I am an idiot

No, really I am. Stop your protestations right now. Ah, I see by my waving the electronic ear trumpet in the general direction of the Internet, all I’m hearing are a few bored people muttering strong affirmations.

Idiocy is really nothing more than short cuts crashing into brick walls. I’ve always maintained life is fairly agreeable if you are lazy or stupid, with only simultaneous behaviours becoming problematic. Getting stuff done is actually quite easy for the lazy person; the trick is to sequence start to end whole ignoring those boring and time consuming interim steps.

Such a strategy marks you out as an efficient and busy person who couldn’t possibly be asked to do anything else. Especially if you’ve booked the afternoon for some blue sky thinking*. Only very occasionally does the edifice crumble generally with someone noticing the emperor is playing naked. And at that very point what looked like frenzied competency is laid bare as unstructured idiocy.

Happens to me occasionally. Few examples come immediately to mind; booking a campsite and time off work at the same time but not for the same dates. Commissioning a 4m satellite dish without troubling a structural engineer, and being mildly disturbed when it ripped the top of the building off** Launching blindly into obstacles on fat tyres and receiving fat lips and hospital appointments. That sort of stuff.

After the latest rock-Al interface, a week was barely enough for the elbow to start healing. But experience tells that the mind needs to get back on that horse right now. Otherwise displacement activity fills the riding void; nasty thoughts about how much it would hurt to fall again on that body part, maybe wait another week before getting back out there, stick to the road, trails’ll still be there, etc, et-bloody-c.

So with some trepidation and not a lot of my normal pre-ride enthusiasm, stuff was sorted, bike was given a cursory examination***, – short cuts remember – excuses shelved and clothing donned. Additions were a set of lender elbow pads that made me feel silly and secure in equal amounts. Deletions were anything I’d been wearing the previous week because clearly it was my riding environment rather than my riding ability which had triggered the crash.

In the zone of stupidity now, I took different paths on every level; first a slightly different route choice then stretches in reverse order, bike on trailer not in the truck, light on first then battery, rear shock checked first not forks. I grudgingly accepted the ritual pre-ride cuppa but considered following Jezz’s jokey advice I should run around the car three times to break the hoodoo. Definitely considered it. Idiot I thought. You’d probably think so too.

And it’s nothing to do with being stuck in some groundhog night, stuffed down the same trouser leg of time that ended so badly last time. It is – however – everything to do with finding something else to worry about other than the ‘it shall not be named horror‘ of being too damn scared to ride quickly. Fast is a filter graduated by ability, experience, age and your mates. It means different things to us all, but being less fast and less brave than you were…. now that’s a problem which speaks of slow decay and the end of things.

These are not happy thoughts and they followed me up the first climb. Which I generally put up with as it has a fantastic woody descent that is both fast and furious. It was neither of those things this time around, because Jezz was reigning it in an effort to build my confidence. Damn fine gesture but it didn’t feel good, it just felt slow.

Next climb my phone is ringing and I’m ignoring it. We’re climbing again into the twilight and the horse is waiting for me, steaming and rearing in the middle of the next descent. I’m stupidly nervous, stomach churning and talking myself out of it. Because it’ll still be there next week, I’ll do it then, it’s not a big thing, I’m not going to be somehow diminished by taking a safe course to the side.

Yeah. Right. Lights on, hard to know if to trust night vision or bar mounted lumens. Drop in at 80% of last weeks speed, Christ it’s loose, was it this loose before? Have I got a flat? Oh for fucks sakes just get on with it. Miss an apex and slide close to the trail edge, too slow to ride on instinct, too fast to really be in full control, see rock, give it a pre-huck nod to show I mean business, look away down the trail, anywhere but right in front, relax stiffened muscles and flop over in the manner of wounded seal attempting to make landfall.

Relief floods through muscles – my favourite natural drug second only to adrenaline – and that demon is pretty well exorcised. The rest of the ride was 70% fab and 30% worry about a total lack of flow and smoothness. Last night was about 90/10, and I never got anywhere near the rock. Been there, done that, got the scar.

