I can’t hide from it any more. I travel to work in the post daybreak murk of a big city that would rather see me dead than safe on its roads. I bypass the main streets and opt for the lesser road paths and trails that take me the 4km to work. Not enough, nowhere near it.
I pass the short section of cobbles that rattles the bitter coffee into my veins.
I pass the muddy off-camber turn behind the big tree with inappropriate tyres.
I drag my brakes around the fast corner aware that the lady with the Dalmatian won’t be far.
I nod at the lady with the Dalmatian, we both know this beautiful animal doesn’t worry about the daylight.
I ride the muddy path by the old bowling green.
I pop out to the road. 4.5 mins down. Two mins at the traffic light. Before the death run.
Two schools. Several shops. Early morning drivers not looking for a cyclist.
Another set of lights before the stench of lasts nights curry house effluence assails my nose.
Left. Right. Pavement. Bang on the door.
10 mins home to work.
Just. Not. Enough.
That’d be my bike for the Tour Divide sorted then
Tired does not explain it.
“Holidays” for a week with riding in three countries crammed in. Visiting what felt like all the people we know in Ireland, many late nights, too many beers, then back into work with the added bonus of a house guest who was racing the World Track Masters for a week. The added pressure of helping someone who is trying to be at the top of their game.
Six years away from track riding and I thought I’d lost the bug. But spending a week back and forth from the track in Manchester with an athlete racing the worlds has taught me one thing. I still like to turn left, I love watching it, the noise, the smell, the atmosphere. The bug is back…seeing her get 3 medals may have helped One or two things stayed with me. The most basic of which was posted outside the USA pit area:
The second, it is ok to suck. Sometimes we do. We are the meaning of suck, at life, at reality, at everything we do. But others can help us not suck. Those people support us, drag us kicking and screaming from a pit of suck onto the beaches of success.
I have only resurfaced from sleep after 4 hour nights all week. Staying up to cook food, to wake up to prepare bottles and coffee, to convince and persuade an elite athlete that they are elite…it takes a lot from me. But damn, it feels good when they perform. Results for a coach are proof that the pudding not only tastes good, but stays down.
Time to cook some more.
Time to suck less.
Not much else to say really.
A chapter of my life, over.
It happens the same every year. I know it is coming from months ahead. The dry summer months do nothing to prepare me for it. I ride and I pretend to train. I know when it comes it will be like a shock to the system. A moment of pain in the simplest form. A punch in my over laden gut.
I pay race entries months in advance and I forget about them. This one is special. The Three Peaks Cyclocross. A race now in its 51st iteration. A ‘cyclocross’ race on mountains, with totally inappropriate bikes, on exceptionally hard terrain.
Simon Fell is calling and it says prepare, prepare for the steepest ascent by foot you’ll ever have to do with a bike on your back. Prepare for the descent across rock, slate, grass and mud. Prepare to crash, prepare for punctures, prepare to be cold.
Whernside couldn’t care less. Its steps allow you to ascend, step by step they treat you brutally. Never the same, always more each year as the trail errodes more. Designed for walkers, ascended by ‘crossers. The descent, once feared is now revered. Limestone slabs that are like grease on a hot plate in the wet, like sandpaper when you crash.
Pen-Y-Ghent comes sooner than you’d like. The ascent on P-Y-G ‘lane’ brutal, the descent a test of wheels and body alike. Lane conveys something your grandmother could cycle up, the truth is more akin to a gully filled with baby head lumps of limestone. The top of P-Y-G comes with time, time, blood and usually tears. The descent offers up broken bones, wheels and tubs with every drop and turn. The final road section cramps are something of a norm now.
For my fifth time I return. I never know why. I just always do.
I love this race.
That time of the year is coming. Darkness descends, lights are strapped to bikes, road tyres are swapped out for thicker cross tyres.
A debate rages in my head. Do I return to a past lover knowing how much she will hurt me. Or do I stay with the one I have spent the last two years with.
I backed away from cyclocross after I achieved what I wanted from racing a few years back. It wasn’t much, but I worked for it and I have something to show. A change from years past. I shied away and took refuge in the solitude of study. I grew fat, slow and ignorant of it all. I became soft and scared of the cold, harsh reality that is racing cyclocross.
The spur this year was not the normal one, the 3 Peaks, but a new one. Bike to Work. The ability to pick up a new racing bike, spread out the payments and save….what’s not to like. Added bonus of working in a bike shop and time to fettle and work the bike into what I want. A dream I would have jumped on 3 years ago.
But now we have an elephant in the room, a big elephant that I want to spend a lot of time with. The Tour Divide. The maps are here, the books are arriving, the bike for the race has been undergoing scrutiny, the training… it’ll come with time.
But what happens if I go back to cross again? Will I take it as serious as before, an all encompassing beast that takes away from everything else and leaves me as a shattered husk of a cyclist come January? I can’t just do cyclocross, last year showed me that. It is 100% or 0% nothing in between.
I am torn.
Doctor refers to A&E. A&E refers me to a chart. Chart refers me to a doctor. Doctor refers me to a physio and a clinic. Physio prods and makes me feel better. Clinic refers me to a consultant. Consultant refers to my X-rays. X-rays and poking refer me to the door.
Say what you want about the NHS. In its own slow, meandering way it works very well. Being bounced around for 4 weeks unable to walk or ride is frustrating. Being told I got away with no long term damage, all for the price of some petrol, by trained medical staff, for free. That is why the NHS works.
Now, time to write about riding bikes again.
Two weeks off the bike have given me time to think. I’ve become somewhat of an expert at it. Thinking about things that could be. Things that should be. Things that will be.
My maps for the Tour Divide have arrived and I’ve resisted the urge to dive into them, to become obsessed by the route, to focus on the micro instead of the macro.
Looking at the macro I know that I cannot ride. A three mile plod into work yesterday showed me that my legs can go round and round. But the three mile ride home showed me that they cannot do it after a day on my feet. Cue much pain, loss of potential, emotion. I’m still off the bike.
Without the simple ability to ride a bike I cannot see far enough ahead. I’ve put cycling to the side for now to focus on deadlines that loom – both real and figurative – to finish things that need to be put down. Writing, books, choices about direction.
On the plus side I have work that interests me for once. People I like meeting every day. People I can associate with about more than just coming to work. Looking forward to working is a nice feeling again. Finishing interesting writing projects a mental blessing.
For someone who rides bikes a lot you think I’d have learned not to crash by now.
No, no I have not. Not even close to it.
Normally when I come off I get angry. Very angry. Not at the bike. Not at the trail. Not at my skills. Just angry at myself. Why am I so crap? Why do I crash? Why are you destroying a perfectly good ride?
I shout. I curse. I get back on and I get on with riding.
This time was no different. I was riding fast. Following a wheel. Dedication to the line that is being drawn for me. Belief that I can do what was done before me. Trust in my abilities to realise and react. I was wrong.
A rock. A stop. A fall. A curse. A sore leg.
Two weeks have past and the pain has got worse. I’ve not rode in 9 days after realising that trying to pedal was just doing more damage. Off the bike for two more weeks by doctors orders. Compression, drugs, instigate sedentary lifestyle until a scan can be done.
I hate knee injuries.