Not all those who wander are lost…

Solo Exploring

.. except for me of course. I’m always lost – geographically or conceptually. This is not an affection – if ever I offer a navigational soundbite at a trail decision, the group dynamic always chooses the polar opposite.

For good reason, I spend so much time lost in my own thoughts, once outside it’s pretty much a slam dunk I’ll end up some place interesting if not exactly planned. Yogi Berra* holds the received wisdom here: ‘if you don’t know where you going, you’ll end up somewhere else

Would you like an example? By Tuesday night I’d already spent two days in windowless meeting rooms or stationary on melting tarmac motorways. The next 48 hours promised more of the same, so I did what any sane individual would do; checked out of the hotel, motored home, figitedly requainted myself with the family, while casting a guilty eye at the ShedOfDreams.

The car lacked only a trailer to transport me to great trails. But I’d be buggered if I was getting back into that. I swerved into the barn, grabbed my latest off road toy and pedalled it furiously up the tarmac. Not too far; it’s only 20 minutes to a local wood that is both huge and lacking in decent trails. I should know, for ten years I’ve been trying to find them.

Tonight was different. Too hot for knee pads and a helmet. Dirty old painting shorts and a t-shirt on the cusp of being repurposed as a bike rag. Knackered old vans and no plan whatsoever. Just not being in a room full of people or a road full of cars.

Ten minutes in and already the world is a better place, In it is a footpath sign I’ve ignored fifty or more times heading to the woods.  To hell with it, with not destination in mind, exploring is a good reason to get lost. No Strava, no maps, no idea which way west might be.

Five minutes in and I’ve fighting my way through waist high brambles. Progress slowed marks me out as an insect buffet, and the little bastards are in full gorge mode. I break free into a field full of thirsty corn stretching wide right and left. I put the bike down, take a deep breath and and give the winged bastards a second course.

Solo Exploring

So I’m up and riding over rock hard ground riven by tractor tyre. Back to the road gives me a choice of left or right. I choose left. Then, a minute later, right when it becomes obvious I have not chosen wisely.

The woods offer a few singletracks. I ignore what I know heading off instead onto a trail once walked with a young Lab maybe eight years ago. It was wet and not much short of miserable. Today it’s bloody amazing, not technical, no gradient to speak of and in places barely discernible.

None of these things matter. I am riding new trails. I am exploring like the 40 year younger version of myself on his first proper bicycle. What’s over those next hills, what’s round that corner? Every few minutes, a sun dappled track offered itself, snaking deeper into the woods leading to who knows where.

I was torn; stick with this or twist on the road to anywhere. Soon I cracked and lost myself completely on trails which bounced between fun and gone. Human or animal must have built these and at least half are abandoned, overgrown, impassible.

There’s some real history here. I found shrunken dirt jumps softened by time and sinuous paths weaving encouragingly between trees before ending abruptly. I found more than that, a reason to never stop exploring, to fight the inertia of riding what you know, to play the long game even if it means for every decent find, you’ll be arse deep in stingy vegetation the other nine.

The one I did find was so good I rode it twice. Flicking between trees, lipping off root stacks and punching the bike out of natural bombholes. Without a GPS I doubt I’ll ever find it again. But that’s fine, because it’s the trigger for branching out, for getting lost with no regrets, for reminding myself that turning pedals is what I do, not chasing targets or digging grooves in oft ridden trails.

I rode for bloody ages. Even at the height of summer, benightment became a distinct possibility. Returning home stung, bitten and more than a little sunburned, I declared all was right with the world.

And it was. It got just that little bit better toasting the sunset with a cold one.  In a week we head off to the Maritime Alps for a week of riding amazing trails. And maybe some less amazing ones. As long as we get lost at least once a day, we’ll be on the right track.

*the baseball player. Not the bear.

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