Last week, at about this time, I looked out of the window and spiteful, freezing rain glared right back at me. So I ventured outside to check whether rain’s winter* twins were physically in evidence. Indeed they were, a biting cold wind under a thunderous sky clamping the world in grey and misery.
Perfect conditions for riding a mountain bike at night then. And if you read last months Singletrack magazine**, articles abound on the joy of slogging through two seasons of mud, grit and grimness. Now we all know that such writings pour forth from the deluded, the medicated or the untruthful, and yet I find their tone worrying in that it fails to resonate at all.
You see maybe I’ve stopped being a Mountain Biker. Oh I still ride quite a lot, on different bikes in different places with different people. And yet, I enjoy being out with the kids for an hour on some play dirt, as much as I do humping up hills and scaring myself shitless going down. Maybe “recreational cyclist” is a more appropriate moniker.
That’s not good, and neither is my attitude to night riding at the best of times. Those times being mid summer, zero chance of benightment, short sleeved tops, comedy tan marks and trails of dusty grip. Even then, shifting my arse and mental state from ‘sofa‘ to ‘saddle‘ takes way more effort that it should when you consider how 99 times out of a 100, I love being out there.
My new tactic is not to go home at all. Ignore the distractions of family, warm rooms, hot food and a million things on the to-do list. Throw the bike in the car, and throw myself into a days work that’ll demand unwinding through a thousand pedal revolutions. But more than that, stop thinking it’s cold, and shit, and horrible and instead revel is the silliness of slippy trails, the joy of solace in normally crowded hills, the big deposit in the summer karma bank – all of that and all of the other stuff you can neither define or explain but makes up a big piece of the “why we do this” pie.
A difficult day morphed into a traffic stained drive home leaving me far too stressed for the gentle ribbing of my riding pals. But within the first hundred yards of splashy spinning, all that was behind and only things marked fun lay ahead. I felt good – and the older you get, the more random this seems regardless of any perceived levels of fitness and vim – and it was great to settle into the comfy armchair cadence of of the like-minded.
Better still, we bypassed the first 600 foot climb which leaves me breathless and broken every time. It’s a horror, and I wasn’t sorry to feel the shadowy presence of the big hill brood over our valley borne souls. We still put in a good shift at the climbing face though, and it was nearly thirty minutes before we commanded a high point overlooking twinkling lights of the towns and city below.
I’ve always loved this bit. Imagining the hundreds, thousands of people down there washing up, watching television, getting old by proxy and living little lives that didn’t explode a couple of times a week when mixed with mountain biking. I know this is a shallow and naive view of the world, but it warmed me as that cold wind howled over the tops. Time to go. Better still time to go downhill.
A descent through an old grassed earthen-work ditch is the only place in my riding world where two wheel drifts don’t lead directly to Accident and Emergency. A hasty discussion when we’d stopped giggling sent us onward – deep into the Malverns to ominous heights. Black Hill, Perseverance and Hangman’s point all connected with zig zagging paths and windy summits.
Below the three line, it was warm, pleasant even, to grind up the few hundred feet lost after we’d cheek’d our way down some alpine like swtichbacks. On top, the wind drove us on and back towards home taking in a descent that is so steep and so fast I’ve watched my life pass behind my eyes many, many times. Nowadays I displace the terror of the speed and the hiss of loose gravel under wheel by fast forwarding past the dull bits.
More climbing – there is so much here in such short distances. Every mile you ride, expect to climb 200-250 feet, but my legs and lungs had taken their cue from Mr. Positive Thinking up top. Which made the plunge back through steep woods with a couple of dicey chutes to finish seem more than a fair return for endless pedalling.
In fact, I was up for more up, a climb back up the bastard face of “MidSummer” to access a trail full of steep off-camber, slimy, frictionless roots pre-worried by a little drop that’s had me close to visiting endo-city for about, oh, the last year and a bit. But I was mad keen, or maybe just mad as my normal contribution to this part of the ride is a whining request for flatlander status.
But we called it a night, and also called it a damn good ride. The bikes needed a little hosing, I needed about the same when I got home, but I felt like a proper mountain biker again. And as I look outside, if anything it’s even worse right now meaning more slippy trails, more cold, more out in the grim conditions for tonight’s ride. You know what?
I can’t wait 🙂
* I know it’s not winter officially yet, but according to my internal barometer, it’s bloody freezing out there.
** Which, since I’m in it, is worth the cover price alone 🙂