Sunday, 16 November 2014

The start of my 2015 racing preparation : Riding the Sierra Nevada

I am a big believer in the power of the mind and when coach Nico suggested I should try and find someone who could help me become mentally stronger in races and help “unlock myself as an athlete" as he put it, I was all for it. I was lucky to find great help in the beautiful Gwen Barr.  Gwen was about to finish her hypnotherapy and mental coaching studies and was very interested in sports psychology. Being married to one of my bosses, Gwen and I already had discussed the importance of mental input in sports on a couple of occasions and she was someone I trusted. I must admit I have always been a little allergic to the word “therapy” and I couldn’t help but picture myself laying on a couch whilst being asked “and how does that make you feel” after any shared anecdote. My time spent with Gwen was not even close to that mental image I had in my head, and with Gwen’s help and “the chimp paradox” to read recommended by her on my bed side table I was ready to close the door on 2014 and started preparing myself for 2015.

the start of 2015: a holiday to Spain

I signed up for another year with coach Nico Lebrun  I knew he felt partly responsible for my disappointing race results but I knew the mistakes made were mine. More than anything Nico had supported me and helped me see the positives in what I perceived as negative situations. I loved his passion and enthusiasm for the sport and outdoors. This combined with his great sense of humour and positive outlook on life made staying part of the Organicoach team something I never doubted.
wearing the coolest MTB shorts made by Flare
I also started my preparation for 2015 with the good news of becoming a team rider for Flare clothing company. Flare is a mountain bike clothing company predominantly aimed for women and their products are mainly designed for Enduro and Down Hill disciplines. I exchanged a few emails with Hannah Myers about how this could work for me racing cross country and off road triathlon. The colourful, creative and unique designs of Flare clothing and the bubbly attitude of their founders were something I didn’t want to miss out on and I was very excited when I got the official confirmation that I had become part of the team.
Not quite what you expect planning a trip to Spain!

After my little tumble at the WEMBO 24hrs Solo MTB Worlds I was forced a few weeks off training due to a nasty concussion and bruising to my eye socket. I started to feel better right in time to get back on the bike during my holiday to Spain with Michael. Initially the idea was to find a very cheap location near the beach in Costa Del Sol, Southern Spain. But as I was exploring the area for things to do I discovered that the Sierra Nevada, a MTB paradise, was not that far from the coast line. I found a perfect little apartment in a small village called Torviscon in the heart of the Alpujurra’s, a mountainous area at the southern end of the Sierra Nevada. I got in touch with Xterra Spain organisers Iain and Maria  who were based in Granada and before I knew it bikes were organised and I had received heaps of tips on where to ride and what to expect. Now I only had to convince Michael who had just started to mountain bike that a holiday spend chasing me on rocky trails was what he wanted. This ended up being surprisingly easy!
Over looking the ridge to Veletta

Amongst lots of shorter rides exploring the area our main challenge was to cross the Sierra Nevada from Capileiria to Pico Veletta. This meant a 6-7hr climb to the top and around a 90min return to the bottom. The ride was extremely exposed and dealing with altitudes of over 3000m, we had to allocate a day with the best weather for this journey. After getting used to the bikes and terrain for a couple of days we were all set for the big traverse and decided to have a “leisurely” afternoon on the bike the day before.

