Last night we hit the trails at the Barboursville park again and, I think, we had the best ride yet. We started out at the same point we usually do, a small gravel parking lot about halfway up the mountain, then crossed the street and hit a powerline path. However, instead of going all the way to the top of the powerline we cut off to the left about 3/4 of the way up. This gave us some cool down and up hill areas to cover on the way to the summit. Just after getting on the trail I nearly ran over a small turtle that was crossing the path but fortunately I just avoided him. Had I encountered the turtle just a couple weeks ago I probably wouldn't have been able to avoid it.
Yesterday was really hot plus I was breathing really hard so my throat was drying out fast. I was chugging my water much faster than I usually do so I had to suggest a different route that would bring us down near the lake so we could stop at the bathrooms and refill our water bottles. The downhill to the bathroom was a blast. I was feeling much, much more confident on the trail and really felt like I was doing almost everything much better. While I am still not very good it is nice to see my technical skills improving.
From the bathroom we took the river trail, at a pretty good pace, for about 3 miles before heading cross country to go up another mountain. The river trail is so much fun - it is the one time I feel like I'm doing really well the whole time. I am much more confident turning on it and I am willing to really attack some of the obstacles (in an effort to jump). At one point we reached a small rock garden that, previously, only one of us would ever successfully cross in a day; however, on this trek all four of us navigated it successfully. Sure, better bikers wouldn't even call it a rock garden but, for us, it is a pretty good obstacle.
The climb up the second mountain pretty much killed me; I had heartburn and my cardio just isn't that great yet. I recently bought some small Cliff brand energy gels - chocolate flavored - and decided to follow their instructions yesterday by taking one a little before we started out for the day and then another about half way through. It is these gels that gave me heartburn and it was nasty painful so I'll not be using my chocolate gels again. Even with my lungs struggling to find air, and my legs burning from exertion, I did much better going up the mountain yesterday than I have in the past. I only stopped to rest a few times and I rode my bike, as opposed to pushing it, far more - in fact I only pushed it twice on very steep parts where I couldn't ride.
I was still noticeably slower than the other guys but I felt like I really gave it my all and I will only get stronger because of it. I'm actually kind of surprised at how much I'm enjoying the sport. When we first started I was skeptical because it was so hard and, frankly, kind of scary. But now I'm much more comfortable and I have a better understanding on how to approach most of the obstacles we deal with so I can really enjoy the downhill portions of the ride.
Hopefully I'll get to go out again this Sunday morning. It is supposed to rain tomorrow so the trails will be slick and I'm still not really digging mud riding (yesterday was perfect and dry). But I figure the only way I'll get better at mudding is if I keep at it.