I seem to have developed a bit of a problem. A gravity problem. The other night I found myself browsing tire manufacturer websites to see if any new, wide, knobby 29er tires have come out because my Ardent and Rampage aren't quite doing what I want them to do. I realized that I probably should have a real full-face helmet instead of the MET helmet/chin guard that I've been using. My shins are covered with lumps and cuts from being hit with jagged rocks that my front tire kicked up. A knee-to-rock encounter left one kneecap achy, making me very glad I was wearing pads. The sum total of these points is that this scrawny enduro rider is in some new territory.
The thing to blame for all this: my new Salsa Horsethief. Together for each of the past seven days, we headed up Lefthand Canyon to one of my favorite places to ride. I've spent a lot of time here over the years, struggling up the climb and doing the best I could to survive the steep, loose, rutted descent. It's a 3.1 mile climb that maxes out at a whopping 36% grade to get to the top, some 2000' above, followed by a descent that's considerably shorter and steeper. And to make this an even more enjoyable place to ride, the views and lighting are routinely absolutely spectacular.
All bikes I've had in the past had some very distinct limitations that were reached on this descent. It took a year or so of riding here before I finally became comfortable riding loose and pushing my limits. After a while, I instead found myself pushing the limits of my bike - not enough traction, insufficient travel, too much frame or fork flex to force rough lines through the rocks. Because of how challenging the riding here is (both up and down), this is precisely where I take new equipment and gear for testing. If it survives a lap here, it'll probably survive any 300-mile route you throw at it.
Last month, Salsa sent me their new Horsethief frame. I built it up with some sturdy wheels from Mike C, 2.4" knobbies, and the new White Brothers LOOP 140 mm loop fork. I'll post a more complete review on all this equipment in a few more weeks after I've spent some more time getting to know it. But let's just say that on the first time around this rugged loop, I finally found myself on a bike that had capabilities far exceeding my own abilities. So I returned the next day to try some new things. And the next day. And the next day.
Yesterday marked seven days in a row of riding this loop. I don't think I've ever ridden the same loop seven days in a row before, anywhere. The trails here are constantly changing as 4x4s move rocks around and dig new holes on the steep sections, and motos shred the rutted singletrack in different places. But as best as I could, I learned every loose rut, slippery root, hidden hole below a drop; where I can ride loose and skitter over endless cobbles without worrying about the lack of traction, where to force lines and when to back off, brake a bit more than I want, and play it safe at the traction limit.
It's safe to say that I've learned more on the bike in this week than perhaps any other week in recent years. Every day I kept descending faster and more comfortably. Bigger grin, more adrenaline.
Then a couple days ago, I found myself at some new limits, twice ending up on the ground unexpectedly and several other times kicking myself back upright. Traction limits. 'They' always say that you're not learning if you don't occasionally crash, right? I limped home, tail between my legs, body sore, ego bruised.
But each crash revealed something. Perhaps not entirely traction limits. Focus limits. I let my guard down slightly after making it through tough sections. Mentally, I let out a sigh of relief after clearing lines that require all the commitment I can muster. The tunnel of focus that had been zeroed in on a 3"-wide swath of gravel-covered bedrock expands. And then if I'm not careful, down I go.
It's been a blast. But my legs need a day or two to recover from all the trips up that climb, and the rest of my body needs a day or two to heal up. Then it'll be time to go explore some other trails..