I thought a good way to spend a weekend would be to go and ride with a complete bunch of strangers. Clearly giving little thought to how this could affect my wallet, what little self respect remains and possibly a vital internal organ. Here I am:
Bristling beard to the fore, hungover limbs and alcohol sweating countenance somewhat further behind. And all those following riders consulting their internal Debrett’s to clarify the appropriate phraseology to elucidate “get the fuck out of the way you great ladyboy mincing queen“. This is tricky because we only knew each other through the grooming of Internet forums.
My friend Dave has written the definitive work on forum cliques and there’s nothing to add other than to paraphrase the hoary “there’s nowt stranger than people“. On the Internet you have the luxury of time to think before you speak and edit if you change your mind. Real life is a little more shop front and all the better for it; in the transition from virtual to physical, these faceless posters became amusing and, mostly, drunken companions. They were all properly odd though but since some of them live almost in Lancashire, that’s understandable.
I learned a few other things as well. If you ride with 30+ people with mountain bikes in various states of mechanical distress, the statistical probability points to much faffing and fixing. This happened exactly as predicted except with the slight anomaly that it all happened to me. 34 riders sailed though the ride with nary a mechanical whisper of complaint, while my bike exploded in a catastrophic chain reaction of expensive components.
Well sort of – the chain did anyway and rather than share out the breakages, instead it took it on itself to serially snap under the power of my awesome thighs. Okay that’s not quite true either, firstly the chain bent itself in an interesting manner around the chainrings and, subsequently weakened, snapped during the most inopportune moments.
This left me with a chain so short, I was almost reduced to the horror of singlespeeding and a added injury via a bruised testicle impaled on a cruelly sharp stem. My new non virtual friends wheeled tools with a quiet confidence while I slunk away for a much needed bollock rub.
Proof, if further proof were needed, that Mountain Bikers are true athletes was ably demonstrated during a much needed food stop. Half of the mud encrusted riders salivated over to the pie shop where the poor old dear running it was almost overrun in the stampede for life saving pasties. The remainder haughtily dismissed our pie fetish as unworthy of their personal training goals and instead decamped to the chip shop.
I also learnt not to mix Stella with – well – anything really. Certainly not White Russians served in full size coffee cups and clearly containing dangerous fluids banned under the Geneva Convention. My education was further enhanced by an alternate view of the humble sleeping bag. This became the “staying awake” bag as the bunkhouse dormitories trilled to the whinny of accomplished snorers and rumbled alarmingly, as partially digested energy bars made a noisy exit via the low notes of the bowel trombone.
So all in all, it was fantastic fun although I sincerely hope the next one is in summer. My year round t-shirt attire and hard Northern attitude to weather has been distilled to almost nothing by living in the South for too many years.