The Eighties were dreadful for so many reasons*, but even in that decade of pompous absurdity that phrase shines like a beacon of stupidity. Some quiff in a sleeve-rolled suit would wring their hands to a backdrop of starving African kids, and piously declare that the country had “compassion fatigue“.
No it bloody had not. The ones who could see further than their own self-importance measured by cars, cash, being a fuckwit that kind of thing continued to give what they could, while everyone else – from governments down to those believing AIDS was a solution made excuses.
The problem wasn’t people not caring, it was the explosion of the global coverage of dreadful poverty set against a pot that wasn’t getting any bigger. None of this was helped by a Western approach that patronised rather than listened, gave the money to the wrong people, and were somehow surprised when the misery continued after the cameras left.
I remember this making me quite angry at the time, and – even nearly twenty years on – the dying embers of when the world was black and white still burn a little. Good job as it was about the only thing keeping me going, as the rain charged in one way and my motivation slunk off in the other.
Neil (Organiser, all round top man, poor bugger whose wife died last year from Cancer) told me that while all the entries had been sold, only around 2/3rds of the riders had turned up. I have no issue with serious athletes using the CLIC24 as perfect training for the upcoming 24 hour race season. But what does piss me off is when they can’t be bothered to earn their sponsorship** because the weather is a bit shit.
And shit it was. I arrived early enough to sound out the perfect pitch at the foot of the big camping field. Perfect in terms of being well drained and flat, also geographically spot on for funnelling freezing winds into the nether regions of team “hardcore loafing“. After Nig and I had done our damnest to be fatter piggies than the hog roast, the temperature had dropped to the point of “is it me or is it fucking winter?”
We gave up with outside and cracked a middle aged bottle inside the back of my truck. A truck full of many things, which now included red wine stains. but sadly not my lights***. At least it was warm although I cannot imagine what our neighbours thought of a ton and a half of metal rocking in the stiffening wind. Honestly it was nothing more than “to you, to me, can I just stretch that leg out,? okay Dave you can come in now but you’ll need to leave at least one arm outside”
Last year Dave cleverly avoided the first lap by inflicting £200 work of crank based damage on his bike. We all joked that this time around no one could possibly trump that. But come a morning punctuated by squally showers and clamped in ball freezing cold, Jason put the Hardcore into Loafing by completely failing to turn up AT ALL.
Dave was so stunned by this ballsy race craft, he barely objected to being sent out first although – in the spirit of loafers everywhere – we turned up ten minutes late for the start, even after arriving some sixteen hours before. We’re all understandably proud of that.
The clock ticked on, the rain sheeted down, blue sky occasionally appeared before being distainfully swept away by a stormy wind in league with the God of Precipitation. Dave’s course report was largely irrelevant since Nig and I were instead checking out the state of his bike. Brown and Wet were the key indicators of trail condiitons and that’s never a good combination in almost any life experience.
Jason joined us half way through the next lap, showing a worrying confidence in the future performance of his lovely new Titanium hardtail. Worrying as I’d built it three days before utilising the experimental technique of fitting everything with the largest hammer. Still it looked okay and with 14k of mud, rocks, stream crossings, fast descents and gurning climbs, what could go wrong eh?
I worried a bit for him as a displacement activity during my first lap. Because as quick as the course was drying out, fat rainclouds threatened to submerse it under the water table. And when those clouds did explode, the next fifteen minutes of my life were the ideal preparation for reincarnation as a trout. I was beyond wet and had entered that transcendental state known to riders everywhere as “four quick beers, a warm shower, B&B and a hot meal and I may live”
My team mates were waiting for me in the transition area. Well waiting to laugh anyway, which is the kind of team spirit that sustains us during the bad times. Of which , we were about to have another as a fierce gust dispatched the gazebo in a scream of tortured metal and extreme flappage. I watched Nig and Jas embodying this extreme flappage from the inside of the truck.
Revenge is a wonderful thing. Still to ensure that team spirit wasn’t affected I made sure my laughing and pointing were delivered in a motivating and positive manner. From there until enough was more than enough, we greased our way round an every more comedic course, between hiding from the wind in any location pedalling food and beer.
Three things stand out; the brilliant organisation, the fantastic atmosphere even when it’s pretty miserable, and a whole bunch of riders on the course trying their first event. I lost count of the number of low cost bikes with nervous riders trying their best to stay onboard in increasingly difficult conditions. And when I came out in admiration they were giving it their all, that’s where we came in with compassion fatigue.
Everyone out on that course had a story to tell, a scary moment, a grin at the silly mud, a determined expression on the never ending fire road, a look of satisfaction on completing the lap and a smile at the shared sillyness of what we were doing. Oh sure, there are those occasional aliens who enjoy this kind of thing, but I’m not one of them and neither were any of the people I spoke too.
But they carried on because they’d promised to earn sponsorship for CLIC Sargent, and I was very proud to be riding with them. It was hard enough when you’ve ridden a bit, it must have been bloody dreadful if this was one of your first experiences trying proper MTB off road. But I couldn’t help thinking about those who couldn’t be arsed, who decided being dry and war was better than being co-located with a moral conscience
Sorry if I’m going on a bit, I didn’t realise how much it pissed me off until I sat down to write this. It is not as if we did a million laps like the hero soloists or serious teams. But we gave it a good go, and while it wasn’t really fun, the worse times were not while you were out on the course. I quit after a dawn lap as I really wanted to be there when Verbal opened her presents, and the morning downpour doused what little motivational fire I had left.
Not Nig tho, he was kitted up and ready to go as I squelshed back in. And one lap in the seemingly unending rain and cold deterred him not at all. As we were herding flywaway tents into wet cars, he set off on a seconds lap clearly having imbued madness by a process of trail based osmosis. Although when he finally gave up, my suspicion is his tactic had been merely to lie face down in the mud for an hour before riding back to the start.
He denies it, but I think the pictures tell the true story.
So that was CLIC24:2009. Bottom line is it’s upwards of £30,000 to a charity that clearly invests every penny it receives in making tragically shortened young lives as good as they can be. And somehow giving parents who are doomed to outlive their children, a reason to go on. I cannot imagine what that must be like, but while I can still turn a pedal, I’m bloody determined to make sure they have my support.
Talk to those people about compassion fatigue. I have a feeling they might not get it.
* if you were there, you’ll know what I mean. If not google “puffball skirts”, “Athena posters” and “everyone being a dickhead”
** Assuming they had any. And assuming they didn’t just collect it whether they rode it or not. I know this isn’t a perfect argument. but I was having it at 5am in the freezing bloody cold, and I wasn’t thinking entirely straight.
*** Or so I thought. I found them in the muddy sweepings of a forgotten spares box this evening. A serving of double numpty with a side order of dimwit for Mr. Leigh please.