This somewhat philosophical article has been knocking about for a while so I thought I'd stick it up here, just to be tidy-like. It tells my story of Velefique Freeride 2016 - my tentative first foray onto a long, steep, speedy hill and how I got my head around that fear thing. Now I can add Arico - El Bueno to the repetoire but more on that in a bit ...
I wrote this the day after Velefique 2016. We had extended our trip to Spain with a few days in a tiny gaff in a tiny village outside Orgiva, south of Granada.
I was still stoked, still not quite believing I did it. I didn't do it well, but I did do it.
Velefique is 4.5km in length with nine hairpins among its half dozen or so corners and curves. When you look from the top, you see it snaking down the mountainside like the swirling flourish ending a regal signature. It's the kind of image often shared on Facebook which I've pondered upon dreamily but certainly never seriously. I mean, really? Me?
This was definitely well outside my comfort zone and, I thought, my ability. I've been skating for around 4 years now and many of you will have followed my consistently delayed progress ... my forever attempts at Coleman's – the getting them, the losing them (not unlike my Rock to Fakies at the skatepark!) I've never learnt to footbrake at speed either and as for the whole toeside thing, well ...
So, hitting a hill where you actually have to know how to control your speed before tight, tight bends and be able to stop before crashing into the crowd of riders congregating just round the last bend, is just plain stupid, isn't it?
I first heard about Velefique last year when the Skate to Escape crew shared their experience on their Facebook page. I chatted with Hermione about it when we visted them earlier that year.
"Get your Coleman's sorted, Sabina" she said, "and you'll have no problems!"
"Oh Heck!" I thought.
I watched Hermione's video of herself doing the hill and all I seemed to focus on was the metal crash barrier - I fixated on it thinking "I could go under that" followed by "I would go under that!". That would be my Velefique story: the duffer who fell off the mountain.
Yet, come August 1st, there I was, digits poised, waiting for the moment registration opened for 2016. Facebook chat set up with Lewis, Hermione and Joe in one window and Google Translate standing by in another as I worked my way through the registration process and, finally, payment. I then had to convince Hisnibs to take a couple of extra days holiday so his mad wife can throw herself off a mountain.
Strangely enough, he was game.
By my reckoning that gave me plenty of time to practise and get a little ahead. Yet, in truth, I only spent a couple of hours in the Peaks two weeks prior and a couple of hours in Bournemouth the Saturday before we left. Also, and perhaps not the most sensible thing to do, I decided to change my set-up and transfered everything to a SlipStream board I'd won in the raffle at SYCLD, Eindhoven. I figured if I was going to fall off a mountain and potentially break my board, it might as well be one that I hadn't paid for! The DFA SlipStream is a 2013 model and is a bit shorter than my usual ride; a Lush SteezeStoker. It has a little tail and really nice concave. The extra room the tail gives enables me to feel a lot more confident as I sometimes feel my back foot will slip off when coming out of tuck.
I decided to invest in a good slide wheel so that my limited ability at sliding would get the best possible result. I also felt that a big wheel would suit me by giving me extra stability so, after a little research, I settled on a set of SlidePerfect Momentums. They are huge! No way was I going to be able to slide these boys but I was sooo wrong. They move effortlessly, like sliding on ice! I also treated myself to a good looking full-face helmet from Area One Boards. My old one got a serious slam at the last Gurston meet and it's way time to grade up. I gaffa taped my 'ol faithful leather trews and was ready to go. Well, I wasn't actually ready, I'm thinking perhaps in another year I'd be ready - but heck, I've been at it four years and it's way time to step up to the next level. So I'm going – that much is certain.
We were not able to get to Velefique for the whole 4 day event, only arriving on the Saturday. We easily found the Skate to Escape unit and followed them up the hill to the 'Finish' area. I had to put my board together and so missed the first uplift. I seem to have a kind of 'delaying tactic' whenever I'm about to do something a little trepidatious; fiddle about with my board to delay that moment of commitment. It annoys me that I am like this and will definitely have to work on it! (I was actually so nervous that I put my trucks on the wrong way round and got so confused I asked a local to come check them! Thankfully, I have no shame in this regard!)
Whilst we waited for the first run to finish, we sat at the last bend and watched this incredible assortment of riders come hurtling down the last part of the hill, sliding with grace and steeze, round toward the finish line. There was every gravity defying mechanism available: longboards, rollerblades, quadskates, drift trikes and other gravity bikes, streetluges and a couple of other odd contraptions! It really was an amazing sight!
