Unlike my first, snowy experience, I had company on this one, a lot of company. My sister-in-law, who has a mountain bike but hasn't had the opportunity to use it for anything other than our flat trails, came along with me, and there were maybe ten other women doing the ride as well. In contrast to us beginners, they ride fairly regularly and are much more skilled. Even so, it's a very welcoming and encouraging group.
We rode two different trails at Cliff Cave County Park. First, we rode two loops of the Spring Valley Trails. From the GORC website:
The Spring Valley Trail (2.25 miles) begins at the first parking lot near the entrance to the cave for which the park is named. It begins with a water crossing followed by a steep and rocky climb to the beginning of the 2 mile loop at the top of the hill. The loop is mostly packed dirt with few rocks or technical challenges and is great for beginner as well as intermediate riders. Short sections of modest elevation gain punctuate the loop. The trail varies from tight and twisty, to fast and flowing, and weaves in and out of the many sinkholes in the area. It is well marked but other unmarked trails exist and intersect in numerous places.
This was a good one for us to start out on. Of course, almost immediately Kristy and I were way in the back. We actually ended up basically splitting into two groups because we were so slow. It kind of sucks--OK, it flat out sucks--to always be the slow one, but I keep reminding myself that I'm not going to get any faster sitting on the couch. It's so much easier physically to go fast on a bike than running, but mentally it's hard for me because I still have a lot of fear. Hopefully that'll improve as my skills do.
After two loops of the trail, we headed (I walked my bike) down a steep, rocky hill towards the park's namesake cave.
|By this point, I was wishing I had on fewer layers. It started out cool but warmed up pretty quickly.|
The Bluff Trail (0.75 mile loop) is accessed via a climb up the park entrance road. Turn onto the trail at the end of the guardrail on the right. Bluff Trail offers the best technical features for the experienced rider. Several challenging rock gardens present themselves and the climb to the top is rewarded with a beautiful view of the Mississippi River Valley. In the winter months keep an eye out for Bald Eagles. (gorctrails.com)
While the first trail was akin to a bunny slope, this was something different altogether. I did a little walking on this section, but nothing like what I would have done if I hadn't been with the group. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't even have attempted the first climb if I hadn't been with the group. This section was much more technical. Lots of rocks. Watching other riders tackle the climbs and the terrain showed me it was possible and then showed me how to do it...more or less.
|Waiting for the next rider to tackle the hill|
|Ride this? Really?|
We finished riding that loop and then headed back the way we'd come. That mean crossing two more small creeks (a definite theme for me this weekend, as you'll hear once I get my race report from today's trail half marathon written), and then a hike a bike back up that hill.
|Feel the burn|