Sitting on the bus coming back from my most recent field trip chatting aimlessly with Sarah Osborne, half listening into Heather Willott's conversation from the seat in front of us and meandering vaguely about the topics of geology, family, work, life after uni and sport my mind stumbled across the idea of why I ride. This is a very common thought for me when I'm going through dark points in my life; as I've said many times before my riding is the thing that keeps me going, it's the thing I fall back on in times of need, it's been my constant for the last 6 or 7 years, I wouldn't be who I am without it, I wouldn't have met the people I have, I wouldn't have explored the places I have. I probably wouldn't be a Leeds student and I almost certainly wouldn't be a Victoria student without it as both universities were chosen primarily for their riding with educational value the second priority. As many more erudite and well-versed individuals have said over time (and if I were better read I would be able to quote someone here) our lives are the results of the many decisions we make on a daily basis. I would go further and to say that not only are our lives the result of our own choices, but also the result of the choices made by those around us, as as ever it is our friends and those around us who determine many of the opportunities open to us. I'm sure there could be some sociological study into the number of opportunities open to people and the relationship to the number of people they have contact with, although I'm sure this effect has diminished somewhat with the advent of the Internet which has undoubtedly provided many with previously unfathomable opportunities.
I digress; the thought that spawned this rambling was that of why I ride. Sarah was telling me of how she was pushed to run when she was younger by her parents, and appreciated this, it made her run harder, train more and achieve things she may not have been able to achieve otherwise. I however don't feel like I was ever pushed by my parents into doing anything, I can't say whether either parenting style is right or wrong, certainly Sarah is far more successful than me in her studies, and she has an incredibly bright future ahead of her. I would like to think I have a lot of opportunities for my future too, although my academic life may be somewhat limited by my attitude towards work, my love of riding and my occasionally poor time management (for example, this week is the busiest of my year so far and here I am spouting a crudely constructed blog on the basis of an off hand thought I had a day previous).
The fact that my parents never pushed me into any one thing allowed me great freedom to do as I pleased as I grew up, flicking from rugby, cricket and athletics onto riding, having had a short spell of being fascinated by the saxophone (I still plan on learning to play the saxophone later in life, purely for my own pleasure) before sport took over completely. If I'm honest the saxophone fascination was mostly due to one person who still plays a major part in my life; Sophie Dennis is my oldest and closest friend and a very talented musician who I wanted to impress (I'm sure she knows this so it should come as no surprise), however in doing this I discovered that although I have little musical talent I do have a real love of music. My world is not complete without music and I forever have songs running through my head, but I feel something similar to Stephen Fry ('Moab is my Washpot' is well worth a read) in that I cannot replicate the sounds that reverberate around my mind, much to my frustration.
I loved all the sports I competed in, but found that my body held me back, almost as much as my mind. When I found cycling thanks to my uncles and friend Morgan Jones I knew that this was what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life. I started off dreaming of being 'the next Steve Peat' although it would appear that the next Steve Peat is actually Steve Peat as he is still going strong and will hopefully continue to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. It didn't take me too long to realise that my fitness allowed me to ride xc pretty well and that DH was prohibitively expensive, especially for someone living in the flat South of England. For this reason and the Steve Peat link I have always felt that I should have grown up in the North. This really comes out in my poor attempt at a Yorkshire accent, and even more so when I am in Yorkshire. I apologise to any true Yorkshiremen, I don't mean any insult with my impersonations, it's merely a sign of admiration.
However even with my geographical limitation I continued to pursue the riding dream and I now find myself on the other side of the world with some of the most amazing riding around, a British National Championship race 9 weeks away (give or take) and glandular fever meaning that I can't train for it. So I find myself questioning why I ride, why I have spent so much of my money on my bikes, why I have given up so much time to riding, neglecting my studies and friendships along the way. I can't say it's for competition, I haven't won a race in over 2 years now and I can't see myself winning any any time soon (although coming close in local races in Wellington was lovely), yet I still continue riding and training (somewhat scrapily as work commitments get in the way more than I would like).
I gave a brief description of why I ride to Sarah, and it's an idea that's well formed in many people's minds and as such is well documented in cycling magazines, and I'm sure variants of it come from all sports people the world over.
The reason I ride is for that perfect moment. It may only come around once a year, it may come around daily. I could last for a fleeting second, or it may last for a whole ride. However long and frequent it is, the memory remains. The search for these moments is what gets me out of bed in the morning to ride, makes me brave the cold, wind and rain; has left me scared, broken and out of pocket, and what keeps me coming back every time wanting more. I have always said when it's not fun anymore I'll stop, but I'm not sure what that will take, there's always hope that you will have the chance for another perfect moment.
These moments are indefinable, they can sneak up on you at any time; you just have to give them the opportunity to be there by getting out there on your bike and riding. It could be a corner perfectly railed, shooting you out faster than you came in, the ripping sound as your tyres struggle for traction or the slop of mud. It could be a climb nailed, getting to the top like you had wings. It could come from all sorts of directions, it could even be a view that makes you stop and take note. All of these things have happened to me since Christmas and the memory of them and the realisation that they will come again sends shivers down my spine.
I'm so hungry to experience them again, and I know I will.
I made a promise to myself and to Sian that I would take a couple of years out after uni to try my hand at my sport and see how far I can take it. I feel that I owe it to myself to do this, even if I don't make it, if I can train hard for 2 years and get faster and experience more of these moments then it will be time well spent. Others may not understand it, a lack of results or anything tangible to show for my time would frustrate many, and does frustrate me constantly, but all I have to do is remember these moments and I know why it's worth it.
I don't think I'm special in this feeling, I'm just grateful that I can appreciate it. I look forward to ripping the trails up again, in the meantime I will continue to sift around. If you see me riding slowly up a hill in Wellington, don't laugh at me or pity me; I'm out there on my bike pursuing these moments, you never know, I might rail past you on the next descent.