Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Few Words about the White Whale

Have I talked about the White Whale yet? I feel like I have, but what the hell. The White Whale is your own personal Moby Dick - that hill/bridge/climb/decent that continues to be unrideable for whatever reason. It haunts you and it remains just out of reach. I have a few of them, and one of them is the cement bridge that leads to the Forest Hill loop. I can now ride every other element in the park but that bridge. Mallie commented in my last entry to ask why I don't ride it (a valid question, as I do ride stuff that's much more technical) and here's my answer:

1. It scares me.

2. It's a 9 foot drop if you screw up.

3. At the bottom of the 9 foot drop is about 6 inches of water and a whole lot of rocks.

4. Getting on the bridge isn't straightforward - there's a big cement slab that you have to shimmy around, so the approach is from the side and you have to make a hard left to get on the bridge.

5. The bridge (which is only about two feet wide) has a raised center, so you feel like you're perched on the very tippy-top of it. This is a bad feeling.

Really, though, it's mostly a mental thing and a healthy fear of falling. I have actually ridden it a couple of times from the other direction (which is straightforward and also downhill so you have some momentum already) and it was pretty scary, but doable. I just need to conquer my fear and do it because I know I physically CAN, I just don't. I've gotten complacent about walking it and it never occurs to me to try to ride it anymore.

I'm a pretty cautious person in general so most of the technical aspects of mountain biking require quite a bit of courage for me. I should also mention that while I always loved to ride a bike, I was not a terribly athletic person for a good chunk of my life. I was overweight, sedentary and a smoker in my twenties, so at 35 I'm still learning the fearlessness most active people cultivate early on. Trust me when I say, it's harder if you start at 28 than if you start at 18.

Okay, so last night we eked out the remaining after work daylight and met some friends for a fast lap of Forest Hill. I always promise myself that I'll not try to keep up with the rider ahead of me or try to drop the one behind me (if there is one) but I can't help it - I have to try. I felt good and it was good to try. Towards the end I hit a section of the trail that's usually a breaking point for me if I'm tired - two uphill, rutted-out switchbacks in a row. They are the last tough section before the flats.

I headed for them and automatically started to slow down. Then I took a quick mental inventory and discovered that nothing really hurt - knees were good, lungs were good, legs were fine. I went for it and gritted it up those nasty little climbs. And took off afterwards like I was in a race. It was fantastic and I finished out the lap feeling strong. I actually have a race in a couple of weeks and I really hope this is how I feel October 14th. Fingers crossed.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Summer is Over. Wah.

We've actually been riding quite a bit but I've been lazy and not updating. Yesterday we meant to go to a ride/picnic gathering but I thought it was at Poor Farm Park and, uh, it was at Pocahontas State Park instead. Oops? So, hey, we got in a couple good laps at Poor Farm yesterday and then went back home for lunch. Mostly we've been trying to make the most of what after-work daylight we have left so we've been riding the Buttermilk Heights trail to Forest Hill and riding the never-gets-easier lap there. I know I've talked about it before - it's a three-four mile loop that is really technical and has a lot of climbing. It's also got a great set of whoop-de-doos (basically a trail that drops into and out of a deep ravine repeatedly, so it's sort of roller-coastery. Fun and scary.)

Here's the cement bridge of doom at the beginning of Forest Hill. I refuse to ride it:

Forest Hill Sept 07

An action shot at the top of a whoop:

Forest Hill turn Sept 07

The outside edge of this switchback turn goes straight down a hill. It took me weeks to get up the nerve to ride this:

forest hill switchback

Forest Hill is always a gut-wrenching challenge but the last quarter mile is all super fast singletrack so if you have anything left, it's fun to use it up there. It's a nice reward after all the climbing, for sure. I'm sad that this is probably the last week that after-work rides will be feasible. I don't night-ride so it's gonna be spin class at the gym for me. Bleh.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What, You Thought I was Kidding?

Every time I start an entry I'm consumed with guilt because of Jill. Dang it, girl, why do you have to make hard look so easy? It makes my bitching about the weather sound ridiculous. You're a tough cookie and have all my respect because even if I was brave/crazy enough to bike and camp alone the Alaska... I would have been on the next ferry back the minute I discovered all my food was soaking wet. Also, if I had to put my food in something designed to be BEAR PROOF I'm pretty much staying in a hotel.

I'm not a camper, though, and I'll be the first to admit it. Camping sounds like organized discomfort to me. Hell, I don't even like picnics. Really, I just mostly hate being wet, cold and uncomfortable more than just about anything. I'll take a humid sunny day, please! (Now, go read Jill's blog. It's way more interesting than mine.)

Now that I've got that off my chest, can I just up and admit that I know I'm a photo tease. I KNOW. I'm also now well aware that my husband and I approach mountain biking photography very differently. My method: pause briefly to snap a quick shot of something vaguely scenic. Kenny's method: stop and set up an action shot, direct wife on the exact spot on which to stand and the exact moment at which to push the button, all the while ignoring the eleventy billion mosquitoes that are happily feasting on her legs.

I took one (JUST ONE) scenic shot on our first trip out with the camera and Kenny mentioned that if the memory card ran out of room for action shots we could delete it. I got mad and told him that little nugget was going right in the blog. (AND HERE IT IS. HMPH.) He apologized and my pretty picture stayed.

Anyway, below are some shots we took last Sunday at Poor Farm Park near Ashland, VA. I should mention that MTB photography is really frustrating because the camera tends to flatten out hills, so even if it's really rad in person, not so much in the pictures. You'll just have to take my word for it, I guess.

It was a pretty day:

You can tell I took this shot because I managed to get the cell tower in it:

Kenny is not defeated by big roots:

This one looks steep but it's even more ridiculous in real life:


Oh, tiny wooden bridges. How I dislike you:

Sweet drop-in:

This is at the bottom of a really steep descent. I swear:

We are fast on the flats, yo:

Pretty! Aren't you glad someone didn't delete this?

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Amblus Blog: Now with 50% More Excitement!

Seriously, how boring am I? I have been riding, but it's all the same local loop in different directions. It's always hard, it's always hot, I get poison ivy and the mosquitoes love me like I'm made of creme brulee. (Which, judging by the size of my thighs, I am. Hmph.)

Anyway, today we are actually packing up the bikes and driving a whole 20 miles out of town to ride, AND, I have a brand new shiny Camelbak-pocket-sized digital camera, so I can take many shiny pictures with which to amuse all two of you who read this. Aren't I thoughtful? More later!