We are are all scared of something. Or many things. Or fear itself. It’s part of that human self awareness conundrum. Cards on the table, for me it’s impostor syndrome , mortality fear and gap jumps. Obviously for a man who collects neurosis’s as a hobby, there are many more, but at no point did I say ALL cards on the table 😉
So let’s summarise the driving forces here; deep concerns about being found out, being found lacking, being diagnosed mostly dead, and being in possession of a mountain bike approaching an obstacle where some bastard has hollowed out the middle of it. The epicentre of this personal blast radius is neatly metamorphosised through a rain soaked tractionless trail neon pointing at a bunch of slick logs, barely cresting a gravity sucking hole clearly ending in Australia.
I exaggerate. Generally, but specifically in this case as it’s not even a proper gap jump. The entry isn’t even higher the exit. No that particular pleasure was saved for the next scythe-waving grim reaper located a little further down the trail. First tho, we’d best deal with getting over eight feet of A&E potential. Until this weekend, my entire gap jumping back catalogue represented a single unitary entry. Yes, exactly one. I know this is right as I’ve counted it a number of times. It’s neither big nor clever, but it claimed a riding buddy who spent significant drinking time supine on a spinal board awaiting a diagnosis offering him a vertical future.
Tonight it’s four. An emergency addition came via a desperate ‘make the bike longer’ thrust on Saturday, after being assured an unridden trail had neither gaps nor doubles. Except, as was explained during my tourettes tirade come unlikely survival, ‘that one’. Two more managed today, inspite of displacement activity mostly coalescing around mental images of crisp sheets and cool nurses. The problem I have with gaps are – somewhat unremarkably – the bloody big gap masquerading as a gaping maw to chew up uncommitted mountain bikers.
Table tops are by their very definition entirely devoid of gaps. You might look rubbish failing to hit the downslope but that’ll be looking rubbish without troubling the emergency services. Jumps defined by trail wedges pointing vaguely into space are right in the slot for my meagre skills – pick a point on the far horizon, compress the suspension somewhere close to the lip, deep breath, close eyes, stick Newton in the driving seat and wait for the firma to become a little less terra.
Big, scary jumps aren’t a problem either. Just ride round them and present your ‘whist drive’ card to the youngsters laughing at your brittle bones. Gaps tho – entirely doable in terms of bike, muscles, skills and vague aptitude. The issue is the counterbalancing vegetable up top – kaleidoscope heavy with broken images and crammed full of endless doubt. Most of mountain biking at the level I do is about managing your head. Everything is a battle, a fight against intuitiveness, a war with the inner coward against a creeping barrage of unmitigated fear.
This is not some testosterone fuelled masochism – because chucking yourself off stuff ignites the adrenalin compressor and fires raw dopamine into waiting veins. Chasing the Dragon without dealers and needles. Dropping the bike and high five-ing a mate before some very British embarrassment around being forty six years old and not really comfortable with that level of emotional vulgarity. Firm handshake next time okay?
And that bloody bike is going to either going to buttress my fragile bravery gland or send me to an early grave. Or possibly both. And maybe at the same time. But it’s still not enough to bridging the gap between ‘that’s doable‘ and ‘I’m doing that’. No for that I need Matt to lead me in at a speed entirely missing from my own jumping repertoire. And for all the elevated heart rate, wobbly arms and screaming head-thoughts, the actual event is blanked by muscle memory and mental censorship. In the same way I envy those who dream in colour, I’d love to describe how getting it done actually feels. But I’ve no idea, it fades rapidly to black before the impact of tortured suspension bleeds colour back into my world.
The next gap was bigger. Sliding straight into it was an exercise in quelling the cacophony in my head. The bike saved my arse and other bits as we landed a bit short, and my brain saved me trying the next one on the not unreasonable grounds that a working flange of limbs at this point was a bonus not to be risked.
So now I’m ‘Four Gaps Al’ which is an excellent moniker for a red-neck band, but a rather paltry return for a man who has been riding mountain bikes for more than a decade. The counterpoint of that rather sorry statistic is the immutable truth that bravery is not merely a lack of imagination and excellent medical insurance. Rather It is feeling the fear and doing it anyway. There’s something about standing on the edge of things and wondering if you can fly. Almost every instinct and experience would suggest not.
Bravery is launching yourself into the gap. There is much to recommend it. And not much point dying wondering.
I really must write up that visit to the Penis Museum. It’ll be slightly less self-referential and have far more knob gags in it. And I think we can all agree, that represents a massive improvement in the content of this blog.