What a great weekend it was!
Despite a gloomy, stormy forecast, the rain held off on Friday (other than sprinkles). This was great news because my first grade class had a field trip to Cahokia Mounds.
Because it’s so close, it’s easy to forget what a cool place this is, but it’s actually a World Heritage Site. Archeological study has shown that the area was inhabited from around A.D. 700 to 1400 and had a population of up to 20,000 at its peak. Over 120 mounds were built during this time; the largest, Monk’s Mound, is shown above.
While the museum at Cahokia Mounds is really cool, the highlight of the field trip is climbing the 100+ stairs to the top of Monk’s Mound, and of course, this is the part that’s threatened by the weather. Despite a pretty chilly day, though, the rain held off. We had a few sprinkles on our way back down, but we stayed pretty dry.
I had sent Patrick a message earlier in the day suggesting that, if the weather hold off, we try mountain bike school again. While I’m able to bulldoze through a lot on the trails, I’m definitely lacking in the technique department, so Patrick had offered to help me work on skills. Last week rain spoiled our plans, but this Friday things looked promising…right until I left school. Luckily, once again the rain was light and short-lived, and we were able to meet up at the SIUE trails. Unfortunately, I was tardy for class because I realized halfway there that I didn’t have my bike shoes. This is turning into a real problem for me as I’ve also left them in other peoples’ cars twice. (Thanks, Luke and Bob for turning around and Emma for mailing them to me!)
Friday’s lesson plan:
- Using body momentum to lift the front wheel instead of just pulling with my arms (eh…long way to go on this still).
- Flow: Next, we headed to the first dip in the trail. I’m comfortable riding it one direction, but I’ve walked it in the other direction ever since attempting it and crashing last year. Not anymore. Patrick made me ride it back and forth until I came through with a minimum of brakes in either direction.
- Switchbacks: I lose a ton of time on turns and such because I’m braking so much, so we practiced switchbacks on the trail and then riding in fairly tight circles around a bush in both directions.
- Log jumping: This is the one area where I felt fairly comfortable and maybe even surprised Patrick a little bit. I still need to work on my timing, but this was not terrible.
It was really good to just go out and ride and re-ride (and re-ride) different spots. There are so many times I’ll just ride through something, think Oh, I went about that all wrong…and then ride on. It was very helpful to go out expressly to practice, and I really appreciate having a friend who’s willing to help me out…even if it means having to listen to me whine about being afraid or not being able to do something or having to ride the scary dip again. And who knew how relevant skateboarding could be to mountain biking?
|Over the shoulder shot. The trails were in great condition.|
After bike school, I just left all my mountain bike gear in the car since I was meeting the Team Revolution ladies for a group ride at Cliff Cave Park. Cliff Cave is a lot like SIUE, except not so tight and twisty, and not so many roots. This was the site of my third-ever mountain bike ride last March. I was really slow and tentative last year, so it was a lot of fun to come back and see the trails without fear-colored glasses. We rode 10 miles of laps on the Spring Valley trail, which gave me a chance to get comfortable with carrying a little more speed than is typical for me. I still was hitting the brakes on some of the downhills, but not as much as I typically would.
We were supposed to play volleyball at my father-in-law’s sand court on Sunday, but a combination of busy friends and iffy weather convinced Jeff to cancel. I’d kept my mouth shut (hard as that may be to believe) about it because I do an awful lot of things that I want to do and didn’t want to sway his decision away from his plans, but I was really wanting to go to Indian Camp Creek Park for an orienteering meet.
Actually, what I really wanted to do was first the meet and then mountain bike, but I wasn’t quite sure how I’d get away with that since I planned to get Jeff and J to do the meet with me. When I first mentioned it, J was all excited: “Yeah, I want to do that!” Then he asked, “Are you going to do the map?”
“Well, I’d like to,” I told him.
“Ok, that’s good,” he responded, “Then you can get practice navigating for your races.”
He totally gets it.
So I got my way, and instead of being happy I was feeling crabby as we headed towards the park. The getting out of the house process is way more stressful when the family is going than when it’s just me, the weather was looking like crap, my compass is still making it’s way back to me, and the meet was going to use an aerial map rather than a topographical map, something which may have kept me home if I’d realized it before we were committed to going.
I’m so glad we went! J really likes orienteering, and Jeff, who wouldn’t typically run unless you held a gun to his head, gets caught up in the spirit of competition and does quite a bit of running. I’ve been so proud of them every time we’ve done a meet together.
|J checking out the big map during the orientation talk|
This meet was basically geared towards beginners, so the SLOC members who were putting on the meet gave a brief introductory talk and then started us off. The meet format was a score-o: the controls/checkpoints have different point values depending on how far away and how easy there are to get to, you can find them in any order, and you have to be back in a certain amount of time or there’s a penalty. We were doing the 90 minute course.
