After the downhill with the bermed turn at the bottom, and the drop through the roots that follows but before the twisty spaghetti noodle section through the trees, there is a quick S-turn on the trail. Four quick pedal strokes after the dropoff into a left turn, then cut to the outside of the trail and use the natural berms a scant few inches tall to take the left hand turn. Then snake right, using the banking on another pile of dirt mere inches tall to keep your momentum. Slingshot out of the turn.
By virtue of well over a hundred repetitions, I barely think through this section of trail. But the second pile of dirt, it does not make a perfect berm, it ends too soon, before the turn is quite completed and where sand and a few small roots sprawl across the trail, waiting precariously to send a wayward front wheel with too much momentum sliding left and your bars careening down towards the ground. It’s happened more times than I care to admit simply because the turn, it looks like it should be faster, and who wants to brake? Weight the front wheel, unweight it, nothing solves the problem except caution.
But today, my eyes were different, saw a new line. Taking the natural line around the dirt’s banking, seemingly so obvious, wasn’t quite right. Let the front wheel climb the banking, ride it high, and right before it so suddenly ends, dive down the banking, a miniature charade of a sprinter riding down the boards on the track, and finally hit the roots and sand more directly, most of your turning done.
It was a matter of mere inches on a pile of dirt that almost escapes the eye, a shifting of an arc almost imperceptibly, but there is no longer a need to feather the brakes into the corner, an extra half a second was shaved off the loop.
Every time I take the bike to the woods and dodge my way through the trees on the singletrack, I learn something. You can never be the master of a trail even after a thousand passages, but after enough time and attention it will show nuance after nuance to you for you to absorb.
There is hardly a case of nerves like the day before the first race of the season. So many unknowns, unanswered questions, float into your consciousness despite attempts to block them out with distraction or positive thoughts or measured expectations. Have I been training well enough? What about those few days I had to skimp on because of work? And how much faster has everyone else gotten? It can be nerve wracking, even after doing this for ten years now (though honestly only four of them seriously).
Over perceptive during your pre race spin, analyzing too deeply every sensation from your leg muscles. Because though there are chances upon chances during the season to make a bid for glory, yours or a teammate’s, the first race always seems like a harbinger of what is to come. There is little making up ground once you are behind, this sport is an unforgiving mistress.
This year, the nerves are greater. I began a new experiment by racing a full cyclocross season, all the way through nationals in January. My time off the bike was months later than I was accustomed to and hence I am starting racing a month later. There is a plan, and I believe in it, but wondering how the first race will go is only heightened by this abrupt shift, even with the coolness that comes with years racing.
Tomorrow I will forget it all, focus on the race and feel the sensation of wind whipping past my face that only racing gives you that feels so odd after months of solitary training. But tonight, I am brimming with anticipation am eagerness like a small child. What will tomorrow bring?