May 3, 2013
By riding the same trails regularly, I can easily judge the progression of my skills. Now starting my third summer mountain biking, I’m realizing both what I’ve already learned along with an awareness of how much I don’t know. It brings a smile to my face when I look back at pictures like these from 2011 and remember struggling with a climb I can now top, being afraid to ride across rocks I barely notice, coming to a dead stop in front of a log, I now pop over without a thought.
You’ve come a long way, baby
September 5, 2012
It just hit me that I’m coming up on my 2 year anniversary of my first attempt at mountain biking. That visit to an Intro clinic and short, short ride on a beginner trail was really more of a putting my toe in the water, versus jumping right in. If someone was to ask me how long I’ve been mountain biking, I generally consider spring of 2011 to be the beginning, the point I actually started going out and riding trails…and dragging my family along for the ride so to speak. But it was at the Fall Colors Festival in September of 2010 when I first did a timid ride with dirt under my wheels. Even then I knew I was hooked.
Mountain biking is an all in kinda sport. Meaning your focus has to be all in, on the here and now. The rest of world gets tuned out. Not just by being in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of life. But by the very real need to keep a single minded focus on that single track ahead while at the same time giving into an almost mindless bike/body connection, constantly shifting weight and balance. That feeling of flowing with the bike, with the trail, coupled at times with an adrenaline rush due to speed or difficulty of the trail or drop offs or jumps is wonderful. Almost addicting, Brings me back time and again.
Now with two summers of riding under my belt, it’s great to realize how much progress we’ve made on our skills. As our skills grew, our interest in the sport also increased – as did our stable of bikes. Riding trails we know over again, allows us to benchmark our progress. It’s a great feeling to to clean a trail you couldn’t before. To make it all the way up a climb that you’ve had to get off and push in the past. To ride over a log as if it wasn’t there. Beaver tree, what beaver tree (a particular place on an otherwise easy trail that has vexed me in the past). These improvements all help our confidence grow. With confidence comes ability, a virtuous cycle that allows us to tackle new trails, try new things. Downhill riding in Colorado this past summer, Kiddo and my first “Super-D” race. And in a full circle, we plan on doing our first cross country races at this year’s Fall Colors Festival.
Off the Road in the City……
May 23, 2011
Was thrilled this morning to see this tweet from @WORBA_MMB, the account of Metro Mountain Bikers, Milwaukee’s off-road biking club. The Metro Mountain Bikers maintain several areas of mountain biking singletrack around Milwaukee County. The Hoyt Park and Oak Hill sections are in located in Wauwatosa – the city just west of Milwaukee proper.
The weather was perfect for our first trail ride of the year. Sunny, 80 degrees. We put the hitch on the car, checked out the bikes; giving them the ABC once over – air, brakes, cranks and chains. Once that was complete, made sure we had all the gear – helmets, water, gloves, before heading out on the 5mile trip to the trails. Yes, I know we could have ridden, should have – in fact I ride past the Hoyt trails on my bike commute. However, kiddo doesn’t quite have his biking legs and stamina to do both the rides to and from plus the trails. Working on that is a goal for the year.
The trails are flowing, curvy single track. No tough climbs, but fun little touches of dips and creek crossings. The Metro Mountain Bikers do a great job of maintaining these – in keeping brush in check, building boardwalk type crossings, and installing rock and other armor in low lying spots.
I also laughed at this tree. Apparently, a local beaver has the same opinion as I about having this tree at the base of a small hill with a slight curve in the trail. Tho’ I suppose it would prevent you from riding into the river.
Shoulda looked a bit closer at that Milwaukee by Bike map
October 8, 2010
In May or June of 2009, the Bike Federation of Wisconsin did a lunch-n-learn event at my workplace on bike commuting. In addition to a great lecture, question and answer session, they provided each attendee with a packet of info – rules of the road, biking tips and a copy of the Milwaukee by Bike map. At the time, I was only flirting with the idea of taking up cycling. It wasn’t for another month or two that I started riding regularly. However, this was a map of Milwaukee County and I live in Waukesha county. Not relevant to me. Or so I thought. And so, this great bike map was filed away with the other maps in my collection. (I’m a bit of a map geek, like reading them believe it or not, part of my travel and trip planning obsession).
