As the lone female member of Team Virtus, I’m regularly outnumbered by guys on training rides or group outings, and this past weekend it was just me and five boys along for a 4-day team trip celebrating Bob’s upcoming wedding. If you think that’s weird then you probably aren’t an adventure racer. Not just a weekend away with friends, it was more the kind of family vacation you dream of but never happens, one where all the kids get along, everybody is excited about the destination…and the parents stay home. I’ll tell you right now that there’s just no way to convey what a good time we had. I’ve been trying — and falling way short — for the past few days. It was one of those weekends that, as Casey said later, has set the standard by which future weekends will be measured…and set that standard high indeed.
The fun started long before we got into the Virtus van on Friday. Waaaay back in November, Luke emailed with the brilliant idea of a “Team Virtus Bachelor-ish Party” for Bob, celebrating the end of his freedom beginning of his marital bliss with a team trip to Ray’s MTB, an indoor mountain bike park in Cleveland, OH. It being a longer trip, not everyone was able to go, so in the end Luke, Robby, Adam, Casey, and I were in for the surprise party. You’d think that when you don’t see someone regularly it would be easy to keep a secret from them, but not so much. Thanks to the wonders of modern communication we talk pretty regularly, and every last party mention over the past couple months was vetted through numerous mental checks of whether Bob was included on the message. “Reply to all” is a dangerous bedfellow, but somehow we managed to keep the guest of honor in the dark.
He was a little bewildered when they pulled into my driveway (not at all on the way to Luke’s grandma’s house where he thought he was going to help her move) and even more so when we turned east on the interstate. We had a blast encouraging him to make wild guesses (not a Kid Rock concert), and when Luke, who’d conspired with Bob’s boss to get our guest of honor the weekend off, informed Bob that he was also off work on Monday, the possibilities grew even more improbable (“You did bring your passport, right??”).
|Who wouldn’t want to visit the World’s Largest Wind Chime?|
Thanks to our repeated stops, including one at the World’s Largest Wind Chime, it seemed like we were on the road forever, but there was nonstop talking and laughing. I don’t think we ever even heard the radio; feats of Bear Grylls-ian proportions were performed, stories were told, and new nicknames were born, embraced, and then quickly replaced. Lessons learned:
1. Don’t bet Bob that he won’t do something unless you want to lose your money.
2. If you’ve just earned an awesome nickname, don’t immediately follow up with a story that saddles you with a much less cool one.
|We caught Bob peeking at a gas station atlas in the attempt to figure out where the heck we were going.|
At one point passing through Indiana Bob mentioned Ray’s, but Luke reminded him Ray’s is in Milwaukee (true), and I started talking about taking a group trip to the awesome Brown County trail system in Indiana. Whew! Crisis averted. As we neared Cleveland, Lake Erie’s large presence on the GPS screen led to mention of canoeing or rafting in the lake. When we got to the hotel Bob still didn’t know if we were in our final destination, but he was happy to walk in and see Casey waiting for us with beer on ice and some lovely gifts.
|Five people, three bikes, one elevator. And we all still liked each other after 11 hours in the car together.|
By the next morning Bob had pretty much figured out our destination, and after breakfast we headed to Ray’s. The GPS led us to a nondescript factory block with no hint of the fun within. Pulling around to the front we expected to see a big sign or something, but it would have been easy to miss the entrance if we didn’t know it was there.
|Doesn’t look like anything special, does it?|
We checked in with the super nice staff, bought our two-day passes, and looked around. Two things were immediately obvious. First, nobody was going to mistake us for locals. The guys were in baggies and I was in my regular spandex bike shorts, the only kind I own. Almost every other person there was in jeans and tshirts, and while our bikes sported clipless pedals, most people were on platform pedals. We definitely didn’t blend.
The second unmistakable fact was that I was totally in over my head. The guys were stoked; I was moderately terrified. Watching the amount of air riders on the jump track were getting right in front of me, I was intimidated to say the least and pretty sure my teammates were going to regret dragging me along. I considered opting to sit and watch all day.
The guys, on the other hand, were ready to check things out. I dropped into my preferred spot (in back) as we rode onto the green trail. Uh-oh…I’d watched a youtube video of someone riding the green trail, and it had scared the crap out of me (now, after my time there, it doesn’t look nearly as scary).
Riding on the wooden “trails” was much different than on singletrack (kind of a “no kidding” type of observation, huh?), but the thing that threw me most at the beginning was the lip on the hills. Rather than having a curved top, the peaks were flat, and the edge tended to throw up the front tire when you hit it. This is compounded when one takes the inclines too slowly, so when I hit the very first hill my bike slipped off to the side and I almost fell. Instead, I grabbed onto the railing and caught myself.
