A New Addiction?

27 09 2009

I broke the seal yesterday and took an intro class at the climbing gym. I wasn’t sure what to expect in a class atmosphere, but it was pretty tolerable. Usually, I like to jump into stuff with both feet while I’m learning. But with climbing, I quickly found out that’s not possible. There are harnesses to be buckled, knots to be learned and phrases to remember.

I never would have stuck with snowboarding if I hadn’t taken those first few lessons. And, I only wish I could have had the same experience with mountain biking — rather than learning through failure. Anyway, I was sure to pay close attention yesterday.

While learning our figure 8 knots, we were told that we will be judged by other climbers on how well we tie them. I immediately thought of my uncle chastising me about how I tie boat lines around the pilings on the dock… Judgment or not, safety first.

The class was three hours, with a break half-way through. The first half had us learning how to get into our (very uncomfortable) harnesses and tying our knots. After our break, we learned how to belay and the details of how the equipment works. This particular gym teaches the BUS method of belaying, which I had a little difficulty with for some reason. Something about moving my brake line arm up and down didn’t feel right. I’m sure I’ll get he hang of it, since I’m planning on going back to the gym as soon as possible. I think the added pressure of having another person’s safety in your hands was f’ing with me, too.

My climbing partner and I were paired up with a third person because the size of the class was large, and I wasn’t the only one having trouble with the belaying. It looked like our third was seriously taking my partner’s life in her hands. She spent more time with her brake line up than down. I was back-up belay and it was all I could do not to grab the rope from her and yank it down.

I did learn first-hand how important the anchor line is, too. Our third wheel partner was, shall we say – a little heavier than me – and I had to belay her on my first attempt. We were also left with one of the hardest sections of the wall to practice on. When she slipped, I wasn’t expecting to be lifted from my feet. Note to self: get my own harness, asap – dinky harnesses hurt the groin.

I had an awesome time climbing up some different routes on the wall and surprised myself a little with my own enthusiasm. I didn’t want to leave. I’m sold and can’t wait to go back to the gym. Winter is coming and I hear that El Nino is making a return with the promise of a lot of natural snow this year. And fall is the best time for mountain biking in this area. Now my poor mountain bike (along with my snowboard) is sitting in the garage with a lonely look, and I’m wondering how I’m going to squeeze my new activity into my hobby schedule. Not such bad problems to have, I suppose.

Another Go

21 02 2009

Original Post: Sunday, September 9, 2007

#3: Frederick Watershed, Fire Pond Loop
Falls: 0 Stops: 4

As I write this, I’m enjoying the cushy-ness of my couch after a shower and our favorite post-ride/-tennis/-hike lunch: burgers.

I was ready this time — ready in the sense that I knew what to expect on the trail and was looking forward to giving it another go. After the ride in Hashawha, I was eager to see how my perspective had changed for the watershed. Would I actually prefer the rock beds to the innumerable hills of my last ride? Wearing my new gloves and new shorts (padding for my hands and my ass!), I set out on the blue trail again.

Turns out, my perspective had changed. It’s amazing what a little (and I mean little) muscle memory will do. I was traversing the rocks and stumps with a tad more grace this time. My eyes were still trying to jiggle themselves out of my skull, but I’m starting to get used to it.

Somehow each hill snuck up on me today. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism I have. After each ride, I forget all of the really hard parts, ensuring that I’ll get back on the bike and ride another day. All of the 4 stops mentioned above were due to uphill climbs. My climbing ability (even without rocks) consists of pedaling uphill until it feels like I’m about to blow a gasket in my quadricep. Of course followed by not-so-zen-like heaving breaths after walking the bike to the top. Don’t get me wrong. I did pedal up most of the hills, just not the 4 steepest ones. Although I’m guessing they really aren’t that steep…

I was informed today by you guessed it, my husband-slash-biking partner-slash-smartass that I need to work on my body placement. No shit. Then I was encouraged to go over every log on the last half of the trail. Not little logs, monster logs from trees that were probably standing during the Lincoln administration. Nope. Besides, don’t I need better body placement to navigate those things?? I was just happy that I wasn’t grunting (read: screaming) nearly as much, and that I managed to stay on top of my bike. We’ll work on body placement some day soon — promise.

