My friend mountain biking is dead, no, not for you, not in general, but for me, my friend of nearly 25 years has gone, and I miss it.
This year has been a bit tricky for me, I've been diagnosed with MS, in retrospect its been something I've lived with for years but have always shrugged off the many and varied symptoms as just life, but earlier this year I had an episode I couldn't sweep under the carpet. I lost my ability to see, I didn't go blind, just couldn't understand what my eyes were telling me, was constantly very cross eyed, unable to fix my focus on a point, was a tad disturbing to say the least. Several months later, lots of tests, too much hospital time later I'm much better, but not 100%. I can see, my memory is shot to bits, both long and short term, and have a slight palsy down my right side.
My vision is not 100%, I can drive, even ride my motorbike, but if my head gets shaken about I can no longer understand what I see, everything shakes and blurs, I lose depth perception, can no longer judge speed and can't work out where something is in relation to me. My bike on anything other than tarmac is just not possible, on a smoothish fireroad I can't tell if that brown splodge is a pot hole, a rock or just a damp patch, on anything rougher I can no longer see the lines, and if I can see a line I don't know where it is in relation to me.
I remember the first time I rode a bike (okay not the first time I rode a bicycle but please understand the term bike to refer to the mountain variety) I lived in North Wales, and my Mum hired me a Marin Palisades for half a day and I rode it round the forest roads around Betws-y-Coed all afternoon. I was hooked. I was soon the ridiculously proud owner of an ex hire Marin Palisades and on my way off to uni. I rode that bike for 4 or 5 years, learned how to ride, and very soon realised that the true fun was not to be had on the fire-roads but on the footpaths (cheeky I know, but I was a kid and it soon became a habit).
I started to meet people who shared this bizarre pastime, discovered people who I sort of knew also played this game, friendships that live on to this day, friendships not just based on the ephemeral giggles down at the pub, but on shared experience, on those moments of magic, the highs the lows, the pain and the laughter. Friendships which have helped me enormously through this year.
I've done some cool stuff, I was a trail pixie for 18 months, worked on the Marin trail, with the best bunch of lads I've ever had the privilege to work with, was in this here magazine, with my loyal old friend Mel (the crazy stick dog), she is still my loyal friend, but at nearly 16 years old not as crazy as she once was. I worked on the trails at Fort Bill, and was surprised to find a full sized poster of me on the wall at the NEC bike show advertising the trails.
Its the riding which I miss, and there have been some amazing days, in Wales, Snowdon twice in a day sticks in the mind, struggling along the side of Llyn Cowlyd into the teeth of a roaring gale in the sleet turning to snow and we just seemed to have one mechanical after another, we were cold getting home that day. Riding in the Berwyns, crashing breaking my collar bone, and getting a much appreciated, but very painful lift from a couple of foresters in their Landrover. The joy of discovering night riding, I bought a pair of nitesuns in '93 I think, still got them somewhere, still work when powered by a cordless drill battery! Hours spent learning to jump, well jumping is easy, trickier to land them...
I moved to France, I'm still here, my riding evolved, I got a DH bike, rode it till I broke it (only ever had 2 bikes that I haven't broken), met more friends, this time crazy French dudes. More fabulous days on bikes. The qualifier course for the Megavalanche is rather good, but also lesser known venues like Les Orres, Le Lioran, Pila, oh, Pila, one of my last days riding with a mate over from Wales was at Pila, racing the lift closing time down to Aosta, with our vans and our beds up top at Pila, taking different criss crossing lines to each other through the jumpy wood bit down the bottom, and laughing insanely as we made the lift with just a few minutes to spare. There's some big mountains to ride here as well, put Canigou in the Pyrenees on your list. You park down low, at about 600m, ride up a rough fire-road for the next few hours 'til you get to about 2150m then lock your bike up and run to the top at 2784m then back to your bike and follow a long wonderful singletrack back to the car, 10hours it took me. I couldn't talk the next day. The Tarn gorge, some brilliant rides, long hard climbs followed by stunning steep technical descents.
Riding has always helped me through the hard times, helped me put my problems into perspective, my wife, if I'm stressed just sends me out on a ride. Its kept me fit, training is not hard when its just so much fun, taken me to some amazing places deep in the mountains, and have loved every minute of it.
Now my bikes lie forlorn and gathering dust, and I know that I will never again be able to fly on them, never again that moment as you leave a big jump and you know you are in balance, speed good, you are going to land right in the middle of the landing ramp and you can just relax and enjoy that wonderful moment of freedom. Never again crash and fracture my tibial plateau, which for some strange reason is a lovely warm memory. Never again look into a mates eyes, see the searing rush of adrenaline and know there are no words to share the understanding of what you've both just done with anyone else. Never again ride Snowdon by the light of the full moon.
So fly free my friend go and infect someone else with your delights, It has been a true joy to have you as part of my life.
PS if you read all this, thank you, but in truth I wrote for myself, 'cos I'm off to pastures new, just because I can't do this does not mean life is no fun. I think Paragliding is a good place to start...