I have one hour. Exactly sixty minutes to switch life modes, exchange drudgery and bug eyed stress for stolen pleasure. It doesn’t matter why or when – only that the clock is ticking, and I need to feel fast air in my lungs, dirt under my tyres, joy in my heart. I have to go and ride my bike.
First of too many problems is the dearth of any proper good muddy stuff from our door. Sure with the Malverns on one side, and the Forest of Dean on the other, I am only a short drive from stonking trails, and not much further to the wilds of Wales. But there isn’t time for trailers, parking and faffing when you’re a mere hour from needing to be back here.
The very local woods offer nothing other than an excuse to lose the dog in the overgrown footpaths. Head a little further out and a huge expanse of forestry should roll out a million trails, but it doesn’t because of too many horses, to few bikes, too little traffic and my apathy based exploring routine. I’ve driven out there a few times, and come back disappointed vowing to carry on next time to stuff I know is good.
Much of this is because I’m a rubbish explorer, no sense of direction, and yet blessed with a gift to divine rubbish tracks. If you’re in the market for a six foot wide ruined trail full of horses hooves, red Herefordshire mud, viscous shrubbery and a dark heart from which there is no obvious escape, I’m your womble.*
So it’s a bit crap for mountain bikes, and I’m completely unable to find any of this mythical singletrack I’ve heard talked about. But it’s close, 3.3 miles and that’s less than 15 minutes to a man who has 3 week unridden legs, and the need to unwind a million wrongs visited upon him.
Big Ring. Stand up. Ignore wheezing lungs and unexercised muscles. Forget that road riding is dull, blot out the threatening clouds and incessant headwind – there are many things worse that this and most of them are inside.
I’m still attacking everything when I first hit the dirt, diving under the trees on a trail I’ve jealously eyed up on numerous dog walks. Which already goes against the plan of riding just 4 known tracks to the valley bottom and then sprinting home on the fireroad.
But every mountain biker has a Pavlovian attraction for snaky singletrack, and it’s not long before I’m clearing deadwood from a little used trail and thinking happy thoughts on improvements if only I’d remembered my spade. But time doesn’t stop, and neither can I – sweating a bit now – switching to a favourite rooty trail that’s way drier than expected and twice as much fun.
God I’d forgotten how great this is. And it has nothing to do with the bike. Oh sure, the Cove is perfectly balanced, razor sharp without being twitchy, taut without being painfully stiff, fast without being fragile but that’s not what matters right now. Because right now I’m not inside with a pile of work, or outside trying to make sense of ongoing house devastation.
No time to gloat, time to ride, pick another trail and spend minutes I don’t have trying to jump a rooty set. Twice I cock it up, so go for a dumb brakes off approach that ends as well as you can probably imagine. Still, since I was lying down, this seemed a perfect time to break out a lunchtime energy bar and surreptitiously check e-mail. No Signal? That’s fate. Time to go.
Not enough of that to ride a cheeky trail around the lake. Walked loads of time with dog and family, it’s root strewn, off camber, damp today and sure to be rubbish. But I ride it anyway, and it’s bloody brilliant of course – not as it offers some kind of singletrack nirvana, or great speed but because I shouldn’t be here, and nobody else is.
Flick of the wrist shows bad numbers so I quit while I’m just a little behind my rush hour schedule. But not so fast that I cannot mentally mark a myriad of possible trails which peep enticingly from behind summer growth.
My hour is nearly up and some cad has laid an extra mile of tarmac between my fading legs and the demands of being a grown up. The headwind has even strengthened** but a main road short cut deemed to be less risky than the hilly back roads*** bought me enough time to make a sub sixty possible.
Being two minutes late didn’t matter unless you’re the type of person who stokes his competitive gland every time bikes are involved. So that’s me on a final charge which brought the house into view, and a moto style entry over the frictionless pea shingle impressed exactly one person. And that person read 59:48 on their stopwatch.
Don’t get me wrong – the trails aren’t fantastic, at no point did I carve successive corners or jump some monstrous double. The bike and I are splattered with smelly mud, every exposed limb has been brutally slashed by vegetation with attitude, nothing has changed here other than an Inbox close to explosion, and it’s just started to piss it down again.
But I don’t care. Because for a while there I forgot just how bloody great mountain bikes are. That’ll not happen again.
* Remember Womble’s picked their names by blinding pinning a map. If I were really a womble my name would be “For Fuck’s sake, the map is over there, that’s my HAND”
** Out and Back on the same road. Both into a headwind. Ask any cyclist, they’ll tell you this is always the case. We don’t know why but when we find out someone is in for a bloody hard time.
*** Risk assessment went something like “may get run over by a mad trucker heading to Ross, but almost certain heart attack if I have to go up there“