Up and Down and Back Again

21 02 2009

Original Post: Wednesday, August 29, 2007

#2: Hashawha Environmental Center, Yellow & Blue Trails
falls = 0 (v.g.) stops = at least 6 (b.)

I took a little too long making my decision to go on this ride last weekend. I knew it was hotter than hell and really humid outside, even at 9am when I was looking at Hashawha’s website. I read a review that talked about the trails being somewhat-rock-free singletrack. It sounded doable enough for a hot day, so we loaded up my truck and headed out.

Looking forward to another two-wheeled adventure, I pulled into Hashawha and picked up a trail map on the way to one of the parking lots. To my delight, there were only a few of cars in the lot and two were leaving as we unloaded. To my dismay, the trail map was hand-rendered with no compass star or legend — very frustrating for a graphic designer!

Being the overachievers that my husband and I are, we decided to take the blue trail from our parking area, meet up with the yellow trail, continue to the green trail and make a wide loop of the entire park, ending up back at the parking lot. I added up all of the funky distances for each trail and came up with about an 8 mile ride. No problem, right? I don’t like eating much before exercising, so breakfast consisted of a small yogurt and frozen (organic!) waffle, plus the Luna bar I scarfed on the way to the park. Little did I know that this would matter in the hour to come…

The ride started out nicely enough. Just as the reviewer said — smooth trails through some nice wooded areas, a nice downhill to get things going. We followed the blue trail a short distance past the raptor cage ( ! ) then connected to the yellow trail. Rolling along through intermittent wooded areas and corn fields, we had to stop periodically to double check the map as the trail posts are sometimes double marked (ie. two yellow arrows pointing in different directions).

The paths we were hitting were definitely singletrack, with trees and sticker bushes nice and snug against my legs as we whipped through. There wasn’t much in the way of scenery, but I was too busy paying attention to the trail in front of me to mind. Things began to get a little hairy, and on more than one uphill climb, I ran out of gas and had to walk the bike up. All the while, my show-off of a husband pedaled on ahead of me, waiting at the top of each hill. I was starting to appreciate our less-than-perfect map because it was giving me lots of excuses to stop and rest. I really wasn’t expecting so many hills! Thankfully, the rocks and roots were still at a minimum.

As we made our way further along the yellow trail, I became painfully aware that I was bonking. I was taking in plenty of water, but my energy was gone. I barely made it up a really steep rocky incline (walking!) midway through the ride — one where Chris even dismounted his bike. By the time I reached the top, I could not form a complete sentence without stopping every word or so to inhale deeply. “Maybe I could lay down for a while…” I thought. After taking a 5 minute break, we were off again.

I started formulating a plan as we rode through some rockier descents. Recognizing the jello-leg feeling I get after a strenuous yoga class, I wasn’t exactly trusting my body to return me safely to our starting point. It took a while to figure out when to tell my husband that we were going to skip the green trail, because every time I was about to say something, I was met with another hill to conquer. Conquer them I did not.

Here’s how the soundtrack went in my head: “Okay, hill. Shift to granny gear. Pedal. Pedal, girl! Keep moving. Oh. No. Why aren’t my legs working? Am I going backwards?!” Followed by an audible, “Uuuuuugghhhhh.” Followed by me getting off of the bike and pushing it — rather, dragging it — up the hill. I was starting to feel a little defeated.

We stopped so many times, making the ride take longer than anticipated, that my husband agreed to my plan of following the yellow trail back around to the blue trail to wrap up our ride. Sigh of relief. However, I still had to navigate a few more hills. This ride was giving me great experience in shifting and using my momentum to get me back uphill — two things I desperately need to improve.

The descents that remained were a feat of leg strength for me. Even balancing on my (jello) legs was proving to be a problem at this point. After nearly skidding into a nice poplar tree, I was ready to smack myself. I gained my composure and zen’d out for a second then continued pedaling on. Every descent that followed came with the internal chant, “Ass behind the seat! Easy breaks!”, until we found ourselves back out at the cornfields. Never in my life was I so happy to see a cornfield.

At this point, I didn’t need the map anymore. I was sniffing my way back to the truck like a bloodhound. We did take a break at the raptor cages, which house several birds of prey with permanent injuries. Since they wouldn’t survive in the wild, they are taken care of by the preserve and used for educational purposes. If you want to stand within a few feet of a bald eagle, I highly recommend.

