Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Back to the Basics

After riding mtn bikes for 26 years, it’s not too late to finally learn the basics of the sport.  That’s exactly what I did last week at the Ladies All Ride Clinic of CogWild Bike Tours in Oregon.   Better late than never, eh?

Roger introduced me to this thing called mountain biking back in 1987 when we were dating.  Still in its infancy, the sport was just inventing itself, and we were right there learning as well.   I should clarify that;  Roger was learning while I was merely trying to keep up.   With no background whatsoever in motorcycles or anything remotely related to trail riding, not one aspect of the sport came natural to me.  Roger, on the other hand, was born on a motorcycle.   The only thing he had to adapt to was relying on his legs/heart for power instead of an engine.   He was already at the top of the bell curve and I was flailing around in the baby pool.

I may have been able to fudge it all for the past 26 years, but it does not mean I have ever known what I was doing.   Things took a downhill turn for me in 2010 and my riding has never been the same since.   A terrible mtn bike crash in 2013 brought a complete end to my cycling enjoyment.   I have been trying desperately to find that ‘ole aggressive rider within me, but she just is not there anymore.    When mtn biking is no longer fun for me, that’s when I know it’s time to do something about it.  

Roger began seeking out all the mtn bike clinics available in an effort to help get me out of this hole.   I was less than enthusiastic every time he emailed me a link of the latest camp he’d found.    The camps looked so intimidating to me, and it gave me an anxiety attack when I’d look at the websites.   However, there was one clinic that did peak my interest.   I did not break out in hives when checking out the link, and I mulled over it for a month.   Finally I announced to Roger that I was ready to try it.   We would make a trip out of it and call it an adventure.

Our little adventure was to Bend, Oregon.   We used to go to the Northwest every year back in the 90’s for mtn biking trips.   We frequented Hood River, Seattle, Bellingham, Vancouver, Whistler, and once to Alberta, Canada.   However, our trips to Italy and Switzerland eventually replaced our NW adventures, and it all became distance memories.   After so much time, it would almost be like going for the first time.

CogWild  Bike Tours in Bend   was offering a Ladies AllRide headed up by Coach Lindsey Voreis.   I had no idea if she could teach me what I needed to know, but the website did a good job of convincing me she could.   I have learned that just because someone is a kick arse rider, that does not mean they are a kick arse teacher.   One’s race credentials don’t have much sway with me.   It all boils down to interaction and connection.  

We shipped our bikes to Portland with BikeFlights and picked them up at a FedEx office not too far from the airport.   We’ve used a multitude of ways to transport bikes and have found this to be the best.   When we take our bikes on the plane, there is no way to insure them for the proper amount.    Delta does a good job now of gouging passengers that travel with their bike, and you don’t even get assurance that they will cover any damage incurred.

Day one arrived and I headed to 7th Mountain Resort outside of Bend to see what this Ladies AllRide Clinic was all about.   We were to congregate outside behind the tennis courts.   I found some ladies around a table with what looked like an arts and crafts clinic.  Immediately my nerves were abated. 
 We were to make name plates for our bikes with these big colorful magic markers and flower stickers.   This was just my style – finding the fun in everything, even a name plate!   Yea, maybe this was not going to be as awful as I thought. 

Our crew of 28 women lined up all facing our Coach.   Lindsey began bubbling forth with great enthusiasm over what we were going to learn the next 3 days.   She had my full attention.   It takes a lot to get my full attention.   Thus began 3 days of intense engaging instruction of The Basics.   I was flabbergasted to be learning all these fundamentals.   How did I not already know this stuff?  
Lindsey gets it.  She gets how we learn as women.  She gets how to connect with the bike and to connect with us.   She has a genuine love for cycling and a desire to share that with other women.   It’s not a fake hyped up high energy cheerleader routine.   This is someone that knows what she’s doing, thoroughly enjoys it and wants you to know how to do it and thoroughly enjoy it too.

We spent the mornings going through specific drills to learn our basic skills.  Divided up into smaller groups, we had at least a couple of coaches to give us undivided attention.   Lindsey and Summer were the coaches for my group.   They took us through the exercises and we intently worked at them.   There was nothing ho-hum or boring about it for me. 
In fact, sometimes I was a bit scared, but we took it all step by step.   They were there to spot us and keep us going forward.  

That first morning flew by, and all of a sudden it was time for lunch.    Mmmm, lunch.  Little did I know what a treat that would be each day.   All the food was catered by a local bakery, Little Bite Café.   If you know me, you know what a fussy eater I am and almost impossible to please.   Well, this place pleased me above and beyond my expectations!    Roger and I went there after the clinic a number of times as well.  What a great find!   I could tell with each passing moment how much thought and effort Mel of CogWild puts into making these clinics a top notch experience.

