‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players’.
How your ride will play out – whether it results in comedy, tragedy or historic triumph – will depend on your cast of players. Let us head to the casting couch and see who will be playing supporting roles in what will hopefully be a tale of you as the all-conquering trail hero.
First, there are the Fools. These riders, often talented, often injured, may well kick things off. Available and willing to ride, their winning smiles and persuasive chat will get you out on your bike even when you don’t really feel like it. They’re fun to be with; they breathe life and soul into a ride, and their touch of swagger guarantees a spectacle of hops, pops and wheelies. But beware getting carried away in the frivolities, for these favoured characters may well derail the course of a hero.
These jokers are often the victims of their own derring-do, with regularly broken ribs and scars a forgone conclusion. Following their lead, you may find yourself attempting trail features for which you are not ready, armed with poor and simplistic advice such as ‘speed is your friend, just go for it’.
Heeding such advice may well lead to misfortune, the recasting of yourself as the tragic hero – possibly a financial one if a bike needs repairs… An over-exuberant start to the summer or a week’s riding holiday could render you a sorry sight, as you miss your salad days while wounds heal. Worse yet, failure and crashing may lead to doubt. These traitorous thoughts will have you faltering on the trail and fearing to attempt routes both old and new.
Step forth our next character: the Sage. In contrast to the Fool, the wise one will appear infrequently, less often than we’d like perhaps. A day’s coaching here, a skills course there. This expert may appear to speak in riddles, and even to perform feats of magic, but watch and listen carefully for there will be truths and lessons in their words and deeds. Take the high line, find the balance point, look ahead and away from that which you wish to avoid. The Sage will guide you to conquer your fears and equip you with the knowledge needed to progress your riding, should you heed their words.
But the Sage’s influence is little more than a brief dream without the Sidekick, the Supporter, the True Friend. This is the person who will hang back with you when you’re just not feeling it, who will give you their last jelly baby. Such faithful friends are hard to find. Honest and realistic, they will see you through thick and thin. They will remind you of the words of the Sage, and will screw your courage to the sticking place, egging you on just enough to achieve hero status, but not to injurious excess. They will also tell you if you’re dressed like a dick.
Next, there is Tragedy’s Minion. This is the riding mate against whom the fates conspire – every thorn will find their tyre, chains will snap, dogs will bite. Woe are they – take pity on them, be not stony-hearted. Take arms and multitools against their sea of troubles, for you never know when fortune could turn its tide against you.
Finally, you should hope you have a Narrator among your crew – someone to guide you down primrose paths and give structure to your ride. This is the rider who will have the right quick link to get the Tragic Minion rolling again and definitely won’t have forgotten their pump. Devising a route which keeps the merry band of riders moving along, they will temper the wilder whims of the Fools, put method in the madness of the ride, and lead everyone back home, ride safely concluded.
And so our cast is assembled, ready to roll. Mixed and balanced, a recipe for fun, what stories will unfold as the players play?
Stage set: Good friends, good times, bikes, mud and trails.
Ride on, together, toward pies and ales!
Originally published in Singletrack World Issue 121, this Last Word from Hannah rounded off a magazine that featured a Lake District route reputed to be so horrible on a fool (or Sanny) would try it, Jason Miles ‘racing’ a stage race on a shonky rental bike, a return to Crested Butte, and the Cure’s Simon Gallop. Singletrack World Members get access to all our back issues, so if you like the sound of all that, head on over to this corner of the internet to check it out.