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Three Perils of Mountain Biking and Tips for Avoiding Them

After keeping you all in suspense, I’m sorry to report that mountain biking was uneventful and that I was awesome at it…or, something like that.  Honestly, although I had some concerns about trying mountain biking, I truly thought I was going to be really good at it.  I’m athletic and have good biking endurance from commuting and riding my road bike.  I was slightly off in my confidence and assesment of skills – just slightly…

The drive up to Raystown was per usual:  me as dj, a stop at Burger King for lunch, and meandering through a mix of quaint and sketchy little towns.

The always classy Breezewood Motel

By the time we made it up to the Susquehannock Campground (the primitive sites, instead of where we usually stay at Seven Points) on Friday, we decided just to set up camp, make dinner and hang around by the fire – no riding just yet.  So I joyfully sat watching the fire lick up the logs, sipping on my oh-so-tasty Avery IPA (hoppy, delicious craftbrew in a CAN), blissfully ignorant of things to come.  

Saturday morning, we swung over to Rothrock Outfitters to pick up my women’s specific bike. 

The folks at Rothrock are super chill and very friendly.  They tightened up my bike, gave me an extra tube, I signed a waiver and I became the proud renter of a Scott Contessa 50.  I will say, I highly recommend using these guys.  They also have kayaks for rent, camping gear, and even Ruff Wear equipment for your adventure dogs!  Plus, their shop is pretty cool and is just 15-20 minutes from the campground in Huntingdon, which is worth checking out itself.  

Back at camp, it was time to set sail on my maiden voyage.  My initial concern with mountain biking was the tree roots and rocks on the trail.  Ryan assured me that you don’t really notice them and you just kind of pop over them.  I was skeptical.  But, after riding on the road by our campsite to make sure my seat was adjusted properly, Ryan had me “off-road” through our campsite.  I quickly saw that rocks and roots were of no concern and I was now feeling unstoppable with my one major concern now pushed aside.  Silly…

Peril #1 – Speed

As I very quickly learned, so many mountain bikers like the trails at Raystown because of their “flow”.  I just thought this meant the trails were smooth.  Basically, it means that the trails are built in such a way so that you can build speed and momentum and rarely pedal.  To me this meant I was stuck in a maze of rocket boosters propelling me toward trees and off of cliffs at warp speeds.  Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but let me explain my fear of speed…

I got my first big girl bike for my 5th birthday.  I had picked it out and was super excited.  But, once I got the bike, I was terrified to ride it.  Without the safety of my training wheels there were too many unknowns.  How was I supposed to balance the bike, steer and pedal all at the same time?  Wasn’t I bound to crash and get hurt?  I would not get on the thing – how could my parents even buy me such a unsafe gift?  Finally, my mom gave me a deadline.  If I did not ride the bike by then, she would sell it to another little girl that would.  So I pouted for a week, waited until the last day, got on the bike, started crying as my dad jogged along side of me and just like in a movie, tipped over as soon as I noticed he was gone.  I was like this with lots of “daring” acts – rollerblading, water slides, cliff jumping, etc.  Not exactly Evel Knievel.  

So, back to the mountain biking…the first trail we were on was ok, but was enough to get me a little nervous.  I felt much more out of control then I would have liked.  Then we went onto the hydroloop.  This loop was complete with a lakeview.  Lovely for those who aren’t worried about falling off the trail and tumbling down into the lake, but for me it just increased my anxiety.  I was on my brakes practically the entire time trying my best not to pick up any speed whatsoever.  At this point, I learned that using the rear brake caused my bike to fish tail a little bit.  Usually this wouldn’t be that problematic, but at my slow speed fish tailing combined with roots and rocks made for a little bit of a challenge.  So, I started using my front brake…(a hint of foreshadowing here).

Then we hit the doe trail – my favorite!  It was flat and mellow and everything I thought mountain biking was going to be.  I pedaled and was in control of my own speed.  It was a nice bike ride through the woods and it was awesome!  The trail was punctuated with a couple little rock gardens that I actually was able to navigate and was really beginning to like this. 

The doe trail connected to another and we wound our way to a nice scenic overlook, where we stopped to take in the view, take a little break, and snap a photo!  This was just like hiking, but faster!  I could get into this.

At the overlook

Then came berry trail…

The berry trail had overgrown thorny bushes that snagged at your skin and pulled and scratched as you rode past.  I have many little scraps from these and I couldn’t help but think that this was the dumbest thing ever and nobody could think this trail is fun.  It just got worse…a set of rollers.  These rollers were downhill and I was going way to fast for my own liking.  I couldn’t stay completely on the brakes so I had to pump them.  Then it got to a point where I couldn’t really control my speed at all and I caught air off of one of the hills. I panicked, slammed on my brake (the front one) and caused the bike to buck me off into the thorny berry bushes.  This leads to mountain biking lesson #1 – do not slam on your front brake because you will get bucked off.

Scratches from falling in the bushes

Unfortunately for me, I’m a slow learner and I bucked myself two more times after this.  On one such occassion, I landed against a log.  I have a lovely bruise on my back to remind me of why you should not ever jam on the front brake.

