Friday, August 23, 2013

Welcome to Estonia!

I arrived in Tallinn yesterday afternoon after 18 or so hours of travel on three flights (through Amsterdam and Helsinki), to the welcoming faces of teammates Sue, Abra, and Tom, and the even more welcome sight of my bike box spinning around the baggage carousel. Since I work for an airline, I used my stand-by travel privileges, and between the unknowns of space available travel and sporadic communication between the teammates who were already in country, it seemed somewhat miraculous that we all happened to be in the same place at the same time in a faraway land.

It was about an hour's drive east to Janeda, the headquarters for a three-day training camp that precedes the competition, where the rest of the gang had already checked into our dorm rooms. Janeda is a former aristocratic estate built ca. 1510, with pastoral grounds featuring a duck pond and walking paths as well as a variety of outbuildings that now serve as a market and dining hall for conference attendees and where we had a family-style dinner last night with teams from Italy and Australia. 

I crashed hard around 8 pm and Sue estimated I would wake up around 5 this morning due the time transition (10 hours difference from  Portland); I was wide awake by 4 and at 4:30 decided to go to the bike storage room to assemble my bike. After breakfast in the lobby and some last minute bike adjustments (the Australians were kind enough to loan tools and a floor pump) we pedaled the 5k to the morning's training site. The weather was sunny but cool, much like an October day in Portland. After a few pedal strokes, I marveled, "Holy crap, I'm riding my mountain bike in Estonia!"

During the training camp, we'll have the opportunity to ride five MTBO courses around the area, a great opportunity to practice our nav skills and get a feel for the local terrain and mapping styles. This morning's course was roughly 10k on a flat, forested network of trails and double-tracks of varying discern-ability. After most of the Italians and Australians had set off, Sue started, then Abra a minute or so behind. I waited a full minute before punching the start control and riding toward the first flag. Despite having studied the map for several minutes, I still stopped and checked at least three times enroute to control 1. I expected the flag to be to my right when I reached a trail junction; instead, it was to my left. Even though I found it quickly, I was glad this was a practice course and not the first day of competition!

I found #2 fairly easily and gained confidence when I was able to locate a faint track on the way to #3. I navigated the next several controls cleanly, but got to experience first-hand how hard it is to stay focused on your own navigation when other competitors overtake you. Then I got really mixed up in a complex intersection between #10 and #11 and took almost 7 minutes finding it. Feeling flustered, it took me almost as long to find #12, but the final control, 13, was a piece of cake. 

The organizers gave us a print-out of our control punch times; after comparing mine to Sue's and Abra's, I felt a bit discouraged, but Sue reassured me that my times were consistent and that I would improve throughout the training weekend. We spent another hour riding back through the course to look for trails that were hard to find or just to see what variously mapped trails looked like.

The ride was refreshing and a great way to shake off the jet lag, and it was fun to be out navigating again. The four of us walked from the dorm up to the market to pick up some salami, cheese, bread and fruit for lunch, which we ate at the picnic table out front. "This does not suck," as Tom said in the warm Estonian sun. Now it's time to get ready for the afternoon session on a slightly longer course. I bet we all ride it with fewer errors!

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