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September 2014

It's not quite summer yet


I don’t know about you, but I always think I am going to stay clean and dry when I go for a bike ride. Discounting the gallons of moisture my internal furnace produces while I wrestle with my demons, I expect to arrive back to camp looking much like I did when I left.

Without at least three really good reasons, preferably in writing, I don’t go out when its raining. Unless I have advanced cabin fever, I even wait until the driveway is dry. If it’s a mountain bike ride on the card, and why wouldn't it be, I imagine the conditions will be perfect, and make up reasons to believe this concept. For example, its raining here, but the sky down that way (where the forest is) looks lighter. Even blue, don’t you think? Or, its not raining here, and it has not been all day. That dark blue-grey thing hovering over the ridge must be away down south surely?

Or, as on Sunday, an admission to self that there has been major rain as recently as just before breakfast, but there has been a bit of wind and that should dry things out. If I stick to the high ground and stay out of the trees it will be mint. Hero dirt.

Once I am out, I try to maintain the delusion. OK, a few little puddles on the first trail, it’s all good. This forestry road is almost dry! Amazing, really. And then, a trail that fits the description of the ones I am going to stick to. It is perfect! The dirt is so nice I should stop and post it on Facebook.

I bet (insert slightly-less-likely-to-be-mint trail name here) will be ok too. Let’s have a look-see. But of course, to get up there is going to mean this other trail, where conditions are a bit of a lottery.

The first part is confidence inspiring. The trail gains a big chunk of elevation, and the hurty bits are in the second half. There are a few softer patches on the way to the hairpin where the climb gets more serious, but nothing that would make a bail-out necessary. Just past the point of no return, the plot thickens. Soft, deep squishy stuff has enough grab to allow forward progress, but the drive wheel scratching for traction picks up treadfuls of mud and drags them around to the bottom of the frame, where they pile up.

Now we are dirty, damn it, and we have only been out for an hour. At this point, without another deluge we can’t get any dirtier than we already are. Like it or not, we are going to be cleaning our gear when we get home, so we might as well make the most of it.

The next couple of hours are as good as it gets. The one after that, spent dismantling the bike and picking mud out of all the parts, is not so bad either.


It will get better

The preparations are made, the bike sits waiting in the sun and the shoes are parked outside the door. The last few bits get distributed in pockets or compartments of the backpack, and the ride starts.

Within a very short while it is clear where today will be on the grand scale of every bike ride, ever.

It is subjective, but it is hard to argue with legs that feel like they are made of wood. A bike that only yesterday was my second-favourite thing in the universe feels like its the wrong size. Come to that, so do my shoes. And even though I have checked three times, using that slightly bandy-legged move that allows a clear view of the rear cogs, the gear I usually use for this almost flat bit of fire road feels a couple of cogs too high.

And that brings me to reason number 47 in the book I might write about Why I Love Mountain Biking.
A road ride on a day like this would be possible, and with patience and perseverance could end up being enjoyable, but the temptation to turn around after ten minutes and go home would be hard to resist.

In the forest, it is always an option to just go really slow. OK, that is possible on the road as well, but really slow on the road feels really, really super slow.

Unless a bad day coincides with a group ride, creeping along at a sedate pace in a super low gear on the mountain bike is fine. Sooner or later, no matter how sluggish the pace, the top of a hill will arrive.

There might be a view, or a place to lie down.

One thing for sure about the top of a hill is that there will definitely be a downhill leading off it. Basic geography. No matter how lacklustre the climbing performance, coasting down a hill is good. Coasting down a trail with character - corners, jumps, a root or two - after that it really doesn't matter what sort of form the day has delivered. Two or three minutes of that sort of thing converts what was shaping up to be a bit of a death march into a different thing entirely. A couple of near misses and few little frights blend in to a series of unconscious actions that feel very right.

The juices produced in the uh-oh gland and the oh-yes gland drip into the brain pan, and before long produce a completely new outlook.

Here I was thinking this might be a short outing, but while I am out in the woods, I might as well go up there as well. Wherever up there might be.

A couple of hours later the world is back on its axis. A mountain bike ride that doesnt end at A&E is always good.


I was a pre-teen drug mule!


We were discussing the various jobs we had done at dinner the other night, and we worked our way back to our first paid employment. G was a milk boy, Saul was a paper boy, my gig was a little less likely.

It has even less to do with selling our products than our usual report, but it does record my only employment as a professional bike rider.

I was eleven, and I got a job delivering prescriptions for a chemist in Mount Eden. In those days that part of Auckland was still home to a lot of the original householders, by then in their golden years. Not many of them had cars, and they struggled to get to the shops. Doctors made house calls, and somehow relayed their patients’ needs to the chemist. Each afternoon a kid would sign on to deliver drugs around the neighbourhood, and the deal paid 30 cents an hour.

Sometimes the customers would kick in an extra five or ten cents, and the perks were home-made biscuits or cake.

The other kids had one afternoon each, but I got Thursday and Friday. Having two days meant I got the weirdest part of the service we provided, especially when you think about it in today’s terms. The chemist had a little trailer, and I got the tow hitch bolted permanently to the seat stays of my bike. Once in a while I would go to the chemist’s house, collect the trailer, and return to the pharmacy. We would load it with pharmaceuticals, and I would make a delivery to Brightside Hospital, a private joint in the middle of our territory.

The route to Brightside, where I went most days with my little satchel full of packaged pills, took me down Owens Road and into Brightside Road via a downhill, slightly off camber intersection with a satisfying turn of more than ninety degrees that could be taken without braking.

One day I was tucking into that corner as usual when I recalled I had the fully laden trailer on. The bike would not lean far enough to get around the bend, and the trailer was on a course of its own, with me attached to the front.

The trailer tipped over, taking me with it, the whole assemblage sliding into the kerb with resulting scuffage to knees and elbows.The contents of the trailer were strewn all over the intersection, the most spectacular being the two large glass carboys of Savlon, which had broken and looked like something Jackson Pollock would have produced, had he thought of it.

Thinking my career was over, I scraped up what I could, piled it all into the trailer, and returned to the shop. Fortunately by the time I got there I was bleeding profusely, and also crying, which got me onside with the women who worked there.

Mr Hoskins wasn't happy, the disaster cost him the Savlon, plus some first aid materials, and half an hour of downtime for his entire staff.

I kept my job, and even the tow hitch, and made the Brightside run successfully a few more times. But I could see that there was no future in being a drug mule, so I went into the third form unemployed.


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