After lunch, we loaded up the bikes on the shuttle vans in our designated groups and headed to the trail head where we would put our new skills to the test.   We would stop at certain trail features and Lindsey would explain it all in great detail applying the principles we had been practicing all morning.     
listening intently as Lindsey explains our next section test out our new skills
Sheepishly and tentatively, each one of us would make our attempt.  

I was still wound up a bit tight as the bombardment of new information had overloaded my brain.   I could not do the first thing we tried.   I got frustrated, but we carried on down the trail.   I tried not to focus on my failure, but keep going forward.
Lindsey had a way of making every thing look so easy and effortless.   Not yet convinced ourselves that it was that easy, she cleverly enticed us into trying.

We stopped at a rather intimidating rock feature and Lindsey announced we were going to go up and over it.  I thought, “uh, yea, I don’t think so.”    She has a way of peeking your interest, yet not pressuring you in any way to feel obligated to try something.    It’s like dangling the candy in front of you and luring you out of your hiding place.   

Now remember, photos have a way of flattening out terrain and make scary features look so benign. Many of these things we did were not your basic up n over the rock feat.
Lindsey showing us how to use the tools!

Next thing I know everyone in the group is giving it a go.   I had a lot of fear to push aside, but seeing the others try it as well gave me the fortitude to step up to the plate.    As Lindsey told us, “I’m giving you the tools, it’s up to you to make it work.”  Imagine all our delight when it – guess what – it worked!    We all immediately began to get pumped up with excitement!   Cheering each other and giving high fives, we could not have been happier over this feat.
Kari, who has only been riding a few years, tackling the rock feature!
Our trail exercises continued and we finished up late that afternoon completely spent. My brain was a whirlwind of ideas and new concepts.  We loaded up the bikes and headed back to 7th Mountain Resort.   Then we all gathered at a nearby restaurant for happy hour and a table of delicious appetizers. CogWild knows how to take care of their Peeps!
a bunch of happy campers after a successful day one!
Getting back to the rental house that evening, Roger wanted to hear all about my day.   I was so overwhelmed that I did not even try to tell him everything.   All I wanted was to take a shower and hit the hay to get ready for round 2 tomorrow.   Poor Roger.   He had ridden an epic 42 miles that day exploring the trails on his own and I was too dazed to even comprehend his report of the day.  I was in bed by 8:30.

The next morning I shuttled Roger up Skyliners Road and dropped him off to explore more trails on his own.   I arrived at 7th Mountain Resort in time for our morning stretch exercises led by Mel.   I actually enjoyed this more than I thought I would and even learned a few new stretches.   It was another beautiful day without a cloud in the sky.   I savored the bright clear blue sky and dry air – a nice break from the humidity back home.

Again, we spent the morning with our skill exercises within our groups.   Our group stepped things up a bit and we worked on some bigger skills.   I noticed Lindsey raising the bar ever so slightly as we moved along.   At one point she raised a box up to a level that I was not comfortable with, and I thought there is no way I would be able to handle this.   Again, feeding off the encouragement from my fellow Trainees, we all stepped up to the plate and used those tools we now had.   We beamed with smiles and clapped and cheered as each of us slowly got the hang of it.   It was exhausting, but we were pumped!   I am not used to riding with or even being with such a large group of female cyclists.    This was a new experience for me and I was enjoying the camaraderie.  

After another fabulous lunch, it was time to load up the bikes and head to the trails.   This ride had a lot more technical sections of rocks and drops.   Armed with a lot more confidence and my “tools”, I had a blast putting it into practice.   Following along behind Lindsey was the perfect motivator for me to ride up and over sections that I would never dreamed of doing.   Watching the other Ladies try some daunting features was so incredibly fun and encouraging! 

Tina making it through the rocky downhill no problem
We would stop at various spots while Lindsey would demonstrate what we were supposed to do.  Then we would follow through like little baby ducks wanting to make Mama Duck proud.  Coaches Summer, Lindsey, Carolyn, and Emily were along the trail spotting us and screaming out instructions.  It worked like a charm.
Karen going up and over using those new t ools!
Stopping at the end of long section of trail and each Lady would ride up grinning from ear to ear.  “That was so fun!   I went so much faster!  I felt so much better on that!   I could feel it that time!” The comments would come bursting forth as the thrill of experiencing a confidence inspiring run kicked in.  