I’m an idiot though. From almost the second I hit the ground, insidious worry sat front and centre blocking out what is probably more important stuff. And it was a non event, a million times less dramatic than what’d be playing in my minds’ eye. So stupid, pointless and – if I’d followed those logical steps I’m so keen to launch over – I’d have realised that the fear isn’t the rock, it’s being too broken to do what I love doing at a pace and danger that absolutely defines the difference between being alive and merely living.

Riding last night is EXACTLY why slogging through the Winter makes some kind of idiotic sense. Rock hard trails, dust, cheeky routes, nearly crashing, holding it together, maybe not so fast but a little bit smooth, good friends, happy times. The elbow is still sore, but it’ll heal before my head’s entirely unfettered by thoughts of crashing again.

But consider the alternative. If we’re looking for hoary homilies, you really don’t know what you’ve got until it’s taken away. So when the very next person adds their weight to an argument that riding bikes with the definite possibility of hurting yourself is idiotic, I shall offer them some useful advice in return.

Try being an idiot for a while. It rocks.

* which – as slackers everywhere know – means looking out of the window at blue sky and thinking “I wish I was out there

** It wasn’t my building. It wasn’t even in this country. A fair part of the top floor did end up in a Moscow street tho. It wasn’t entirely my fault. I made sure everyone was more than aware of that.

*** So no surprise that the cleaved gear cable and bent mech weren’t noticed until catastrophic gear selection failure half way up the first hill. At times like this, it’s important to appear humble while others with good skills fix your bike.

I have written to my MP.

There’s something that I never believed would happen. Along with actually caring what profile a window frame was, and becoming an expert on problem solving in Club-Penguin land. It is very much akin to seeing your reflection and thinking “wow that old bloke is what I’ll look like in 20 years“.

But even a man so incurious to the working of politics, and apathetic to the power of lazy can only take so much. The government’s selling off of the publically owned forests is, at best rushed and ill thought out and – at worst – spiteful and stupid.

Sure, the specific issue for Mountain Bikers is the lack of legislation to retain access to the trails, but there is a much wider point here. If something is held in trust for the public, then there is significantly less pressure for it to turn a fast buck. Throw open ownership to private-for-profit companies, and any pre-sale weaseling promising altruism and philanthropy are lost in the quest for maximum shareholder value.

And you can absolutely see their point. They want no part in possible litigation if accidents happen on their land. A rider (be that on a bike or a horse) adds zero value to their bottom line, so why would they extend access rights to these groups? The CROW legislation of 2000 enshrines the rights of the much more powerful rambling bodies to roam over the land, but the rest of us were no-so-politely ignored when asking for similar protection.

Forests are fun places. Not just for me and the jealous protection of much loved trails. But for everyone; special places are found under the trees, there is a sense of peace and oneness with nature. They are full of light, texture and things to prod, poke and explore. The value of providing this kind of environment for the public has inestimable value that you cannot put a price on.

But the Government has.£100 million apparently. It’s a big number but against a deficit of billions, it’s not even a stone in the water. It’s enough to make you angry and it absolutely should although I doubt my MP will lose any sleep over losing my vote, with his 15,000 majority and Tory view of the world*

I’ll not let that stop me at least having a voice in the debate. Already many have signed up to the 38 degrees petition and, more locally, to HOOF supporting the Forest of Dean. I know I have. In response, there are the expected charges of hysteria and misunderstanding spouted by the mouthpieces of government. But a precent was set only a few months ago when an FC wood was sold off a few miles from here.

Previously it had FC sanctioned trails and was a fun place to ride. The first action of the new owners was to erect massive “No CYCLING” signs and randomly police it with angry men carrying shotguns. It’s hard to see how there can be any winners in the forest sell, other than those whose quest for profit will be in direct conflict with public access.

And if that isn’t worth a bit of community action, I don’t know what is.

* There’s a fantastic old story where Lord Chesterfield was showing some Etonion Chum around his new estate. The high point was a visit to a huge tower with panoramic views in every direction. Apparently the stuffed shirt was so impressed he declared “Good Lord Chesterfield, you can almost see Poverty from here“.