I stood astride my bike at the top of the hill. Mist hung heavy in the air, loaded with moisture and as dank as a Dickensian London street. I had initially tried to ride up the rough track, but swallowing my pride I realised that I would be faster walking up the steep hillside, pushing my hard-tail mountain bike to the summit.
Now I was about to ride down a single-track descent. I looked down the first part of the track with a big smile on my face. The weather seemed to add to the challenge of what lay ahead and I knew it was going to be fun.
There is a moment, right before you drop into a downhill track, of concentration, fear and excitement. You need to keep your mind on the task at hand, but not so much that you shut off the things that are going on around you; just enough to keep the fear suppressed.
Too much fear means you will tighten up at the exact point where you want to be loose and flowing. A bit of fear is healthy though and gives you the kick of adrenaline that, if you can control it, gives you the focus to get down the hill in one piece. The feeling of fear is inversely relative to a rider’s experience and skill; the more experience, the less fear, but that leads the rider to seek out ever-more extreme descents to push their experience and skill levels to the limit.
The problem with experience (and perhaps this is just my problem, but I suspect not) is that with age it lends itself to memories and worst of all, imagination. Dropping into a technical descent is not a good time to let your imagination run free.
Usually my imagination starts to conjure up every possibility and outcome before I get to the descent, and before I know it instead of seeing a flowing descent all I can see are trees and rocks just waiting to knock me off.
On downhill descents you need to make your body and mind agree with each other and today was one of those times of mutual consent. As soon as I set off any negative thoughts vanished.
The descent was fast, technical and the terrain was constantly changing giving my mind a challenge to stay focused and pick the best line, but it was stunning. For those minutes that I was descending I was completely lost in the moment: my body was relaxed and flowing and my mind was in complete synchronicity with that feeling.
I reached the bottom, out of breath, contrary to what many people think riding downhill is not a case of “free-wheeling”. Especially on a mountain bike, every muscle is employed and the effort it takes to let your bike “flow” down the descent is akin to a full-body workout in the gym, but exercising all your muscles at the same time.
On this occasion it had been a while since I had last been out on my mountain bike and I could feel the burning in my thighs and shoulders chiding me for my lack of riding – I knew I would pay the next day with stiff and sore muscles. There is, however, a certain glee to be had from the pain of exercise. It’s a masochistic suffering that lets you know you are alive and it’s addictive.
One of the great things about cycling is the different emotions and feelings you can get, from road to track to mountain bike; each bike has its own experience. Even within the various disciplines of mountain biking the experiences can be hugely diverse and for me it is one of the reasons I will be cycling until my pedals fall off.
Where to Ride:
The Wee Triathlon – Glen Nevis – Fort William
March 14th 2020
Now in its 15th year, the Wee Triathlon is aimed at beginners and has been put together with a 400 metre pool swim, a three mile run and a 10 mile mixed terrain bike ride. The organisers say their aim is to encourage everyone to experience the world of triathlon – there is only one transition, so you get a rest between your swim and cycle.