Friday, May 1st, 2009

MTB: A Mudworm’s Belmont Half Mountain Adventure

It all started from this MTBR thread: The Belmont Half Mountain Adventure, started by Krishna (kpd) in the beginning of April.  Adventure? I think Krishna is too mellow to call it, but it’s in its essence a race (or at least a challenge), only based on honor system. That is, people do the challenge on their own time (through May 1st) and report the time back. The challenge itself is a 0.6 mile climb at Water Dog park in Belmont, the majority of which follows Berry Trail in the uphill direction. I had attempted climbing Berry Trail last year not knowing what it was, and it felt so hard that I thought nobody in their right mind would climb it knowingly. The thread received great enthusiasm. That’s when I realized that the trail was actually climbable, just not by me, but that had to change! Since then, I have been on my journey into this adventure. It’s been a tough and interesting journey, which deserves a long blog post.

What makes it a challenge?

First, here is a rundown of all the obstacles that I considered tough at the beginning of the adventure that are illustrated with photos. Click on the photos to see the bigger versions.

1. The Pavers: No photos can do its justice. It’s steep! If you stall while going up it, what happens usually is either you fall to the left side into the poison oak bushes, or you and your bike tumble down backwards to the bottom. Both happened me, multiple times. The approach to the pavers includes a dam that’s flat followed by a short descent, and then a short bumpy flat section.

2. The Bridge: It’s basically a small step up followed by a short climb. It wouldn’t have been hard if it were not preceded by a little rooty climb after the exciting pavers. And it can also get very slippery when moist. When I went up on the last day of the challenge hoping to break my PR, it was after some very light drizzle in the morning and you could barely notice the effect on the dirt trail, but the wood was moist. By that time, I had been pretty consistent in clearing the bridge, but this time, my rear tire slipped as soon as it got on the wood, so I put one foot down and then my shoe slipped. I got off my bike and now both my shoes were slipping. I had to use the hand rail to pull myself and my bike up that little uphill section, which cost me dearly in time. No PR was broken on that ride.

3. The Log: The step-up is no taller than a foot. The best passage (without hitting on the tree trunk on the two sides) is only about one foot wide though. I can tell ya there is plenty of poison oak there.

4.  The Rock Garden: This is just a variable to the 1st Sister (see below). Bumpy, rocky, and uphill. When you come from Berry Trail, you most likely are already huffing and puffing when you get here. Good luck!

5. The Three Sisters: Some people call them the Three B1tches. That tells you something — they are not the friendly sort. The 1st one is steepest, but shortest. The 2nd one has one good line (better traction and smoother) on the left side, i.e. the hill side. The 3rd one is a two tier climb, not very steep but she is there to greet you after her two sisters.  I remember the 2nd Sister always spooked me until I got on a demo Ibis Mojo last year (in October) and rode up it the first time then. I was so impressed with Mojo that I thought it possessed some magic. Of course, ever since then I have had no problem riding it on my own bike. I did not really see these three sisters as real challenges when I entered this adventure, but thought I should mention them here for people who are not familiar with the route. (Oh, speaking of Mojo, please see my bike search post for my new perception of the bike.) Here they are:

6. The Log Pile: As far as log piles go, this one is a very mellow one, with a good ramp up and a good ramp down. However, it is located in the middle of a right bend with a drop on the outside followed by a climb. Until this challenge, I had never thought of going this way because it was only a side variation to another trail.  It was not very hard, but I did fall into the branches on the hill side once when I lost focus.

7. The Wall, aka the 4th Sister: This is the last challenge on the route. It is steep and with a loose rut in the middle that tends to suck wheels in. Nasty!

So, how did I do?

In the beginning of this adventure, I was in a state that I had to walk the pavers, the bridge, the log, the rock garden, and the wall. Dang, that’s a lot of walking, but that’s what I did on my first time trial on April 2nd: 8′ 59.81″.

During the month, I’ve gone back to Water Dog n times. (I’m not going to tell you the number because you will think I’m retarded for having pretty much lived there for a month yet still not being able to fly up the route with only one foot.)  I cleaned the bridge first time on April 5th, the wall on 10th, the pavers on 15th, and the log on 24th. I have yet to clean the rock garden, and I have a very poor success rate on the log. *A deep sigh* The log is my nemesis! I don’t know what it is, but I’ve had the toughest time getting this one with style despite my countless attempts. But I have been able to get up a curb that high!

My cleanest run happened on April 30th: 8′ 07.36″ — I had one rolling dab at the log and walked the top (two steps) of the rock garden, but I peddled clean the rest of the route. When I topped out on the wall, I almost died, but managed to semi-sprint to the finish with my forehead resting on my handlebar (just like Levi Leipheimer). This was not my fastest run, but I value style over speed. Someday, I will do the whole ride clean. It will come!

But, what’s the price I paid?

Um, I only paid one visit to my doctor, and that was for some steroids…. to suppress my explosive reaction to poison oaks (PO). Till today, I still have a few patches of PO rashes that wake me up in the middle of the night feeling itchy.