Whew, right? Well…sort of. My shoulder hurt like hell, and my bike shoes had no traction against the slick wooden ramp, so there I hung, still semi-astride my bike, kind of trapped against the wall. I was both relieved no one was there to witness my humiliation and really wishing someone would come rescue me. Eventually I scrambled upright enough to stand up, flustered and even more tentative than when we’d started. This was about a minute into the ride.
Once you turn the corner in the picture, there’s another downhill followed by a steeper ramp, one which I coasted halfway up before having to grab onto the railing to pull myself the rest of the way up. The biggest hill of the green loop was next, and I think I was walking my bike up this when Adam looked back to see where the heck I was. “I fell,” I admitted, getting back onto my bike when I reached the top of the trail, a second-story passageway that led into a fun downhill (well, it was progressively more fun each time I rode it).
I caught up to the guys in the beginner room, which had some ground-level wooden bridges and planks to ride on one side and some rollers and drop offs to ride on the other. I pedaled around a little, trying out one of the wider wooden bridges and then getting the confidence to ride off one of the drop-offs…and just about crashing again. It was frustrating to be so nervous despite having ridden harder things on trails, but it seemed a lot more intimidating inside.
|In the beginner room|
After another lap or two (falling one more time on a ramp) I attempted to go back towards the entrance for a drink and a break. Unfortunately I couldn’t figure out how to get out, so I practiced riding over a small ramp in the novice room before riding the green loop again until luckily running into Robby who helped me escape. Back at the tables I posted on facebook..
My friends don’t tend to feed into my wimpy tendencies, though, and I got a quick response from Patrick.
He was right, of course. I was very disappointed in myself for being such a wimp, especially when everybody else was having such a good time. As we all talked about what we’d done so far, I mentioned what a hard time I was having with the ramps, so the guys went back to the novice room with me and talked me through riding over the ramp there again and again. They were starting to jump on it, and while I couldn’t do that I did get more comfortable. While riding around in there, we heard a loud crack and looked over to see Casey lying on the ground. His tube had exploded as he came down off of the ramp.
While Casey was getting his tire fixed up we decided on pizza and then rode around until it arrived. Thanks to all the coaching, I was feeling much happier on the green trail and starting to have fun rather than white-knuckling around it. All too soon they were announcing our pizza delivery, so we stopped for lunch. Since I’ve been following a pretty consisent Paleo diet, it’s been ages since I’ve had pizza and oh my gosh was it a treat. I enjoyed every bite.
The guys spent a lot of time riding around in the sport section trying out different trails, and I stopped for a while to watch them. There were all kinds of different boardwalks, logs, and teeter totter routes to try out, and the longer I watched the more disgusted I was with myself for being so scared.
|Sport section from the beginning|
|View of some of the lines in the sport section from the end|
“Don’t think so much…just do it,” Bob told me, and while I knew he was right I couldn’t get past my fear. This type of area is where I’d have been way better off on platform pedals. Knowing I’d be able to put a foot down at any time may have made me more comfortable trying things that scared me. After I’d stored up enough self hatred (and admiration for my braver teammates), I hit the green trail again, where I enjoyed being able to take sections of it faster.
We also tried out the pump track, which looked like fun from the ground but required a steep drop into the rollers. Going fast downhill is not my thing at all, and when I finally got up the nerve to try it after watching the guys and some other people ride it I crept down the hill at almost a standstill. Not surprisingly, I didn’t manage to build up much speed there. It has to be mentioned that while I was inching around the park there were kids who looked to be 8 years old and younger flying down hills, speeding across boardwalks, and jumping their bikes. If I had any kind of a bike ego it would have been crushed to bits. As it was, I was in awe of these kids. Very cool to see so many out having a great time on their bikes.
|My iphone didn’t like taking pictures from across the room|
Even though I was being a big wimp, I had a great time watching the guys tackle the sport section and taking pictures as they rode the drop offs in the blue (expert) section. There was only so long that I could bask in my own unworthiness, though, because it got cold if you were just standing around. The temperature was perfect while riding, but unless you were standing directly under a heater or next to one of several fireplaces, it was very chilly. It was good for me to have to keep getting on my bike to stave off frostbite. In real life, I don’t usually have a lot of time to ride trails and usually stop within an hour or two. A big part of this is poor time management, but another factor is the fact that I’m almost always relieved to stop before I get hurt. The end result is that I’m usually quitting just as I’m getting comfortable. That wasn’t the case at Ray’s, and by the end of the day I was not only riding the green loop without having to put a foot down (my goal), but I’d also ridden a low teeter totter a couple times.
