Brittle Bones – on the edge of traction

Don't go towards the light!

I’m not overlyfamiliar with the canon of Ms Zellweger’s work, nor the Bridget Jones extended franchise, but neither of these potential cultural oversights stayed the ‘Edge Of Reason‘ flash-sideways sliding into my frontal lobe during a mildly trying period best thought of as ‘man versus tree’.

Sideways and Sliding are a rare adjectival/verb crossover combination perfectly describing a descent into wooded singletrack and mild terror. One minute I’m drinking in the earths’ curvature from high places painted deep in winters azure clarity, and the next it’s all gone dusky dark, slithering mud and arborealaggressiveness.

My passion for forests is only topped by their taller mountain brethren, except when individual trees are throwing themselves at my increasingly brittle frame. Switching from the rather trite ‘lungs of the planet‘ to ‘bone crushing monoliths’ in all the time it takes to wonder where all the traction went.

More grip that you think, just a bit less than you need‘ is the watch-phrase here. It was preceded by a need to ride under perfect blue skies, with a less than perfect right knee and sodden geography recovering slowly from the first winter storms. Late year sunlight brings even the troglodytes from their crypts, sothe hills were alive with the sound of walking sticks, bored families and the occasional joy sponge composing their next militantmissive to the Malvern Gazette*

We dropped out of sight onto trails so cheeky they should have their bottom smacked, immediately encountering the kind of tyre filling mud leaving anyone perched atop with the option of risking a dab of brake or a hint or steering. Certainly not both. That way lies an individual consultation with thestump of your choice.

God it’s fun tho. There’s something about this time of year where the trails have basically turned to shit, but there’s still enjoyment to be found at half the traction, three quarters of the speed and twice the commitment. Two wheel drifts are amusing at 10mph, less so at twice that, and solving the weight-placement, braking, cornering angles on a per-second basis is physically and mentally satisfying.

Mountain biking in the real world if you like. Nothing is buffed other than your head with that particular brand insulating a deficient thatch. There’s no hero dirt here, no sun-sparkled dust long-framed in lens flare, no guns out in the sun, no easy options, no limitless traction, no endless light filleddays.

Proper four season sport. Layer up, get out thereand appreciate the vignettes of saving a desperate slide, warming extremities by vigorous stamping, conquering a greasy climb through torque and technique, hitting jumps already sideways, and always riding, riding, riding through a landscape devoid of life and often clamped in grey.

We hardly had a run at any descent because the hills were peopled with those asdesperate to walk shadow tall under cloudless skies. And that’s absolutely fine because just reeling in the horizon at any speed at times like this is enough. Not quite enough though, because today we sallied forth again under those much hated grey skies to slither about in the woods above Ross.

Bits were great. Fast, grippy, devoid of mud. Other bits were slick, difficult and often full of unwanted trunk**. Which brings me back full circle to the brittle bones bit; riding at this time of year requires more skill – and probably less bravery – than an amalgam of spring, summer and autumn. Which is fine and everything until someone loses aline, the plot, and possibly an eye.

Post ride, beers were pulled as those self-classified as the worthy sat in the warmth and talked of deeds to be done and more to be catalogued. I have some of the greatest friendswho, regardless of their circumstances, prioritise riding mountain bikes in all seasons and weathers.

We talk like children, excited by the possibilities of the new but we’re not young. The first flush of youth has long gone. We’ve got scars, broken bits, sore limbs and a clock countingthe minutes until all this stops. And it’s the thought of those missing months you can never get back which deprecates your bravery. Hurting myself isn’t the issue, being off the bike absolutely is. Riding tomorrow is far more important than riding the thing in front of you.

Mountain Biking is so much a part of what I am, and yet it’s also a perfect juxtaposition between cravingthe adrenaline hit and not hitting something that’ll put you off the bike for a while. Possibly for ever. Now there’s a dark place too scary to visit. Until there are no other choices.

My dad is getting on a bit. He’s flown gliders and light aircraft almost every weekend for nearly sixty years. Soon – so very soon – age and certification become incompatible. He is understandably worried about what to fill that hole with, and while it’s impossible not to sympathisewith position, I’m beyond bloody glad it’s not me facing that decision.

Ride bikes for fun. Don’t crash hard. Ride bikes again. That’s as close to a Christmas message as I’m going to get.

* ‘Dear Sir, I suggest in the strongest possible terms Mountain Bikers are reclassified as game birds so open season can be declared on August 12th. Yours, an old bloke pining for days that never were

** Trees not elephants. There’s a lot of weird stuff that goes on in Herefordshire, but herds of massive mammals*** striding across the Wye valley isn’t one of them

*** Except for MAMILs. We get loads of those. Fat mountain bikers I get. We drink loads of beer. Fat Roadies? Help me out here.

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