The world is going sideways.
This is not a meta-analysis of the existential world spamming our virtual news feeds, because right now the physical is in the ascendant. I’m barely managing a rear tyre keen to switch the gravitational axis and dump me on my fundament. It’d help if much needed mental capacity wasn’t being drained by wondering if riding clipped in may be correlated with an unscheduled hospital visit.
Really it’s not going well. Ice is tarmac hegemony. First amongst accidents. Drop bars offer precisely fuck all control of things going sideways. Disc brakes are no less than wonderful but tyres marketed for gravel are way out of their depth. As am I desperately handing the whole thing off to physics, hoping geography will give me a pass.
And right then, right now that feeling is fabulous. I finally have some risk in my life. How it ends barely matters, how it feels is everything. I’ve set out with no aspirations other than a view distanced from my house and shed. There is no route planned, no time boundaries other than the coming of a winter night, no excuses to quit other than this is beyond stupid. Rarely stopped me before.
This being life on repeat. Working like a dog. Shed-life and home-life being separated by twelve hour days. Weekends being nothing more than the beer fridge promising numbness. All of us are defined by our interactions, but right those are restricted to my immediate family. And my pets. So it’s unsurprising I’m fully troped-up resembling the labs.
I’m a dog person. Always have been. Probably always will be, Even internalising the pain of losing them far too often. Labradors specifically: loyal, food-cunning, ready to explore and always happy to come home. So I’ve packed a bag full of bars, a vague plan to cover much ground, a time to complete the loop and an entirely uncynical view of how things might go.
There are points of difference. I’m not keen to harvest a kilo of sheep shit nor be distracted by a rabbit caught in the open. Otherwise I’m full Lab heading out with a level of optimism entirely divorced from the ground conditions. I’ve no idea where I’m going, but I’m going somewhere. And that is more than good enough given the current restrictions.
I barely managed the hill from the house. Sub zero temps dumped a mini ice age cascading down the road. Uphill was a desperate balance between power and traction. Flip the gradient and that’s where we came in. Locking the rear, staying off the front and hanging in there for a flat section.
Where you can brake. This is my mountain biking world. You pick ‘traction spots’ to bleed velocity, It’s pretty much implicit when you’ve ridden for many years, but it’s explicit there. Pick a line, vector for dark tarmac, grab half a second of brakes, let it all hang out until you can do it again.
Stupid, dangerous, glorious.
No real plan other than to stay off main roads. This routed me onto all sorts of broken tracks supposedly fit for vehicular traffic. Lined with storm washed aggregate and festooned with icy potholes, my inner Labrador was wishing for 4 paw drive.
Still in line with my spirit animal, I just took any turn that looked interesting and headed vaguely north to a singletrack filled wood to test my new might-work-off-road tyres. They weren’t working so well on road, but then nothing short of spikes would
Getting high the views were awesome. Cherished vistas experienced from different angles. Reminded me of why we moved here. Losing my focus left me properly lost. Which was fine because it led to annoying a posh farmer while riding down a footpath. An unexpected bonus in the spirit of the Kinder Trespass.
After a couple of hours, one extremely dicey descent on a darkly shadowed road had me turning for home. The weak winter sunlight had the ice slowly reverting back to its liquid state. I had fun riding through 30 foot puddles with my feet flying free. Never gets old even as I am.
Knowing the perils of going ‘full Labrador’, I switched the phone from camera to maps and read off thirty minutes of back lanes. Having handed navigation off to a digital app, I was reminded of the analogue bike sharing this adventure. It’s no race machine nor overbuilt tourer. Rather just brilliant at getting on with it without making a fuss.
That doesn’t make it boring or lifeless. No, it’s an eager companion ready to transport the keen and curious over gradients, under tree lined paths and beyond county and country lines. It’s damps the bumps, sprints happily under power and carves fun shapes on dirt and tarmac. I’ve always hated road bikes but I love the Tempest. It’s mostly a Labrador too.
Cresting the last climb, I’m one freewheel from home. I see the road that used to be my 6:30am alarm and it makes me smile. I look across into the next valley wondering how much there is to explore. None of this is more than 10km from our house, but it’s all new and exciting.
Lemons and lemonade. We are where we are. Maybe for a bit longer. And until that changes I’m going to be an Explorador. Preferably with just a little less winter.
* two counties away from home having chased an interesting scent/person/tractor