Traffic in the Sierra's
I went out for an early morning run enjoying the beautiful trails of Torviscon and when I came back Michael had mapped out a perfect loop to entertain us for a few hours on the bike. When we set of we realised quite quickly that unless you had thighs the size of trees there was no way to ride up these climbs in a leisurely way and the expression had become a practical joke for the rest of the trip. After a long road climb, we turned into an awesome 4WD track which took us through an amazing part of the Alpajurra’s with incredible views of the area. “This was a great idea” I said enthusiastically to Michael whilst flying down the rocky descents.
beautiful views of the Alpujarra villages
We turned off the main track into some more technical fun downhill until we came to a point where the track seemed to end; We could make out a vague path descending into the valley “This must be it” we both agreed and made our way through thick plants, thorn bushes and trees. We doubted whether this was the track many times as we were now off the bikes pushing our way through, thrashing our legs by nasty thorns and prickles heading steep down hill. At no point however did it cross our minds that we should turn back! “The valley can’t be far” I heard Michael say after an hour of bush bashing. I was now getting quite agitated. “we only have about 2hrs before it gets dark” I said to him, with our last adventure still fresh on my mind which included running in the dark following train tracks and running through tunnels only wide enough for one train, I was starting to get a little worried. “let’s go back and try to find the track we came from” I mumbled. “The valley can’t be far away” Michael kept replying to any of my attempts to change direction. “that’s what you have been saying for the last 2 hours” I said grumpy “it will get dark soon, we don’t have any torches, WE DON’T KNOW WHAT ANIMALS OUR DOWN HERE” I heard myself say angry to try and get Michael's attention.
The awesome descent down
Michael stubbornly persevered and I was getting more angry, “MICHAEL!! I AM NEVER GOING ON AN ADVENTURE WITH YOU EVER AGAIN!” I heard myself scream this time; well knowingly I wasn’t helping the situation. “let’s climb back up and try find where we came from before it gets dark” I repeated now more calmly  “there is a track, see look there” Michael said and pointed down more bushes and trees and a cliff after which we couldn’t see down. Our legs were now covered in blood from all the thorns and bushes and we were starting to get very tired. “NOOOO! We are going back up!” It was close to 4pm and we didn’t have much daylight left. “OK” Michael chose the shortest but steepest way back to where we had come from “there is the ridge he said” by this point I was so angry that I stubbornly protested against taking his path “I CANT CLIMB UP THAT! WAY TOO STEEP!” I knew we didn’t have a choice and needed to keep moving as once again we were fighting daylight! After a good hour of pushing and climbing through the thick bush carrying up our bikes the steep hill we finally got to the small track which had led us down. Very happy to be able to ride again I started climbing at a speed I knew would hurt Michael but with a good 3-4km rocky technical steep climb ahead of us before we reached the main track out of there and only one hour of daylight left there was no time to waste. Impressively he followed pushing hard. “we should at least try and enjoy the evening” I heard Michael say once back on the path.
The beautiful sunset on the way out
It was 6pm and we had finally reached the road. Both absolutely exhausted it was now also getting very cold. From here it would be a 20min descent and another 2-3km road climb into Torviscon. I suffered a flat tyre. “go to the bar where we had coffee this morning” Michael said to me as we were passing the little village “I will go get the car” he rolled away from me. “WHAT IF IT’S CLOOOSED!!! WHAT DO I DO THEN!!” I yelled at him in a dramatic way to try and prevent him from riding out of my sight. He climbed back towards me with a slight smile on his face. I knew I was being over dramatic but with a sense of humour failure and being in near hypothermic state I could not return his smile!
Loving the typical sierra single track
Lucky the local bar was open and also functioned as the local taxi service with a van big enough to fit both our bikes and before we knew it we were back in our cosy apartment, laughing at our incredible leisurely 7hrs adventure. We looked at the valley we tried to descend into the next day, it was a lot steeper than we thought including a couple of dangerous cliffs!!. We also learned that the path Michael had mapped out was actually a dead end, but we were missing part of the map which showed the ending of the route!!
The state of my legs after the bush bash
We didn’t let our crazy adventure ruin our plans to climb up to the Pico Veletta and with tired, bruised bodies we head out into the Sierra Nevada the following morning. After 3hrs of serious climbing we reached the ridge at 3100m altitude which was covered in a thick layer of icy snow and unfortunately ended up to dangerous to cross. In an attempt to keep going I had to jump of my bike and nearly slipped with bike and all into the steep endless valley below us. We both very quickly decided to pull the pin as this would be a matter of life and death rather than getting lost in the dark!!! The surroundings were absolutely amazing and for a while we took it all in whilst having a cheese sandwich before heading down to the civilized world. What a place to be.
At 3000m altitude
A great holiday, in a beautiful location with a great story to tell at the end of it! I always blame my genetic up make for failing to see danger with an uncle who belongs to some of the best climbers in Dutch history. My sister and I always got ourselves in lots of trouble when we were younger such as ending up on the wrong side of the mountain in the wrong country during skiing holidays after missing the last gondola up the mountain. Seemed like I had found my match in Michael!! Never a dull moment!
“Live, travel, adventure, bless and don’t be sorry” Jack Kerouac



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