First light. I kick a corner of the duvet, touch a toe to the wooden floor. My wife groans and rolls to face a wall. She knows what’s coming next – a progressive amplification of the get-ready routine. The dog opens an eye, offers a single flap of his tail and dozes off again. It’s a snub. His way of saying that I don’t deserve a full tail flap and he doesn’t care about not being invited. But I know it’s burning a hole in his heart. I ruffle his floppy ears. “Sorry boy,” I say. “Today is a group ride with unknown entities, and this is for sure. There will be one, maybe two with their measuring tapes dangling. Not an appropriate day for innocent dogs.” – Andy Ellis
I arrive at the trail. It’s a bigger group than expected, looks like I’ve been sandbagged by my buddy. “One or two extra lads,” he’d pecked into the SMS. Bastard. I count five guys, straddling state-of-theart machines, beaming the over-white toothed smiles of affluence, guffawing, chest beating, a troop of long-armed bikers in branded lycra and all the go-fast gear money can buy. I’m wearing baggy shorts and a trailworn cotton shirt – a mess by standards. The dress code is a trick I learnt from a mentor, a champion adventure racer and grand master of athletic deceit. I lift my Momsen 729 from its carrier. The gleaming machine is in stark contrast to its clearly amateur master. “Hardtail? “ One of them frowns like a concussed ferret and points to my ride as if I’d pitched up on a square-wheeled post bike. “Yep,” I say. “Carbon hardtail.” Oh the joy those words bring. One of them struts over to lift my bike. I regret filling the water bottles. “Hmph,” is all he manages. He doesn’t need to compliment the featherweight of my lithe ramp model, we all know it is so. “Not so forgiving, these hardtails” says another. Oh jees, here we go again…
We saddle up and head into the climb. I hear the kerchunk of a late gear change, it’s the first measure of the experience around me. The gear crasher jumps to the front, head and shoulders bobbing. It won’t be long before he hits the wall. I ask how long we’re riding. “Couple of hours.” I fall to the back of the huddle and spin. A guy upfront, riding a red bike, red GPS, red helmet, red photochromic glasses, shirt, socks and shoes strikes up a conversation. He’s talking to the gear crasher riding at arm’s length; loud enough for the loeries in the next valley to listen in. He’s not telling a personal story, he’s telling the group that he can talk while climbing an ever-inclining hill. Point made, he starts to ask openended questions. It’s a conniving trick. My grand master warned me of this tactic. It’s a ‘friendly’ ruse to break the stride of the enemy. The gear crasher answers the question and within minutes he has dropped a length off of the pack. Our first straggler. The man in red smells blood and stomps on his pedals. The group splinters. Now an hour has passed and the inane conversation has dried to caked spittle on the lips of the remaining horsemen of the apocalypse.
We’re down to three bikes. The other guys are way back affirming amongst themselves that they’re just weekend riders, not ‘racing snakes’ like those ahead… it’s the standard consolation. And what’s the bloomin’ definition of a racing snake?
Surely this is the image they portrayed at the get go? So it goes. The dude in red looks over his shoulder, a little surprised that the cotton man is on his wheel. I smile, raise a thumb from the handlebar. I’m dying inside. My organs have turned to acid, I’m a moment from puking that flippin’ granola bar, or maybe I need a poo. All I know is that something is going to give.
We’re close to the summit. If I’m going to make a move, its now. I stay seated and grind. Red man jumps. I say a prayer. We crest the summit. He is a wheel ahead. And, and now what? Nothing. Nothing more. Nothing said. We wipe the sweat, take a sip and head for the descent. We know what has happened here. We have identified the hominid tape measurer, the strutting want-to-be warrior among us… it’s me.
*Originally published in TREAD Issue 19, 2012 – All rights reserved