Mechagouki wins our inaugaral Story of the Season writing contest with his piece entitled “Summer Ride”. Enjoy
Awake. The heat in the room is already uncomfortable and the reddish glow around the curtains tells me I’m late for work. Except this is July 15th 1992, and if I have a job I don’t care about it, and for a day like this, I’d probably consider skipping. I roll out of bed and stumble to the bathroom, through the frosted glass I can see it is one of those summer days where the sun’s radiance is almost overwhelming, a chrome-white glare that squints eyes and burns skin.
Back in my bedsit I see what the fridge has to offer; stale white bread, a near empty tub of margarine and a bottle of HP sauce – breakfast of champions! I make tea and dress from the pile of clothes in the corner that may or may not need laundering, cut down combat pants and a ragged Oakley tee so worn and old it is translucent in places. I pull on an equally threadbare pair of slip-on Vans and check my day-pack: Cool tool, tube with only a couple of patches already, Zefal Mini pump, and a spoke wrench. I’m all set. I put on my pack, hook my Frogskins into the front of my shirt and briefly consider the dusty helmet hanging on the back of the door – not today I think.
Sitting under the window at the front of the room is my 1991 Marin Bear Valley, looking stealthy and rugged in its oh-so-cool Zolatone paint. It’s wearing M732 derailleurs, M734 brakes, a Flite saddle and onza bar-ends, and I’ve sprayed the fork and stem neon-pink so I know I won’t see another like it. I love this bike; it’s 1992, and I don’t care about the fact it weighs 27 pounds, has no suspension, is mid-range. It’s shown me something about myself, given me a direction in life that has nothing to do with getting a good job, a mortgage, what everybody wants?
Outside and the day is as I suspected, I’m glad I bought two bottles, snug in their neon cages. I roll to the corner store and buy a couple of Mars bars to sustain me. Then it’s back on the bike and through the town to Paradise.
Paradise woods, aptly named, sit at the very end of the South Downs Way. A super-green canopy of foliage that hides a natural bike-park created when the ‘hurricane’ of 1987 tore through East Sussex. I’m tempted to stop and play in the ’big dipper’ for a while – a near vertical (or so it seemed back then) drop into a ravine that grabs you and hurtles you up the other side, laughing and exhilarated.
But I’ve already chosen my destination for the day , so I ride up the side of the woods, the climb enough to have me panting in just a few minutes, endorphins start flowing and by the time I reach the Beachy Head road I’m grinning like an idiot.
The trail levels out here and I roll along at a leisurely pace, enjoying the greenness, the smells of summer, and the breeze that couldn’t make it into town. I ride past milestones and markers, relics of days past when this ancient trail was the main thoroughfare along the south coast of England – no engines, no tarmac.
Time ceases to matter, the cadence of my legs, the noise of the chain, and the heat lull me into a pleasant stupor, and sooner than I expect I find myself at the top of the ‘Bone Shaker’ a rutted, bumpy trail of bare chalk that descends steeply into the village of Jevington, strewn with loose pebbles and dappled with shadow thrown by a parallel line of trees, it demands my full attention. I snug my feet into the PowerGrips bolted to my Tioga pedals, lift myself out of the seat and let gravity take me.
The vibration and speed plant a thought in my mind that crashing now would hurt a great deal, I push it away, force myself to loosen my grip on the bar, and try to pick the best line I can. It’s like flying, falling, no real control…it’s about giving up control I think.
I survive and roll to the Jevington Tea Rooms, where a welcome cuppa and wonderful baked goods await. Sitting outside, the adrenaline subsiding, I am struck again by how much my mountain bike has given me. I really do love this.
And I still have the ride home…