I love horses, especially with tasty gravy

While at work today I received a whatsapp from my mate Renay. “I just rode horse trails.they were muddy, the roots were wet, and it was awesome.”

Fortunately I had my bike at work, as well as my kit, including my headlamp, in my car. So, then and there it was decided; my commute home would involve a detour via the horse trails.

Growing up, my brother Brian and I, as young mountain bikers, did not get on well with horses. This was for good reason; they rode on mountain bike trails, some of which we had laboured to build, they made these previously nice trails into a sandy mess, and to top it all off, they were allowed access to parts of the mountain that mountain bikers were banned from because, so we were told, mountain biking is destructive and causes erosion.

The last time I checked a large heavy horse, with hooves that are small relative to the size of the beast, exerts far more pressure on terrain than any group of mountain bikers could ever dream of. Remember; pressure equals force divided by area. I digress.

Back then life was simple; eat, go to school, eat, go home, eat, ride, search for new trails, find new trails, build new trails, eat, sleep, repeat. There were no enemies except for horses. However, Lindsay, if you read this, you are ok and we like your horses. We know you don’t ride your horses on mountain bike trails.

Getting back to this evening… there is this trail that has been attributed to horses. However, it is a perfect mountain bike trail, and I think it was always destined to be such. Horses have not ridden there in ages. I know this because the trail was smooth and not full of hoof holes.

As I found the trailhead I turned my light on. The trail was perfectly illuminated as far as I needed to see. Beyond that the trees of the forest were silhouetted by the city lights. I was the only one there and it felt like 20 years ago, when just about every time my brother and I went mountain biking we were the only ones there. Light rain started to fall as I descended the mountain through the refreshing chill of the autumn air. The trail, although muddy was strangely grippy and I realised that I had some margin to speed up a little even though it was dark. Importantly, I obeyed one of mountain biking’s many golden rules: do not hit slippery roots at any angle other than a right angle. This helped me keep things rubber side down and ensured that I had a lot of fun!

As the smile broadened across my face I thought, although subconsciously at the time, this is one thing to add to the list, that every mountain biker knows and understands, of what it means to be a mountain biker!

Hey Renay, you were so right, it was awesome- thanks for the heads up!

Hey Brian, get your ass over here- I miss riding with you!

You don’t get strong when you train, you get strong when you rest

Seasons are wonderful. The first rains in autumn are so refreshing. It feels good as the days shorten and the air gets a bit chilly in the evenings. The same is true in spring; we cannot wait for the hot weather and the long days that go on and on. We need the change. We need the seasons.

In life, as in nature, we go through seasons. I believe in seasons of trial and seasons of rest. As with a lot of my thinking, this thought is rooted in a cycling analogy. It goes something like this. You do not get strong when you train, you get strong when you rest, assuming of course, that you have trained. Simply put, athletes who train all the time will burn out. They will not get stronger if they train all the time. Recovery drinks, Mondays off after hard riding on the weekends and chugging some L-glutamine before at least 8 hours’ sleep is where strength comes from! Rest days, rest weeks, rest seasons; you cannot hammer hard all the time. Contrary to making gains in strength, you will actually regress.

It’s important to know what season you are in. Training or racing when you should be resting will lead to reduced performance and a lack of joy. Resting when you should be training, or racing, will make you sluggish and fat. Most of us, in life, I think, do not recognise when we should be resting. We need to understand when life has been hard, when we have gone through some sort of trial, that just “carrying on” is not what we need.

After a season of trial there will always be a season of rest in the same way that summer follows winter. “There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning” – Psalm 30 v 5. Just “carrying on” when you should be resting is like going to the beach in summer dressed with a scarf. It sounds crazy, but we are a lot better at discerning the natural seasons than the other seasons in life. You need to recognise the change in the season, change the way you think, and change the way you act. You will need the strength you gain in season of rest for the next season of labour and trial so that you can overcome it, and be victorious through it.

Trees have growth rings, they show the seasons of rapid growth and the seasons of slower growth. We must live in the seasons of life, the seasons of trial and the seasons of rest, the seasons of slow growth and the seasons of faster growth. This is necessary so that when each season draws to a close, we will enjoy the change in season, having gained what that season had to offer us. After resting well we will relish a trial, and after a season of fighting hard we can put the weapons down and rest. We will expect and love the change as much as we long for the refreshing rains after a long dry summer, or the warm summer nights after a freezing winter.

Suffering got me thinking good thoughts

A week or two ago I participated in the ninety niner cycle race. I started in E group, which started out far too slowly for a race, so I decided to hammer hard from the start and see how far an all out effort would take me. It was raining and quite windy in sections. The out of season rain had dissolved what I thought to be fertiliser and other chemical which had been spilt on the road by farm trucks and the water that sprayed up from other riders’ wheels left a funny taste in my mouth. I was enjoying the race though.

Towards the end of the ride, after bridging the gap from group to group, and riding among C and D group my legs had given just about all that they could. As I was approaching Vissershok, which has a decent 1.1km stretch at 9% gradient, I had a flashback to one of the last times I can remember riding out in the Northern Suburbs. It was the 1992 Falke Funride, my second ever funride. I was 11 years old and I was inexperienced. You cannot buy experience. I was suffering out somewhere in the farmlands, when I decided it was time for some nutrition. I hauled out the energy supplement of that era, corn syrup! I can remember riding along on my “outeniqua” mountain bike fussing with the sachet and really battling to open it. I decided that I needed two hands and promptly slammed on brakes! No sooner had I done this, a big fat dude slammed into the back of me and we both crashed. I landed on his lap. I remember him being very upset and I also remember that he was riding a very nice bike – and that the seat tore in the incident.

I rode off, a bit shaken, and wondering why such a big guy was drafting an 11 year old!

As I ground up Vissershok in the ninety niner I thought about that crash, and I thought about how long I have been cycling for and how so much has changed in the interim, from sports nutrition, to the bikes we ride these-days and to how much harder it is for me to climb these days because I am so much heavier. I thought about how in those days I would hit the wall hard, often with more than 50km to go in a ride and how I could ride a serious distance in a hypoglycemic state. I thought about how in that state of suffering, quick strong riders doing the “long route”, with massive calf muscles and with A, B, C, D and E numbers on their backs would fly past me as I limped to the finish line. I thought about how I would lie on the couch broken for the rest of the day. They were all good, pleasant thoughts that I look back on with massive fondness now. And I figured that often the key to enduring suffering is the awesome memories that emerge and the experiences that you cherish. Because of the memories of my early cycling days, I have got to say that I enjoyed the ninety niner a whole lot more than I would have otherwise, and Vissershok became a special reminder of awesome memories, and not just an incredibly difficult climb ending an otherwise pretty miserable race.