“This is the true tale of a personal journey into the heart of darkness.
A passage lined with fear and loathing, heartache and despair, fascination and longing. A journey punctuated by learning and discovery and humiliation and realisation. A bicycle ride through the wilderness of the captive soul, passed desperation and drug addiction, public nudity and lost inhibition towards an awakening and a lost horizon. This is my Apocalypse Now. Sort of. ”
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noun – 1 an event involving great and widespread destruction. 2 (the apocalypse) the final destruction of the world, as described in the biblical book of Revelation.
noun – Northern England colloq or regional dialect meaning Nothing originates from nought
This is the true tale of a personal journey into the heart of darkness. A passage lined with fear and loathing, heartache and despair, fascination and longing. A journey punctuated by learning and discovery and humiliation and realisation. A bicycle ride through the wilderness of the captive soul, passed desperation and drug addiction, public nudity and lost inhibition towards an awakening and a lost horizon. This is my Apocalypse Now. Sort of.
Change, we are told, is a good thing. To a creature like me, one of habit and ritual, that is a hard pill to swallow Ã¢â‚¬â€œ especially when it is an idea bandied around by those you love (or rather canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t ignore).
I have been native to my trails for nearly twenty years. Long enough to know some of them on first name terms, lucky enough to have witnessed their growth from tiny pathlings into mature guides through an otherwise un-navigable landscape. And I kind of like it that way. I feel like this is a special relationship I am privileged to be associated with, not to be taken for granted and certainly not abandoned. A case of Ã¢â‚¬Ëœhave bike rack Ã¢â‚¬â€œ wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t travelÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ if you like. Sheltered? Missing out on all those new horizons? Maybe. But I have reached a kind of symbiosis with the patch of Mother NatureÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s own, that I care take on my Sunday mornings.
Sometimes however it is impossible and frankly wrong to ignore the wishes of others completely, or so I am told. So it was a case of friend has bike rack, will travel.
I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know why I suddenly decided to pull a wheelie right there on the top of SussexÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s South Downs, on the home turf of two of the three that would become my holy trinity seconds later, away from home on foreign soil (one county to the right), The excitement of the new? I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know, I suppose it was an anonymous impulse, just there long enough to launch me from my bike and land me in my own little Vietnam.
The helicopter was very cool. I could thoroughly understand anyone with the inclination and resources buying one to be honest. Three minutes and thirty miles later and the severity of the whole episode started to dawn. It is incredible how a single event can make that 20lb treasure trove of titanium and anodised lovliness that makes you look untrustingly at anyone that glances itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s way on the street, go so far into the back of your mind in an instant that you would let a total stranger take it back to his farm for you for safe keeping.
The Morphine was very un-cool. After the initial shock of how the nurse was going to administer my bodyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s new best friend, I was told Ã¢â‚¬Å“youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re gonna like thisÃ¢â‚¬? as the opiate was unleashed into my, up to that point, lifelong drug-free artery network. But it was the moment I saw the four faces up there peering down on me change their expression from humorous expectation through mild horror and on to complete revulsion, that I knew this was going to be a ride I wanted to get off before it started. Apparently (and I say apparently as the Polaroid didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t come out that well) I went a sort of custard yellow before my skin went translucent and the veins on my face shone out like a dark blue lava flow.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not sure if X-rays are cool or not. But they did highlight a compact fracture of the T12 vertebrae and signalled the beginning of a long stint of not quite being able to sit down stand up or lie anywhere without moaning.
The feeling that I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t care about cycling again as long as I could recover in general didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t last long – about a week actually. A week of looking longingly at the freshly recovered bike in the hallway with itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s twisted stem and seatpost. The chalky summer dust concealing that lovingly polished sheen it had not long before, just serving as a reminder of a world turned upside down in an instant.
Luckily blessed with an understanding employer and an internet connection in the living room, I bought another bike. Seemed logical. The sub 20lb rigid aluminium hardtail-ness of the project perhaps didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t, but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s amazing what you can get away with domestically when youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve just broken your back. In retrospect I shouldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve aimed higher than a second hand 00Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Klein Attitude but I was temporarily blinded by that paint job of paint jobs (weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve all done it Ã¢â‚¬â€œ been tempted to stray from our two wheeled soulmate for a Klein Ã¢â‚¬ËœBig Sky BlueÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ or Ã¢â‚¬ËœGator FadeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢).
