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.

3 comments:

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!