..considerably slower than Andy. By the time I had arrived at the scene, the narrative of the crash had already moved on from slip-oh shit-wheel-rock-abandon ship-roll-check body parts-examine bike-buggeration. Having groaned up the Whytes Level climb on a mission for a long winters ride, Andy whooped off into the twisties, found the exact lack of traction provided by forest mud and rammed his front wheel sideways into a pointy rock. And himself down the trail, his sky-ground-sky journey punctuated by stumps and groans.
It seems impossible that we could beat our awesome effort of last year. And yet, here we were a nats nadger from 2008 – having driven 170 dark and windy miles – and five minutes into the first descent, we’re a man down. And down he went as well, carrying what I came to quickly think of as “the remains” thousands of vertical feet that deliver significantly more fun by wheel. Obviously given the choice between supporting our slightly battered friend in a band of brothers we’re all in this together style, or dismissing him with a sketchy wave and a “see ya later“, we gave him all the rush that a bum would offer an annoying, overstaying in-law.
And, of course – aside from the muddy misery of a new section which appears to have been designed specifically to suck the enjoyment from riding – we had a rather wonderful time as Andy trudged back downhill muttering choice curses to the bitch Godess of Mountain Biking. My fellow splitter – Nigel – was riding like the wind, flowing with irritating ease through bends and over jumps. I was more riding with the kind of wind that only a dietary switch to bran products could ease. This – annexed to a lame excuse of flat pedals only occasionally troubled by cold feet – was the only reason I was languishing some days behind after each section.
But while Nig was admiring the scenery and possibly engaging in a spot of sheep worrying, I was having enormous fun being bullied by a long travel hardtail that eats this sort of terrain for breakfast, and then demands seconds and thirds way after your body is crying out for a post lunch power nap. After a day of this, my shoulders ached, my wrists exhibited a weakness possibly occasioned by a 24 hour wanking competition, my thighs burned, I had a bad case of hardtail arse and my neck couldn’t even manage a truncated nod to articulation.
Even my teeth hurt. And I was walking like an old man having recently been surprised by a very large horse. Still after salving my wounds with beer and my ego with thoughts of being a bit less rubbish, a rush round Cwmcarn broke our long journey home. As Andy sat forlornly in the car, Nig ripped up the climb while I merely tore a strip off my legs for hawking their energy. Downhill they clung on like the rest of me as eyeballs, roughed up by fast, rocky trails, were added to the list of hurty bits.
Between many incidents of just about failing to crash, there was much imagined railing of singletrack and more real world death-gripping of bars. Occasionally I’d see Nigel sweeping imperiously down the trail, but each time I’d convinced myself I may be reeling him in, he’d dance on the pedals and his lighter-than-air Titanium steed would bunch and then accelerate at a speed barely under escape velocity.
And then a tiredness that can only be partially explained by physical exertion rolls over you, and left me lolling in a chair when I should have been making up for abandoning the family. There is a hollowness that aches to be back out there on the trails, punching the bike into a turn and feeling the tyres bite as centripetal force flings you out the other side. You have to come back, to adjust to the mundane world of not riding, to banish the selfishness of being an obsessive cyclist. And that’s hard.
That said, you can reflect on some wonderful views when you’re not absolutely sure what’s coming next. Sadly most of them are inside your head – a collage of possible futures each of them spiked with that heady concoction of fear and joy.
Perspective is the thing I guess, so on that note I’ll wish all the readers of this continuing nonsense a Happy New Year.