But, the seed was planted to bike commute.
That lunch-n-learn, plus the free helmets my employer gave to the attendees spurred me to finally start riding. First a quick spin around the neighborhood on a men’s mountain bike – which both wore me out and gave me one sore bottom, causing me to learn about women specific design both in saddles and bikes. Soon I was taking my trusty 25 year old Schwinn on longer and longer rides. Since then I’ve added a couple of bikes to my stable. First a road bike, now a hybrid, all-trail bike.
In a testament to how big a part of my life this new hobby/sport/pastime of biking has become, I’ve written several blog posts about biking. In fact I’d say biking may be the most frequent theme or at least mention of any topic (Remember, this blog *started* as a gardening blog. It was biking that took it down the current random path). Discovering the Glacial Drumlin trail, exploring new places around my neighborhood, suddenly realizing I did not live in a flat area, riding the Chicago lakefront trail, riding Milwaukee’s lakefront trail, my first organized ride, rented bikes and rode around California’s wine country, and my recent 1st try at mountain biking.
But still I did not bike commute.
Logistics, carrying clothes, laptop, etc. played a part in my hesitancy But mainly, I wasn’t commuting because I was afraid. Of traffic. That I wouldn’t be able to make it there and back. I should have looked at that bike map. After all, half of my commute is in Milwaukee county. And nearly 100% of the parts I was worried about traffic are in Milwaukee county. For those familiar with the area; I’m talking about from 124th to Hawley…basically crossing through ‘Tosa. North and Watertown Plank are heavily trafficked during commute times, and lane changes and position jockeying at stop lights along State St. scare me in my car – let alone riding.
However, luck would have it that in my search to find best trails to try out mountain biking for the first time, I discovered Hoyt Park in Wauwatosa had an easy MTB trail. This is only 3 or 4 miles from my office. So I threw my all trail bike into my car and decided to give the Hoyt trails a try over lunch.
And tested out riding from the office to Hoyt Park……which led me to discover the Oak Leaf Trail. After a couple of days doing that, and wanting to go a bit further over lunch, I threw the road bike into the car, and continued on the Oak Leaf. Riding past the halfway point to my house. Yes, following the trail versus taking the roads adds a bit over a mile to my ride, but almost completely covers the scary traffic part. And riding more than halfway home and back over lunch convinced me that I could make the 11.3 mile trip each way.
Finally, 15 months after thinking I should bike commute to work, I finally am doing it. And loving it – esp. this one section of the route. It’s beautiful with or without the frost. Love the asters, the solidago, can’t wait to see this small bit of wildflowers in other seasons.
Tho’ my FaceBook and Daily Mile friends are probably tired of hearing me complain about the ride home being harder, more uphill. Which it is. And god knows, I’m much more of the slow, steady and consistent effort ilk than the power up hills type. However, if I want to also take up mountain biking, that needs to change. Using the commute to work on standing to pedal up hills, mashing if necessary, using the downhill by Hansen Golf Course (and bumpy pavement) to practice a MTB descent, up off the saddle, slightly behind the seat, feathering the brakes. Maybe some day I’ll be doing hill intervals on Hillside Dr. on my way home, instead of bitching about it, all the while wishing I could find a flatter route through Elm Grove.
Unfortunately, the long shadows and low sun are reminding me that my bike commuting days will come to an end soon for this season. Not sure I’m up for riding in the dark. Definitely know this route is too hilly to chance in the snow and ice. But know that next year, making the bike commute a regular part of my week will improve my biking fitness, ability to handle hills while relieving stress, and bringing a bit of green into my lifestyle.