Wednesday Night Ride

I walked away with a few scrapes and bruises but a big smile last night. The Wednesday night group was strong last night in both quantity and quality. Starting out at the Yankee Springs Deep Lake trail head, the group rode for a little over two and a half hours including a full traditional loop during the first hour, and then an hour and a half of undisclosed two-track and single-track with a ton of hills. I was on the group for about 2 of those hours. We had a group of about 12, which is always cool to see as you wind through the woods single file.
The Wednesday night group ride is the first real riding group that I joined. It’s a loose group of Johnson Controls Inc. employees who started riding together years ago at various places in the Grand Rapids area. The group has slowly evolved and grown over the years and now includes about 35-40 people that follow the weekly announcement of where we’re riding, with a consistent core of 5-10 that show up every week. Ability varies, as does the trail selection, though typically we ride Yankee Springs in the spring and fall, Cannonsburg State Game Area (some call it Egypt Valley), Cannonsburg Ski Area, and Luton Park through the summer. When I say AND to Luton, there’s a group that has ridden the tri-fecta (CSGA, CSA, and LP back-to-back-to-back) on many of the summer night rides.
Over the last two years several members of the group have started riding very competitively and have joined the Cross Country Cycle Mountain Bike Team. The last time I was on a competitive team was collegiate intramural softball in Montana. We won the championship under my outstanding team management. I’ve played on other softball teams since as well, but I had to throw out the championship reference. Anyway, joining the team this year brought some real excitement and pride to my riding. It’s pretty impressive to see a large group of guys wearing matching spandex shorts and form fitting jerseys cruising through the back country on their bikes….no really…it’s not weird….honestly.
The next race we’re all planning on is the Yankee Springs Time Trial (YSTT) on April 22. The YSTT is the first mountain bike event of the Championship Points Series race schedule, and I think the first mountain bike race of the season in Michigan. It’s the most widely attended mountain bike race besides the Iceman Commeth Challenge and the Ore-to-Shore Mountain Bike Epic. Nearly 450 people have already registered compared to last year’s 530 riders, of which over 100 registered the day of the event. This year’s event will be capped for the first time at 700 riders.
The Cross Country Cycle team will have riders competing in nearly all of the categories. Because of this, our group rides on Wednesday nights can turn from casual no-drop to “I’m going to whoop you up that hill!…and then around these bends….and then down this decent…and…hey, where is everyone?” in the blink of an eye. This has the effect of really challenging guys like me who probably ride the line between ‘sport’ and ‘expert’ (really competitive in sport / maybe not last in expert). Last night’s ride ended up being a bit less of a no-drop ride and more of a no-messin’ ride (my term for a no messing around ride). And that’s how the scrapes and bruises happened.
It’s fun to keep up with the fast group out on the trail. But in mountain biking, going faster is more than just increasing your physical fitness. On both occasions last night my spills were the result of me steering poorly (as opposed to someone else steering poorly and me running into them, I guess). Some of it may have been endurance related as I find that if I climb like mad on an uphill, I’ve sucked all the blood and oxygen out of my upper body which is necessary to drive the bike on the way back down. But the other part is simply trying to avoid stuff that is coming up on you quicker because of your increased speed.
My first little spill involved me choosing a high-ground line too late to avoid a 1 ½ inch sapling separating the sandy line from the line I wanted. I ended up finding out why you wear a helmet….it’s to collect sand and leaves when you do summersaults with your bike without leaving the ground. My neck is a bit stiff tonight, but otherwise that was merely comical. We were only about a ¼ mile into the trail when this happened, so it had nothing to do with fitness and everything to do with handling skills not matching the speed we were carrying at that point.
The second spill was half way through our first loop and I had been pushing really hard to keep up with our Elite and Expert riders through the first set of climbs. After cresting the top of a long climb, I knew I was winded, but kept pushing because overall I felt good. Coming down the back side into the winding descent, my front wheel veered off the trail into some loose dirt and over the handle bars I went again. This time my left lower leg took the brunt of the fall and got scraped pretty good. No significant injuries again, though, so I tried to hop up and get back on my bike before I lost my spot in line. However, as soon as I stood up I realized that maybe, for my own safety, I better just let a couple of the guys go by and cool down in the rear of the pack. That ended up being a good decision because I would have most definitely worn out to early for the rest of the ride’s pace.
The rest of the ride was uneventful for me but our group overall took a beating out there. There were several other riders who came back banged up, scraped up, and cut up from the trail. I don’t recall any other rides being that brutal, but then again it’s the beginning of the season and for the most part our group is starting out faster than we did last year (which for most everyone is faster than the year before that as well).
Ending the night, as we usually do, at Uccello’s in Wayland, we were treated to some great stories about the night’s ride as well as group ride legends that become tradition to retell at all gatherings. Several of the group members ride with point of view camcorders so we get to check out some of the night’s ride via laptop as well. Ahhhh the age of technology. In case you forgot what that ride looked like, you can experience it again within minutes of completion without any of the effort. That’s actually really fun. Our server got a kick out of it anyway.

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