My recovering body was not mirrored by an angst free mind. While confidence in my ability has generally outshone that ability, now the world was the wrong way up and riding “ specifically turning left “ was starting to become a proper mental block. Body says turn left there’s a tree in the way“, mind counters don’t turn left, your knee will explode into a fountain of bloody horror like it did last time“. The mind can be a simple thing, so if you keep chanting tree, tree, treeï¿½? enough times, it’ll deliver one and that hurts almost as much.
With good light until 8pm and a maximum of five hours riding, a lunch time start would seem to perfectly suit the end of a three hour drive. Our friends and organisers clearly thought so when they sauntered up some 90 minutes late expressing mild surprise that we’d fallen for the see you at 10am” gambit offered up the day before.
First climb was full of numpties. I’m all for an increase in the size of the cycling population just as long as they’re not all falling off in front of me. Which they were, lots and often. Downhill followed up as it inevitably does and my fear of North Shore raised woodwork, exposed trails with a lovely view of the valley you’d fall into and, of course, turning left made for a depressing and unlovely experience.
Things improved once I’d got us properly lost: It’s this way, not that way, possibly over there, all these bloody fireroads look the same. Anyone got a compass? Yes? Anyone know how to use it?“. More descents, slight improvement down to forced relaxation, bloody mindeness and no crashing. Sometimes when you’re riding really well, it doesn’t feel fast but it is, whereas if you’re trying to ride fast and you’re having a shit day, it just feels like you’re one corner away from hospital. I have some history here so that happy image was welded to my retinas. Things improved to the point where I wasn’t actually hating it, at which juncture a rock staged deceleration trauma focussed painfully on my toe. Scared of left hand bends you see so turning in too early, rock on the apex, huge bruise on my foot.
In retaliation, I ensured we got properly lost a second time finishing with a cheeky 20 minute push up a dryish stream bed. The fellas were in awe of my navigational ability but chose to hide it behind such jovial comments as where the fuck are weï¿½” and if we’re stranded here, you’re the first one on the menu“. That’s ok, I knew I’d been fattening myself up for something.
Amazingly and through the power of random, we arrived back close to a known trail and much whooping and hollering accompanied the final descent. In my case, it was entirely due to a second rock/toe incident which impacted exactly the same wiggler. Are toes meant to be black? I’m thinking not.
It was fun really but it left me hankering for a bit more wilderness. Too much of this year has been spent riding purpose built tracks in MTB centres. They may be the future but I quite enjoyed the past as well; the joy of scouring maps for interesting contour lines, the epic loops planned in an unknown pub, the finding out and getting found out when things turn the shape of a pear. Climbing never ending grassy tracks and being rewarded with a singletrack gem hidden away on the backside of a bleak hillside. Crap weather and good waterproofs, sometimes shit trails but always great friends.
So decision made; maybe it’s time to stop being quite so foolhardy at speed and instead be foolhardy at leisure. Replace the boredom of trying to pick a perfect line with the thrill of picking any line that may get you somewhere interesting. A bit less static and a bit more epic. That’s the plan for my fortieth year.
Oh and some eighties revival rock. Because sometimes you just have to remember that other stuff isn’t a chore or a duty, it’s kind of important too. There, I’ve said it now; sure the prospect of unencumbered responsibility and total financial freedom will always appeal to the schoolboy within and those dreams may never quite fade.
But until them, reality calls, so c’mon sing with me, But till then tramps like us baby we were born to grout“. Air guitar if you like but try not to scare the little ones.