A favourite homily of my Granny C’s was the pithy caution that, ‘Pride comes before a fall’
She was so right.
You know with cycling how some days nothing seems to go well, you’re tired, you’re sluggish, the hills go on forever and you wonder what drives you to do it…..? Well, it’s the exact opposite of those times that keep us hanging in there. The times when you head out and suddenly, it all begins to fall into place, muscles are pumping, it’s nearly effortless, you’re hitting every line, corner, jump spot on. Move to the side of the trail Danny Macskill, see you at the top Sir Bradley Wiggins. Well recently it’s been just like that!
For the past month both on and off road I’d been flying. Even commuting into work I’d be sailing down the road, panniers flying, overtaking cars. On the mountain bike especially it had finally, noticeably been coming together.
After pushing to my limits in the mountains of Spain in March, suddenly the local terrain was seeming much more, do-able. I was actually descending with some semblance of control, steering and plotting my lines rather than hanging on for dear life.
Drop offs were getting bigger and better as were jumps, actually moving through the air, I was soaring and so was my confidence, and, as that increased so, in direct proportion, did my ability. I was loving it, I was feeling great, RedBull Rampage here I come.
The mathematician in me knew that such a graph would have to reach a limit sometime. Instead of 2 parallel lines of confidence and ability stretching forever into the universe, that at some point the two would almost certainly converge, but then what?
Pride comes before a fall.
Enjoying the lighter evenings I’d taken the opportunity to head to one of my usual, and favourite riding areas. Local heathland with some lovely downhill sections, jumps, drop offs and berms. A spell of dry weather meant that the winter mud was finally receding, giving way to lush foliage and springy ground.
From the outset my riding wasn’t on top form but was still going well. Nailing a couple of my favourite jumps but making a mess of other obstacles, it was a bit of a see-saw ride. Unwilling to lose the recent heady confidence I persuaded myself to tackle a steep, technical downhill I’d never previously managed. The one time I had tried, a slow motion tumble had put me off repeating it.
Walking the track first I plotted my line before scrambling back to the top to give it a go. Saddle dropped right down, face set in determination I rode over the overhanging lip and dropped into the unknown. Pelting down the first steep, tight, slippery ledges the bike then took its own course, no longer in control the wheels bounced, plunged and skidded. Careening down the last slope, somehow I stayed upright, reaching the bottom shaking but elated, safe.
In hindsight, that would have been a really good time to stop. But hindsight is a wonderful thing. Pumped up on confidence and adrenalin I wanted to do a final, favourite trail. A steep downhill with a top section involving a seething mass of treacherous tree roots which rose, haphazardly nearly a foot off the floor in places.
Scouting a new line I set off over the steep, rooty, gnarled lip of the hill. The tyres bounced their usual once, twice, then something went wrong.
Looking back it’s a bit of a blur. Instead of sliding between roots the bike was thrown sideways with full momentum, I had milli-seconds of knowing it hadn’t gone as planned before, at speed, the front wheel slammed into the earth sending me over the handlebars and head first onto the ground.
The last thing I remember is feeling the bike roll across me before everything was blocked out by the most intense explosion of pain.
The next half an hour is a concentration of everything that is ouch and not something to dwell on. A quick inventory of injuries showed that at least I could walk so, with the help of my wonderful friend, we strapped up my arms in make-shift splints and, with him pushing/carrying bikes, I limped down off the trail to walk the quarter mile to civilization.
Human beings never cease to amaze me with their generosity, especially when a bloody, muddy, snotty, incoherent cyclist turns up on their doorstep in the Sunday twilight asking for help from a random homeowner.
But help there was from the first house we tried. The lovely resident not only stored our bikes but drove us to our car so we could get to hospital, all without batting an eyelid.
Roll on 24 hours and I have managed to gain one fractured left wrist (scaphoid) and one dislocated right shoulder with torn rotator cuff. One arm is plastered, the other in a sling, plus a few colourful cuts and bruises. Beautiful.
So, is there a moral to the story after all? Did pride really come before a fall?
You could look at it that way, but I prefer to think it’s just plain old bad luck, especially given the thousands of bike miles I’ve clocked up over time. I’ll certainly be back riding too, although that is going to be a good few months yet. Cycling has given me some of the best moments, experiences and friendships of my life, as well as fitness, peace and well-being. I’m not going to trade that.
The experience as ever, has also brought out some wonderful positives such as the complete kindness of strangers who help in times of distress.
The amazing dedication of staff in the local NHS Accident and Emergency department who, whilst constantly working at capacity, were professional, adept and kind. Having witnessed first-hand the inequalities of treatment in developing and other countries I challenge any detractors of our marvellous healthcare system to find a better social model.
The brilliance and necessity of cycle helmets.
And finally, how lucky I am to have such amazing friends and family, who instantly rallied round to help with life, the universe, housework, hot meals and company.
With 2 arms bandaged I may look like a right muppet at the moment, but I am one very lucky one in so many ways. So, to end with some more of Grandma’s wise words, I guess that. ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger….’
Photo credits/genius to Daylight and Clare, thank you.