I failed to post an update on my mountain biking activities last week so this is going to be a summation of the two weeks rolled up into one.
Typically we have been riding at Barboursville Park which is a city park with 20+ miles of trails that wrap around the main park area. Last week we decided to mix it up a bit though and instead headed to Beachfork State Park. It is just a little south of Huntington and is laden with trails; most of which seem more like the river trail I like so much at Barboursville. These trails don't go up or down hill too much they just roll with small dips and rises. I like these kind of trails because I can focus on steering and just going. When we are going up hills I'm wondering when my lungs became so poor and when we are going down them I'm focused on not flying off the side of the trail or, worse, over the front of my bike.
Not all of Beachfork is rolling flat trails though. Eventually we came up on the Mary Davis trail which features a 1/2 mile climb at one point. I honestly don't think the people who knew Mary Davis cared much for her if they named that trail after her - it was a bitch. Somehow Ed, Sean, and Mike rolled up it without pausing. I, on the other hand, stopped, gasped, wheezed, and stumbled to the top of the hill. When I was younger I was always the guy who tried to push ahead to the top of the hill (when hiking, running, marching) and I was a bit disgusted with the people who couldn't keep up. Now I'm just disgusted with myself. It's not a pleasant feeling. I really need to get in better cardio shape (and my legs could use a bit more strength too).
Though it might be hard to tell I had a blast at Beachfork. After the painful climb we had a lot of downhill to look forward too and, unlike prior weeks, I didn't worry about the hills. I just rolled. I think it helped that I didn't really know what I was getting into. Instead I just focused on using the appropriate techniques for the terrain and I managed to get down every hill without incident. That isn't to say that my day was perfect. Almost right off the start I discovered that no matter how slow you are moving up a hill that if you don't avoid even a thin tree it will stop you and throw you and your bike back down the hill. I didn't fall off but my chain did. Overall we rode 7 miles and that was my only real problem with execution of the day so I was pretty happy with the ride.
Mike and Ed over the past couple weeks have really been talking up the use of energy bars/gels. Considering we are going biking at around 5pm and we haven't eaten anything since 11:30am it seemed like a good idea so I packed up a Cliff Bar (Chocolate Brownie flavored) and figured if I got really tired or hungry I'd eat it for a bit of refreshment. I generally like most of the Cliff Bar flavors I have had but the I was disappointed to find out on the trail that the Chocolate Brownie is nasty. I only ate 1/2 of it before tossing it into a bin.
This week we returned to Barboursville park but we followed a totally new path through the first half of it and it was a blast. We started off going up a short but steep hill and then we flew through the woods and attacked a fairly steep downhill. I think it was at least as steep as where I flew over the handle bars a few weeks ago - but I went at it with more confidence this time around (as well as proper positioning on my bike) and I made it down without a problem. Then we headed on some cross country riding before coming to a set of train tracks. On the other side of the tracks we had to backtrack about 50 feet through the thick gravel along the side of the track. That is some hard pedaling. The ground shifts constantly under your bike, your wheels sink into the the loose stone, and you really have to fight to keep your balance. I had to put my foot down once but I was happy to make it through. After the tracks we hit the river trail. At this point I'm not sure what happened. I went into the trail last and pedaled hard the entire time. I Shifted my gears into a faster configuration (2,3) and I didn't have any problems with the obstacles - yet somehow I fell behind the others. I pushed myself pretty hard trying to keep up but still they all got far enough ahead of me that I couldn't see them. It was really strange.
I finally did catch up with them at a "rock garden" formation. A rock garden is basically an obstacle in the path that is made out of large rocks or small boulders that you have to navigate on your bike. We took a rest just before entering the garden when the local mountain biking group came flying up the trail. We all moved over and they just flew through the garden. The leaders of the group even took a more difficult line. Once they were past we mounted up and attempted a similar feat. Ed, our best rider, rolled right through, and then, for some reason I decided to go second. I actually did OK though I had to put my right foot down once to maintain my line. Sean's pedal bottomed out on a rock (really easy to do) and Mike made it look pretty easy. Overall it was the best the four of us have done on that part of the trail before. We then pushed our way over the remained of the river trail where we found the big group finishing up a rest. We took another short rest while they headed out toward our main climb of the day.
At that point I really should have stopped. We were back at the main parking lot (which isn't anywhere near where we parked) and I was really tired. Granted, had I stopped there I still would have had to climb the big hills on the road to get back to my car so I was pretty much stuck. We headed up the mountain trail though and I struggled with all of the climbs. I struggled with the flats, oddly enough the only part I didn't struggle with too much was the downhills. At one point we were going up a worn smear of dirt on the side of the mountain - it wasn't even a cut so the angle was oddly slippery since we were climbing against the grain - my arms were exhausted and I couldn't steer well when suddenly I was pointed about 50 degrees to far to the right. That means I was pointed straight down hill. A very, very steep and hill with no trail. Fortunately I didn't really have any momentum when I turned (which is part of the reason I turned I think). I managed to jump forward off my seat and put my feet down, I clenched on both brakes so the bike wouldn't roll too much, and I tried to stop myself from sliding down the hill. It was really steep so I failed. I started to stumble down waddling with the bike between my legs. After about 15 feet I just fell over onto my side and the bike seat drove into the back of my thigh (that could've have been MUCH worse). Eventually I extracted myself from the bike and fought it back up to the "trail" where I resumed my ride.
We kept on riding and riding and riding. My left arm was getting really really tired. However, I found a second wind and really pedaled hard on the last mile or so. Up hills and across flats I was attacking and getting more and more tired until eventually we reached a pretty steep downhill with some nasty rocks jutting out. I thought about riding down it but I could barely hold my body up on the handle bars so I decided to walk that part. It is actually a tough little hill to ride and I haven't done it yet. We used to ride in the opposite direction on that hill and we always had to walk our bikes up it. I didn't recognize it for the hill it was until I was halfway down it then I was happy I had decided to walk. At the bottom I hopped back on my bike and rolled to the end of the trail which spits out where we parked. I was drenched in sweat, my arms were like rubber, and I could barely catch a breath but I felt pretty good.
We rode about 8 miles in all though I'd guess that with some of the uphills I had to walk I probably rode closer to 7. It was my best performance so far in terms of navigating obstacles but was also my most tiring. I was so tired at the end that when I changed my socks I couldn't pinch my sock tightly enough with my left hand to pull it over my ankle. I really need to ride more than once a week if I want to get in better shape so I think I'm going to try and ride with Ed on Sunday as well. I probably won't post for each day individually if I do - instead I'll try to keep my mountain biking posts to no more than one a week.