While I'm still injured seems like a good time to cover the topic of crashing. Normally I wouldn't want to mention it. I treat crashing and injury like "He who's name shall not be spoken." As if talking about the subject will cause it to appear. This is part of the superstition and mojo that I believe in. It's the same reason no one should say " Let's make this the last run and head on down." Calling it the last run puts a serious hex on that run and drastically increases the probability of a crash. My friend Rex will say, "Two more, skip the last." And another friend Gurion will call the final run a 'Victory Lap.' Both are ways to make the call without summoning the bad omens.
The last trip down the run can also be a way to break a hex. If you suffer a crash towards the end of the session, you should try everything in your power to complete a run after that without crashing. Ending the day on a crash taints the mojo of the next time you come out.
My mountain biking experience is loaded with superstition, hexes, jinxes, good luck charms, bad luck charms, voodoo, mojo and lots of peculiar rituals. Rituals are good, rituals provide consistency. Consistency provides something you can depend on and eliminate variables. I won't know how all the loose rocks lay on my favorite trail, but I can know every time that I'm tackling the trail with 35 psi in both tires. Setting tire pressure right before I ride is my ritual. It's a ritual that makes perfect sense, more so than transferring my lucky top cap to each new bike over the years.
Every rider comes up with superstitions that work for them. Superstitions, science, it's hard to say for sure sometimes. Take tires for instance. I'll run whichever tires end up on my bike, I don't buy crap tires, but I've never paid attention to dry climate/ wet climate, cornering ability, side wall thickness, blah, blah blah. My favorite tires are the ones that aren't bald. Some of my friends though, are deeply in tune with their tires. Sometimes they just won't like the way the tire felt going through a corner.
I think this is great. I like to encourage tire neurosis in my friends. Often they will take the tires off in disgust and just give them to me. But eventually, they find the perfect tire and their riding and confidence improves measurably. I do understand that your equipment just has to feel right. I had a hard time letting go of my old pedals. I was afraid new ones just wouldn't be right and might create problems. I had so many good memories on the old ones, and they had gotten me through some sketchy runs. I had also had terrible crashes on those pedals, but you create the history you want. I believed that the pedals had the ability to call my feet back to them when I threw a no-footer. New pedals wouldn't know how to do that at first, but I could teach them.
To ease the transition, I tried to make my new pedals feel similar to the old ones. The pins on the old ones were worn down, so I adjusted the pins on the new ones down to the same height. Now I love the new pedals and they are learning how to call my feet back to them in mid air.
I think the mojo is constructive, it's all an imagined placebo, but if it works, go for it. During a ride your mind state varies along a spectrum of alertness. When you are dropping into fast challenging terrain all your senses are hyper aware and you are keyed up for some action. On the rolling double track back to the parking lot, you can turn on autopilot and just cruise along talking with friends or daydreaming. Crashes and injury can happen at either of these times.
Most recently we had just finished riding Indiana Jones, the rowdiest trail in the Niwot complex. Once you complete the relentless series of drops, jumps and berms the trail spits you out onto a level get-back trail that is basically a walking path. If you want to go fast along the get-back you need to pedal fast, otherwise it is just a mellow cruise. Mark was behind me one minute and then gone the next. I circled back to find he had broken his collar bone. His bike was just to the side of the trail laying in the grass and Mark had the defining marks of a dirt nap up the side of his jersey. He wasn't entirely sure, but he thought maybe his front tire drifted off the side of the trail and caught a rock. The details are unimportant, it's easy to imagine the circumstances that led to the wreck
Charging down Indy requires two minutes in the attack position with a white-knuckle grip on the bars and lightning quick reflexes. After finishing Indy, Mark had brought his whole system down off of DEFCON 1 and was sitting comfortably in the saddle, maybe with just palms on the grips giving his fingers a rest. It's a pretty normal way to ride an easy section and not impossible to see how he might have gone down. This led me to think of how I ride the get-back trail.
I never fully drop down to DEFCON 5. Even though the trail is easy, I incorporate self-induced challenges to stay sharp. I bunnyhop over muddy spots or even a random target I've chosen, and I try to flick pinecones and rocks off the trail with my front tire. Flicking the pinecones keeps me focused on the trial, but not at an adrenaline charged level. I'm still cruising along, but I've got a reason to be scanning the trail.
The pinecone flicking trick is also a way for me to monitor my performance. On my first lap up the trail I can flick every pinecone with accuracy and a powerful snap. By the fourth lap, my timing and coordination can be off by a lot. If I do two or three bad flicks in a row then I know I'm running on empty. It's time to call it a day or tune it way down.
