Hello Ladies & Lady-Lovers! I’m back and refreshed after tagging along on Mountain Bike Oregon this past weekend.
An aside: As someone relatively new to mountain biking, I have to encourage Ladies a little hesitant to ride off-road to push past fear and give it a try. Meandering through the forest on two wheels feels like moving meditation, and the sights you’d otherwise not see, and animals that cross your path, make the experience magical. Handling comes with time and miles, and till you’re ready for root drops and rougher terrain, there are tons of beginner and intermediate trails to choose from.
So as I sit sipping my morning caffeinated beverage (these guys are some of the best coffee roasters in PDX) reflecting on three days of camping and beautiful riding in the mountains around Oakridge, OR, I find I’m left with three lessons:
1) To improve handling, LET GO
2) Talk to strangers
2) Gin is not an appropriate sports beverage
As a Lady only recently dipping a toe into the MTB world, I was excited to expand my skill set on some of the gorgeous central Oregon trails I’ve heard so much about. I watched videos, read reviews, and made a mental list of which rides I’d be giving a go. I’m currently training for an amazing adventure tentatively scheduled for next spring (stay tuned…) for which I not only need to hone my off-roading skills, but need to purchase a well-fitting, trek-specific mountain bike.
Mountain Bike Oregon includes shuttles to the top of trails, a beer (& hopped cider!) garden, meals included, and what I needed most: access to demo bikes. I’ve only ridden an older steel Schwinn mtb named Bumblebee, who handles quite wonderfully, but I needed to get a feel for rides beyond what I’ve tried. Gearing? Wheel size? Never-ending, not-necessarily-needed accoutrements? I had no clue what worked for me, and I hoped this trip would give me a better idea. Oh, and the ability to improve my steeper, cliff-edged, curving, root-dropping, sketchier descents which I heretofore tended to hike-a-bike through.
The trip was phenomenal, it was an adventure, and all but one goal was attained. I feel fulfilled, and I can’t wait to head back out there to ride some more.
Having been lucky enough to have raced a wee bit of Portland cyclocross (thanks to the urging of a phenomenal friend and a group of absolutely wonderful people. I suck, by the way, but it’s really fun!), I had previously learned, with eyes wide and stomach in mouth, that the sketchiest of descents requires release – you have to stare down impending-maiming, take a deep breath, go relatively limp, shift your weight back, and just go for it. The slower you go, the more you try to brake, the more you hold on, the more likely you are to flip head-over-handlebars or crash in other equally damaging ways. Trust your bike, it will ride over most rocks and roots and mud if you keep your speed. Slow down and you’ll fail to gain needed momentum to overtake obstacles. It feels similar to technique for effectively skiing moguls.
This technique was never more apparent than on my trips through North Fork, an intermediate Oakridge trail, where the let-go approach sort of reversed itself. This lesson on descents is now ingrained in my muscle fibers, but I never knew that CLIMBING applied the same concept until I rode parts of this trail. Overtaking a bolder on an uphill? Relax and keep pedaling, and for gods sake, follow through. You’ve grunted your front tire up and over – good for you! But you have an entire second tire that needs to clear the rock. This is where the gearing on the Niner bike I demoed became essential. Keep the gearing low, release your fear and hesitation, and just keep pedaling. NO MATTER WHAT. My only crashes this weekend? T-tipping over (and down a small cliff) as I failed to get my back tire up and over something large, all because I hesitated out of fear that I wouldn’t make it.
And so the lesson that applies not only to riding, but to almost everything in life – relax, believe in yourself, and move towards what makes you afraid. You’ll never know what you’re capable of if you don’t try, and you’ll never expand your world and yourself if you don’t loosen your grip.
TALK TO STRANGERS
Stranger danger! We’re molded by our culture to be afraid of, well, everything outside of our immediate family and friends and gated neighborhoods. But this is a large part of the beauty of traveling and exploring by yourself – you’re FORCED to interact with people you don’t know. And guess what was reinforced for me this weekend? Most people are good and respond to openness and kindness. This opening to the unknown is what I like to call “adventure”, whether it’s in the kitchen, on a trail, or in social interaction. This is what makes life fascinating and engaging and growth-producing throughout the years you’re lucky enough to have. If you were raised in a bubble-wrap-suburban childhood like myself, openness takes time and mindful practice to cultivate. But it’s worth it – it will change nearly everything about your life.
I encountered some absolutely lovely people that made this trip for me. Some from Oakridge (make sure to check out the amazing Ladies working over at Lion Mountain Bakery if you’re in town), some from California, some from Portland, some originally from New Zealand & the UK, some from Australia (and yes, the rivalry between the two is more than Flight of The Concords fodder), and all from varied backgrounds and age groups.
I owe it all to volunteering (the Nossa Familia coffee family is molto bene – check out their brews if you get the chance) and to accidentally hanging my hammock within the camp of a group of guys that welcomed me into their chats and beer garden jaunts when I wasn’t being anti-social with my reading and napping (the latter mostly due to gin…). They made me laugh, their personalities and guitar collections blew me away, and I truly hope to stay in touch with them. My weekend wouldn’t have been the greatness it was without all of these people, and I wouldn’t have met any of them if I hadn’t exited my comfort zone of solitude to talk to people I didn’t know.
GIN IS NOT AN APPROPRIATE SPORTS BEVERAGE
And finally, to the lesson of re-learning lessons. I spent most of my college years as a partier (and high school for that matter). I got great grades, I overachieved, and I got completely blitzed most nights of the week. Life, as it turns out, is more of an un-doing than a becoming – you have to work diligently to un-become the person your hometown, your family, and everyone but yourself has shaped you into. To really know yourself, to really be yourself, you have to figure that shit out on your own by forcing yourself outside of situations and places you’re comfortable in.
The process is particularly challenging if you grew up contorted – creating a habit out of forcing yourself into boxes that were ill-fitting at best. Long ago I acknowledged that I don’t like getting wasted – I’m so much happier taking all of that in moderation, waking up with the sunrise, and getting out to do something physical in the outdoors. Occasional partying? Sure. But on the whole, it’s just not who I am anymore – it was never who I was.
And so I reminded myself of that with gin and delicious cider this past weekend, as did many other painfully hung over riders. Chatting and hanging out with people was amazing! Drinking far too much was not, and was entirely my fault. I should know my limits by now… but once you’ve had a drink it seems like more and more of a good idea to keep on drinking, and old patterns reappear. If I had paced myself and been an adult, I wouldn’t have had the worst hangover I’ve had in a long time (I also could have avoided nearly falling asleep on a bathroom floor and being helped back to my campsite, which in my drunkenness I couldn’t find, by a good Lady Samaritan).
Yah, I embarrassed myself. But I had a great time with my campmates, reminded myself of my priorities, and ensured that I will never again forget the late-onset-drunkenness of gin. Next time I’ll make the same decisions – minus a handful of drinks.
Riding is magical, Oakridge trails are glorious, and people are pretty awesome. This experience was great and I’m on my way to getting a great mountain bike so I can continue to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors in new and sometimes-challenging ways. More than anything, this trip reinforced my gratitude. Gratitude for a working body, the experiences I’ve been lucky enough to have, and the adventures I have yet to experience.
So get out there, Ladies & Lady-lovers! Adventure awaits, and nobody can find it but you :)
PS- The links above have more about the trails in Oakridge. If you missed MBO, head out on your own! The West Fir Lodge is a great B&B at the trail head, or you can head 30 miles down the road to Waldo Lake for camping and a 22 mile, easy-intermediate mtb loop with gorgeous views (plus kayaking!).