Denial is wonderful thing. Hmm, maybe not. It’s certainly a thing, let’s agree on that. Nights draw in, rain lashes down, leaves turn and fall, all while our favourite trails disappear under the water table.
Yet we still pretend the return of the grim is still someway off. ELO may sing “Here comes Mr Night” but the cult of summer endures regardless of mounting evidence. Still, Mr Night welcomes us to a Wednesday ride. It’s only 6PM but British Summer Time has flown south so lights flick the mandatory switch from the start.
It’ll should still be great. Because as an ongoing climate disaster has left aquifers and reservoirs dry, so we’ve ridden through an apparently endless summer. Autumn tho feels a little more familiar with tree bending winds accompanied by horizontal rain. The grey sky is a crucible forged by dirty clouds heavy with precipitation. Temperatures fall into single digits and forgotten drawers are scoured for multiple waterproofing layers. Even so, how bad can it be?
Steve and I head out. The night riding crew has suffered denudement through injury, apathy and excuses of such quality I’ve added them to my special list. We’re barely a month from a stunningly brilliant week in Molini, so this feels both different and familiar.
Familiar in that we’re both riding hardtails. The Giga rests against the wall of the ShedofDreams(tm) as gravity strips it of Italian dust*. While choosing the ten pivot Rascal after October 1st pretty much invalidates the Californian warranty. Not only have we switched to single sprung ends, both wheels are protected by “ugly guards” reaching over and behind thickly treaded winter tyres.
It’ll be fine I said. This after riding last week before the ‘pair me some animals and send me an ark’ rain of the following days. Then it was forgotten skills dusted off as steering input went one way and wheels another. All good fun ending in a swift pint not encumbered by the need to jetwash ones arse.
It wasn’t fine really. Taking a wider view it had all the being outside when others are not happy vibe. The clouds scuttled away under the glare of a waxing moon. Stars – shorn of light pollution – sparkled prettily in a cosmos full of a tilting planet. We made slithery tracks over the recent detritus spread by double tracked logging vehicles. And worried what further rain would mean for trails mauled for commercial gain.
No matter. That’s for another wet day. First downhill is a double-wheel-slidey wake up call. Evidence based steering has been replaced by a questionable belief in your front tyre. Things are going sideways but that’s okay, speeds are down and we’re still upright. It feels alien tho managing grip that flits dangerously between ‘Well that’s surprisingly good’ and ‘rather less than I was expecting‘.
Based on how well that went, I send Steve down the next trail- one I’ve ridden about 200 times according to the devil wears Strava. My 201st effort isn’t close to my finest hour, as a gap opens up to my mate who has just reminded me how he is quite slow on this track.
All of us with ‘something of the night‘ about us cloak ourselves with winter skills. It seems to take longer every year- lights are better, eyes get worse. Bikes are more appropriate, motivation follows the sun south. What was once mandatory now has a level of optionality. And this is November, come late Jan it’s pretty much ‘fuck that, I’m wearing the shed roof as a rain jacket’.
Sticking with that wider view, we’re riding fantastic bikes under skies resembling shit CGI, we’re staying rubber side down and relearning what proper bike handling feels, we’re having a giggle, a laugh, an age inappropriate view of what’s important, a caught flick, an emergency tripod, a moment of mild terror, an hour in the pub on how good it was.
Sure there was some slogging through mud, the sound of expensive drivetrain components grinding to swarf, emergency tree dodging, legs hating the plasticine under wheel, brown bikes requiring extensive post ride maintenance and a lament for summer nights and dusty t-shirts.
That’s still to come. Seasons are cyclical. Maybe not as timeless as they once were but then neither are we. So the short game is where its at; drop into the last trail, trade grip for bravery, nail the gap, sideways getting it stopped before shrubbery becomes your immediate future, drop onto the muddy fire-road, snatch a deep breath followed immediately by a bus stop full of steepness and moist leaves.
Deal with that, fall into the rut-of-doom pushing those leaves into the next apex, pretend that went well, throw a pair of tyres into a micro berm and give thanks for a gravity pass. In and out of a fetid bomb hole, flick right into a second steep rut that’s the claimed more souls than the Bermuda Triangle, haul it right again on a slick berm, pretend you cleared the tabletop, stuff it left back onto the footpath, swerve the hard line, bounce down the muddy steps and roll to the gate.
75 seconds of righteous stupidity. And, of course, we’ll be back. Maybe not every week but with a frequency that defies logic. Because if we’re not doing this, what the hell are we doing with our lives?
The grim is back. Bring it on.
*Entropy is a bastard. The problem with living in the moment is it doesn’t last long.