I am sat inside, looking outside at some of the finest man made trails in the UK, and wondering if this is how the end starts. Death by a thousand cuts of a hobby turned obsession which has consumed me for seven fantastic years. And whatever it has taken in time, money and broken bones, it’s more than given back in joy, friendship and the life affirming knowledge of being not quite like you.
But not now.
Shards of weak sunshine reflect on my empty coffee cup; the only thing stopping me riding are a couple of muscle movements, and a battalion of experienced trackers to hunt down my motivation. I exchange shrugs with my riding buddy, and begin to wonder what I’m doing here.
I do know how I got here. A week of riding in an increasing wet and wild country, suffering from a dampness than never fades, and a feeling of unfairness that the sun has taken its’ holiday at the same time as we chose to cruise down a thousand miles of much anticipated road trip.
So I’m pretty well bike dialled, unseasonably fit and physically ready to unhook the bike from the trailer and go pump free drugs into my watery veins. Mentally though, I’m shot away, betrayed by a shallow plan to head south early in a desperate attempt to jump through a weather window.
The idea of a quick blast round a favourite trail today, and a slightly longer version tomorrow was always at the mercy of encroaching apathy. My Satnav had been pointing home since the compass switched directions, and our car park ticket spanned just an hour. We were still sitting here, but really I have already left.
We exchange another shrug as a mud encrusted mountain biker drips past, and years of friendship preclude the need for much debate. I suggest beers at mine, he takes the bait and before we can change our minds, we’re heading hard south having picked up the virtual hitchhiker of regret in the back seat.
I dropped Mr. Regret off at Penrith – representing a nasty feeling that maybe I was running away from something so I was glad to be rid of it. Who was he to ask if I shouldn’t have just got on with it? What place was it of his to decry my credentials as a proper mountain biker? I drowned him out with the stereo playback of my kids’ shrieks at their dad being home early.
And ok I didn’t ride the next weekend, but we had the new pup and a stalking cold finally had me in its’ grip. Sure the weekend after than was also bike free, but I had so much to do, places to go with the family, be a proper dad, stop treating everything else as any other business. Paint a door, Trampoline with the kids, talk properly to my wife without incessant watch checking.
So be like just about everyone else then. But that’s okay because the midweek night ride has my name on it, and I’m not going to welch out on my friends. But I do, and the weekend after that as well. I’m okay I think but cannot bare to look at the raft of unused bicycles slowly gathering dust in the corner.
I ignore the stacks of unread bike magazines, surf away from MTB forums that now hold no interest, and spend exactly no time or money fixing stuff that is broken. Until finally I haul my apathetic arse into the hills with the expectation that nothing will be the same, climbs too long, loops too far, extra bits not worth the faff, everyone getting it except for me.
The weather conspired to deliver yet more hill clamping rain, and twenty knot winds. My bike had failed to self heal so gears crunched, chains slipped and brakes squealed. Neither had three weeks off on a pie’n’beer diet turned me into a riding God. Cod maybe as the rain cascaded off summits searching for a fast way to rivers far below, tyres slipped and mud spat off spiteful trails.
I should have hated it. And as I drove to the start point I really did wonder whether this was an intelligent way for a married man on the wrong side of forty to spend his time. And you know what, it isn’t and that is exactly the point. I drove home with rain pouring through an open window, the CD blasting out some eighties embarrassment, and ol’ gray beard here shouting it out to the rooftops.
I was in the departure lounge, with a one way ticket to middle age for a while there. But I’ve pulled back. For now.
There’s a plethora of magazine articles filled with the self loathing deceit of those having lost their riding mojo. Yet I suffered so much more, in the same way that your first teenage heartbreak is a million times worse than any other human from here back to pre-history. It wasn’t giving up riding that was really messing with my head, it was the 3am terror of what the hell I was going to fill the resulting mountain bike hole with.
But I know it’s going to happen now. Not at 41, maybe not at 45 but I can’t see the pain/reward threshold going much further than that. I will never stop riding until my legs give out, but the visceral joy of hurling mountain bikes down steep slopes clearly has a limited shelf life.
And you know what, I’m fine with that. Because, until that day, I am going to enjoy every bloody moment.