An awesome moniker for the villain in a fantasy extravagancer, and if one substitutes ‘villain‘ for ‘idiot‘ and ‘fantasy‘ for ‘mud-slick‘ you’ve matched a simile to my riding experience over the last few days. Back the world up one rotation, and the anything north of Madrid is ice locked and cheerlessly cold. The trails were rock hard whilst the roads were endless slippy death. A reversal of what we have right now. And that’s a problem.
Winter Mountain biking has a rhythm. A heartbeat marking out Wednesday and Sundays as riding pulses whatever the prevailing weather conditions. Come summer it’s all a bit fibrolated with endless light and easy rainchecks with sun promised the next day. The dark season offers none of this – the weather will either be wet, cold, snowy or icy. If you’re extremely lucky possibly all 4. That’s a good number heralding the drawing of the darkness curtain, when the tedium of multiple layers and on time charging become part of our cylical world.
As do military style logistics mitigating dirty protests being campaigned through clean kitchens. Spare clothes and towels for the rider, bedsheets and seat covers for the transport, hosepipe readiness and preparations for draining the European lube mountain. Weekly brake pads and monthly pivot services. Transmission whittled by day and bank accounts by night. Such activities can be considered as a three month trauma clinic or a sacrifice to the goddess of Spring.
The rhythmic harmony of the Flipperati has suffered a discord this winter. One member* has largely abandoned ‘playing outside’ with a fetish for indoor training be that mating with the unholy Turbo, or racing round banked tracks in heated velodromes. The other two have been slacking off in admirable style; firstly to ride in an entirely different country and then stealing daytime rides when their vocational calling wasn’t looking.
Wednesday last though the Flipperati rode out again. For the first time in over a month – for which we were appropriately punished. My early arrival under threatening but dry skies gave me ample time to search the ride-bag, the car and my fading memory for an essential clothing component. Sadly drew a zero on all counts leaving me with a PE ‘playing in your pants’ approach to lycra shorts. Delivery of gritty arse crack to the terminally forgetful? Sure, where do I sign.
Faffing done, the rain came, stayed and hardened. Specifically at the point when Martin declared confidently ‘it’s slowing down’ which triggered the inevitable downpour. This felt like proper mountain biking as we used to do before getting soft and weather apps. Slogging through uphill mud, sliding sideways through downhill mud, exiting the trail in comedic fashion and wondering if there would be some kind of medal ceremony for any survivors.
Mud-Mesiter Martin was in his element. Or elements – those being slick mud, a cheating front tyre and a lack of imagination concerning tree based impact analysis. Jez and I were more sensible/conservative/nesh chowing down on mud cocktails and wondering whether to crash now to avoid the rush later. The aftermath was interesting; a ‘bucket of doom’ has been introduced in the Leigh Household where exterior MTB clothing must first pass before being stamped approved for the washing machine. The inside of my car appears to have been the victim of a flood event, and my unpadded arse had another feeling – that of having spent the evening in D wing bending over in the shower.
Any sport where the consequences double the time of the actual activity is clearly bonkers, as was I for repeating it two days later in the Forest. Which the previous week had been fantastic fun mainly because I had one of those bike-plus-rider-as-one epiphanies. Not last night. Oh fuck no. It’d have been quicker/safer/far less embarrassing/about the same speed to leave the bike boot-bound and run around the trails.
No one else appeared to be having similar problems. As their lights danced in the increasing distance, I was bouncing off trees, braking inappropriately and just generally riding like a twat. Every time I tried to anti-twat myself, Bad Things Happened. Be that a sashay off a jump leaving me with the option of ‘braking by fencepost‘ or slide into tree, or ‘root-grinding‘ a front wheel which is six inches of compressed terror followed by fetching oneself out of moist shrubbery.
20k of that was more than enough. From about 2k my entire thought process was mainly on staying alive at any speed and wondering – out loud – if it was time for beer yet. If you ride like a chump, ensure you drink like a champ. You’ll be unsurprised to hear I hit both those marks with equal committment.
Today there was much to rinse, wash and clean. And this brief period of unsulliment shall last exactly four seconds into the next ride. Which of course will be tomorrow in line with the winter heartbeat. Come Spring we’ll be Gods of the trail, winter hardened, sideways skilled and seasonally adjusted.
Until then, it’s snorkel, credit card and washing machine research. And wondering how hard it would be to learn Spanish.
* I love the English language. The nuances of a single word are there for everyone to snigger at.