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.


Mallie said...

Hey. Wasn't picking on you. Pictures often don't convey how "scary" something is. Especially technical stuff.

I've got tons of those white whales myself. I didn't start biking until I was in my thirties, so I hear you on having to build up the "no-fear" factor.

Haven't forgotten those core exercises. You WILL have before weekend is over.

Amblus said...

I really didn't think you were picking on me! It was a completely valid question and probably one I would have asked too.

Mallie said...

Everyone has "triggers". Log hops and bridges don't bother me. Steep downhills, especially with loose rocks, scare the bejesus out of me!