Somedays’ you’re the slugger…

.. somedays’ you’re the ball. In life, and much more when bikes become involved, I have tended to “The Ball”. Occasional glimpses of what the Slugger might look like have rarely occurred – and then only from the position of “The Ball“. Today I observed my two of my friends riding rather splendidly, while my own contribution to this riding ensemble was a proper sky-ground-sky event not experienced for many moons.

If we were to assume the mantle of the three cycling musketeers, Tim and Martin could fight over temporary custody of “Athos” and “Porthos” whereas I – of course – would rightfully claim the title of Dead-loss. It started well with enough with nearly a kilometre passing under tyre before I became hopelessly lost. For a while we thrashed through sunken trails with me looking worried, and the GPS demanding I turned right back at Reykjavik.

Eventually I passed off this navigational blunder as the new MTB Sub-Niche of “All Forest Extreme Power XC Exploring”, and introduced the clan to the “Mushroom Trail”* designed by nature to put the “hard” into “Hardtail” – machine gun firing off camber roots at single sprung cannon fodder.

I am very fond of my ST4, at times like this possibly rather more than is normal for a bunch of non organic tubes, but rooty, pedally singletrack is a lovely watch from a full suspension bike. We found much more of this in the next two hours, some of it actually on purpose but my random meanderings did have a final destination in mind.

Forest of Dean - May 2010 Forest of Dean - May 2010

The famed “Dowies” singletrack is hewn by a single man with a motorbike and way too much spare time. Forestry keep logging it, he keeps rebuilding it – multiple trails snaking down a steep slope, littered with fat roots, berms, jumps and general MTB gigglyness. If you can be smooth, you can be fast but that requires good trail knowledge, better skills and a whole world of self belief built around the grip of your front tyre.

Tim went first, me after using a few previous trips to hang pretty close to his rear wheel. This felt pretty good, not too scary, a salutary lesson on how damn far you can lean a well sorted mountain bike finishing with a mild buffing of an ego. “1:50 is the best time down there Tim” I offered as we winched back up for another go. What I didn’t know was Tim was going to have a crack at that time, what I should have known is there is absolutely no way I’d be able to stay with him.

I must have misheard “Ragged = Fast” because actually “Ragged = Slow = Crash” is what it must have meant. Ragged also means all that skills-shit which seems to work pretty well is given a slap by Ego as he barges uninvited into the driving seat. Ego thinks he’s fast but he’s so busy looking at himself, he rarely bothers looking up at the trail. As Tim disappeared at an alarming rate, I responded with a casing of a big-ish jump that – with Mr. Rational in charge – had been nothing but a bit of fun.

Now Disaster joined the race. He’d nearly caught me on three previous occasions, but this time changed tactics instead hanging about with Mr. Crash at the next corner. I turned up mostly out of control hard on the brakes, eyes on the front wheel, ego catatonic at the wheel. If I’d committed to the bend, I might have made it but I never gave myself that chance, hitting a big root square on with my head – think Tortoise being offered a juicy lettuce leaf – far over the bars, and not such much a passenger as an accident looking for somewhere exciting to happen.

The crash went on for a while. Over the bars and into the forest which was unpleasantly akin to being beaten with sharp sticks. Eventually the sky stopped flipping but I felt – since I was lying down – it’d be a damn fine idea to maintain that pose until my heart rate dropped below a million. Martin turned up looking as concerned as a man can while pissing himself laughing, and we determined other than a somewhat clarty elbow, the only real damage was to Mr. Ego who’d slunk off and left the scene of the accident.

I quite like crashing without properly hurting myself. It’s a bit like drinking without adding a hangover to your morning challenges. The high water mark of my ability is such that even a brilliant bike and dusty, dry trails cannot compensate sufficiently for ego-stoked bravado. I know exactly why the crash happened which is fine, because that doesn’t stop you being silly again. Possibly just a bit less silly.

Forest of Dean - May 2010 Forest of Dean - May 2010

Great ride tho; end of the bluebells, start of the summer. bonkers fast trails, fit feeling legs and a bike that was both superb to ride and – refreshingly – unbroken come tea and medals. If I could keep my aspirations in check, I might be sort of okay at this mountain biking thing. Maybe being the ball isn’t such a bad thing after all.

* Not quite true. Martin found it, having never been here before. The word that comes to mind here is “portent”.

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