A confession: Biking with Brent makes me anxious.
We had enough minor snafus early on in our experience racing together that I still get a bit gun shy when it comes to training together. I’ve gotten past it, for the most part, with running, but the prospect of riding – especially on trails – still brings with it bouts of uncertainty and sends my confidence into the gutter.
Which is why, after a fair bit of back-and-forth about plans for this morning, I decided to join Brent for a tough hill ride in and around the Wissahickon Gorge…
…and also why I spent last night tossing and turning as I worried about what the ride would hold.
We left the house just before 10 AM (an extra dog for the week and some small house repairs delaying our start a bit) and headed straight for the trails. In the heart of Wissahickon runs a 5.33-mile gravel path, appropriately called Forbidden Drive as cars aren’t allowed to pass through it, and jutting up on either side of that path are steep, sometimes technical, hills into the neighborhoods above.
I hadn’t ridden outside since November, hadn’t ridden on trails since September, and hadn’t done a serious hill workout since August.
I was shaking in my bike shoes.
We rode down to the half-mile point of Forbidden Drive and started our first climb, the hardest of the day – a steep, long, technical ascent with tight corners and protruding pipes and rocks. The park was muddy from snow melt and my tires slipped and slided as I pushed my way up the hill. I was struggling to find my balance as I navigated the twists of the trail, and I unclipped three times before making it to the top.
Brent reached the top before me, but he, too, came off a couple times during the ride up.
“That’s the hardest one,” he said. “And you did great.”
I’m all about positive reinforcement when I mountain bike.
We headed back down the way we came, and I surprised myself with my ability to go easy on the brakes and ease my way over the rocks. I got a bit tripped up on a particularly tight turn, but otherwise I made it back down unscathed, and we headed down the path to the next hill.
That’s when I remembered one of Bruce’s nuggets of advice that I’ve been collecting over the past couple years: when riding on trails, always keep your tires soft.
We paused to let some air out of my tires and then took to the next hill, not nearly as steep but far more technical a climb. “If you come off here,” Brent had told me, “it’s going to be really hard to get back on.”
Bruce’s suggestion worked wonders, and my tires glided over the craggy rocks and gnarled branches. I came off once, briefly, but jumped right back on, and made it to the top with relative ease.
“I did great!” I exclaimed when I popped up at the top right behind Brent.
I’m also all about self-congratulations when I mountain bike.
“Seriously!” Brent replied. “I’ve never seen you ride this well!”
We continued on the trails until we’d backtracked to the first hill, and then rode back down that one to the path.
“This time, try not to let so much distance get between us on the way down,” Brent coached before we began the descent.
I focused everything I had on my fingertips, willing them not to squeeze the brakes, and sure enough, when we hit the bottom, I wasn’t far off of Brent’s back tire.
The third and the fourth went similarly smoothly. I was keeping up with Brent on the ascents and descents, and feeling strong on the rocky terrain.
“It’s official,” Brent joked after we flew down the fifth hill. “By summer I’ll be the weakest rider on our team.”
“It’s the tire pressure,” I told him. “All about the tire pressure.”
I’d never felt so comfortable on my bike.
We tackled a total of 14 hills this morning over 3 hours and almost 25 miles: 10 horizontal miles and nearly 15 vertical (map and elevation chart here, since I can’t seem to paste them into this post).
By the end, my quads were yelling, my throat was dry, and my shoulders were tight. But I was still pushing the pace, and still climbing strong and steady right beside my husband.
As we were heading down the last stretch of Forbidden Drive to our final climb, Brent said, “So do you feel better?”
“Do you feel more confident?”
“Do you feel more ready to race this year?”
“Do you feel less anxious about riding with me?”
“I do… at least for today.”