In the last issue of www.cranked.cc I lamented the temporary loss of cycling to injury. The displacement of a weekly ritual with nothing to fill the gap. Conflating that with a world where riding mountain bikes is a thing you talk about not the thing you do. Missed the fucking point as usual.
The point being it’s not the virtual road to nowhere that’s the issue here. The gap isn’t between self-pity and an uncertain future. It’s how far you’ve slid down the mountain from the summit of reasonable fitness.
No amount of time on a turbo trainer is going to mitigate that. Well it might for someone without a diary launching that individual to all four corners of the UK- elbows deep in whatever they’re serving with beer in another anonymous hotel.
So that’s me then, but the first ride back was gloriously muddy and endlessly fantastic. Tiring but life affirming. The second went a little further in conditions somehow even worse leaving me struggling on the last couple of climbs. A week later we rode out and that 60km broke me in ways I don’t remember.
Then came the snow and other excuses to put the fitness recovery on hold until a trip last weekend to Coed-Y-Brenin. The first – and I’m putting it out there – the best of the UK trail centres. We left behind the slop and misery of the forest to ride grippy trails at silly speeds.
Up to around two thirds of the way round anyway. When even the drug of rocky singletrack triggering the release of endorphins couldn’t hide tired muscles and gasping lungs trying to keep up.
Up being most of the problem. Sure many other body parts had the complaints line on speed-dial, but the legs and lungs which normally hoist me up any grade at a respectably brisk pace flipped into a state of extreme sulkiness, leaving me with nothing other than a ‘limp home’ mode.
Most of my riding mates reckon I’m reasonably fit. I’m a bit humble bragging about it, but secretly it’s a matter of some pride. Sure others may be faster when the gradient turns negative, but give me this climb at least. I never really considered it any kind of skill until I lost it.
Desperate times dear reader. Clearly I’m not going to get any faster downhill, but riding uphill isn’t really that hard. Hard-earned maybe but nothing that a serial hit on the lumpy geography of home trails won’t provide. Trails which will soon deliver on Springs’ bounty – loamy, fast and occasionally dusty.
Trails which trace perfect turns through a field of bluebells. Beckoning you on for one more climb to lay down another layer of singletrack memory. Digital happy place for the taking. Not a place for the infirm or unfit. Right here and now tho, they’re shit. Tractionless tyre-filling monsters ready to violently transport the uncommitted from a stable position atop the bike to a somewhat less comfortable countenance slammed into the ground. Or a tree.
Which is where I found myself twenty minutes into my first night ride for five months. Shunned the wheeled dark back in October for solid excuses based around training for a half marathon. That silliness is how we ended up here in a mildly ironic circular route.
Conditions – in my view – were horrible. Not properly muddy where a good tyre might bite, but nowhere near dry. The median between those two states is ‘slick’. This first trail had been built during my enforced absence and it was a mystery of tight steep switchbacks bisecting the fall line.
Made the first two, crashed on the next three. Walked for a bit having trapped my still poorly ankle between pedal and stump. Well limped really. Found everyone else mostly dab free and remarking on how well the trails were holding up after all this rain. I hope the dark hid my disappointment on why I was the only one not finding it easy.
And aside from one climb when gritted teeth and bloody-mindedness put me close to the front, most were viewed from the opposite end of the group. Some of my best friends had clearly received both fitness cheats and bike handling skills for Christmas. The bastards.
It got better. It had too really. Long learned skills gently edged out full braked terror. It wasn’t fast but it stopped being quite so crash-y. I was counting the climbs in a way I never used to, until we crested the final lump leaving us high above Ross and a couple of trails from beer.
One of which has a decent sized gap jump on it. Ridden it many times. Didn’t ride it last time out, before I monged myself, when it was slick like tonight. Not making that a habit. My plan to follow everyone off it didn’t survive first impact with reality as they rode away from me as had been the form the entire evening.
Right then. Stop. Have a little word with yourself. Internal debate on not being bloody lame. External validation with a single ‘fuck it’. Three seconds later it’s over and it was the anti-climax I’d promised myself it would be. Still felt bloody good to get it done tho.
The pub, the craic, the being something others my age are not – that all stands and I’ve missed it. Being crap in the dark and the mud I’ve pretty much accepted. Being shit uphill I will not. I need to be as good or better than I was before.
The ride back to that is going to be long, and occasionally painful. So same time next week then?