Three coaches were available to take the riders up the hill. After the last rider sets off from the top, Rubio (the main man) follows them down in his van, then the three coaches. When the run before lunch occurs, the two ambulances also join the convoy. With all of this, and the snail pace at which the coaches have to travel, there is around an hour between runs.
With the arrival of the coaches, I chuck my board in the hold and clamber aboard. It's so hot and I'm in leathers! I realise that heat stroke is more likely to bring me down than bailing! At the top, Hermione explained my newbie status to Rubio and it was agreed I'd be the last rider down on each run. This means I am able to take my time, not get in anyone's way and bail as necessary. Hermione offered to follow me down the first run, for which I was grateful. As we waited for all the others to go we stood at the very edge of the rocky outcrop overlooking the route. Oh.Crap.
It's now I need to seriously get a grip. I dumb myself down, I realise that; with a tendency towards 'Impostor Syndrome' I often feel a fake – I know that doesn't make sense because I do do this stuff, I am passionate about it and absolutely love it! I need to psyche myself up and do this by breaking things down; taking myself through a mental checklist, confirming to myself exactly what I can do:
- I can go downhill
- I am more than comfortable at around 35mph so a little faster won't matter
- I am very happy carving
- I can position myself well to go round corners
- I can get into a slide (just not always out of one).
So actually, most of what I need to do I can do (with that one minor exception).
I looked at the road again and began to break it down into segments. Top to corner 1, corner 1 to corner 2 and so on. I look at the whole road as a series of slide practise opportunities without constantly having to walk back up the hill.
I can do that, no problem.
Then it was time to go.
On this first run, I just rolled away, no push. Hermione skillfully keeps her distance behind me with a lot of foot-braking as I carved widely down to the first corner. I picked up speed quite quickly and tried a quick slide. I ended up on my butt but got back to it and pushed off as quickly as I could, obviously now slow enough to easily get round the corner.
Corner 1, check.
Then down to the next one. This one was a tight hairpin. I threw in another slide, again I couldn't quite pull myself round and out of it and I'm back on my butt. Undeterred, I'm up and on it, sailing round the corner, loving the sound of puck on tarmac and into the next downhill straight.
Corner 2, check.
Hermione is yelling advice as we progress onwards and downwards. I constantly look behind to check her whereabouts but she's giving me a good amount of space and I'm grateful for her presence.
And so it goes, Corner 3, check; Corner 4, check.
I take time to enjoy every moment, loving the straights. Spreading out my arms to air brake with the same stance enabling me to embrance this experience. I'm ungainly, inelegant and definitely without steeze as I attempt my speed checks but each imperfect slide brings me brings me closer to a perfect one. I've just got to be patient.
4.5km later and I am round the last bend. No skin lost, just a whole lotta gaffa tape. I'm grinning so hard my face hurts.
I take a couple more runs that day but deliberately miss one so I can take time to watch everyone else as they progress down the hill. I watch their style, hoping to learn from them. Everyone is different, every style is different. There is no right way, no wrong way. The muted shrieks of laughter as they near-miss and yells as they collide waft towards me, travelling over the distance on the air. I'm moved by the atmosphere, the ambience of friendliness, the support, the encouragement, the inclusivity, the patience. The vibe is so strongly positive I am possessed to take this time out to just sit and let it soak in.
I look across at the mountains that surround this event. They are voluptuous; to quote a favourite term of Laurie Lee's in As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. They curve round, rising and falling, holding the scene within in a timeliess embrace. The last of the riders disappear, the coaches have followed. I am sitting quiety, contemplatively. Just a speck in this vast environment. The music pumping out of a nearby sound system strangely adds to the moment; even with it's sound there is an air of stillness. My faith swells up inside and I give this moment to my God. He gives it back, His gift to me. With it, I pick up my board and get back to the hill.
I finished writing this piece back home in good 'ol Blighty with the damp and post-holiday blues creeping in. I've uploaded a coupla hundred photos of the event (VIF16 Album) which had me grinning, my spirit rising as my heart swells.
This event wasn't just a first time, international freeride experience for me. It took me to the next level, boosting my confidence, altering my outlook, challenging my perception – of myself. For me, Velefique International Freeride 2016 was a game changer.
This year's event will be hosted betweend 7-10 September and all details can be found on the Facebook page here: Descenso Freeride Velefique 2017
Words and Pix: Sabina Edwards (Sept 2016)
Additional image: Road 199
Video: Andalusia Turismo Deportivo