Like a back-sliding addict falling off the wagon, getting back on the bike after a couple of weeks enforced cold turkey is almost as good as discovering the simple joys of a bicycle ride for the first time. The problem is how much my tolerance is lowered in a fortnight off.
The first little ride is just a taste really, just a small snort to remind myself of what I have been missing.
Second ride goes for a couple of hours. Meet up with a couple of friends, and can keep up. Keeping up is maybe not a good indicator of a return to whatever constitutes ‘form’, because one of the friends is pregnant, and the other is her husband, which pretty much makes him pregnant too.
For the third ride I join up with some other friends for a lap of the native bush out towards Lake Okataina. I take my position at the back of the group, and become the person that gets to each stopping point just as the rest are ready to move again. They are nice people, so they wait. I am slower than everybody else up hill, and to keep things balanced I am slower downhill as well.
Near the far end of the out-and-back ride is a climb that I have not seen anybody clean. One of today’s team is a ridiculously capable bike rider, and in past rides I have been close enough to see even him fail to make it over the last obstacle, which is a knee high log angled across the trail. It was sliced through lengthways long ago to make a sloping step, by somebody with a chainsaw and a sense of humour. They added a crisscross of cuts to the exposed face for grip, but as the log is at the top of a steep series of very difficult root-infested sections, most humans approaching it are well past the point where wooden griptread is of any use.
Still, it is a fun challenge, even for a straggler. I have a little breather before the trail really pitches up, hoover in a couple of lungfulls of air, and select low gear and a confident position to attack the thing at a measured pace that I imagine will see me cleaning the climb for the first time. Slower than my companions, no doubt, but displaying impressive skills to any tuis that may be watching.
Of course, as soon as I am past the first tricky step up rooty thing the turkey-timer pops out and I am walking. I didn’t even get to the difficult bit. In fact, I didn’t get anywhere near it. I am amazed by how far I have to push my bike to reach the place where the trail got the better of me on previous attempts.
I have a long way to go to get back to my full-blown habit.