Our group covered a wide range of riders – from newbies to racers, but each of us was getting something valuable out it. I was especially thrilled for Kari.  She was very new to riding and here she was trying all kinds of drops and technical stuff because she now had the tools to make it work.

At the end of the trail, we were treated to a big cooler of cold beer. It was so fun to sit back and observe everyone as they arrived from their group ride.   They were all so happy and eager to share and hear about each other’s new discoveries on the trail.   

After loading up and heading back to 7th Mountain, many of us met at The Lot (a food truck park) for dinner. Roger and I enjoyed talking with some of the participants that were not in my group.   Our days are so intense that I did not have much time to mingle, so it was nice to relax and get to know some of the ladies.
Coaches Summer and Lindsey being their usual zany selves while Mel orders a well deserved meal.
Enjoyed meeting Sue, a rider from Vancouver.  
That night I was exhausted, but I did not sleep too well.   My mind was not about to shut off, and I went over and over the skills in my head.   I dreamed about them.  

Day 3 our coaches had mercy on us.   After a nice morning stretch routine, they had us sit in the grass while they ran through the skills for us.   It was nice to get a complete overview of what all we had been working on the past 2 days while letting our bodies rest.   We had a real trail ride to go on, and they wanted us to have the energy for it.  
Lindsey going over a recap for us and leading all the coaches in a demo while we relaxed.
We packed our yummy lunches and loaded the bikes on the van for our last ride together.  We started on a trail named Funner - how appropriate!
at the Funner trail head
Again, it was a invigorating and fun time of putting our tools to use on the trail.   There are no egos here and no pressure.   Everyone is encouraged to progress at their own level of comfort. 

Stacy, making it look easy

Go Kari!
One thing we all did equally was have a great time.   I did not expect to enjoy myself as much as I did.   It was intense, engaging, and loads of good fun. 
Look who crashed our party - Rajasan came riding through and we forced him into doing the drop.  This pic doesn't do this section (or any of them) justice at all.   
That last day we ended up crossing paths with my Roger on the trail!   He was riding some of the trails we were and came up on our group a couple of times at some tricky sections.  He admitted to me that normally he wouldn't have ridden those sections, but since we were all there shaming him into it, he did not have a choice!   The one pic above does not give you any idea of what the section was actually like.   Of course, with our new skills, it was not as difficult as we would have pictured it 3 days prior.

Not only did I get some new tools for my cycling box, but I gained some new cycling friends as well. The ladies in my group ranged from a young 19 year old to those of us in the latter half of life.   Hailing from varying areas in the Northwest, they covered the gamut of Moms, professionals, students and combinations of all.   We were all quite different and yet we bonded with our new found passion for mtn biking.   
some of my new friends; Emily, Tina, Julie, Karen and Kari!
I would like to say now I can leap off tall buildings and rip downhill at breakneck speed, but that’s not really going to happen. What I can say is that now I am not obsessed with the fears I had before. I have specific things now on which to focus when I ride. Sure, I still struggle with speed and my cornering, but I can work on it in a positive light. Now that I am bit older, I weigh the consequences of my cycling moves in a different light and take a more conservative approach than I did 10 years ago, but I don’t have to dread my rides anymore. Mtn biking is fun once more.

Lindsey has a wonderful teaching style that breaks down the art of mtn biking in a manner that helps you “get it” all while enjoying the camaraderie of fellow riders. Mel runs a top notch tour company that allows a rider to enjoy the trails in a relaxed zero stress atmosphere. All the coaches were kind, cheerful, and encouraging. Initially I told Roger I was going into this with no expectations and maybe I will come out pleasantly surprised. Surprised I am for sure! 

No one asked me to write a review, nor did any of them know I have a blog or anything about my background. My only motivation for putting this out there is so that other women will know what a fantastic opportunity this Ladies AllRide Clinic is. I am living proof that you are never beyond getting back to the basics. Whether you have been riding for 25 yrs or 2, there is always something to learn. My only regret is that I did not have this back when I got into mtn biking, but hey, I’ll take it now!


Cog Wild said...

Wow! Thank you so much for your amazing story! You captured exactly what we hoped to create and it puts a huge smile on my face to know you got so much out of our time together!
Thank you again - looking forward to an update on how riding your home trails is with all your new skills!
- Mel @ Cog Wild :)

Summer Holland said...

What a surprise! I had know idea you blogged about all your mtn bike adventures. This is wonderfully written and the photos are fantastic. I'm so happy to have met you! I hope you'll visit us again soon!
Cheers, Summer

Jewels said...

Awesome write up! Love to read about great women's clinics :)