Friday, June 15, 2012

Midwest Women's Mountain Bike Clinic - Part 2

Check in was from 8 to 9 on Sunday morning. Since arriving early at a triathlon is conducive to getting a better spot in transition, we decided to arrive at 7:30 and beat the crowd. This didn’t really prove particularly useful. We did get a good parking spot but we arrived so early.

My custom-crafted bib identifying me as a newb
After signing in, clinic participants were given a race bib and directed to a crafts table where an assortment of colorful markers and stickers awaited us. We then created our own unique bib that was to be attached to the front handlebars of our bike with colorful sparkly pipe cleaner dealies. . Actually this was a very cool idea, as it helped the coaches with names.  We had to put name, level and city/state. I drew a cartoon on Brenda’s bib of a bike rider crashing into a tree.  Some of the stickers were a little too GIRL POWAHish but I selected a nice “Wow”. It seemed safe and if nothing else, if for some reason my bike would be upside down, which meant I was probably injured, they would know I was a mom and maybe try harder to locate my family.

I will say one thing about this clinic, if you went away hungry it was your own fault. There was a pretty decent continental breakfast that included muffins, coffee, juice and yogurt parfaits.  We had already eaten breakfast but I grabbed a blueberry muffin and stashed it in the car for later. The coffee was waaaaayyyy better than the vending machine coffee at the lodge.

Another very cool feature of this clinic is that you don't actually have to own a mountain bike to participate --- you can get a loaner absolutely free of charge! Laura took advantage of this perk and landed this sweet Giant.

We learned that there would be 11 in our group, as another coach was combining his group with ours. After roll call we rode through the campground to a grassy slope where the clinic would be conducted.
The first order was a bike safety check.  It was a little embarrassing to learn that my brake cables needed adjusting and the headset needed tightening up. Coach Todd advised everyone to have their brakes moved inward a bit so that your index finger was just at the end of the brakes, thus affording more control.  On my bike this translated to about an inch.
We ride in circles oh yes we do!
We then mounted up and rode in a circle around the coaches to have our position on the bike assessed. I had guessed that we would hear a lot of “relax, relax…” but I don’t recall hearing that term used at all. We had to ride in the “Ready” position, which was basically butt off the saddle if you weren’t pedaling, elbows wide and lightly flexed, knees wide, eyes looking about 20 feet ahead. So what I heard most of the day was “elbows OUT, knees OUT!”
Then we dropped into the “Attack” pose, same thing just lower and further back. We rode in circles around the coaches, alternating Ready and Attack and being reminded to keep elbows and knees wide.I got really nervous every time I had to run this gauntlet. It felt a little like being on parade.

After that, the drills were something like: 

Scarecrow” or “Windshield Wiper” drill – Keeping arms nice and wide, practice guiding the bike by straightening one arm. It’s hard to explain but basically while hovering over the bike you were causing it to shift left or right.

 “Fore and Aft” – While hovering on the pedals, shift weight very far to the front. The goal was to actually touch the stem. Then rock waaaaay back, behind the saddle if possible. 

Stopping Drills. Various ways to stop the bike, which is a good and important aspect to mountain biking. The most dramatic was the sudden stop, where we coasted down the slight incline and then had to grab both front and back brake and come to an abrupt stop. The coaches were there to catch you if you started to fall over. 

The picnic table drill. Note that we did not
actually ride OVER the table
Ascending and descending – They put either your front or rear wheel on the bench of a picnic table and held your bike steady while you climbed aboard and then had to stand up and find your balance. 

Front Wheel Lift – “weighting” the front wheel by pressing down and then quickly popping back up. We had to try popping over some small cones. Actually when I say cones, I mean markers, as they were really only about an inch deep.  A couple of gals managed to smash the markers. 

 Rear Wheel Lift – I didn’t think this could be done since they took our clipless pedals away, but Suzanne demonstrated (while wearing flip flops) how to wrap your foot around the pedal and pop the real wheel off the ground.  I enjoyed this drill. It was the one drill I could actually execute pretty well.

The drills consumed the entire morning and then we broke for lunch. There were Subway sandwiches with chips, and oatmeal raisin cookies.  After lunch, there was a raffle (I won a hat, woot!) followed by something called The Naked Lady party where you could pick out gently used gear that clinic participants had donated. I hadn’t donated anything since my used stuff is usually pretty disgusting by the time I’m ready to get rid of it. Laura picked up a sweet Trek jersey that looked brand new.

A group picture was shot. You know how it is getting pics of large groups --- by the time this process was finished, lunch break was pushing two hours and we were ready to get back to riding.  Todd and Suzanne had decided that we should get out on the trails before the other groups to “beat the rush”.

With Todd leading, Suzanne in the middle and a couple of the EMT guys bringing up the rear, our group was funneled onto the Limekiln Trail, which is tagged as a Beginner Level.  The trail is pretty narrow and plunges you immediately into the woods. My definition of a beginner mtb trail does not include steep ravines at the trail’s edge but I guess they do things differently in Indiana. Here is a video of the trail that someone else made in 2009.

The actual trail riding was interesting. When we were just riding circles out in the grass and doing drills, everyone was pretty much all on the same level.  Now our group would split and reform periodically, with some riders falling back and others moving forward. On the 2.5 mile trail, we stopped four times to let everyone catch up and to listen to the coaches impart wisdom on various aspects of navigating singletrack.  Forward progress was quite slow.

