From way back in Issue 65, Ben ponders the benefits of risk and reward
RISK & REWARD
Words and photos by Benji Haworth
1. The possibility of suffering, harm or loss; danger.
2. A factor, thing, element, or course involving uncertain danger; a hazard.
1. Something given or received in recompense for worthy behaviour or in retribution for evil acts.
2. A satisfying return or result; profit.
Dictionary definitions are not a terribly original way to start a magazine article. But sometimes the old ways are the best.
In the pre-trail centre, pre-GPS,‘old’ days of mountain biking, hike-a-biking in the Lake District was the way to do things.
Mountain biking is a mixture of risk and reward. Indeed, risk to a greater or lesser extent becomes a reward in itself. It makes you feel alive. You’re doing what you want to do. It’s selfish. Us Westerners lead extremely cosseted lives. Most of us know what we’re going to be doing tomorrow. And next week. Even next year.
There are fewer and fewer unknown quantities. This is very reassuring. And extremely boring. So we do things like ride bicycles on dirt tracks to ‘live life on the edge’ a bit. Except even when we think we’re being risky, we’re not. We’ve weighed it all up and assessed the chances of things going wrong. Like a destiny dealing Delia, we add a specific and measured amount of risk. We plan. We can’t help it. It’s what makes us human.
When was the last time you took a genuine risk? The thing is, if you willingly ‘took’ a risk, chances are it was a considered one and not very risky at all. The chance of failure and comeuppance would be miniscule compared to likelihood of safe success. Taking risks is a Catch 22 situation. You can’t plan genuine risk.
Strangely, finding yourself in a scenario of genuine risk is a way of taking control. Of being less predictably human. The safety net has gone. And it’s not actually ‘thrilling’ or an ‘adrenaline rush’ while you’re in it. It makes you feel sick. It can make you massively egotistical. It can make you massively generous. Whichever way it goes, it generally makes you realise genuinely who you are. And what is genuinely important to you.
When we were out in the Cumbrian wilds with our bikes taking the photos that accompany this piece, I had a relatively brief but nonetheless extremely potent experience of risk. Basically I had messed up. I had misread the map contours. Things weren’t going to go as planned. The plan was wrong. My plan that I had been deluding myself was a risky adventure suddenly turned into a sickeningly risky misadventure. I felt like I had been unexpectedly dumped by a girlfriend who I was expecting to be having lots of fun with for a while yet.
Until we managed to get back to civilisation (a layby car park that had previously felt like the remotest of wildernesses), I didn’t have a lot of fun. The ascents were arduous and time seemed to slip by at double speed.Time we didn’t have.The last grains of sand in the hourglass. The descents were an exercise in getting down without crashing or puncturing. This was not play.
Although the risk had been an all-too- rare genuine one, the reward did not feel greater.
Eventually we did get back to the car park. Normally at this point in a planned, managed, risky adventure I’d go on about the joy of surviving and the exhilaration of beating the odds. I didn’t feel that way this time. I felt like a dick.
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