|No pic of me, but a good one of the Spouse sticking his tongue out on a climb...|
Let me tell you about my Hate-Love relationship with the Afton Alps mountain bike trail.
Two years ago Afton Avalanche was my first category 2-mountain bike race (my previous experience was a couple of citizen races). The Spouse and I pre-rode the course the day before in the rain, and it didn’t take long before I hit portions I couldn’t manage. I walked through the downhill rock gardens. I hiked up the tight switchback hill because I couldn’t keep my front wheel from popping up and my back wheel from spinning out. A couple of downhill 180s had me off my bike because they were bisected by thick and threatening roots. And the loose gravel trough that led to the start/finish area…don’t even get me started.
Suffice it to say, there were tears. I’m not too proud. I will admit that I stood there in the rain and cried because the course scared me so much.
The next day I stood at the starting line completely drained, but with the right mindset. I accepted that I could quit the race at any time. I could just step off my bike. When the whistle blew, I let everyone go and then gently pedaled my way through the trail. Of course, I finished the race (underneath my stubborn exterior is a deeper stubborn layer) and came in a good 20 minutes behind the main pack. I was giddy at the end, having survived two laps, and in complete awe at the babes who finished so far ahead of me. I remember intensely asking a teammate, “How do you get good at this?” Her response thankfully simplified everything down to a simple piece of advice:
“It’s just time on the bike, Meredith, time on the bike.”
Fast forward a year to my second attempt at the Avalanche, and it turns out she was right. I had a lot more time on the bike, and I was a lot more confident. The downhill rock gardens? Scary, but do-able. The uphill switchbacks? On a dry day, no problem. And roots? I laughed at (most) roots (others still made me cry…).
And once I was able to get over all the scary parts of Afton (which, as it turned out, were not all that scary) I discovered the best part: the hills. If you are not doing something scary and downhill, the trail points you up a massive uphill. And says: CLIMB! And me? I’m good with climbing.
So this year, when Afton was missing from the initial series calendar, I had mixed feelings. Nope. My first reaction was: WOO-HOO! No scary stuff!
And then, when Afton was re-inserted into the schedule, I remembered the hills. Oh, the hills. This past Sunday, the hills saved me.
One of my weaknesses is that I often get into the first lap of a race and accept that my current position will be my finishing position. Stupid, I know, but when a rider gets out of my sightline I figure she is gone. Sunday I watched first and second place in my age group ride away from me on a major climb and figured I was good for third place. But instead of checking out like I did last race, I marshaled my effort and rode just on the edge of an asthma attack (turns out, it is possible). If I couldn’t ride their race pace, I figured I could at least ride my race pace.
One lap later I learned something new: while some riders may have fancy and explosive attacks, my grind-it-out pace can work in my favor when a race keeps throwing hills at you. Though I wasn’t able to pull back both riders, I was able to pull back one to take second place.
And Afton? Definitely back in the Love category (no tears!) – one indication of my progress is that I was disappointed to see how much smoother the trail was this year. Vail Resorts bought Afton over the winter, and I hope their modifications are only because they are concentrating on reworking the ski slopes this summer…not a neutered trail for the future…