Dirty Girls bike ride--Cliff Cave

Instead of sleeping in on Saturday like any other self-proclaimed lazybones, I headed over to The Alpine Shop to meet up for another Dirty Girls mountain bike ride.  Designed to both to showcase the different area parks with great mountain biking and to get women out on the trails and improve their skills, I'm fast falling in love with these rides. 

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.

Like I said, though, this trail was a great place to start.  There were twists, turns, some narrow spots, and some hills, but it's nothing major or too tricky.  I started out slow, but I gradually got a little more confident.  I did notice that, in contrast to the last couple times I've been on my bike, I wasn't oversteering.  Baby steps.  I was also riding the brakes in a big way.  I get nervous on corners, on downhills, near trees, etc., and my first reaction is always to brake.  One of the things I tried to work on was breaking out of my unhealthy attachment to going slowly.  By the end of that section, I at least managed to stay off the brakes on the downhills if it was pretty easy going ahead of me. 

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.
After our cave stop, we got back on the bikes and rode across a small creek.  Well, most of us rode across the creek.  Kristy made it part way, hit a rock wrong, and toppled over.  Sadly, I didn't get the picture.  She laughed off her baptism and climbed back on the bike.  We had to ride a short distance up the park road to the Bluff Trail. 

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
This climb, for example...no way would I have tried it alone.

Rode 2/3 of the way up this! :)
Ride this? Really?
But because I was with more skilled people and could watch them ride up it, I tried.  I actually made it to about where the first tree is on the right.  There was a similar rocky climb that I had to try a couple of different times to get most of the way up.  Definitely still a long way to go, but at least I'm making some progress. 

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
Once at the top, we rode back to the trailhead.  I had fun popping over some low logs on the trail, but I'm noticing more and more how much harder it is to keep my feet on the pedals when riding rougher terrain.  I know I need to suck it up and go clipless, but I'm not quite there yet (chicken thing again). All in all, we were out on the trails for about two hours.  We didn't get in a ton of miles, but we got some great experience and had a wonderful time.  I'm already looking forward to April's ride.


  1. Looks like a great place to ride, especially with some easier then tougher trails.

  2. when I get my MTB back together I am planning on organizing MTB Mondays out at SIUE. I will keep you informed.

  3. What a great thing to do and super cross training. I think we need something like that around here.

  4. I like your comment about not getting any faster sitting on the couch. SO TRUE! We may be slow, but we're out there!!

    Just what I needed to be reminded of today!

    Good job on your ride. Looked pretty technical to me :-)

  5. you are fast becoming one of my super hero's.

  6. Yeah, Julie...I didn't take pictures on the bunny slope bc we weren't stopped as much and I can't take pics while riding my mtb. It was MUCH less challenging...but exactly what I needed to practice my handling. 

  7. Still impressed over here. Love the post even if the closest I got to anything like this over the weekend was looking at my bike in the basement while vacuuming.

  8. This looks like a lot of "fun" (hard work). I would love to be with a group of women doing this although I would be the very beginner. You tackled some very tough looking stuff. I can't wait to get my bike back out but right now it is SNOWING AGAIN!

  9. Nice job getting out there! With time in (or out of) the saddle, you will be amazed how much easier that technical stuff will get with practice.


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