Head Games.

Right, that’s all gone a bit wrong. Evidenced on the intersection of misplaced confidence and new bike* enthusiasm.  Pub-bound on a trail I’ve ridden hundreds of times. Mid-Winter it’s an exercise in bike-uprightness dealing with steep ruts, relentless off-camber and a trench black-holing even the best riders.

We’ve all tales to tell. Tall ones “no idea how I styled that out, let me explain in some detail…‘, short ones ‘dropped in, crashed out’ and narratives proxying for excuses ‘you know just the wrong tyre/light flicked out, UFO sighting put me off’.

Summer tho, it’s a barely bucking double log, drop into the trench with a ‘feel the force Luke‘, brake stab to manage the tight berm, fling yourself over a little table and almost taste the beer a few hundred yards away.

That brake stab? I’ve always wondered if some righteous railing might ping you over the jump with dusty insouciance. Analogue black box recorder went something like this ‘don’t brake, going to make it, definitely going to make it, blimey this is quite fast, reckon it’s still on… oooooooh fuuuuuuuuuuck’, Followed by static as eight pots of Shimano’s finest represented the difference between a save for the ages versus a high velocity head strimming of the local vegetation.

Got it stopped. Gave myself a ‘never in doubt’ nod, glanced behind only to see a fully committed Al ‘The Wallinator’  on a crash course slamming the terminal into velocity. The arse of my bike perfectly marks the apex and Al – as per his one line operating manual – is coming in hot. Being blessed with quite the imagination, the frontal lobe suggests a strong possibilty we’re about to be punted headlong into one or many trees at a speed best thought of as ‘splattering‘.

Warnings of such outcomes punctuated not only this ride, but every one  since Molini stopped being a thing and started being a confidence trick. Stuff I’d built entire walls of excuses for avoiding have come tumbling down. Some cipher looking like me exchanged endless worrying for moment-living. Not so much taking risks, more not giving a shit for consequences. At an age when you’re really meant to be slowing down, this is life changing stuff.

But it’s still me, so it hadn’t all gone well. At no point did  a mental shift trigger some excalibur like physical skills. No swords removed from rocks, more crashing into the mineral record barely avoiding blunt force trauma through the power of awesome bikes. Getting away with it doesn’t even get close.

Close enough tho. I’ve ticked off a nasty steep chute bastardised with a wheel stopping rock half way down. First 2023 ride of the rockiest thing we ride in the FoD**, had a proper go at a rock jump I mostly fall off in the manner of an aging seal sliding torpidly into the sea. A gap jump swerved for a year barely cleared recorded a review of “not as easy as advertised, would not do again’.

Even a bomb-hole surely ripped from the hill by a WW2 ‘Tallboy” was inked into the ‘got it done’ ledger, mostly by following Matt in and closing my eyes when the horizon flipped what felt like 90 degrees. Blood was about 95% adrenaline at this point.

Which may explain how the means really doesn’t justify the end. Progression is really happening to other people. I’m a month away from the dark side of my mid-50s. Upside is any managed decline is nothing more than starting from a bang average baseline. I was never that great at mountain biking, so it’s not so far to fall.

Fall to what? eBike? Gravel bike? Touring with panniers? None of these things are terrible and I’m trying very hard not the be judgey about them***.  This New Al would rather focus on the positives. Twenty years ago I tipped the scales at 174 pounds. I still do today*****, four rides a week are still a thing in summer, I feel both pretty fit and completely knackered, broken bits are manageable while stretching/pilates/staying away from the beer fridge stays the inevitable reasons to stop.

Back to where we came in. It could all end right now tho with Al shortening the ‘punting distance’ by the millisecond. He sees me and his eyes widen, there’s bits of me puckering madly, but short of a early doors dive into evicerating  shrubbery I’m right out of ideas. Instead a desperate bike shuffle gives Al another few inches and he responds by RAILING the berm in exactly the manner I pretended I could.

Cheeks blown out. Some gabbling. Go to pub. Do not pass A&E.

Next night, a whole lot of steeps only a few miles away, often talked about but never ridden. Day after a cheeky Friday night blast fuelled by tired legs and the prospect of a cold beer. Day off and then back on it tomorrow. Still properly excited.

This is not riding transmogrification. Matrix like skills are not in my purview. I didn’t suddenly find bravery when meekness has served me so well all these years. It’s all in my head.  A head normally full of reasons why things can’t be done. Days ruined by worrying about one feature. Nights awake wondering if faking it is really any fun.

No idea where it’s come from. No idea how long it’ll last. Know one thing, it’s bloody great fun right now, and that’s more than enough.

*Another one? Colour me surprised. There’s a reason, a rationale, certainly a story. Only one of those nouns is reasonably adjacent to the truth.

**Somewhat predictably labelled ‘Rockadillo‘ but in my head it’s almost “Dr Rillo” – makes it feel a bit less scary.

**Trying. Not succeeding.

****To be fair, there’s quite a lot of ‘slumping‘ in the last two decades.

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