Thursday 12 January 2012

Soul riding

All pics thanks to Dave Haygarth (he's got a better iPhone than me)

It wasn't an auspicious start. Rolling in to the car park at the local Sports Centre for a lunchtime cross session with Dave, the faint drizzle that I left work in had strengthened beyond a Peter Kay-like "It's spittin'!" to a proper wet, dousing rain. The ground around the banks, wooded fringes and pitches we train on was saturated from previous rain and I though I might be getting a sore throat.

My motivation, mojo, whatever you want call it was sorely lacking. Dave, as ever thinking outside the box suggested we go up to the local park where a couple of years ago, he had organised a legendarily muddy cross race. I opted for a roll round and think about it approach, while Dave set about beasting himself on the imaginary course from that race. Dave's a bit old school like that - if it isn't hurting, it isn't working is his mentality and it certainly works for him with his ability to bounce back from tough sessions and pile more work on top.

It was as I rolled around in his wake that it began to happen. The ingredients were simple, akin to the principle of making most soul food - take a small piece of Victorian parkland, add a cleverly designed cross course making use of the natural features and contours, blend with some muddy, sloppy woodland and grassland and finish with a cracking bike perfectly suited to the terrain and conditions.

Not up for a big effort and mindful of staying healthy for the forthcoming weekend's National Trophy race, I rode around enjoying the feel of the slip and slide of the tires, the challenge of going quicker through slick corners, the jinking in and out of trees and just the simple sensation of riding outside in the rain, with no pressure and the sole aim of enjoying myself.

The park and wet conditions presented a great opportunity to work on some of the technical aspects of cross - choice of line, hand position on bars, weight distribution in muddy corners, accelerating out of them and so on. All those little nuances that get lost when your breathing becomes ragged and you teeter on the edge of losing control of the bike and your lungs whilst pushing hard. Dave popped up along the course or in view in and out of the trees from time to time, pushing hard and doing his thing. My sense of serenity contrasted with the big, powerful efforts he was making to push the bike along at maximum speed.

And toward the end it dawned on me - I hadn't had as much fun on a bike in ages. Sure I'd enjoyed races, enjoyed really hard training sessions too but this was different. It was getting back to the roots of why I and probably many others ride - freedom. That serenity was the product of a little snatched moment in a day pressured with family routine, work and all the other essential things in my life. A moment in which I reminded myself that for me at least, there is nothing more satisfying than throwing a bike around in the mud and simply playing.

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