there and show me the ropes.  We started out on the lake trail (very wide) and that was good.  I was uncomfortable, but mainly because I didn’t know how fast I could safely ride or how fast I could take turns.  Next we did the rattlesnake trail, which is a windy singletrack with some rocks and roots and a couple of logs.  Frank would stop before the technical sections and let me know what was coming and that helped out a lot.  It has come to my attention that knowledge of the trail can make a huge difference!  After doing the rattlesnake, family, and Mr. Toad trails, we decided to do the first part of Jekyl and Hyde, which is roller coaster of ups and downs with the way out being a nice climb.  This was great and I felt fine on the way out, but on the way back was a different story.  At that point, the day started to set in.  I was getting very hungry, it was getting dark, and I was losing focus (note to self: don’t play 18 holes of golf before your first mtb ride).  I found out first hand that losing focus on the mtb is not a great thing to do.  I crashed 2x on the way back.  Both were at very slow speeds and were not serious at all.  Both times my wheel just barely got off the trail due to lack of focus and I went down.  All in all in was a good ride and I learned a ton. 

The next weekend I headed back out to Oak Mountain for ride #2.  I decided that I would just hang out on the lake trail and get more comfortable on the bike.  After 3 out-and-backs on the trail I was 100% more comfortable on the bike and was completely comfortable going much faster than my first ride.  It was awesome.  Ride #3 took place the next weekend.  I started off on the lake trail (did it 2x) to get warmed up and “get my bearings”.  By then I was ready to get off so I headed to the rattlesnake trail.  It was MUCH easier than the first time and I had no issues besides having to walk up 2-3 rocky spots.  Next, I did the family trail and Mr. Toads.  By then I was about ready to be done riding trails but then I decided to head up the Peavine Falls Road climb on the road, just to get some extra time in on the bike and enjoy a good view.  It's a nice 20 minute climb (on a mtb at least) with a sweet overlook at the top.

top of the Peavine Falls Road climb

So far, riding the mtb has been awesome.  I’ve learned a lot in only 3 rides and I think getting out of my comfort zone on the bike has been good for me.  Maybe one day I’ll do some mtb races, but I am planning on doing Southern Cross in February; it’s a 50 mile cross race with 6,680 ft of climbing in the north Georgia mountains (starting in Dahlonega, GA)…what could be better!??  I especially like the write-up for the course description:
Hard. There will be steep climbing, descending, a couple mean run-ups, and a handful of barriers. Do not underestimate the difficulty of this event. The weather, if nasty, can add another element of difficulty. The course mileage is ~50'ish with the largest percentage of it on gravel roads. There will be one TOPEAK support/aid station. You bring your supplies (MUST FIT IN ONE GALLON SIZED ZIPLOC BAG OR SMALL COOLER- NO SPARE BIKES OR WHEELS) if you want to use the drop and we will transport them to and from the aid station. We'll also have some basic fluids and snacks there (typical Aid station food) as well as a Joe Blow pump, a workstand, and some Topeak tools. There may or may not be a mechanic available to help so don't rely on that and be prepared to work on your own bike.
Sounds like it's going to be a blast!  Who knows…if I improve enough over the next couple of months, I might even try out some Xterra races next year as well…we’ll see.

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