Last Friday was another first for me, and the day marked both the end of an era and the beginning of a new chapter.
We said goodbye to Rosie, one of the BBP Women’s Night coordinators, who has departed with a one-way ticket to New Zealand and a huge adventure ahead of her. Although the goodbye itself was sad, we did it in the best possible way: we headed out to the Forest of Dean for a day in the mud. And there was a lot of mud.
The planning was a little haphazard, and up until about midnight the night before, I wasn’t even sure that I was going to be able to make it. With my bike in tow, it was a question of someone being able to fit me into their own travel plans.
Thankfully we sorted out some logistics at the last minute, and I ended up meeting Rosie and Sam early on to hand over my beloved Phoebe, who hitched a ride with them and their full-sus bikes across the River Severn.
I then waited around, got a coffee, and eventually met up with the others. There was Joey, who I’ve met many times before, plus two women I didn’t know: Karen and Maddy. Driving us was Rachel, another of the Women’s Night coordinators, who rocked up with her breakfast in some tupperware and a pulled muscle, but eager to still give it a try.
Since I hadn’t met Karen and Maddy before, the drive up was a nice opportunity to get to know them a little, and get a feel for everyone’s experience and expectations for the day. It turned out that Karen and Joey had never been mountain biking before, Rachel had mucked about with it as a teenager, and Maddy hilariously had tried it once before and hated it. It was looking to be an interesting day.
We turned up at Pedal a Bike Away, and the others picked up their hire bikes. They were all riding Cube hardtails, which intrigued me. I’ve heard good things about Cube road bikes but hadn’t really given much thought to their mountain bikes. The girls all seemed to have a great time on them.
Once we were joined by Rosie, Sam, and (most crucially) my bike, it was time to set off for the trails. Sam went and did his own thing, despite being Honorary Boy.
We only had time for one lap of the Verderer’s Trail: an 11km blue trail consisting of some challenging climbs, fast descents, undulating rollovers and as many berms as you could get your teeth into. But one lap was enough. At this time of year the trails were extremely muddy, so taking into account all the climbing, the re-grouping after each section, and of course the fact that some of us were beginners taking their time, by the time we got back to the centre it wasn’t long before we were due to get the train.
In my last post where I talked about going to Bike Park Wales for the first time, I highlighted a couple of things I wanted to work on: loosening up and braking with one finger instead of two.
I’m happy to say I worked on both these things while at the Forest of Dean, and I felt a huge improvement. Though I don’t have any photos with which to analyse my posture, I felt that my handling of the bike was a lot more fluid, and I definitely didn’t come away with any bruises from pinching the saddle.
I forced myself to try braking with one finger while on a flatter part of the route, and I found that it was a lot less scary than I’d anticipated. In fact, it reaffirmed just how good my brakes are. One finger was enough to keep my speed in check on the fast descents, and my grip on the handlebars was so much better.
One more tip I picked up on the day, courtesy of Rosie, was a piece of advice that sounds so silly at first, but makes so much sense when you put it into practice: Steer with your belly button.
I’ve been firmly relying on my gaze to help me get to where I want to be, but this was the missing part of the puzzle. As soon as I consciously thought about moving my belly button (and therefore my core) in my desired direction, I felt my hips move to the right place, and I began to drive round the berms with my whole body. For the first time, I rounded some big corners and actually felt like I was properly leaning into them. It did wonders for my confidence.
Speaking of which, I should mention that this was the first time I’ve ridden with a group where I wasn’t the least experienced person. In fact, after Rosie, I was the second most experienced one there! This was completely new ground for me. For once, I wasn’t feeling like the slow one at the back, worried that everyone else was waiting ages for me to roll up.
This time around, I was giving the others tips, in some parts of the trail I led the way, and I came away feeling not just more confident, but more competent as well. It’s amazing what a day like that can do for your self-esteem.
So, I’ll leave you with this final thing. With my newfound confidence and continuing self-analysis, I’ve pinpointed an area that I continue to struggle with, and have made a brave decision in order to rectify it.
I’m not great at getting my footing right from the get-go. Generally I have a bit of time to re-position my foot on the pedal before picking up speed, but there have been times where I’ve stopped right at the top of a big drop, and ended up descending with one foot out of place.
Also, my Giro Jacket shoes unfortunately are just a tiny bit too small, and leave my toes feeling bruised after a lot of downhill stuff. So, I’ve ordered some new shoes. And I’m clipping in.
I may regret this. I may not. It will certainly help me get my footing issues sorted, and will get me up the hills more efficiently. We’ll have to see how it goes. I’m sure you’ll hear all about it soon enough.