But building a bike isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t that easy when you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t actually bend. So it became a sort of Ã¢â‚¬Ëœlight at the end of the tunnel fadeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ paint job and a bit of a nuisance in the corner instead and I moved on. And didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t because I couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really move very far. Which is when it all started to go a bit wrong.
Looking back, I realise that was the point at which my parallel journey with Martin Sheen really started to take shape. Think Ã¢â‚¬Ëœscene with the mirror in the hotel room and the Doors soundtrackÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and then think all this daytime TV makes Jack a dull boy and a bit of a depressed boy and actually a bit of a desperate sociopath. Although not actually smashing a mirror up with my fists, my first Nam flashback consisted of me shuffling out of the building to get some air for the first time in weeks only to hear the door latch shut and see through the glass, my house keys hanging on the inside. This would have been ok if only I hadnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t been wearing underpants and slippers and nothing else. And this would have been ok, if only I hadnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t decided to wander up the road to my motherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s house to plead asylum for the day until my wife returned from work eight hours later. But I shuffled the green mile of twitching curtains like a dead man walking (in slippers and underpants) with my pride some way behind hanging itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s head. To make matters worse, on arrival the only entertainment on offer was a video of Bridget JonesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Diary. Three showings in a row, a good film this does not make.
Long periods of boredom and self-loathing and even longer periods of loathing everything else were punctuated by occasional Vietnam flashbacks. Like the day I realised I was a junkie. I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t actually intend to become a drug addict, I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t suppose anybody really does. And I never really considered how it might take over your life until it crept up and kicked me in the guts when I ran out of Dyhydracodene Ã¢â‚¬â€œ something I had taken completely for granted until this moment. I thought I might go all Bruce Lee and block out the pain and see if it would lead to a road of enlightenment and well-being. It led to the bathroom and back to bed and back to the bathroom again. I reeled around in a somewhat limited capacity, crying in pain and going through cold sweats and hot flushes simultaneously in between visits to the bathroom for hours until my next fix arrived and I realised I couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have this monkey on my back, not yet. I needed to ease into it. So I had pills and all was fine in ten minutes. That confirmed it to me. I was hooked on what I understood to be an opium derivative. I was an abuser. In a way I was sorry when the Doctor dispelled the romance of my own little suburban halcyon. He could have let me keep some of my new found rock Ã¢â‚¬ËœnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ roll kudos when he told me I had gastric flu. But instead he told me to keep taking the Codeine as it was a constipate and would help. And because I wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t having withdrawal from painkillers, if I felt like I wanted to stop taking them, I should go ahead and do so and see what happened. So I did. And nothing happened. I quickly came to the realisation that hadnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t so much gone through cold turkey as a sort of room temperature tofu.
An entire Football world cup had passed and all my intentions of learning French, reading the novels I had always thought I should and writing childrenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s books and making a fortune had amounted to one thing. My only actual achievement and one I am ashamed of to this day was the completion of Ã¢â‚¬ËœRobocopÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ on the Ã¢â‚¬ËœGame BoyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. It wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even a new game and I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even like video games that much. It was just there and I completed it. It simply boiled down to that.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d always understood that the road movie is about the journey not the destination, and that a road movie doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t necessarily have to have any roads in it to qualify so it was clear now who my Col Kurtz was but why was he letting me just play computer games? Why wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t he pushing me to come to a moment of clarity?
Four years later I now realise I learned about myself from that summer that never was. I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t quite say how or what exactly, but I felt like I came out of a hibernation a stronger person. I definitely came out of a hibernation a fatter person. It is very hard to shield invalids from cake. Nor is it fair really. And for that I am utterly grateful to my dutiful and loving wife that let me put my short-term happiness ahead of my long-term health at least for three months.
Doubtless my riding has changed. I have replaced a need to go down hills fast with a want to go up them quickly. The Klein lasted one ride and became all too obviously a sign of a mid life crisis and was passed on. I still ride a hardtail after a sensible period on a softail. I consider myself incredibly lucky and although I couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t tell you what it is, I do feel I learned something truly important that summer. Maybe itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just a secret whispered between close friends? Trails and tyres and trees communicating silently on Sunday mornings. I wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t change that for the world.
By Wu-Tangled 2K+7