I knew now that we only had a short distance left, and feeling a new energy, I was ready to continue. I made it down the next hill without relying heavily on my breaks and actually kept enough momentum to pedal my way up the following hill. If anything gave me a sense of accomplishment for this ride, it was my success on this last hill…

…even if I did step in dog shit on my way back to the truck.

Screaming…lots of screaming

21 02 2009

Original Post: Tuesday, August 28, 2007

#1: Frederick Watershed, Fire Pond Loop
falls = 1 (v.g.) stops = 3 (g.) screams = way too many

We arrived at the small parking lot in the watershed before 10am to very few cars and a couple who were about to leave. I felt pretty confident about the short ride we were about to do, as I had done the loop as a hike with the dog. I remembered the route as semi-flat, without a lot of rocks and roots – which are four-letter words to me at this stage in the game. (Okay, they really are four-letter words, but you get my point).

Imagine my surprise when the trail soon turned into a bed of rocks followed by a downhill loaded with, yes, more rocks. This is when the screaming started. Well, maybe I wouldn’t call it screaming as much as high-pitched grunts, followed by lots of “oh-my-God” and “howdopeopledothis?!” Of course, this was accompanied by my husband’s laughter, much further ahead on the trail.

I realized at this point that if I was going to enjoy myself I needed to gain some composure. As goofy as this sounds, I allowed my inner yogini to take over and regulate my breath. My smooth inhaling and exhaling allowed me to get through the uphill climbs and rocky descents that followed. While the hills probably aren’t steep by typical mountain biking standards, they sure felt it to this inexperienced rider. It really is hard to maintain concentration when your eyeballs feel like they’re about to jiggle out of your skull.

As if the hills, rocks, roots and eye jiggling weren’t enough, I still had to remember when and how to shift. It may sound simple to you, but to me…very complicated. I kept shouting, “Thumb is easier or index finger???! How do I make it easier???!” To which my husband would reply, “Don’t you remember?!” Thanks, dear, big help. Needless to say, I committed it to memory within the first 15 minutes.

Another skill that escaped me at first was what I should do with my feet when gliding over rocky areas. Being so consumed with actually looking at all of the pointy rocks below me, and afraid to go even faster over said rocks, I stopped pedaling and started tapping my breaks. I learned quickly, however, that falling presented itself as the only option. After landing on an upright root and having it jam itself into my left upper thigh instead of, ahem, another place not so far away, I asked my laughing husband what I did wrong. “You stopped pedaling!” he offered. Note to self: keep pedaling.

Shifting: check.
Keep pedaling: check.
Fear was next on the list. Somehow I knew that this wasn’t going to be conquered in one ride. So, with a healthy dose of fear in my system, but a better understanding of the mechanics of riding, I finished without any other mishaps. Oh, there was still a lot of scream-grunting and one or two stops for a drink of water (I’ll tackle the drinking-from-Camelbak-while-riding skill at a much later date), but I felt really great after I completed the loop.

I was actually kind of disappointed when I saw the parking lot appear through the trees. A good sign, considering the last time I tried mountain biking I was looking for the finish line a mile into the ride.

Beginning, Again

21 02 2009

Original Post: Monday, August 27, 2007

So, I’ve decided to try mountain biking…again. Let me begin this first entry by saying that I do exercise daily at home, practice yoga, hike and snowboard. By no means do I think this sets me up properly to be a great mountain biker, but hopefully it will help me with endurance and balance. Hopefully.

I have attempted mountain biking in the past, but gave up due to frustration. This time, it’s on my terms—not the terms of my quite experienced husband, who thought a great first ride for me would be the 5 hour trip from the Frederick watershed to Catoctin Mountain Park on the blue trail. That was 4 years ago. I still have a scar on my knee and a dent in my helmet.

No, this time I’m starting out slow, because I know myself. I’ll tackle this the same way I tackled snowboarding. After several successful days of not breaking my ass on the bunny slope, I graduated myself to the green trails, and so on. I’ve been boarding now for 5 years.

I believe that being able to laugh at yourself is really important. I’ll definitely be doing that here. So here’s your invitation to laugh at me as well, and see where this ride takes me.