Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Absolute Beginner Goes Wild - allwell

“Mountain biking?” was the question.

“Why not?” was the reply.

Well, mainly because I never had, and it was 10 years since I’d been on any kind of bike. But as an eight year old I was the proud owner of a Raleigh Grifter, so how difficult could it be?

I suppose it depends when and where you ride. In early August the forest-covered Sierra Nevada mountains of northern California boast sufficient heat and altitude to turn strolling into an extreme sport. So it was strange that neither the conditions nor the name of the trail concerned me, right up to the point that I failed to conquer the first incline of Mr Toad’s Wild Ride and rolled gracelessly back towards the highway.

At the second attempt I was away, pedalling furiously up woodland, steep, dry and at twice the height of Ben Nevis. Soon my path was blocked by a jumble of rocks known charmingly, but wholly inappropriately, as a garden, conjuring images of calm, relaxation and perhaps a little skipping instead of fear, trepidation and a whole heap of pain. It was the first test of my technical skills; I failed miserably, thudding to a halt against the trunk of a tree.

Enthusiasm undimmed, I continued. The sky was huge, the sun high and the air thin. My nostrils filled with the scent of pine, my eyes with an ocean of sparkling flowers, my lungs with nothing. My body poured with sweat and my hands shed their skin. Bugs feasted, undetected, on my flesh as I faltered in the dirt. Trail truly became trial when a man twice my age passed at twice my speed, provoking in me a self-loathing that knowledge of his recent heart surgery did little to soothe.

Far below, Lake Tahoe shimmered, rippling with all the activity of a resort in high season, but at the summit the only movement was a chipmunk’s scurry, the only noise a cyclist’s gasp. As if tossed nonchalantly by a giant’s hand, huge orange boulders littered the track; vegetation was sparse. Rather than celebrating an inept but bold ascent, I shuddered, understanding that incompetence is more dangerous when you’re going downhill.

Some time later, clambering down a ferocious ‘garden’ with my bike on my shoulder and long since resigned to failure, I asked whether it was possible to ride such terrain. The answer came quickly. Hearing a shout, I turned to glimpse a blur of colour then, with my swiftest and most effective manoeuvre of the day, dived to one side. A fleeting whirring noise, a gust of wind and it was gone, a fellow rider whose solution to the horror of Toad’s was simple: air-borne, he soared rather than rolled. It was a humbling sight.

As the day closed I finished, grimy, exhausted and relatively unscathed, leaving nothing more than my pride on the hillside but vowing never again to set arse on a bike.

Four days later I rode once more.


offside said...

I was in Tahoe once. At the casino. Played ten bucks at the slot machines. Made a hundred in ten minutes. Had a nice meal upstairs. Took me all night to lose the rest again. They give you free drink as long as you keep playing. It did my head in. Felt about the same, actually. Except I never went back.

allwell, your writing is much better than your riding. It looks effortless by comparison.

BlueinBetis said...



all, well..., well!

All well?

allwell said...

Thanks offside. I bought a bike when I got home. I'm still completely shite though.

Tahoe is a strange place: 70-odd miles of beautiful shoreline, then as you pass from California into Nevada, about half a mile of concrete and neon monstrosity.

Those casinos are pretty desperate places. I saw a song and dance group performing a painfully cheesy number to an audience of none. And they were miming. Those people once had hopes and dreams...

blueinbetis, are you alright?

greengrass said...

good 'un!


guitougoal said...

very enjoyable piece.I drive often to Tahoe from L.A, through Bishop, past Bishop every 50 miles you move to a different surrounding with spectacular views of mountain scenery.Yes mountain bike , it's tough and humbling but most of all could be dangerous up-there.

offside said...


where is home? Do tell us about you if you have the time.

BlueinBetis said...


All well, all well!

(I just like your name, it's a question, a pause, a statement, and a name! If I get banned from GU, I'm coming back as 'koff! for the same rationale...I have had posts deleted now, so I'm getting there. Still some way to go, but at least I am improving my average.)

Just a way to say all is well, with allwell's allwell writing.

No, it seem's I am not....all well in the head that is. Too many beers, and SWP goals, they are shitting themselves in Manchester now... Get in you Blues!

ahem bedtime.

Night All(well)!

mimi said...

allwell: I enjoyed reading this and was instantly thrown back to my first tricycle accident (aged about 4). strange how those early traumas don't put you off!

bluedaddy said...

Mimi, I had a great trike accident aged about five or six. My sister or brother was towing me round the block on her/his pushbike. In my hand I clutched a diluted bottle of Quosh orange squash. A glass bottle. A tight bend. An outstretched hand. A bloody mess.

bluedaddy said...

Sorry allwell. A bit rude. I liked this. Never done mountain biking. But urban death racing is good too.

guitougoal said...

Bluedaddy,you should be excused by Allwell just because you had a bad trike accident at 5.

allwell said...


About me? Well alldull might be a better name, especially when compared to the cosmopolitan residents of this site.

Grew up in the sparkling city of seven hills (Sheffield, obviously). Now live in Harrogate. If I say it's a Yorkshire spa town and recent European floral champion, that should tell you all you need to know.

I've a very dull job and do a bit of writing on the bus on the way to work. Would love to do more, but BigBlogger helped me realise that it's pretty unlikely.

God, that sounded depressing.

Bluedaddy, great trike accident. I was pretty fearless as a nipper until I fashioned a ramp out of a bit of board and three house bricks. All was great until a friend somersaulted gracefully before landing in the road on his back. Messy. On reflection, I don't think a racing road bike was the best choice of weapon. Still, it put a stop to my shenanigans quite sharpish.

offside said...


Why don't you do like everyone else here? Pretend!

Allwell (seriously, the other name doesn't suit you),

thanks fot that. And don't give up the writing, it's allgood.

greengrass said...

Yes, BiB, us Red Devils are really shitting bricks now!
Dream scenario: we both win all our remaining games, but you lot manage a
1-0 victory at your Roman Villa.
We snitch the title on goal difference - totally just, since goals = entertainment.

mimi said...

allwell: my nephew is now in Sheffield and honestly, it sounds pretty exciting to me! He just picked up his first penalty points on driving licence whilst pursuing some studentesque challenge!
Harrogate is nice, but of north Yorks towns with which I'm familiar, might you not have been beaten by Ripon in the floral comp? I seem to remember some rather splendid displays there. Also Ripon is closer to Brimham Rocks as I recall and has more Cistercian abbeys to call on.

allwell said...


Yeah, Sheffield is great. It'll never be a top tourist destination but as a place to live it's not bad at all. People who grow up there tend to stay there, or at least return once they've been away.

Ripon is pleasant enough and it does have the abbeys but when it comes to flowers Harrogate rules.

Maybe that should be their new marketing slogan: "When it comes to flowers, Harrogate rules"

That'll have the tourist punters flooding in.

mimi said...

allwell: I've heard you have some rather special tea-rooms as well as the flowers. A slogan should surely include
and you can have a nice teacake too?

MotM said...

Allwell - Busy, so very late to your excellent piece. Big Blogger convinced me that I could write and make people (well person - me) laugh. And you should feel the same!!

I've ridden bikes and motorbikes aplenty and loved every second, especially riding from Liverpool to York through your neck of the woods - perfect. Never done mountain biking and too old now, I suspect!

Never been to Tahoe, but my brother did a journey that I would just love to do: 11 hours work in The City - 11 hours plane to LA - 11 hours Harley-Davidson to Vegas - 4 days Stag Night - reverse to get home.

Tweet it, digg it