I went on a mountain bike ride today. January 4th 2015 to be precise, leaving home at 8.19am precisely. Given the date, the fact that I am a resident of England and currently winter, it will be no surprise when I state that the ride was filled with every horror imaginable to those who venture off road upon two wheels.
Beginning the ride entailed opening the front door and stepping outside. This was fraught with unexpected danger as outside had completely disappeared and it is place was fog. Dense wet gooey fog, the kind that babies make and store in their nappies. Human beings that meet full specification would have no issue with this. Sadly I don’t quite measure up in many departments and since my late twenties have had a big red cross right next to perfect vision. Thick fog means continual demisting throughout the ride, today it was so continual that I simply gave up, packed the glasses away and rode on feeling as if I was riding within a Claude Monet landscape.
Arriving at the first road junction I pulled the front brake lever to stop. The bike sailed gracefully into the road completely ignoring the “halt” command that had been transmitted from the handlebars. Winter maintenance, basically it’s too cold in the garage and the bike is always too filthy to come inside, so I don’t do any. The brake badly needed bleeding, it began to slightly function after a few frantic pumps on the lever.
The first offroad section at Coate Water was flat and through trees, this time the bike decided that it would halt. Closer investigation showed that the tyres had become bonded to the brown glue that festooned the once buff singletrack. I was out of the saddle grinding along a section that has hosted skateboarders.
A length of disused railway path should have provided respite but a wind felled tree had blocked it half way along causing me to execute the dismount-thrutch-mount movement, in the bushes a badger held up a card with “3” written on it.
A bit later on some byway covered in farmer’s Playdough. They race up and down these ancient rights-of-way in their tractors carefully carving all manner of interesting shapes in the ground that are clearly designed to deter cyclists. If you ride round Wiltshire you need a head for heights, at times you’re balancing precariously above a three foot drop. Pause, and like the captain of the Titanic you go down with the ship. I did this twice, for some reason I can never unclip in winter, summer is slightly better as the percentage of success increases to 50.
Then I encountered the “gambler’s” puddles. An innocuous looking stretch of water that on first appearance was probably only a few inches deep. Why not have a go? It’s quicker than walking round it. Today’s best score was nearly two feet. The bottom bracket and nearly my knees lost in an inconceivably deep rut puddle. I’m suspicious that someone dug it on purpose as it came from nowhere in a sequence of six, the first five just a couple of inches deep. Lull the biker into a false sense of security then drown the road tax dodging tosser.
Further up the track the bike was stopped again, this time by an infestation of clay as if the tyres had decided to do some potting and were gathering up enough to make a tea set. My forks were jammed with the stuff and the only way of clearing it was to find another gambler’s puddle.
The puddles caused further misery as I began to suffer from the one foot that just won’t warm up. Maybe this is just me? But whenever my feet get cold a furious bout of pedalling will sort one but not both out. This is the worst kind of cold misery as you have a warm foot to compare the cold one against. When both are frigid the brain can shrug and get on with other things as there’s nothing more that can be done. But if one is warm the brain contorts itself as to what the hell is wrong with the other one and thus magnifies the pain to bring your attention to this fact.
I soldiered on, unlike poor Jan whose soldiering had sadly finished up on Imber Range. I rode up to a memorial to him laid by his colleagues, it appears that his was killed in a training exercise in recent years.
As I stood in the fog covered in mud wet tired and half blind I too spared a thought for the fallen.
I thought of the fallen cyclists who had been taken from us by winter. Cyclists who were no more as the inclement weather or chocolate trails had killed their motivation to swing leg over bike.
Cyclists who had clearly been evil in their cycling life and had been sent “down below” to gyms where they were forced to pedal inside whilst breathing in the farts of “Big Al” sweating away on the machine of torture next to them.
Cyclists who had never even fought against winter. Deserters who had seen the coming strife and buggered off early to sit in front of TV’s twiddling their white feathers and wondering if anyone would notice their return late spring.
The battle against winter claims many victims, across the country carbon bikes hang lovingly polished upon garage walls lest we forget that a cyclist once lived within these premises. Others pay tribute with waist sizes carefully crafted to spill over jeans and remind their loved one to speak respectfully of the bike, for it has gone.
“Where have all the riders gone, long time passing?” I hummed to my interior self as I solemnly bowed my head for a moment’s respectful silence to remember my departed colleagues. The summer Strava king-of-the-mountain hunters, we shall remember them. The post tour road bike owners, we shall remember them. The £2000 winter bike purchasers, we shall remember them. The work’s-too-hectic-I-don’t-have-time crowd, we shall remember them.
Fortunately, (but not for Jan), these cycling passings-on come with the miracle of resurrection. Ours is a faith where it’s not only the founder who can shrug off a few mortal wounds and create demand for chocolate eggs. All it needs is a bit of sunshine and the fallen will rise again, a legion of muffin topped zombies buzzing around like mayflys.
I said my “goodbyes” to Jan and rode on along the range path continuing a seemingly lonely fight against winter, just as I reached the end the sun came out.