For Sale: the perfect starter home. Two bedrooms, one bathroom, garden, farmhouse kitchen and outside studio / work-from-home. My girlfriend loved it, “We’ll get married, buy a puppy, mow the patch of lawn, grow hibiscus, and knock out our firstborn. This place is perfect.”
“Nice, but we can’t afford it,” I sobered.
“We have to make a start somewhere,” she harassed, “You need to put a stake in the ground, man. Grow up a little.”
By Andy Ellis
And so I signed the offer to purchase and took a step into adulthood somewhere in my late 20s. Inside of 18 months I found myself cradling a baby while using the blast of a garden hose to disintegrate dog turds squeezed onto the lawn by our doe-eyed beast. There are those who’d say I had it all…
Man it made me antsy. Suburbia had me shackled. Frustrated energy bubbled inside. I needed a pressure valve, a pastime that emancipated the man, got some balls back in the game. Next thing a mate pitches up with a smug grin and a mountain bike. Not just any bike, a real bike, an expensive bike, the kind of bike that was gracing the fledgling South African Mountain Biking Association’s cross country scene.
I asked him how much, he told me. I gagged, then spat on a hibiscus frond. I was up to my britches in mortgage debt. Suddenly words I’d heard before, a feminine voice, “… make a start somewhere, put a stake in the ground man,” whispered into the cotton bits of my brain. Next thing I’m sheepishly showing off a mountain bike of my own. It didn’t go down well with the missus.
Cut to the end of my first cross-country race. I was broken, disillusioned, but alive and flat-out hooked. I’d learnt my lesson: it was easy to pitch up at a mountain bike race – but man, what a bitch to go the distance. I had work to do. That night I gathered the wife, child and beast to announce that I had found my calling, my pre-midlife crisis, a sport that I was going take seriously. Very seriously.
The wife smiled suspiciously, the child tugged on her pacifier and the beast merrily thumped his tail on the wooden floor. I accepted the canine response as an all-encompassing affirmative show of support, fixed the start of my campaign for the following morning, turned on my heel and went to bed. It was 8pm.
A season passed. Obsession set in thick. My race times showed up somewhere in the middle of the league. Not cool. What was I missing? Of course my bike was to blame. There had to be a way of making it lighter without spending too much money. I dived into books and magazines in search of the magical mountain bike elixir.
It didn’t take long to realise that the only real way to make the bike go faster was for me to get stronger. And simply riding every day wasn’t enough. I had to get all scientific on my saddle-chaffed ass. I bought an old road bike, turbo trainer and a heart rate monitor. That didn’t go down well either.
I didn’t care. Like a drug-starved junkie I was operating in the fast lane with my family lagging in the blind spot. Fitter, stronger, faster was the only imperative, and besides, I had my whole life for family. I’d make it up to them after the season. Ignorance was bliss. What a fool I was. My wife called the stationary trainer ‘the bike to nowhere’. I called it the bike to the top 10, top five, heck – the bloody podium if I trained hard enough.
I studied the principles of anaerobic threshold, determined my optimum heart rate, VO2 max and body fat percentage. If I wasn’t thrashing the ‘bike to nowhere’ I was on three-hour rides, or in the gym or at the physiotherapist. And so it went. Inside of three years I managed a forgettable fourth place in my race category. From that little mound of anonymity, somewhere between the podium and enjoying a fun, healthy pastime – the point of it all – I looked for my wife.
She was gone.
Originally published in TREAD Issue 3, 2009 – All rights reserved