Learning new tricks at Mt Buller

Last weekend Norm and I went to Mt Buller, for two reasons, to catch up with The Corner Store Buller, the staff and to help out a bit. The other was to ride our bikes, together as husband and wife, as mates, riding buddies. Norm and I don't really do this often, maybe Brew Crew on a Thursday night is the time we might both be on the same track at the same time. Its a little different though, hanging out with 10 others and chatting with them is like we are there together but not interacting with each other.

After Norm spent 2 weeks at Buller over the Christmas and New year, he seemed to ride almost every day and got a little fitter. I think this gave him confidence to ride with me for a couple of days.
The kind of riding that you can do at Mt Buller is fairly taxing, really good fun but you better make sure you've had a good sleep and fueled up well, the climbing is what gets people unawares.
We have a bit of a saying when taking skills camps here, 10 mins of downhill can result in sometimes 40-60 mins of climbing. You've just got to be prepared mentally for the climbing.

From the village you can short cut straight to Gang Gangs or do the Village trail and full Gang Gangs, I like to do the full version and earn my sweet GG descent that flows into Split rock. Onto Corn Hill, the climb is a series of switchbacks that make the ascent that bit easier, but the altitude in the first day or even first 20 mins of each day has you feeling like an asthmatic. Stonefly is one of the best crafted climbs I have ridden in my experience. Some pinches, some tight switchbacks, loads of rolling undulations to get your “legs and lungs” back and some mega views along the way, even riding through a waterfall. Once at the top more views and some shade in the snow gums before smashing it down one of the most fun xc downhills too, but a wee 10 -15 mins and you are back where you started.

From Howqua Gap, the climb back up Cornhill never seems to get easier, with its ironic name of Silk Lane, its anything but! Yet the challenge is to not put a foot down, make every single corner and find a steady maintainable tempo that doesnt bust you open – yet!
Just as you reach the saddle of Cornhill, there is a series of 12 switchbacks right in front of you, its a big hillface and these switchbacks have you up the top in no time. Not a hard climb physically but a challenge to nail each switchback which makes it soooo fun.
At the top I believe you are in store for another awesome descent in Misty Twist. Bermed corner after corner you wind your way down fast and flowy, then at the bottom its a climb back up the other side, really enjoyable gradient and beautiful views again. I always want to stop and take photos of the landscape in this climb.
After a 20 min detour from Cornhill, the opportunity for another brilliant descent is on offer as you face the Buller village directly across the gap Cornhill descent has true hero dirt corners and its fast – really fast.
Back down the bottom at the skills park awaits one more climb up Split rock, some pinchy bits but if you put in hard the climb is over in around 5-6 mins.

I love this whole XC loop, however it takes a very very fit and happy Norm to agree to do this route on his on will.

Friday night we turned up and Mike, Norm and I rode down Gang Gangs, up Cornhill, down Misty Twist and back, Cornhill descent and up split rock. Only 10kms in total and if you go hard is a toughie. A good warm up ride to get done on arrival.

Saturday morning I decided to do my favourite FULL XC loop solo.
Norm worked at the shop. We all win. Doing it by myself means I can go my own pace, no stopping, focusing on nailing every corner up and down. I love it.
Got back to the shop in just over two hours.
Now was the time to try downhill mountain biking.
Norm did it last week and told me, “Jess you will love it!”
So I got fitted up on one of our hire Glory 2's and popped on some arm and leg pads, full face helmet and we were off.
First up the boys flew down the steps near the clocktower.
In my mind I am aware I am on a DH bike,with massive suspension and very slack front end angle and all that but I choose to go the long way and avoid the steps.

I am not convinced yet.

First up I notice the bike is HEAVY and at slow speeds is damn hard to pedal and control.
Thinking to myself, must get off saddle, must let bike go, but where on earth is my weight on this bike. I could not work out how to get weight on the front wheel or how much brake I needed.

