Oooh Spring. About blooming time. Evidence was all around as we passed plants bursting into flower, trees risking a little leaf and stretchy t-shirted fat people wearing sports sunglasses while contesting narrow byways*
It’s been a week of glorious sunshine since our last slippy ride out here. The four hardy perennials gathered early – except in my case late, frustrated**, post too many beers, and a bit chilly riding into a season switched back from a phony summer.
Progress was therefore understandably sluggish with the moaning one lugging a crippling heavy hangover in his backpack, and demanding relief for two spin classes and three rides in the previous four days. Sympathy was not forthcoming.
This self inflected load crushed my spirit as we ambled up the bitch*** blissfully out of the chilling wind, but deep into ‘I may soon be messily sick‘ territory. Sometime much later a confused looking man rocking some 90s rigid bike action wondered if a responsible adult might point him in a direction of home.
I wandered off in case my involvement would direct the blameless individual to Reykjavik or the moon, and instead practically experimented the theory that ‘Sweat is just Butty Bach leaving the body‘, which trumps Lance who intimated Fear but really meant EPO.
Eventually the up stopped triggering a game of ‘A tree? there? I wasn’t expecting that’ as the drunken delay between my optic nerve and steering muscles extended beyond a second. I slavishly followed Haydn’s rear wheel in the hope a) he knew where he was going and b) if he did crash I’d have something a bit more squashy than bark to crash into.
Even in a state of physical and mental brokeness, the perfect trail conditions couldn’t pass me by. No, it’s was more about getting right in there, feeling at least one half of the bike/rider combo come alive, and hanging on to those faster people who’d decided internal poisoning wasn’t on their Friday night agenda.
There is very little in life which can mirror the joy of letting the bike run. What in winter are stiff, steppy individual impacts on a phalanx of steep roots become a glorious unbroken dart between apexes, with the bike matching the terrain and arms and legs beating to a similar rhythm.
This is the physical representation of that mythical quest for flow. It’s committing to everything learned riding around in circles for twenty years, whilst at the same time dumping the doubt, fear and anxiety cataloguing your many failures.
It’s a belief system of sorts. The tyres will grip, the suspension will control, the brakes will stop, the big lump of vegetable on top can be brave. Believe and all shall be well.
It kind of works but nothing is infinite, especially grip as my rear tyre spat traction on a fast turn. For a second I thought I’d caught it, but this thrill was short lived as a stout tree hove into view. Making the split second decision to abandon the bike saved me from a crunching arboreal halt. The bike caught it with a tyre as I tumbledpast giving a relieved wave.
No damage done and the quiet gratification I’d pushed the rear tyre so hard, it actually broke traction. Could have been rubbish technique, could have been proper commitment. Probably somewhere between the two, but it matters not as it is a story to tell without an injury to show.
The great thing about having average ability but unlimited ambition is it always feels that you can improve. So when occasionally flying perfectly over a jump – fully committed but still in control, or properly driving your hips into a turn and flinging the bike through an accelerating apex, this feels like real progression. Then you case a smaller jump, drop into a rut and almost stall into the next corner – so dropping you back to the baseline of about average.
No problem with that at all. I’m probably way past whatever represented the high water mark of my mediocre ability. But I am nowhere near close to finding the edge where the simple fun of riding mountain bikes with like-minded people feels like something I no longer want to do.
And on that note, it’s worth asking myself why I’ve bothered to buy a new bike. The Pyga is more than enough for my ability and ambition. It’s also a whole lot better than that. For a few brief seconds yesterday I sensed how brilliant it really is, and how much more it could give under the hands and feet of a proper rider.
I’ll never be that rider. But for the next few months, I’m going to have a lot of fun pretending I might be.
* route between the pub door and the bar. These vital commercial arteries must be kept clear!
** lost my wallet. Spent 20 minutes looking for it. The first 10 carefully retracing my steps, the second angrily throwing random stuff in the air and glaring at the non-walletless hole below. Arriving home, I found it in about 30 seconds. Alcohol is bad for you kids.
*** There is a similarly horrible climb on the other side of the valley which is – somewhat predictably – named ‘the bastard’