For once, I actually had a route planned when we took off; usually I realize at the start that I have no idea where I’m going first. We opted to go for larger point value controls first and then evaluate our plan after about 30 minutes. Two other teams headed off in the same direction that we did, and they quickly outdistanced us as J faltered running uphill.
|Happy to be out there, and REALLY happy to be walking.|
I have my own competitive issues, so I really have to focus on why we’re out there. It’s good family time, and it’s good navigation practice for me. That’s all that matters. (Repeat this mantra every time we walk. :D) J did a good job with our plan of running on downhills and walking on uphills.
|All of the controls were easily accessible by road or trail.|
We found the first two controls right after the family group ahead of us. I was really hoping that they’d get far enough ahead of us that we could feel like we were doing our own navigating, so I was delighted when, after punching the second control, they headed off onto a trail through the woods. Looking at the map, I was pretty sure taking the road would be the quicker, easier option, so we ran down the road until we could jump onto the trail at a further spot and then made use of a powerline cut to further shortcut our route.
|J playing catch-up on the trail|
We found the next two controls with no problem and then headed straight to where the next was shown on the map…but it wasn’t there. It should have been right there, but I couldn’t see it. I started to wander around a little when Jeff asked to look at the map and told me we needed to back up. As he turned around, he spotted the control flag in the top of a lookout tower.
J and I headed up the stairs, and the higher we got the more nervous he got. I’m no fan of heights myself, so I had to pretend to be brave for him while trying not to hyperventilate. OK, it might not have been that bad, but I was nervous.
|Not as nervous as J was; note the deathgrip on the railing.|
We were both very happy to have our feet back on the ground.
|You can see the tower in the background.|
Rather than hop back on the road, we opted to go off-trail again, cutting through the scrubby field to a spot where the treeline curved. We then cut into the woods and walked directly to the control. Pretty cool.
We did a combination of trail running and bushwhacking to get to the next control, and then we had a decision to make: continue to collect some closer controls or go for the 12-point big boy. We were doing pretty well, so we decided to go for it. Almost immediately we had a question about which trail we were on; it didn’t look like it should be hard to figure out, but we weren’t sure, so we hopped out onto the road until we got to where the trail crossed the road.
|Coming up to the trail|
We zipped up the trail, got our 12-point control, and headed back out. We again combined following the trail with strategic bushwhacking to save ourselves some time.
|Even though it meant climbing some hills, the guys hung right with me.|
We got controls 27 and 26, and then to get to 25 we could either follow the twisty trail a really long way out of our way…or we could bushwhack to the road and then run right to it. Of course we opted to go off-trail. We headed down a steep hill and then into…a swamp.
|Standing water everywhere|
We were completely soaked already, so it wasn’t a big deal. Really, it probably washed a lot of the mud off of us…but that water was cold!
|And kinda deep!|
Our strategy worked, though, and we popped out on the road and ran/walked right to our next control. I know it was just a beginner course, but it was really satisfying to have things going right, especially after the last time I was in charge of navigation. We picked up two more controls along Big Creek and then started to turn back toward the finish line, picking up several more controls on the way. This is where I made my one real mistake of the day; our control #13 was at a trail junction. Focused on getting us back in time, I didn’t notice that #12 was super close down the trail in the other direction. Instead, I headed towards the finish.
When we reached the start/finish area, we still had a few minutes left, and there were a couple of low-point controls super close. Another family group was doing the same thing; the son went one way and I went the other, coming out on the sidewalk ahead of him. I managed to stay ahead of the 10ish year old boy all the way to the first control. Realizing I had time to get to one more, I sprinted off around the pond. The run back wasn’t so fun, but J was waiting for me on the sidewalk. “Daddy’s going to get video of us running it in,” he told me.
I handed him the passport, and we ran to the finish together. As we neard the shelter, the little twerp turned on the afterburners and tried to leave me in the dust. That was not going to happen, so I sprinted after him. I almost had him, but he cut me off and beat me to the finish line. What he lacks in endurance, he makes up for in strategy.
We hung around waiting for the other teams to come in, and while J was a little disappointed that there weren’t snacks afterward like at the regular orienteering meets, he was intrigued when they started announcing winners. Obviously, with me navigating we’ve never focused on competition with other teams, just on how fun it is to go out and see how you can do…but we’d had a pretty successful outing. We had racked up 61 points worth of controls, and as they started announcing winning scores for the solo men, I started feeling good about our chances of placing.
Turns out that our 61 points put us in 1st place for mixed teams…and we were actually third overall, just a couple points behind Dr. Fran…and waaaay behind the solo male winner, who cleared the course. Since we had had a fantastic time running around in the woods, the ribbons were just the icing on an already tasty cake. But still, it was pretty sweet.