Hillside Park - My Mountain Bike Reminder of What I Suck At

9:40 PM

Ok, this is not a post where I get all down on myself about what I cannot yet do on my mountain bike.  I recognize that I am still a beginner (haven’t yet made it to the first anniversary of my inaugural ride on a bike with a suspension fork), and I do understand that I have made excellent progress in the short time I have been kicking around on the hard tail; however, it is sometimes difficult not to focus on all that you haven’t, rather than what you have, mastered.

If you're not ready, she can be scary!
Last week all the trails in the Twin Cities were finally declared dry and open for riding.  The spouse and I coordinated our schedules and made a date with Hillside Park for Thursday afternoon – my first dirt ride of the season.  I went to Hillside with a bit of apprehension.  This was, after all, the site of my mid-winter racing debacle.  Even without that most recent experience on the trail, Hillside has always been the most challenging trail for me in the metro area.  This course has great flow, while also continually leading you up steep, root- and rock-filled hills.  As if the natural terrain weren’t enough, the designers have put in several man-made obstacles to up the fun level.  These include: a teeter-totter, a couple of skinnies, a narrow downhill staircase with a turn at the top, a wooden berm, and an uphill rock staircase where the rocks have a height of about 10 – 20 inches. 

What I like about Hillside Park is how it serves as a gauge of my advancing mountain biking skills.  My first visit, early last summer, was a confusing afternoon filled with running, not riding.  Each section of the course gets more challenging, so by the time we entered the fourth section I was slowly wheeling around every corner in fear of what lay ahead.  I swore I wouldn’t be back that summer, as the course was far too advanced for my skills.

A month later, when the spouse talked me into a return trip, things weren’t as scary as they were the first time.  Sure, I spent lots of time off the bike, but I was also confident enough to attempt some of the intimidating uphill sections where the roots threatened to throw me off my line (some I even managed to climb).  Each successive visit lengthens the list of obstacles I conquer.  And now, with this most recent visit, my list of “can’t do it yet” is down to three elements:

Why you don't know where you are
1.    Twisty Downhill – if this section had two difficulties, I could do it.  Unfortunately, it combines all three of my biggest challenges: steep downhill, sharp turns, and roots.  Every time I walk through this short section I guide my bike on the line I should take, but I just can’t seem to manage it while actually riding my bike just yet.

2.    Boulder Staircase – this puppy is the next thing I am going to get good at.  My first goal for mountain biking this season is to really dial in unweighting the front of my bike so I can lift it to climb rocks.  I’m already working on the motion (sweeping down in a nice pre-load, then springing up and back to unweight), and can get my front wheel off the ground.  Now I need to work on the timing so I can place the wheel on rocks to roll over them.

3.    Stone Staircase (downhill, with a twist) – there is no real practice for this one.  It really is a basic element that I have the skills for right now. I don’t do it because that fear factor is still too large in my mind.  Essentially, to do this right I have to do what is most difficult in mountain biking: don’t use the brake.  So many things can be accomplished if you can just get yourself to not brake.

There is a race at Hillside in about five weeks (yikes!)…it is officially under consideration… 

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