My own collar bone crash at Valmont arose from similar circumstances. I had become complacent and didn't apply a correct level of alertness to the riding situation. At the time my riding routine consisted of an hour of XL dirtjump laps on my way home from work a few nights a week. And that's it. I didn't ride trail or even own a trail bike and I didn't even mess with slopestyle or other lines at the park. The dirt jumping part of my life was seamlessly blurred into the rest of the day, instead of being a special time that required a special mind state. I wouldn't even change out of my work shirt. I would just slip on pads and gloves and drop in I took the dirt jumps for granted, and they took notice. I crashed on the first jump of my first run one day.
|another obligatory x-ray |
Now I feel like it's important to make a distinction between riding bikes, and the rest of life. There should be a signifier that indicates the ending of one thing and the beginning of another. It's like when Mister Roger's would change out of his work coat and loafers. Then he slips on his comfy sweater and sneakers. Picture him pulling on a full face, punching his fist into his palm and saying, "It's go time."
It may seem obvious, you are physically getting on a bike, but try to create something that flips the switch in your brain from Normal Life Mode into Riding Mode.
Now, the crashes that happen at the other end of the spectrum.The Hold My Beer and Watch This category of crashes. These can be pretty spectacular. And there are so many classic situations that can lead to this type of crash. For instance, the first run at a new place or the last run at a place you'll be leaving soon. Maybe, all of your friends have done it, now it's your turn.Or maybe no one has done it before and it's your turn. Sometimes you are fully engaged in high performance mode, riding like a ninja with cat reflexes and you still get bucked. I guess these are crashes that happen because you are at the limits of your abilities. Places where a pro rider could make the move that saves the day...but you can't.
These crashes are a lot harder to avoid. Unless you actually can avoid them. Every mountain biker has the trick/line/obstacle that has them stumped. The thing that you say, " I always crash when I try this," right before you try it again. It's a thing that is currently out of our skill level, but we really believe that one day we might conquer it.
An easy way to avoid crashes is to just give up on the thing that has you beat. Like Homer told Bart, "If something is hard to do, it's not worth doing. Now just tuck that karate outfit into your closet with the guitar and your unicycle."
No, I'm not saying that. But somethings aren't meant to be. And you're only going to live through a finite amount of crashes in your life so why waste them? There is a rock step on the Bitterbrush trail about halfway up. I know a lot of people ride up it without even breaking stride. I've cleared it once. I've tried it many times and regularly, slip and smash my crotch on the head set. After I smash myself, I end up pushing my bike up the obstacle. One day I thought, "What if I just skip the part where I get nutted and go right to pushing my bike up this rock?"
Now I just do that, and I enjoy riding Bitterbrush a lot more. I've had a similar experience with 360's. The very first time I tried a 360 on a dirt jump, I landed it perfectly. And that was the last one I ever landed. But I thought I just needed to dial them in. So I kept trying and trying, and slamming and slamming. Every crash was an impact straight to one of my hips. I tried them until both hips were black and blue for weeks. I don't know when I eventually gave up. But both hips are permanently riddled with scar tissue from all the bruising.
Don't do hard things is pretty lame advice from a mountain biker. The entire basis of mountain biking is basically about learning how to do the hard thing. But sometimes, you need to think about longevity if you want to be in it for the long haul. I'm constantly running a risk vs reward analysis. Eventually you work out an idea of which challenges are always worth the risk, and those that really don't live up to expectations. The first thing that comes to mind are drops. A long time ago my friends and I would scour the town of Bend for anything we could ride off of. Drops to transitions, drops to flat, drops to stairs. If you dropped three feet then the obvious next move was something 5 feet, then more.
Then, after a few crashes I started to consider if they were really worth it. I noticed that the actions you go through during a jump are three separate stages. The launch, the apex and the descent. Hitting a drop means skipping the first two fun parts of a jump, and going right into the descent. All the risk of crashing hard is still there with only a third of the experience. So I avoid big drops, especially if no one is around.
Putting my thoughts down on this blog really makes them sting when they come right around and bite me. In this case I was a hypocrite before I could even finish this story. Remember at the beginning when I said I try to pay attention and not let my mind wander when I'm riding the easy get-back trail?
I've been off the bike for a few weeks with a broken wheel and a hurt shoulder, but I finally got back in the saddle Monday morning. I was cruising past the main parking area about 30 minutes before dawn. The only vehicle in the lot was a familiar windowless white van belonging to Lee McCormack. I parked a little further up and started riding in. I pedaled up the mellow double-track and absorbed the sounds of the woods and pondered how socially distanced I currently was. Then I thought, "Well, at least Lee will be out here too." Then I thought, "Lee writes a good blog. I wonder how long it takes him to finish a post? He probably makes a whole outline and has a good idea about what his story should be before he starts it. He doesn't just start writing hoping... POW!!
My front tire washed out and I quickly stepped off my bike with an awkward shuffle. I looked and could see the track where I had let my bike drift into a soft dip in the trail. If somehow I had slipped the other way and fallen off the trail I would have landed on rocks below.
So, I'm taking this as a sign that I have angered the dirt gods. I'll just stop talking now.