Chicksands is neither populated by nursery hens nor is it noticeably beach like in terms of crushed golden micro-rocks. It should be better described as a year round playpark for Mountain Bikes stuffed with jumps, drops, raised planks and other amusing ways to hurt yourself rather badly. I wrote about it here.
We arrived late. Two of my riding pals – who’d arrived on time – took that as their cue to leave. I’m not sure the two were connected but I nearly left with them due to being “insufficiently motivated”? as my appraisals are want to document. My previous visit had been blighted by a serial bottling of a large drop which had my name written all over it. Unfortunately – as smelted in my excuses workshop – it also had pain, suffering and a ruptured spleen written in slightly larger letters. I wasn’t really looking forward to a rematch, so instead chose to tactically ignore its’ existence and try and recapture the essence of fun this place always use to have.
After a practise on some baby obstacles proved that three months Chicksands absence makes not a freeride God, I grasped the nettle of fear and whimpered a little before attempting to ride some learner plankage. It was neither very high nor terribly narrow, but having the balance of a three legged stoat suffering a serious head wound and possessing the low speed bike handling skills bettered by almost any 4 year old who has chucked away their stabilisers, it’s a bloody challenge. Mental rather than physical which mocks muscle memory and laughs in the face of previous successes.
My riding buddies must’ve assumed I’d suffered an alien abduction once I cleaned it first time albeit it in that jerky robotic style of the truly terrified. So to prove it wasn’t a fluke I tried it again, at which point I fell off. Twice. Then in the true spirit of the freeride pioneer, I gave up and had a little bleed instead
Seamlessly transferring my skills to horizontal wooden ladders and tabletop jumps, progress was measured in a slight relaxation of the shoulders and no organs speared on the many sharpened stumps which await the directionally challenged.
Nobody has ever prefixed the word “smoothness” with the tag “legendary” when referring to my riding style. However, when the latest obstacle is the side by side racing of the dual course, this hardly matters. You take on the mindset (and possibly the smell in all that body armour and full face helmets) of a thoroughbred stallion striving to eek out a bike length’s advantage over your opponent amd straining for the finishing line. This takes place while you are largely oblivious of the carnage waiting for two mostly out of control MTB’s, three foot in the air and heading inexorably towards each other. Remember GhostBusters and not crossing the streams? It’s like that but with less special effects and more pain.
I love the dual. It’s the flipside of riding North Shore – fast and furious, bravery over technique, competitive spirit over mortality fears. You drop into Top Gun speak “sheet, this guy’s good” and high five your opponent in the sheer bloody enjoyment of still being alive, regardless of the small matter of who crossed the line first.
To try and describe thirty seconds of high pressure adrenalin racing, you need to imagine yourself staring down a two lane dirt scalextric track, encased in organ saving plastics and pseudo motorcycle helmets. Your opponent responds to your steely gaze with a laconic flick of his middle finger and then it’s 3-2-1, crank, crank, crank, chain straining, body upright hunched over the bars, pushing the pedals as long as you dare before standing tall, levelling your cranks and pulling the bike upwards over the first lip, then pushing out towards the transition (MTBs like any other niche sport daunt the uninitiated with a surf based dialect describing normal world objects. A transition is merely the downslope on the backside of a jump).
Bang, Bang, both wheels down, feet thankfully still on the pedals and two more frantic cranks precede the next lip. A split second glance shows the other guy is half a bike up as you both arrow into the air straight and true. Except not quite, he’s drifted right and you’re caught in his gravitational pull. Both landings are squirrelly (another MTB term, I’ve always favoured badgery but this is said not to be taking the whole thing seriously), tyres creak in protest before being flipped onto their sidewalls into the first berm. Brake here and you’re second best, first loser, dead man walking as the course narrows at the apex.
Forks give up compression for forward motion as you exit, but you still crank in a couple of revolutions before you’re grabbing a handful of anti-grav locked onto the tractor beam of your opponent. He’s a length ahead now and short of a major stack or the harpoon of a well placed friend, you’re toast. But it hardly matters now – you ride line astern secured by a unseen rope and a bond of friendship that is forged on the anvil of pushing it a bit.
You have lots of excuses for losing, he’s not buying them but that’s ok because you’re not really selling. Wrench off the sweaty full face helmet, see a mirror of the shit eating grin, talk a bit of bollocks and push back to the top (make a note, riding uphill is so XC dahllling). “Again Again” you demand in the manner of a psychotic teletubby until the day fades away at the speed of night
We live for over seven million seconds but ask yourself for this – how long are you truly alive? For me it’s thirty seconds on a dual course, or the second of glorious silence when a perfect jump shapes away from the dirt, or the sixty seconds of post racing euphoria as adrenalin is pumped through your veins at a 100 PSI.
It’s a class A drug which can never be legislated. Sport isn’t about the drugs mad scientists create in labs to make you go better, it’s mainlining the heady concoction of risk and reward that make you live better.
We’d convened the freeride convoy earlier at that MTB Mecca that is Argos, peopled by a hundred frazzled husbands really quite interested in MDF shelving. I’m not knocking them or placing us on a pedestal. I’m just bloody glad it’s not me.