Riding Vicariously

We’re funny creatures, aren’t we? In a world of infinite distraction, unknowable mystery and singular beauty (not to mention the internet), human beings are drawn to boredom like a toddler to exposed electrical sockets, among our many other faults. Despite ourselves, we seem to have an unerring ability to pass from novel amazement to outright disinterest in the blink of an eye. The Second Coming would grow old pretty quickly if it was on every other Tuesday – there would be mutters of “I liked his earlier stuff better, to be honest…” and we would all go back to our cat pictures on google. We would.

The enlightened masses of the cycling world are no better – did you really need to replace that bike, those shoes that weren’t worn out yet? Or are we all just in it for the quick thrill of retail therapy, needing new things just for the passing kick of novelty? Perhaps don’t answer that question. Many a marketing manager is dependent on our limitless capacity for boredom with yesterday’s must-have new toy, and I suspect we all know it.

The more the merrier!
The more the merrier!

In many ways I’m very lucky – working as a guide in Highland Scotland, my office is an ever-changing line towards the horizon, with a cast of companions that change from one day to the next. Sometimes that horizon line is a little closer, when rain or clouds of blood-hungry midges blot out the sun, and it’s not all smiles when there are tricky decisions to be made, but the operative word is definitely ‘variety’ when it comes to my day-to-day routine.

So my confession is this – even Scotland’s finest can become dulled around the edges, even after I dream of those same trails all winter long. Keeping up the motivation to go riding on a day off can be difficult when a sometimes-blurry line separates work and play. At the risk of sounding ungrateful, familiarity can make us take almost anything for granted, no matter how jaw dropping it was the first, second or even the third time round. I try to manhandle my brain back to the first time I rode a trail, to that frame of mind in which you start giggling involuntarily from the corner of your mouth, when a new trail drops like manna from heaven and suddenly your world is a little bigger. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning, and that’s why I do what I do, but from time to time the seed of excitement that started it all gets smothered. I no longer ride in the moment. Think about the trails close to home – do you look at them the same way that you did when you first rode them, or has trail romance become the slow burn of amiable companionship?

So sometimes I ride vicariously. Sometimes, I don’t look out to the trail or the landscape after catching my breath at the top of a climb, and I don’t reach straight for the camera to grab a photo for Instasmug™. I look at the faces of the people that have come with me to these places, and I like to imagine that I had the same expression when I first fought my way up here, right down to the drool hanging from my open mouth. Nothing shakes off the smug mask of that ‘been here, seen it before’ attitude than when someone points out a detail that you’ve never noticed before: it might be the play of the light on an otherwise non-descript lochain, or a line through that tricky section that you just never stopped to look for. More and more, I’m beginning to think that the ‘where’ element of an adventure plays second fiddle to the ‘who’ – good stories take place in good company.

When/if I’m doing my job right, and the grins start to split tired faces, letting whoops and shouts escape at random, I remember why I’m so happy to take people to places that inspired me. Sometimes I’m passing down a favour, showing them sights that were shown to me by someone else, and sometimes I feel I’m passing on a dirty secret. “Hey, you guys want to see somewhere cool…?”

There's trail gold in them hills...
There’s trail gold in them hills…

It all boils down to this: don’t hoard your trails; share the love! Don’t get stuck in a rut with those same familiar routes until they become a chore and the love is gone. Spice things up – better word this carefully – by getting someone else involved in your trail love life. Who knows, you might see the most familiar ride with a whole new set of eyes, and perhaps receive an invitation to a tour of someone else’s secret trails in return. They might even break out some Haribo as an offering to your god-like trail knowledge…

So stop reading long-winded internet columns, invite someone to come and ride your local loop, and enjoy watching their wide-eyed smile at the bottom of the hidden magic carpet ride that you’ve been keeping a closely-guarded secret, you greedy soul. Trust me, it feels good.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Vik says:

    I had occasion this summer to have some free time with my bike in a spot I’ve always wanted to ride. However, I just wasn’t feeling it. I spent the day not setting up my tent and not riding my bike. By the afternoon I concluded that I just didn’t feel like riding my bike this one time and that was okay. I jumped in my truck, drove home and spent a few days doing other non-bikey things.

    I’ve been a mountain biker for close to 30yrs and a life long cyclist. It’s easy to assume that riding a bike is always the right answer, but you know what sometimes it’s not.

    After those few days off I got back on my bike and enjoyed the heck out of my riding again.

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