Commitment

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A noun short on consensual definition but long on consequence. Theres a axiom hiding in idioms tired from old campaigns: ‘Just go for it’, ‘Speed is your friend’, ‘it’s way easier than it looks‘ and, of course, the desperate standby ‘hold my beer and watch this‘.

It rarely ends well. Not because these phrases lack a shining nugget or truth, more the lack of actual commitment demonstrated by those being egged on, by those true friends who will ferry them to a local hospital, when fine words crash into reality. And the ground. Or a tree. Or a tree and then the ground.

Other individuals – and not for a second would I group myself in their canon –   consider any challenge as merely requiring an excess of commitment to conquer. Not tending to introspection, these naysayers of self doubt will redouble whatever qualities might be required while wondering what all the fuss is about.

Well how long have you got? Shall we start with some examples? Last weekend my good mate and occasional mountain biker mate Jason was warily examining a wet chute of dirt barely clinging to some local lumpy geology. ‘Just Commit to it Jas , it’ll be fine‘ I shouted from below. Seconds later the crashing of man, recently astride a bicycle, flattening the local shrubbery suggested this sage advice had gone unheeded.

Apparently not. The issue was in fact my lack of narrative clarity. He’d fully committed to the steep drop, but in his deep focus of all things slimy had then been unpleasantly surprised by a ninety degree corner. Hence ripping up the vegetation in the manner of a one man wide rotavator and blaming me for failing to mention the scope of commitment required.

We’ve all been there. Rode that drop, smacked into a stump we weren’t expecting. Caught a fishtailing rear tyre on a winters corner only to have the front hoist the ‘no grip here mister‘ white flag half a second later.  Let the brakes off in a silent homage to all those magazine skills guides only to find that speed is not your friend when its arbitrating between bravery and skill.

Of course you go out with all the best intentions. Today I shall remain zen-like, living very much in the moment and choosing smoothness over speed, technique over terror, commitment over vacillation. I’ll be looking so far through that corner, aliens from another dimension may well be looking back. I shall pay them no heed because nothing shall alter this perfect state of man and machine strumming a rhythmic baseline of trail perfection.

Works quite well in the car that I’ve found. Almost faultlessly in a bar. Sage nods at YouTube mastery of the art of commitment. Much postulation amongst friends who see it for what it really is. Merely displacement tactics when facing something that even after fifteen years of riding is still giving you the willies.

Another good mate has just returned from a skills course* and his first mash up of old trails and new skills was similar to mine. Except he was properly quick to start with. You try – really try – to take well drilled practised skills from a safe environment and overlay them on a 3-D puzzle shot through with all sorts of variables; grip, elevation, obstacles and the Pavlovian need to chase your mates.

He was still fast of course. And crashed looking extremely skilled. Lacked no commitment whatsoever. Having seen an image of him clearing a seven foot gap jump the week before, this stuff clearly works. If the mind is uncluttered and the body is prepared to fire synapses on command- all the time hoping those variables line up in favourable fashion.

So commitment only takes you so far. This far in fact. Today Martin celebrating a birthday which makes him even older than me** was a great excuse to ride in the Malverns, where the pixies of trail go hard with their maxim of ‘steeper and deeper‘ on sharp sided hills.

We’d ridden some pretty fun stuff; scary but dry. Yet all this was merely marking time before dropping into a steep trail full of almost endless joy except for a new four foot (that’s about 1.2m for our younger readers but 4 foot sounds a whole  load better) jump placed close to the end.

Well I was shitting it to be absolutely frank. By failing to unlock my suspension, a crack in the excuse book opened but wise to my ways Cez and Martin were waiting for me at what I’d started to think of as ‘Death’s Door‘.  I felt this was exactly the right time to point out I’d never jumped off anything so high. Martin kindly explained he hadn’t either until earlier in the week and here he was still alive.

Not happy with that sample size, but before I could pull the emergency hamstring, we’re away on a trail of organic marbles, straightening up over the little qualifier, gradient increasing, trying to stay with Cez but desperate to hit the brakes.

Suddenly the trail was blocked by an angry wood giant seemingly configured for moon orbit. Cez disappeared skyward, Martin’s already gone and I’m pretty committed in speed if not in mind.

Hit the lip with some semblance of technique, then a long silence punctuated only by spinning hubs, then a thumping landing mostly on both wheels, and finally a proper fly off the following smaller sky-ramp. Oh that one felt good.

Stopped. Sowing machine leg. Flappy handed babbling. Senses overloaded, body flushed with adrenaline. Trying to make sense but brain is just backed up with ‘fuck fuck fuck did we just do that fuck fuck fuck’

I don’t think that’s commitment. I think it’s peer pressure. And denying the prospect of self loathing. And raging against the dying of the light. And just a smidge of an attitude to life long lost to age and conformity.

Same again next week then?

*With Tony Doyle who is universally known as ‘Jedi‘ for his teaching skills. Which means now of course Rex – based on his occupation – is now known as ‘Darth Welder‘ to whom we greet with ‘May the gas be with you‘.

**which cheered me up no end until I remembered how much quicker he still is. And apparently getting quicker. There’s hope for me yet!

 

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