Close to the tail end of the LimeKiln Trail, we came around a little bend  and were confronted with a log pile. It wasn’t a particularly difficult obstacle but everyone was tired and hot and dammit, we hadn’t covered log piles. One by one we bumped over the logs and then waited in a grassy field near a log cabin for the rest of the group.

It was a very long time before everyone was safely over the logs. I think a couple just threw in the towel and walked their bike over, rather than try to ride it out.

More drills.  We practiced riding in and out bright orange cones. Next was “ratcheting” where you work the pedals like a ratchet wrench rather than make complete circles. This was tough but fun. I’m still trying to figure out exactly where I would use this skill, as it seemed to be something that an advanced rider might need.

The last drill  was designed to teach very tight turns. The coaches used four cones to create a square shape that was maybe 8’ x 8’ and we had to kind of coast around this box, ratcheting the pedals when we needed more forward movement. I was absolutely horrific at this exercise, nearly toppling over at the slow speed. My bike is a 29er and this probably didn’t help.  Another gal on a Marlin had similar problems. It was like trying to maneuver an aircraft carrier down a creek.

The afternoon was done.  We were asked if we wanted to ride the trail back or take the paved road. A handful of riders were so wiped out that they opted for the road, the rest of us wanted to ride the trails.  This time Coach Suzanne led the charge, followed by Brenda, myself and the Marlin girl. I don’t know if she held back at all but we were flying on that trail and there was no stopping to wait for people.  You could get up enough speed that you didn’t have to pedal much. The inertia would carry you.

Our group at the end of the day. hot, tired but loving mountain biking.
Thanks to Kristen for snapping this pic!
This last little shot down the trail was definitely the highlight of the day.We reconvened at the parking lot, drove back to the cabin, taking another wrong turn in the process, got showered and went back for a cookout.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Midwest Women's Mountain Bike Clinic - Part 1

As much as I love the idea of zooming through the woods on my mountain bike, the reality is that I don’t have a clue what I am doing. When registration for the 2012 MWMTBC opened up, I decided it was time to get some help.

Reindeer Mary had also signed up for the clinic but then wasn’t able to go. My BT buddy Laura signed up, so I knew there would be at least one person there to hang out with. Going  to the clinic alone would have been a little like dining out alone (at least for me) --- it would accomplish the mission but would  be kind of lonely and make me self conscious. At the last minute, my friend Brenda took Mary’s unused registration. This was perfect since we had done quite a bit of trail riding back in the fall.

The clinic is in Brown County State Park in Nashville, Indiana, about a five hour drive from home. There are about 3 different ways to get there. The quickest way was probably via Indianapolis and was mostly interstate, but this would have involved rush hour traffic around Indy. We opted to go through Decatur  via 36. Brenda’s TomTom GPS did not approve of this decision and kept trying to send us to Indianapolis. Then it had a change of heart and began to angrily insist that we turn around.
Abe Martin lodge
We eventually reached Brown County State Park, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to get to the Abe Martin Lodge, where I had booked a “rustic cabin”. Not trusting TomTom, I plugged the address into the iphone and it took us on a merry adventure down a private road that wound through thick forest, growing ever narrower before  culminating in a gravel path that plunged down a steep hill. OK, it was a ravine.  Complete with a No Trespassing sign. Clearly we were in the wrong place.  It didn’t seem logical to have a hotel in a place that could only be reached by mule or 4 wheeler.  

The lodge was down the NEXT road. A kindly forest ranger working the gate gave us directions and we found the lodge easily. It’s a pretty cool place.  You can either stay in the lodge, which is basically a hotel, or rent a small cabin. There are also larger cabins that could contain a big group.

The Rustic cabin - deceptively roomy

Interior of Rustic Cabin

First glimpse of the cabin would lead one to believe that it was quite spacious. Then we realized that the cabins are split into four sections and our room was off the back. I think the room measured something like 12’ x 12’. You had to climb up some steps to get there.  The room smelled kind of musty, not really in a bad way. It had that summer camp feel. The bathroom was small but very clean, and we had a small microwave, a coffee maker and a dorm size fridge. We had to do some rearranging of furniture to get the two bikes and luggage in, but it worked out just fine.

Laura's situation

Laura had arrived a bit earlier and had the fortune to share a cabin with a very large, very loud group of people. It was a big family reunion. There seemed to be a lot of that type of thing going on.

We decided to go to packet pickup. Laura climbed into the back of Brenda’s car and we drove over to the Rally Campground.  We took a wrong turn but eventually found our way there.  Laura tried to get out and discovered that she was locked in by the tricky child proof locks. Getting lost in the park and having Laura locked in the back would prove to be a theme for the weekend.

After packet pickup there was a Meet N Greet at 7. We hung out there for about an hour and met some cool ladies, then learned our coach assignments. Brenda and I were in the Beginner Group with Suzanne as a coach. Laura was in the Intro group, which as it turned out was pretty much the same as the Beginner level.

Tired after the long day of driving, we drove back to the lodge, getting lost again. Laura was still locked in the back and had to be set free. We hauled our coolers up to a patio at the main lodge and drank some wine and Summer Shandy. I had brought a bottle of Chardonnay and managed to destroy the lid with a corkscrew before realizing that it had a screw top.

The cabin had a small air conditioning unit and we had set it on Stun before leaving, mostly to get the musty smell out. It worked quite well.  You could have hung sides of beef in that cabin. The white noise from the a/c was soothing and I slept like a rock, except when I heard something scrambling up the exterior of the structure and running around on the roof.  For some reason I blamed the children at the family reunion next door.  Irrational, yes, but I was pretty tired and had been drinking a bit. Figured I was dreaming and slept like a log.