Bruises and scrapes? Let’s just say I must avoid changing in front of other women in the locker room; otherwise, I could get Erik into trouble. Oh, and I even got calluses in my right palm! 🙁

My drive train was shot during the month and I had to get everything (chainrings, cog, and chain) replaced. I had never sprinted on my bike until this month. To get up the pavers, you just have to sprint. While working on the rock garden, I tried to sprint hard too. My bike went into shock and the drive train just quit on me.

What did I gain?

Oh, the joy, the satisfaction, and the new self-discoveries.  For example, I had never known that I had such an addictive personality. I’m glad that I never got into alcohol. Of course, I never thought the pavers and the wall were ride-able in the uphill direction before. I also get to enjoy the sub-second thrill every time I ride over the log pile now. Plus, I have established a goal to ride that log and the rock garden in style and with confidence. I know when that day arrives, I’ll be a much better rider.

Oh, and the challenge grants some time bonus for sick air shot. I knew I could not come up with one within one month considering how timid I was with any mountain biking tricks. I had too much old folks wisdom — oh, I don’t need a missing tooth or a broken bone in my old body. But it got me intrigued. As a matter of fact, I have started my quest for catching sick air, but I’ll take it my way — a mudworm’s way, that is, I’ll take it really slow. It seems that being able to manual is the base for a lot of bike tricks. Guess what, after reading around for tips, I started off with doing manuals on a trainer. Yep, you heard me right.

What? Manuals on a trainer???

Here is a two minute video that documents the start the my journey towards air catching.

Please do leave me comments if you have any tips that will help me with manuals, jumps, or skinnies.

I could not have done this alone.

That is for sure! Erik endured many dinners from Trader Joe’s frozen packages and the headaches from watching me doing circles around our little house.  The promise that we would go climbing after Boggs IV never materialized (so much for wanting to earn the title of  “a wonderful wife“). Hoping to go to Coe on the occasional weekends he was not on call, but every time he was dragged to Water Dog to beat one trail to death.  And then, there is my weekly lunch time riding partner Bryn, always insisting I pick the route and somehow always ending up on Berry Trail in the wrong direction. Jay and Sterling held a climbing clinic on the pavers and the rock garden per my request, although in the end it was Daryl‘s detailed breakdown of sequence of events that got me up the pavers — I think it’s because Daryl and I have similar riding style. You should see him ride up the rock garden in his granny gear! Shawn and Ford at Tread Bikes stayed late at the shop working on my bike upon an extremely short notice that enabled me to get back on the trails with no downtime.  And of course, Krishna, you have to be a genius to come up with the idea of this challenge, and you have to be a super human to pull it off in 5′ 14″!

Now that it’s over…

The challenge ended, but my journey has just started. I’ll be taking it slow, and might actually get my life back for a while.

9 Responses

  1. Krishnaon 03 May 2009 at 10:34 am

    You’re nuts! :biggrin:

    Congratulations on your win.

  2. Alison Chaikenon 03 May 2009 at 9:42 pm

    For poison oak, try Tecnu, available at most drugstores. Tecnu is a soap that washes the poison oak toxin off skin. I learned about it on the MTB trailbuilding weekends I attended, and it really works!

  3. mudwormon 04 May 2009 at 10:03 am

    Nuts? So says someone who came up with the crazy idea. :mrgreen: Congrats on your win as well!

  4. mudwormon 04 May 2009 at 10:06 am

    Alison, thanks for the kind advice. My problem was not in not knowing; my problem was I did not have the time to bother with the proper care. I was riding multiple days in a row and sometimes more than once in a day (they were short segments, but still). With only a couple sets of riding gear, I sometimes just had to wear the same clothes that I rolled in the PO bushes with earlier. I thought to myself the PO rashes would not kill me. 🙂

  5. Patrick Herlihyon 04 May 2009 at 11:42 am

    Mei, your persistence is inspiring!

  6. mudwormon 04 May 2009 at 7:20 pm

    Hey, Patrick, how is your Death Ride prep going? I bet you have abundant persistence! :mrgreen:

  7. Patrick Herlihyon 04 May 2009 at 7:40 pm

    :mrgreen: going well.. would have been 3 centuries in 3 consecutive weekends but for the rain. Time to start some serious climbing endurance training now I have the distance!

    But I still haven’t got up the pavers at Waterdog successfully yet!

  8. Jeanne Waldmanon 13 Nov 2009 at 10:36 am

    You forgot to describe the first time you did the pavers. You told me, let’s go try the pavers. I said ok. I was nervous. They are steep and the approach is bumpy, so I was scared to get too much speed and bounce off my bike. We get there, ready to do the pavers, and you say something like, “Ok, you first.” 🙂

  9. mudwormon 13 Nov 2009 at 3:53 pm

    When climbing, I go first; when riding, you first. I’ll go first if one day I ride as well as you do. :mrgreen: