Testing 1-2

Long way down. Best not to look really.

I missed a trick here. Soundcheck Wednesday – wuntu/wuntu/wuntu passed a couple of days ago while I was busy immersing myself in a version of reality that pays the bills but falls well short for a purpose of existence. But testing I have been, mainly of myself, occasionally of the patience of friends and rarely of my bike.

Tenerife is many things; grockalery and horrid at the beach, architecturally inconsistent in the mountains, friendly everywhere, often on fire and living off a geological event so cataclysmic that no amount of biped evolution can even begin to mask it. Basically it’s a volcano with some nice beaches. Dominated by a classic caldera’d Mount Tide at over 3000m, this is a little island with big ideas. Even our hotel in the foothills of the big boy were at a height that’d have most Ben Nevis Ramblers sated at what is considered a proper summit.

First off, let’s get something straight in a world of turns, I absolutely fucking loved it. For many reasons; let’s start with spending five days in the mountains with like minded people and toasting each day with ice cold beers and tales as tall as the peaks. Secondly reconciliation between how staggeringly capable mountain bikes are and how little I push their limits was finally understood in mere seconds when I got to understand what fast feels like. That was a privilege. I’ll miss it but now I know it’s not my world.

While we’re gloating about how fantastic riding dusty trails in shirt sleeves was when – say – compared to trudging through ankle deep sleep in England’s winter darkness, then consider the happy fact we threw the bikes down the thick end of 10,000 metres of descending while climbing less than tenth of that. God, I love shuttling. I feel like a fraud but if that’s what fakery is like then send me a package of it for Christmas.

Finally – aside from an ankle still weeping evil cactus thorns* – my battered body remained largely unbroken unlike my friend Martin who attempted to perform open heart surgery through a simple practical demonstration of potential energy in an environment of endless spikey rocks. So let’s talk about that. I am at an age when improving is metaphorical for managing decline in a beery delusion. Every ride is akin to a visit to bottlers anonymous “Hi I’m Alex and it’s been 100 days since I took any risks whatsoever. I have so many excuses, how long do you have?

This is classic unsighted riding on trails designed by geology to either hurt you now or kill you later. There’s exposure in a ‘fuck me, that’s vertical and bottomless’, there’s technical in a ‘fuck me again, that’s not a line, that’s something beyond heroic and out the otherside‘, there’s steepness best ridden with an arse on the rear tyre and a hand on the insurance certificate. Four days of this and it seemed better to throw my shorts away rather than explain the state they were in.

Three days were on the limit of my ‘good day, ace bike, don’t make me look like a gutless twat’ skills. One day way beyond that in a horror of a 100 switchbacks apexed by broken rocks where momentum saved you, but speed absolutely kills. Or hitting a rock pool at 30kph having just lobbed oneself off a three foot drop and death-gripping the bars because braking will be a confirmed disaster whereas hanging on might introduce a question mark.

Every second is a decision. There is absolutely no respite. Don’t believe for a minute that downhill boys hang on and hope. Mentally dropping 2000+ metres in 25k frazzles your brain to the point where sleep is interrupted by muscle memory. Physically your shoulders are in spasm, thighs contract, calves ache. It’s room 101 forever but in a good way. It’s if it ends now then it ends but Christ what a way to go.

And that’s an important point; let the bikes run and they are everything the marketing people tell you. Two or three times I felt so far outside of my comfort zone it’d be a plane journey back, but the bike was serene, gliding over lethal rock gardens with confidence that I absolutely didn’t feel. Watching a couple of other ride like this all the time filled me briefly with envy until the realisation dawned that it’s only when you feel the fear and do it anyway do you get a dopamine hit so high it cannot be legal.

The last day – reunited with my wingman who was back on the bike only because donkey killing painkillers are available over the counter here – ranks somewhere in my top 5 rides ever. Every switchback we’d ridden, every pumice chute we’d surfed down, every rock garden we’d conquered were merely qualifiers for 30k of mountain biking bliss. The exposed carry over a water pipeline opened up a barely discernible singletrack which I’d happily ride every day until I die. Mainly because it flattered learned skills without attempting murder every ten yards or so.

Then a plunge down a semi-vertical ridge line. Then a moab like slickrock section, then a jagged rocky mess which claimed the lung of a previous rider. Then super drifty dirt corners against a massive drop, then a dirt bike laid trail of bermed loveliness, then..then..then.. it ended eventually because geography will catch up with you even after a monster shuttling. But it finished with me wondering if there was any more fun to be had with your clothes on.

There’s something important here. For a good part of the riding I was properly scared, feeling too nesh, too old, to clumsy, to much missing the point of riding stuff right on the edge of your ability. Seeing Martin hurt himself and stiffly declare he was missing the next day had me wondering if we were to fucking past it to waste everyone’s time pissing about and being rubbish. Watching 30 year olds go bonkers with nary a care about the shape their face might be should it go wrong raised my angst we were writing cheques our bodies couldn’t cash.

There is some of that. But there is also something else. While we’d have a couple of beers and call it a day because ‘we didn’t want to be ruined for riding tomorrow‘ we did pretty damn well for a couple of old blokes. I didn’t feel old. I just felt alive. I came back a better rider. I created a bond with my new bike that’ll take us to all sorts of interesting places. I stopped worrying and started feeling.

We left at seventy degrees and landed at zero. We packed the bikes with dust and unpacked them to mud and ice. We can forget two hour descents and relearn the wheezy raspiness of winter climbing. We can go and ride stuff that used to be scary but now has the terror factor of a small pimple. We can – and here’s the thing – carry on for a bit longer yet.

Let me at it.

If you’d like to see more, try here. It doesn’t even get close to painting the pictures in my mind.

* I hit one of these trail sentry bastards as about 25kph. On examining the damage the only rationale conclusion was an unwitting participation in a hedgehog darts contest. Except for some extremely scary purple blood that had me going a bit until it was gently pointed out I’d eviscerated a prickly pair on my unplanned romp through the undergrowth.


3 thoughts on “Testing 1-2

  1. Alex – I applaud you, for keeping going after I stopped and for writing like that so I can live it a little vicariously (and without the ankle/thorn interface).

    And for taking a picture that makes me want to lean away from the screen in my safe, comfy seat.


  2. Martyn

    Nice, sounds like a great trip.
    I managed the Bristol Aston gate trail while you were away… it was fun, yet somehow I think you may have had the best of the riding :O)

  3. Alex

    Not riding anymore Toni? I thought I’d stop about five years ago but there’s a little bit of life in the old dog yet.

    Martyn – see you on the 28th. I think it’s likely to be more like Ashton Gate than Tenerife 😉

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