After 8 or 9 hours we were ready to head out for the night. Ray’s lets you leave your bikes there if you want, and though Adam bought a lock we probably didn’t need it. Our stuff sat out on the tables all day long and nobody touched a thing. Everybody there was super cool. In addition to my fall, there had been a few other crashes among our group, too, and we were all really looking forward to going back and soaking in the hot tub before going to dinner. Imagine our disappointment when, despite the website’s promises, there was no hot tub to be found. Not cool, Radisson. Not cool. Instead we hung out in one of the hotel rooms for a while and then headed to Fat Head’s Brewery, where it was established that Luke’s (beer) is indeed bigger than Bob’s.
The restaurant had great atmosphere, and one perk of eating dinner after 9 is that there’s plenty of seating available. The food was delicious, though I couldn’t finish “my” chips. We outlasted the obnoxious girl behind us, and though it’s possible we were louder we were, of course, much more entertaining. Breakfast the next morning was at Grumpy’s Cafe, and once again, the restaurant gods were smiling on us; our group of six arrived amid the Sunday morning rush and was immediately seated.
|Bob, Adam, me, Casey, Robby|
Going back to Ray’s for a second day was awesome. Riding on Saturday was fun, but if we’d gone home after that I’d have been left really unhappy with myself because I’d tried so little. On Sunday I was able to start where I’d left off, and the riding part of the day was much more fun for me. Of course, the guys picked up where they’d left off, too, which meant that after warming up they had to try the foam pit. One by one, they rode down one ramp and up another, jumping into the pit.
|Luke got the closest to a back flip|
I had a lot of fun watching, cheering, and taking pictures. A frequent refrain of mine was, “You should try that!” as I stood on the sidelines. While there were a lot of things I really wished I had the nerve to try at Ray’s, though, jumping my bike into the pit wasn’t one of them. I stood up on the side taking pictures and joked to Luke about pushing him in; when he bent over near the edge I couldn’t resist nudging him in and then running away. Turned out I could get better pictures from the floor anyway. Luke got revenge when I made the tactical mistake of thinking he was far enough away that I could run up to the deck and show Bob some pictures. I’d barely reached the top when I heard the sound of his bike shoes on the wooden ramp.
|I was pretty upset about it.|
I spent a lot more time in the red (sport) section on Sunday than on Saturday, and this time I actually rode. The teeter totters were a lot of fun, and I tried out a few other lines as well, including one hilly section that took me a few tries to ride comfortably and then was a blast.
|That ramp behind the blue helmet is part of a teeter totter, and there’s a series of little hills right behind Casey’s left arm.|
The guys discovered the micro rhythm line, a loop of tables and rollers. They worked on getting air while I worked on not braking. The difference in their riding and mine is pretty funny in the video (which I’ll link to when Luke posts it). While we were riding around there Casey waved us over to the side. He’d had another tube mishap, something I’ve never seen in my short bike riding history.
|WTF? Tire trouble, day 2|
Another area the guys tackled on Sunday was the jump track…with mixed success (sometimes in the same video). That was both fun and cringe-inducing to watch, depending on the result.
|Not one of our group, but a good shot of the Red Bull wall|
Towards the end of the day my knee was really sore, particularly when pedaling, so I went to try to get some better pictures in the expert area.
|Sometimes there was a cost for being braver than me.|
I hadn’t planned to get back on my bike, but when the guys saddled up for a farewell ride I couldn’t resist, and it was some of the most fun I’d had all day. Finally relaxed, finally a little braver…who knows, if we’d spent a week there maybe I’d have been jumping into the foam pit by the end. Hopefully that feeling carries over to the trail…and to my next trip to Ray’s, which will happen. We all left tired but happy and satisfied, like pushing back from the table after a really good meal.
|Spent, but happy|
Speaking of meals, I was starving, the mention of which led to a new phrase in the Virtus lexicon. Chances are you’ll hear it if you spend much time around us…especially around dinnertime. I was very happy when we made the decision to go eat rather than to back to the hotel to shower before dinner. Supper was at Melt in Cleveland. We had to wait for a half hour or so to be seated, but it was totally worth it. So good.
|Pondering malt vinegar. To drink, or not to drink? If you know Bob, you know the answer.|
|Luke was pretty happy with his dinner selection. I don’t think Robby got much of it.|
We wrapped up the evening watching GoPro and cell phone videos from the weekend which included some impressive crashes and incriminating proof of my lack of sympathy for an injured teammate (What? Laughing “new profile picture!!” when someone takes a shot to the balls isn’t considered supportive?). Though I was looking forward to seeing my family I was also sad when we left Monday morning. It truly was a golden weekend, and I’m not sure how it could have been better. You can’t always pick your family, but sometimes the friends you make become like family. Family that knows your weaknesses and likes you anyway, family that teases you mercilessly and has your back unquestionably.
Family that really needs another major event to celebrate, because we’re all dying to go back.