I am searching for something. Mostly my riding buddies, visually absent from the trail in front of me. Which gives me plenty of time to wonder just when I forgot how to ride a mountain bike. In the evidence column are blind trails barely chronologically separated from a 24 hour rain storm. Coincidentally a similar time spent in the van motoring the 1200km to Molini nestled deep in the Italian Maritime alps.
A region of steep sided wooded valleys hiding partly abandoned villages hacked out of rocky hillsides with 1000 year histories of Machiavelli commerce, inquisitions ending in burning witches and WWII German occupation – all of this and much more against a backdrop of agriculture industry powered by water and burning timber. It’s both a medieval time capsule, and a cultural lament for what happens when a nation finds other ways to feed and clothe itself.
Tourism has taken up some of the slack. Helpful geography and a whole lot of hard work has developed an extensive trail network augmented with natural trails grubbed in by hunted and hunter. Accessed mostly by uplift van – and ever more frequently by eBike – there’s awesome dirt below a 1000 metres and endless rock above that. Significantly less well known than Finale Liguria – it’s boastful brother on the coast – but, for me, a better riding experience.
Well, it would be were I not a million miles behind where I needed to be. No, that’s the wrong metric, really just a few inches further back than optimal. But when you’re riding a slack 64 degree enduro sled thing with 180mm of travel up front and barely less some way behind you that’s a problem. More so if you want to actually make some use of all that capability. And ride round corners. Both of which feel important.
Not important enough for me to stop hanging back, jerking my head away from perceived danger, fixating on corner entry while smooth apexes are happening to other people. I’d be better off, getting off and grabbing some handy logs from the forest to portage my way round. A bit of me is loving riding in such an amazing place, but the rest of the cerebral loaf is chafing at my inability to do it any justice.
This is not a “comparison is the thief of joy”* thing. I’m genuinely happy the fast fellas are busting out rooster tails with all the skills and none of the worry. It is a tooth gritted ‘what is the point of coming all the way here, with this bike, on these trails and riding like a twat?’. What indeed? If I were piloting a boat – and based on local climatic conditions this would be a shrewd choice of transport – steering from the back is by design. On a long travel bike, it’s more by idiot.
I got through the day. Didn’t ride very well. Reasonably content tho what with not ending as a fleshy tree motif. Stole a cig from a local, stood outside the bar under stary skies and applied some rigorous post ride introspection. If you want to be nearer the front, you need to start with your position on the bike. Right then, that’s sorted, best toast it with a few more beers.
Next day riding God from the start then? Er, no but things improved a whole load over the week. Riding every day will do that, as will chuntering into the GoPro that unless a dropped saddle is rustling the inside of your shorts, you need to drag yourself forward. Head over the stem regardless of gradient. The view from up here is amazing, the bike just wants to go – push the bloody thing into corners, over precipitous drops, away from endless death-by-exposure. If we’re going forward, we’d best get forward. It won’t fix all my riding defects, but it’ll hide them for long enough.
Final day it rained again. Last run. A couple didn’t want to get out of the van but how could you not? Having exited the vehicle, I realised exactly why not what with the spiteful rodding of sideways precipitation. Jacket on, drop into the trail. Finally, the bike feels supple and I feel good playing with the brakes rather than leaning on them.
The conditions are a great leveller even as the track steepens and I’m still hanging onto the train. Just let the bike run then gather it up way later than your brain demands. You know what, I might even risk going a little bit faster. Maybe I’ve finally cracked it. ***
If I have, it’s not because I’m in that perfect Venn of confidence and competence. I’ve pretty much stopped thinking at this point. Everything is operating on herd instinct. Don’t lose the tow. When it’s gone so are you. Do. Not. Lose. That. Tow. Hang in there and let it hang out. It’s about three minutes of mud-flecked giggling madness.
Something clicked. Not a mouse on yet another ‘how to ride video’. Nor a single inspiration spearing sun-cracked clouds. Something else, I dunno let’s call it knowledge retained by awesome topography. Whatever, the speed is out there mostly still a memory just beyond recall- the harder you try, the more nebulous It becomes. Without getting all Zen on you, sometimes you just need to let the trail come to you. And when it does, you’ll be surfing the whole fast without fear thing.
It won’t last of course. Knowing it’s there is enough. Because this means every single ride you get to go looking for it. And sometimes you’ll find it in the last place you looked. How fantastic is that?
Going forward is the new falling behind.
*my second favourite US political quote (Roosevelt). My favourite is the founding father Benjamin Franklin who said “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”**😊
**Except he didn’t. Which is annoying.
***five minutes later, biggest crash of the week. Still didn’t die wondering 😉