After yesterday’s mojo bonfire, today needed a slightly different approach to make sure we put Dirty Humpty Dumpty back together again ahead of Saturday. On the menu for day 2 of EWS Practice? Stages 2 and 6 were being rolled out for some recon action. Again, both of these virgin trail for me, so key to get in early and throw down some sweet shuttle laps, especially on stage 6, which was basically the Nationals DH track. Turned out that everyone else had the same idea…
As tough as yesterday was, at least I was still in one piece and its infinitely easier to work on the mental repair than the physical rebuilding. The same can’t be said for all the EWS racers, with more than a few ending up in the Rots ER ward after yesterday’s practice.
The hardest one to read? Top Kiwi PRO Chris Johnston had just come back to the EWS from 8 months off with a broken elbow… First round back, on home territory? It doesn’t therefore get tougher than this news then does it:
At one stage during the day I ran into Chris in the forest and ended up having a lengthy chat about collarbones, surgery and the cunty aspects of having to make a comeback. I have to say, not only was he one cool dude, but for a man that only broke his collarbone yesterday (in three places), to be out spectating today and to be as upbeat as he was, was quite impressive to see. Good luck and heal fast Chris, hope to see you back on the circuit soon.
So, in reality, I had very little to moan about, so time to quit the bitching and get back to business. My going-in rationale was how was this any different from just going for a ride in the forest? On your awesome bike? And it wasn’t the weekend… Ok, aside from the race tape, massive EWS signs and dozens of people standing around watching, it was pretty much normal forest rocking business:
Speaking of people standing around, don’t you hate it when you’re just trying to pin your line and the PRO’s are cringing, wanting to check out your selection… Cheeky bludgers, here Mr Garay waits to see how Dirty Nomad gets it done…
The good news on Stage 6? Well, to start with, it was rideable… Which was an instant upgrade on day 1. Add to the mix relative dryness, and it was much easier to get into the work at hand. Running pretty much a full DH track, it’s pretty gnarly, with a mix of different challenges to keep the mind focused, including it being plenty steep:
One thing I had to do became clear pretty quickly if I wanted to get down this without turning it into a freak show like the day before, and it’s something that isn’t as easy as it sounds:
I’ve talked about this before and its pretty elementary stuff, but in essence, this was all about looking where you wanted to go. Its always the obvious stuff that can both be forgotten/ignored, but also the most effective when you start doing them.
Quite literally the only way I could effectively navigate some sections was to force myself to look at the exits of corners or the next section of gnar ahead and here’s a tip: Fuck its great if you can train yourself to keep your focus down the trail, the bike literally just ends up exactly where its supposed to be and suddenly stuff that may have felt hard ends up being a lot more manageable. Very slowly the tenseness started to retreat and embers of mojo started to flicker.
I’ve always known the importance of looking down the trail, but out of sheer necessity today I finally forced myself to do it consistently. Especially useful when you have to go wide open:
Stage 6 was like having a sponge bath with cheerleaders compared to 1 and 7 which were more aligned with being brushed down with steel wool by a Russian wrestling champion. Still challenging, but a challenge that could be taken on and ultimately tamed to a degree… Unless of course you were a degree out. At the top of the run there was a line that I quite enjoyed slamming, the only risk factor was that it got you quite close to this tree:
Third run down and with what was pretty much race pace, I reinforced the importance of the ‘looking where you want to go’ principle… Yup, my new found skills abandoning me for a moment and where the fuck did I look? At that big fuck off tree… and where did I go? Yup, straight towards it. Averting shoulder separating territory, a bar clip and big slam and it was like the Forest had jacked me again of much needed calm and confidence…
I can confirm that the G Form elbow pads will disappear the moment you have a hard impact, but the IXS knee pads stood up extremely well to the Dummy crash test. Salvaging the rest of the third run, perhaps it was time to move on to stage 2…
Before getting to that though, a funny story about how much of this is a mental game. Whilst standing around watching a gap jump that I didn’t feel like attempting, especially after someone cased it massively, one dude absolutely pinned it to fuck, like, nailed it massively. Off he went down the trail and I thought nothing more of it.
I then eventually caught up to him in the next technical section and he was massively struggling on something I wanted to shred… At the end I dished him a fist and paid respect to his gap jumping radness. The response was therefore as intriguing as it was unexpected “I’m pulling the pin on the weekend man“, he said. Injured or bike issue I enquired? None of the above… The dude in question had just hit the wall mentally and didn’t want to suit up on Saturday. Its one thing to see people bandaged up, but its an insight into the challenge this represents for some when people are pulling the pin on the race after practice.
The other change from day 1? No crowds… Not sure if this was because there were three stages to choose from or a bigger area to cover, but as I had already ticked off stage 3, there was a bit more space and scenery happening… The stop at the Lookout on the way to stage 2 was of course mandatory:
Stage 2 is simple: Straight down ‘Kung Fu Walrus’. Another recent addition to the forest, well, within the last year… Not surprisingly, its another trail that makes sure you have to do some work to get the most out of it. No stage start seems that simple, right from the gun it requires a lot of body language to get it done:
Word up on one thing: By the end of all this I’m going to be ok at riding loose, rooty and off camber shit, as the Walrus was loaded with plenty of that action. It doesn’t have the same elevation as the DH track, so while it may have less scare factor, it punishes mistakes that you can gloss over on stage 6 with the help of your friend elevation…
When it is flat out, its off camber all the way… Weight the outside pedal and pin that fucker for all you’re worth. Watching the PRO’s through here would be a worth while tramp, which is the only downside of stage 2, its in the middle of fucking nowhere:
3 runs of stage 6 and 1 of stage 2 in the bank and with rain on the way, it was time to punch out. Given I hadn’t washed out all of my tentativeness, I decided to go back to some old school trails as a sort of settler shall we say? Like after a big night on the diesel and you end up at a roof top bar for a cigar and some port, ok, so that’s only happened once in life, but I needed something to solidify the day so to speak.
It wasn’t EWS gnar and fever trail, but ‘Pondy DH’ and ‘Pondy New’ served an important purpose…
Ok, so as you can see here, its like groomed and manicured trail by comparison to some of the EWS monsters waiting in the bush to hang you by your feet and skin you/take your skull as a trophy. Allow some philosophical murmurings here for a moment, but it was a reminder all of a sudden that its not always about trail that makes you say “fucking hell” every 50 meters… Out here, alone on this stunning piece of trail and forest was a reminder of what makes Mountain Biking so awesome, this stuff is impossible not to love:
Oh, plus I fucking tore it to pieces riding wise, a reminder that perhaps I am going better than I thought I was. Have you ever played Call of Duty on the hardest setting and then gone back to play it again on the easiest levels, you can basically clock it whilst having a wank (allegedly), well, riding the old trails after two days of EWS action was the same deal, long may the progression continue.
So, Friday on the horizon and the penultimate day before the BIG day… Still tossing up (unrelated to Call of Duty) whether to practice stages 4 and 5 or to chill 100%, so will make that call in the morning, as oh yes, it pissed down in the forest this evening, so fuck only knows what’s waiting out there! Watch this space…