So my ProjectSnail journey continued last Sunday as I stepped up to take part in a full day of Stop Crashing 2 with the mighty beard Ed Oxley of Great Rock. I’d done the beginners half days at the start of the year and had a one to one session with Ed as a birthday treat and it’s my intention to try and do 4 training sessions this year and ride as much as I can inbetween and see where I end up at the end of the year. Hopefully I’ll be a bit more confident, have gained some skills and experience, be fitter and most of all have had lots of fun.
The day took place at Gisburn, somewhere that I know is popular with riders but it’s somewhere that I really struggle to ride (and I’m talking about the red run sections not the black run). I guess I’d like to be in the position where I could ride red runs confidently and take those skills into the general off road riding which I prefer to trail centres. Gisburn I’ve been to a few times but find it rooty and rocky and not somewhere I’ve been able to tackle with any confidence at all. We pitched up and introduced ourselves to the other riders on the course and looked up at the leaden skies wondering if the extreme thunderstorms of the night before were going to return, either way the roots were going to be slippy. I looked on as the other riders fiddled and fettled with some impressive looking machines feeling somewhat inadequate and hoping I’d not bitten off more than I could chew by coming on the course and was not going to make a total fool of myself.
As we set off I kept trying to keep Ed’s mantra ‘chin up’ in my head, thinking about body position on the bike. After a short ride to warm up we rode a stony downhill section that required an off camber turn. Ed had us all riding it, gaffawing at our strange lines as we battled against the contour and the surface. Ed broke the section down and one of the things that I’ve really learnt in working with Ed is how he picks lines that enable him to ride the section in it’s optimum way and that these lines are often not the obvious line as you approach something. It’s easy I think to be seduced by the way the trail has been worn by other riders, Ed demonstrated why this was not the best way and it’s important to ride the line you think is the best which will often not be the line picked out by others. We watched from the edge of the trail as rider after rider came careering down taking the obvious line which was actually clearly the wrong line once this has been pointed out to you. We rode the section several times, Ed telling us where to look, trying to force us to get our heads up and not focus on the loose stuff directly under our wheels. The harder things get the more my vision gets drawn to what is under my nose but I’m realising how detrimentall this is but knowing it and being able to force the head up are two different things.
We then went onto ride a small section that to everyone else was not an issue but to me was one of the first parts of the day where I stuttered, stopped and had to have several attempts to summon up the courage to ride it. All it was was a steep narrow slope that you roll off but steep, narrow things, steps, drops etc I really struggle with. However I knew at the start of the day that I could struggle with stuff but I was determined to try and eventually got riding it properly. This is when I really realised the importance of chip up, if you are going down steeply and you are looking at your front wheel you’ll soon be heading over it ! This was a lesson that was going to repeat itself throughout the day.
Next we looked at riding some tight small bends through the trees. Here, not only was the looking a long way ahead vital but the movement on the bike became very important, really trying to use your hips to physically turn and try and whip the bike off the apex of the turn. I’m far too stiff on the bike and need to learn to loosen up, you can’t move in the way you need to if you are stiff on the bike. Standing next to the bend it was quite incredible to watch Ed ride the section, you could hear how his weight transference affected his tyres making them grip and propel him out of the corner. The speed, fluidity and movement was something to behold. Big lesson get your weight much further forward than you think, relax, chip up of course and really move your hips.
Things were getting gradually trickier and we then looked at a section of rocky steps down through the trees, something I’ve never been able to ride before and have bottled it every time. Now I’m a bit of a brake grabber but as Ed explained if you touch the front brake you are going to crash so knowing where to scrub off whatever speed so that you feel comfortable has to be done before you ride the section. I had seveal goes at this bottling it every time but determined to try and ride it. My fellow riders were great, encouraging me and standing at the bottom and trying to get me to look at the them to force my chip up. Ed as always was calmly encouraging, saying I was ready, was approaching it the right way I just needed to have faith, commit and roll through it. Eventually I made it to whoops and hollers all round.
This has made me think a bit about fear, as clearly I get nervous and frightened even though it’s something I want to do and I’m not sure what I can do to conquer it. I’m reminded of taking my kids to swimming lessons when they were very young and how some kids would simply jump into the pool but others would either have to be coaxed or would simply refuse to jump into the pool. What is it that creates this fearlessness in some people but not others ? as clearly the same thing applies in mountain biking (and of course many other sports and areas of life). Some of the people on the course would happily launch themselves forward without any trepidation whatsoever, I on the other hand was like the kids on the side of the pool.
The afternoon had us looking at front wheel and rear wheel lifts, the building blocks to many skills and which so many riders make look so effortless. Strangely I managed to get the rear wheel lift sorted straight away and even managed a bit of front wheel lift. As I’m learning much of the skills are down to body weight and moving on the bike and knowing how to do this means I can practice this whenever I’m out and hopefully I’ll eventually be able to get the wheels lifting whenever I want and hey maybe even start bunnyhopping. We used the front wheel lift to practice going off small steps and even the snail managed to be airborne at some point.
All this led us to the final denoument of the day – riding off the cliff of doom (or at least that’s what it appeared to be to me). Ed calmly said do not look down or touch your front brake or you will DIE ! To be honest the rock slab in the quarry that Ed was proposing we ride off looked like the sort of thing riders in magazines do and certainly was not for the likes of me. Ed calmly explained that if you got your weight right you could roll it and demonstrated that to my utter incredularity. It must have been tricky as other riders where now stopping to watch proceedings. This was a massive test for me, technically but certainly psychologically as I was genuinely fearful and doubted whether I’d be even able to attempt this. Several of the other riders in the group were also looking somewhat nervous. I tried and tried to ride to the edge and slammed on the anchors, I then rode to the edge looked over, down, touched my brakes and headed head first over the bars. As I lay at the bottom, apart from a few scrapes and bruises the only thing that was really hurting was my own pride at my utter failure. Back up I went and after a few more stumbles and bumbles I rode to the edge, kept by fingers off the brakes, moved my hips back and looked way ahead – low and behold I rode it (see the picture above bottom right). With more whoops and hollers and adrenalin flooding my veins we finished on a high and went back to the pub for a debrief.
I’d been quite hard on myself during the day but Ed reminded me that I’d tried my best, had a go at everything and had actually ridden everything that had been put in front of me. He said that I’d made huge progress since the start of the year and sent a great tweet out later on. So lots of fear and a real test for me but I had huge fun and hopefully I’ve learnt some stuff along the way, not least CHIN UP ! Cheers Ed.