On Saturday morning I stood in front of the Trestle bike shop, my stomach a churning mixture of nervous anticipation and excitement. I waited in the long line of downhill mountain bikers to fill out waivers and get geared up, the whole time anxiously scanning the room and the athletes in it. Had I worn the right clothes? Did I bring the right equipment? Was I the only one who had no idea what they were doing? After getting all geared up, I was starting to feel like a character straight out of Mad Max. I walked outside to meet the women I would be riding with for the next two days as part of Trestle’s Gravity Goddess downhill mountain biking camp, a two-day clinic for women, coached by women.
We divided into two groups. I was in the beginner group, and I was the novice among novices. I had the least amount of any kind of mountain biking experience, be it downhill or cross country. Our coach, Lindsay, had us each go over our names and goals for the weekend. We briefly went over how to load our bikes on the lift and then rode up to a dirt fire road to start working on drills. Lindsay went over the basics of cornering (downhill lingo for going around tight turns) and set up some cones for us to practice on.
One thing quickly became apparent: I was a total spaz on a downhill bike. Having really only raced on road bikes before, I was used to having a fairly stagnant upper body position. Now I was supposed to move the bike beneath me and have my shoulders up and forward and swivel my head around every turn. There were so many things to think about and I felt like I could have spent all day going around those cones trying to master the skills. Before I knew it, though, we were finished with drills and it was time to tackle our first trail.
Lindsay spent a part of the trail following each of us, giving us instructions and tips on how to improve our form. First and foremost, I needed to work on keeping my legs in a wide athletic stance and having my shoulders forward and in the proper positioning. A video analysis later on the trail helped to show me exactly where my form was falling short, but also offered hope that, however slowly, I was getting better.
After lunch we hopped right back on the trail to keep working on cornering. I was still feeling tentative, but with the encouraging shouts of my fellow riders I started to become more confident. We rode to a drop that Lindsay would help us session the next day so we could see what we were in store for. We watched other riders go off the drop and analyzed their technique. After a bit, we all decided that we would try and go off the drop once that afternoon instead of waiting until the next day. That kind of mindset was one of my favorite things about the Gravity Goddess camp. There were so many times that I was intimidated by a corner or a feature on the trail, but watching four other women successfully tackle it gave me the confidence I needed to try it for myself. Plus, having an all women’s group made for a relaxed, easy-going atmosphere. There was no one to prove myself to—we were just a group of riders trying to push each other to be our best.
At the end of the day, we went over our biggest achievements of the day and new goals for the next day. I went back to my hotel room, my head swimming with all the new techniques and skills that I had learned. I was so excited to put them to the test the next morning.
When the next morning rolled around and I went back to Gravity Goddess, though, it seemed like I was starting right back on square one. The bike felt clumsy beneath my legs, and the I felt awkward and disoriented on our first run. We set up cones and started working on drills that would help us with jumping. I had a hard time getting one wheel off the ground, never got my back wheel off the ground, and the idea of getting both up at the same time seemed laughable. I started doubting my abilities to ever improve on the bike. When we finished the drills and went back to the trail I tried to remember all the things Lindsay had taught us, right from the basics. Keep your knees wide. Shoulders up and square. Look to where you want to go. Move the bike under your legs.
By the time we got to the drop from the previous day, I was feeling better. Lindsay stood beside the feature to help coach us through on our technique and form. The first few times, I just very slowly rolled off to convince myself that it wasn’t really that scary. Then, I decided to try and lunge off the drop and get my wheels off of the ground a bit. I took a deep breath, tried to believe the encouraging shouts of the other women, and started to pedal down. And it worked! I pushed my arms out and lunged the bike in front of me. It wasn’t perfect, but I could feel the difference in how the bike handled. When we did a video analysis of that drop, it looked like my bike was slightly too short for me, so at lunch I went in to the shop to exchange it for a bigger bike.
I’m not sure if it was the new bike, or the four chocolate cookies I had at lunch, or just some newfound confidence (or maybe a combination of all three), but after lunch I felt like a new rider. I could actually start to move the bike around, my knees were wider, my turns were more assured. Sure, I was still a spaz but I was way less of a spaz than I had been before. We worked on jumping for a bit and I felt brave enough to try and get a little air. After a few attempts I managed to get my bike just a few inches above the ground. It may not sound like a lot, but I was exhilarated.
Every trail we did that afternoon felt like a dream. I started to notice shortcomings in my form and tried to improve them myself. We went on a run with different kinds of wooden features, and I went over bridges and berms that I would have never imagined myself trying before. When the rest of the group decided to call it quits I did one more run all by myself. As I went down the mountain, my legs shaking slightly from exertion, I felt like I was flying. For the first time I started to really think that maybe, just maybe, there was a Gravity Goddess lurking somewhere inside me.