Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rainy Day Sunday

I checked the weather report for Sunday and NOAA was calling for 100% chance of heavy rain and 20+ mph winds. That can mean only one thing, dirt jumping season is done and it's time to pull out the big bike. The day before had been absolutely gorgeous, so I figured I might be riding alone on Sunday morning after everyone got their fill on Saturday. Pacific north-westerners are a rugged group, but when the weather first changes from temperate, sunny conditions to cool and wet, it's sometimes hard to make the transition.

I got lucky though and not everyone I know was content to stay inside and sit on the couch. David Waugh and Henry Hartshorn were itching to get outside as much as I was. So, we made plans to meet up at the north entrance of Galbraith at 9am. A temporary break in the rain Sunday morning also helped to get everyone motivated and out the door. Not having to climb up in the rain sure would be nice. Riding in the rain is one thing, but a 45 minute grind uphill on a 40 lb. freeride bike is no fun at all. And it's made all the worse when you've been using the same wet weather clothing for the last 2 years and it has ceased to be waterproof.

By 9am Henry and I were at the trailhead and a few minutes later David rode up. By 9:15 the rain had started up again was coming down steadily. Agggh! So much for staying dry on the climb up. Henry and I unloaded our bikes and then began to make our way up the hill. Surprisingly, the rain didn't do much to lessen the traffic in. We passed at least 10 runners and cyclists on the way.  I don't think Miranda Trail this busy on a clear day. I don't know what to make of it. There goes the transitioning weather theory. 

We continued climbing Miranda up to the Ridge Trail after the first 15 minutes I got dropped by Henry and David. I have to remind myself in this kind of situation that it's important not to wear myself out on the climb if I planning on hitting jumps later. Bad things happen when I'm fatigued and riding stunts. So, I made it a point to set a reasonable pace and save some energy for the the trip down. I kept chugging along until I got to the overlook on the Ridge. The RIdge overlook is one of the best views on the mountain. You can see the city of Bellingham below, the bay to the west and Canada to the north on a good day. When it's clear of fog,  the view from the overlook is stunning, but this day the rain and clouds were enough to keep even Bellingham which is imediately below hidden beneath us. 

View of Bellingham from the Ridge Trail

Sometime around 10:15 we arrived at what we put in all this effort for...SST. The trail is about a mile down from top to bottom and is on a fairly shallow grade. Most of it's length is made up of singletrack averaging 18 to 24 inches with the width opening and tightening as it curves and berms around trees and rocks. And even though SST is not terribly steep, it has many opportunities for carrying speed. Both natural and man-made rollers make it possible to pump the the terrain for additional momentum. This is good considering that it's often difficult to pedal because of how narrow the trail is and how close fern covered stumps or rocks are to the the trail's edge. And most of these lay at the perfect height to grab a pedal (or your front wheel), haul the bike rapidly to a complete stop and hurl you over the bars. All before you have any possibility of reacting to what is happening to you. One minute your zipping down the trail, a split-second later you're looking up at the sky wondering, "What the hell just happened to me?"

Though I would consider it a jump trail,  you can bypass the jumps if you choose to do so. And it's still fun even if you do. All the jumps have either a go-around or a rollable take-off. But if you do choose to take the jump lines, however, you'll notice that even though they're not the largest jumps on the mountain (most are under 2 feet tall) they are technically challenging. First there is the trail width as I mentioned before, and secondly, most have a turn or obstacle just before or just after the jump requiring at least one (or more!) of the following maneuvers: railing a berm, dodging a tree with the handlebars on landing or take-off or dodging a rock by rotating the crank.

With all this going on I tend to think of riding SST like reenacting the speeder bike chase scene in Return of the Jedi where they're whizzing through the woods narrowly missing trees with every turn, on the edge of loosing control. Every time I ride it, I feel like I'm 10 playing in the woods again. Never sure where I'm going to get the next bruise that I can freak my mom out with, but knowing that it's probably not far off. There are definitely faster trails with bigger jumps on the mountain, but SST's charm comes from the amazing barrage of things coming at you at any given moment. Good fun fun to be sure.

So, after some discussion over who was going first, I dropped into the lead position. Henry followed behind me with David in the back on his hardtail. The rain stopped twenty minutes or so before we dropped in, so that meant rocks and roots on the trail were going to be slick. The wheels were going to break free, it was just a question of when. I've grown to like riding in the wet, the more that I have had to do it. I'm actually starting to enjoy the unpredictability of it. It's not the same as riding on a warm, dry, sunny day but doing it is fun on it's own terms.

The skills you need for riding in the wet are basically the same as dry conditions, there's just less forgiveness screw-ups. Grabbing too much brake or being careless about how you weight the bike can put you on the ground in a hurry. There's a sickening feeling of loosing control that you get, when the tires break free, that tells you that you're going to wreck. In wet conditions, this  happens a lot, so you get used to that feeling of the back wheel breaking free, sliding to the side a few inches, and then biting again. When you develop the confidence to know that the tire will grab, you just have to wait for it. This becomes completely normal and fun. Controlling direction and speed becomes a game of subtle change and response between rider and bike.  Need to turn left? Weight the left grip and right pedal then lean the bike left. After that it's just a matter of believing that the bike will turn. There is, however, frequently a gap in time between rider action and bike response. And somewhere, in this gap of time, is where you find the fun of wet weather riding. Tire sliding, bike drifting, mud churning fun!

Henry on the leftmost step-up line at Raymond.

Henry on the hip line overshooting the hip in to the G-out, after I told him to brake...a lot. Me: "How did that feel", Henry: "Kind of harsh". Haha! I love understated as always.

Henry doing the same line again. This time with the perfect amount of speed. Nicely done.

Me nosing in on the step-up.

Me on the same jump, doing it right this time.


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