It began with two old friends; one of whom had already been inducted into the mountain biking fraternity and one who thought he knew the skill set required. A novice, finesse-less, fall at the very first switchback had the pair quietly pondering the wisdom of their respective decisions. The leader wanted to do what anyone with a passion wants to do; communicate this (passion) via a practical demonstration and shared involvement.
(It’s a bit like trying to get someone into Rush – the Canadian band behind one kind of musical nirvana imho…. You may feel, like Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins – who sat down with his mother and made her listen to Entre Nous (from Permanent Waves album) in the anticipation it would resonate with her lyrically and musically, and touch her, as it did him. Whether she instantly took to the tune or not, history does not recall but there is a basic truth here, this kind of passion cannot be easily understood and empathised with on the first run through.)
The novice wanted to follow in the footsteps of the Mount Tamalpais/Repack originals. He was visiting his friend in San Francisco and since he was being offered the chance, it appeared the most appropriate item to cross off his bucket list. Granted, a lifetime smoker who did about twenty, flat B-road/off road miles at the weekend and who would celebrate his 45th birthday that year was probably punching above his weight but what was the worst thing that could happen?
Miles of masochism later, the answer appeared to be burgeoning self doubt and cardiac arrest on the part of the novice and a test of patience worthy of Job…. coupled with a phenomenally slow Strava time for the more experienced guide. Still, minus any discernible bike skills, the novice was able to touch the Repack rock that signals the end of the trail and the induction into his own personal Hall of Fame.
Then a funny thing happened. It began to take hold after the descent and the adrenalin had morphed into a decent lunch with spouses in a leafy Marin County eatery. The novice had already donned his rose-tinted spectacles and was curiously keen for a more total immersion into the world of the sadomasochism that is cross country mountain biking.
A bit of commitment was obviously required here. Fuelled in part by the simply laddish desire never again to be whipped by his best mate and by the intensity of the original experience …. It began.
Fast forward through the purchase of a GPS device once back in the UK, the subscription to MBR and indeed any source that de-mystified rebound damping, 29 vs 26 (and now 650b/27.5 - I can't work out which is the Emperor's new clothes), the art of the manual and the appliance of science that is the Garmin Connect site.The novice who popped his cherry in the footsteps of Fisher, Breeze and Kelly knuckled down to a winter of UK record low temperatures looking for a hill in an area that was as flat as an old pub pool table. Not quite Norfolk but not the Lake District either.
And it was a solitary experience. The novice had a roadie mate who was staying on the roads......, or the turbo more likely. But with due respect to the skinny-tyre brigade, if the weather was less than clement the novice still preferred hedgerows to the freezer in his garage.
The novice applied some science and spent the winter laying down a base of Zone 2 fitness – maybe because a distant memory from a sport degree told him so but primarily because an interview with Dave Brailsford in a magazine confirmed it.
He didn’t need a degree to tell him that the continuation of smoking was probably a little counter-productive but hell, an addiction is just that; rational thought has to take a back seat – just ask a heroin addict. Anyway, he was making gains; nothing that would fundamentally prepare him for hurtling down the terrifying DH courses he saw on YouTube a la Steve Peat but some small ability to at least scale the hill that led to the down bit.
Enter the old friend. He had done a couple of 'Sacred Rides' holidays and was keen to involve his friend in a self-guided trip that would serve as continuing motivation to train and provide a definite goal upon which to focus. Thanks for everything you did mate. You bastard.
Trans-atlantic conversations somehow led to the commitment to the TRT in late July. www.tahoerimtrail.org There were to be no last minute, lost bottle, excuses because his mate generously used lots of his air miles to fly the novice out. It was a date and it was 5 months away.
A bit of research only served to terrify the novice. Lake Tahoe sits at 6250 feet, Freel Peak 11000. Not only was it 6 days of the TRT and all the unknown trail features he would encounter but uppermost in the mind of this particular smoker was the effect of the altitude and what he perceived as the very real possibility of his expiry date being reached in a blaze of circulatory system shutdown.
He did what many smokers would have done. He denied his addiction and just upped the training intensity by way of compensation. Johann Cruyff still smoked in ’74 when the Dutch played blinding total football at the World Cup they should have won – it wasn’t necessarily a barrier to excellence.
And the novice chose Cannock Chase as the ground upon which to hone his skills - mainly because it was the nearest. He was glad he did. Although slightly looked down upon by people who had access to more ‘authentic’ trail centres (which must be an oxymoron), the novice liked Cannock and the people that rode there. It was certainly enough of a challenge. Tom, Dick and Harry remained a sphincter-clenching section for a good while and the Werewolf Drop seemed too steep to ever deal with.
As he was being loaned a full-suss bike for the trip, it made sense to practice on one, so the novice rented out the whole Swinnerton Cycles’ fleet: Orange Fives, Trek Superfly’s, Yeti SB’s and the like. Combinations of Dogs and Monkeys on repeat, culminating in 3 whole laps in 80 degree early summer temperatures that must surely be preparation enough, he reasoned.
The novice was as ready as he could be…. Minus the fags of course.
The flight was in 5 days time…..