Peril #2 – Feet Positioning

For a little while, we hit some parts of the trail that “suck” – climbs.  I liked these parts.  Although they are a lot of work, I was in control of my speed and direction.  During some of the climbs, I would get a little squirrely and the bike would start zig-zagging up the hill.  Ryan gave me mountain biking lesson #2 – keep your eyes three feet ahead of you and your bike will track straight.  Genius trick that worked like a charm!  These parts I did fairly well on. 

As we kept riding I was feeling more and more confident.  Then came mountain biking lesson #3 – keep your pedals level with one another.  Even when I ride my road bike, I usually ride with one foot down and one up when I’m coasting.  I took this same stance to mountain biking.  Well, what happens when you do that on mountain biking trails is you catch your pedal and/or foot on the ground, a rock, a root, etc.  Lucky for me I only hit the pedal and it just startled me.  You can really, really hurt yourself doing this so DON’T.

Ryan ripping around showing me how it's done - level pedals!

In addition to keeping your feet level when you can, you should also keep your feet on the pedals.  Seems pretty obvious, but trust me, it isn’t always your natural inclination or the will of whatever physics is going on.  I was not using clip pedals for very obvious reasons, so I had flat pedals and tennis shoes on.  On a few occassions my foot slipped off of the pedals.  Most of the time it was just an annoyance, but once it caused me to slip off the bike.  Luckily, it was just on a climb.

Beyond the things out of your control, there is also fear.  My fear came into play during the banked turns, or berms.  While experienced people will say they are fun and easy and your bike will naturally go around them, I say that they are horrific.  I rode through two or three and was convinced I was going to wipeout, so I took my feet off to brace myself or to try to cushion my landing or whatever was going through my mind…I don’t know.  Well, Ryan informed me that if I kept doing that and did fall or catch my foot on a root or rock, then I would break my ankle or leg.  So, do not do this either.  Keep your feet on the pedals and level.

Feeling good despite 3 falls (feet still not level...)

Peril #3 – Shit Happens

After three falls and a handful of close calls, I was still a little shaky on this activity.  Just when my confidence was getting up, I would fall again or almost fall.  Then toward the end, I decided to go for it.  The last set of rollers were pretty level, instead of downhill, and the turn at the end seemed gradual and easy to make.  So, for only the fourth or fifth time all day, I completely let off of the breaks and rode through the entire section.  I was gaining speed, pedaling right off the jumps, and genuinely having fun and loosening my death grip on my handlebars.  Then, before I knew what happened, I had wrecked HARD and was lying face down half on the trail, half not.  WTF?!?

After Ryan helped pick me and my bike up, he showed me where the trail washed out and why I had wrecked.  I took only the tiniest bit of solace in the fact that there were tread marks from where other bikers had clearly done the same thing.  Still, I was in too much pain to really care that much.  This lesson I call shit happens.  There is not much in way of tips for avoiding this.  Everyone wrecks at some point.  It may be something you did, or it might be a fluke thing in the trail, or an animal stepped in your path or whatever.  Unfortunately, my wreck had some very mean consequences…

I scrapped the hell out of my elbow, which continues to throb even as I type this.

War wound

Different shot of my arm

Then, I must have hit my thigh on my bike or something because I have a scrape across it which is surrounded by a bruise bigger than my hand.  It hurts to walk or touch – you’d be surprised how much you touch your thigh or rest things in your lap.  It sucks.

Giant bruise on my leg

I also managed to smash the area right below my lower abdomen.  I have a nice cut there as well, and what cut would be complete without a bruise?  Don’t worry, fist sized bruise there as well. This one really hurts.  No movement without it hurting.

Overall, I still enjoyed my time mountain biking and had I only ridden on the beginner’s trails, I would have been fine.  Also, if you aren’t pre-disposed to be a speed-fearing spaz, you won’t buck yourself off.  Really, I should have only wrecked the last time.  Still, even just that one time, well…especially that last time, was a tough fall and I am definitely still feeling it.  If you do go, which I would still encourage most people to do, keep in mind the following tips:

  • Start on beginner’s trails and work your way up
  • Try not to let fear get the best of you and don’t over think things
  • Do NOT slam on your front brake or you will get bucked off your bike
  • Keep your feet on your pedals and level whenever possible
  • Look three feet or so ahead of you to keep your bike tracking straight

The night was spent nursing my wounds with some cold beers, delicious burgers, Ibuprofen and ice.  There was no way I was riding in the morning, so Ryan went out on his own and I cleaned up camp.  After returning my rental bike, Ryan and I explored Huntingdon a little bit.  We were going to go to Boxer’s Cafe, which is supposed to be awesome, but it was closed on Sundays.  We’ll have to get it next time.  

We drove around a bit, passed Puff convenience store (specializing in cigarettes) and then decided on pizza!

We had some tasty mozzarella sticks before moving on to a truly delicious white pizza with garlic, cheese and tomatoes courtesy of the Original Italian Pizza.

Great pizza... and cheap beer to go!

It was certainly a much better choice then the strangely named restaurant at the campground marina, which has mediocre food and bad service.  However, hilarious slogan of “what would life be without memories”.

With bellies full of pizza, we decided to rent kayaks and paddle around the lake for awhile. A safe and gentle activity for my sore and recovering body.

Until next time…

Mountain biking/mother nature – 1, Heather – 0

 
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Posted by on July 11, 2011 in Camping, Cycling, Food and Drink, Travel

 

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