Our first run was entering half way down Copperhead. The big thing I noticed was I could not feel the gravel surface through the tyres and bike nor could I hear the feed back from my tyres.
I had a full face helmet on! I had a heavy bike. This is different.
I felt I was strangling the bike trying to gain control. I had to self talk the whole way down, let it roll, be loose, let the bike do its thing, look up, breath. Oh man, I got to the bottom and within my first 3 min run I was “shagged!”

Did I have fun? Well sort of, I guess I was very interested in improving!
We caught the chairlift up to the top and rode down ABOM.

First up there is this jump right underneath the chairlift. Its not really that big, but you can go big on these bikes and I am afraid of BIG right now. I dont even really know what I am doing and how this bike even feels on the trail yet. So I jump it like a XC bike and case it on the mild lip on the other side. No. 1 task to improve, next time I am going bigger and letting go of brakes sooner.

Now my greatest fear are these kicker doubles. Used to riding this part of ABOM on a XC bike with a high seat and totally different angles I try and flatten the doubles out. Instantly I realise this is not the way, this feels again like I am strangling the bike and using far more energy than I need to.

Suprisingly though, the DH bike irons out any bumps or mistakes and I cant feel a thing – except in my shoulders, triceps and forearms! Stop strangling the bike JESS!

There is a deep deep very unassuming double, Norm warns me to go around. Its a biggie and I avoid. The rest is now starting to flow and I started to let the bike bump off things, get some air, let off the brakes, use my lower profile on the bike to attempt to rail corners, drop down steep sections with absolute trust and even take an a line over a rock on a corner.

At the bottom I am asked by Andy and Mike and Norm, how was it? I say the F word in relation to my exhaustion. I could hear myself breathing heavy the entire way down and my legs are burning.

Yet I can see how I can improve and I want to.

Lets go again! A little less casing on the first jump, a little more air on the doubles, and a lot less strangling of the bike. One tip given to me this run – dig the heels in and it worked but now my calves are screaming! I exclaim at the bottom, “this is harder than 24hr racing, but I love it. Lets go again!”

We did 5 runs of ABOM that afternoon and I improved, got bigger air, attempted doubles, let my bike pop up over the rooty step ups, let the brakes off over the rough fast stuff and finished the day off with the biggest high.
And the whole time I chatted with Norm on the chair lift, we exchanged stories at the bottom with Mike and Andy and I got to recover each time on my bum on a chair for 5 mins. WINNING!

Day 2 Norm and I planned to work a bit in the shop before hand, then go and do the Stonefly – Riverspur – Delatite River Epic. We left it a bit late, I phoned Mirimbah store to book the shuttle for our return and found out we had one option 12:45pm. If we left now we had just over 2 hours to ride it all. Oh wow, we went hard. Firstly from yesterday, I instantly noticed I was now riding my 4” travel Lust 27.5 like a DH bike. This is awesome! Gang Gangs was great, a bit of traffic, however I was loving this new found feeling.

We rode up Stonefly non stop, me in my own space and did my 2nd ever fastest time and I was not even racing. Norm put me at the front on the descent and this too was nearly a 1 min improvement on my best ever Stonefly descent time.
And so it goes on. We had a ball, descending all the way to Mirimbah.
We made it to the shuttle with 5 mins to spare! And shagged – again.

All the way back up the mountain on the bus I was dreaming of doing DH runs after lunch.
We were both a bit tired so we agreed maybe 3 or 4 runs would do us.

First up – I did the steps at the clocktower – they are easy!
Run no. 1 – oh yeah, tired, sore and strangling the bike again.
Run no. 2 – nope too tired, dont think I will do this again.
Run no. 3 – wow...that felt better and guess what Norm – I did NOT case the big jump! I totally cleared it and landed so smoothly.
Run no. 4 – fastest time yet! Feeling awesome I decide this is where I call it a day.

I cant stress enough, if you have never tried downhill mountain biking you need to!
I've got heaps to learn but thats great, I love the challenge.
Keep it fun and achieveable, stay on a run that you know so you can improve with confidence and safety.
Its mega fun and will improve your riding out of sight!

Thanks Norm, those 2 days with you at Mt Buller were the best holiday I have had in a long long time.