I finally signed up for a mountain biking skills camp.  I signed up at BetterRide.net for a 3-day core skills camp in Baltimore, MD since I missed the Raleigh camp and didn't want to wait until October for the next Raleigh camp (plus, by going to Maryland, I can stay with my parents and combine biking and visiting them in one trip).  I heard good things about BetterRide and decided that I was long overdue for an actual skills course (I've been thinking about doing this for about 5 years and wish I had done this maybe 10 years ago!).  Today was Day 1 of the course and I came away really happy with what I learned and I'm looking forward to the next two days. 
There was 5 of us in the camp plus our instructor Coach Andy.  Besides myself, there were two women and two guys.  Only one person actually lived in Maryland! The rest of us came from other states in order to do this camp. The one woman was a fitness instructor/nutrition coach from Connecticut, who had been mountain biking/racing for five years,  the other woman was from New York and had just started mountain biking a couple months ago, the one guy was from Maryland and had been mountain biking since 1991 and the other guy was from Virginia and had been mountain biking/racing since 1985.  What was funny was the guy from Maryland was the only one who didn't have a full suspension bike- he had a rigid singlespeed!  He said that in Maryland it wasn't really necessary to have full suspension (I mostly agree with him) and he didn't explain why he went with a rigid but he did pretty well even without suspension or gears.  Everyone was nice and kept an open, "beginner's" mind for the lessons since it's harder to teach someone how to ride properly when they are so ingrained in the way they do things. 
Coach Andy first went over vision and the change in your bike handling when you look further ahead versus what's right in front of your wheel.  He set up an obstacle course with small cones and we had to weave through the cones first  by looking far ahead (like at the 5 or 6th cone) and then again by looking at each individual cone.  By looking at each individual one, you really slowed down and were not as smooth in riding.  It was interesting, I realize that I need to look further down the trail but I know that I get in the habit of looking only 1 or 2 feet in front of me and I slow down because I'm shortening my line of vision.  The second thing he showed us was body position.  Keeping the arms bent and elbows out instead of squished in really allows you to breathe more and remain flexible.  After working on body position and vision, we moved onto a discussion of bike fit and he dissected the components and arrangement of each of our bikes.  His suggestion to me was that maybe a wider handlebar would be better (it allows you to corner better) and to change my grips to the Ergon freeride .  He said my current Ergon grips would just be a crutch and once I learn to loosen my grip (cue "Jazz fingers"), I wouldn't need these.  He also mentioned pedals and recommended flat pedals as they would be better for training purposes and cause less injuries (it's easy to crash when you are learning to ride with SPD pedals). 

After the discussion on the bike fit, we moved on to wheelies.  He first showed us how to do a pedal wheelie (using your body and one push on the pedal to lift the front wheel) and then the coaster wheelie (keep pedals flat at 9 and 3 o'clock and shift your body weight back to lift the front wheel up when you are coasting down a hill/slope).  Alas, for both types of wheelies, I tended to "he-man" the handlebars up and only managed to do the move correctly maybe 2 out of 10 times.  The message- do wheelies as a drill every week until I get it right!  After that, we got on the trail (Patapsco State Park) and practiced technique, both uphill and downhill, using vision, keeping loose and working on the wheelies.  My dad asked me why learn how to do a wheelie, what was the point of this trick.  I told him that once you learn to do a wheelie properly, it makes going over obstacles less jarring and faster.  The next step beyond a wheelie is the bunny hop so there is a progression to all of this.  Overall, it was a great first day and made me glad that I signed up!

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