As ever I have a whole new reason why I’ve not ridden my bike as much as I would have liked lately. And, as ever, I can’t really blame anyone for it other than myself. It seemed so very logical, if not even required, that a family of 5 with 3 young (one very young) children and busy lives clearly needed a little more complexity. Perfect answer? A puppy. Obviously. While I was expecting it to eat into my already precious bike time, I wasn’t expecting the almost miraculous effect its had on my local trail riding. I’m here to tell you people, if your a time-starved mountain biker what you need is a mutt!
To be specific, and frankly I am a bit of a snob about this, the ‘mutt’ in question isn’t in fact a mutt at all. Daisy (D-dog, Crazy Daisy, Boggy Dog, Bogs, Daft hound, Where is that hound, Stop doing that hound, and even: STOP CHEWING THAT!, are also well-utilised monikers) is actually a pedigree pup, a wonderful four legged invention called a working type cocker spaniel. A lemon and white working cocker spaniel to be specific and as such no mutt at all. Neither it turns out is she ever going to be a mountain biker, which should come as no real surprise considering the general arm/leg/paw ratio considerations. No, not a biker at all, but what she is is marvellous at covering technical terrain quickly. She has an uncanny knack of discovering just the right way to move around that terrain. A veritable truffle hound for trails.
So what the heck has this got to do with mountain biking, bikes or our sport in general? The answer fellow bikers is simple. Picture the grey drizzle of the English anti summer (let’s face it 10 degrees cooler with less sunshine and slightly more rain than the rest of the year isn’t really the Hallmark of a real winter image. I like to think of the winter in the South West of England recently as ‘wetter air’). The days are short, whilst work is still long and the trails are that abysmal product of months of continual moistness: mud. Getting out on your bike for short blasts is almost a chore as it takes longer to clean up afterwards than you actually ride so its big days in the saddle or nothing and if your a work/family balance is already tricky time for trips of that nature isn’t alway easy to come by.
So here I am, a mutt marching warrior in the battle of Drizzle mountain (hill really, don’t want to over cook it.) with no choice but to take the four legged masticator on twice daily marches. After a few days of marching the local park boredom sets in for both me and Miss Mutt and attention turns to our local wood. A simple 2.5 x 1 mile wooded hill with a viable 200 vertical feet of ascent/decent available in multiple spots and a well-developed web of single track. The thing is I had no desire to go ride it even though it was my best chance at any kind of off-road riding, I thought I knew each and every trail, how to ride them, the lines, the details.I have been riding that hill since I was 10 after all. Then I had someone else look at them through a fresh set of eyes. Even if the eyes see in monochrome and are only 12 inches from the ground.
Heading out with a new trail buddy, at the slower pace of a walk or jog, offered the chance to look at new bits of single track some of which you simply wouldn’t see even at low speed on a bike. And this was infused by Daisy’s innate ability to cover ground quickly. Short legs, boundless energy and an unceasing desire to move quickly lead Daisy the Dog to head off down trails I hadn’t considered. Yes, some of them not really bike friendly but all of them open to a little trail love and all of them oddly connecting due to Daisy’s complete unacceptance of the idea of a dead end.
Then the miracle that is springtime begins to creep into the wood. Mr. Sunshine starts opening the day for business earlier and the trails dry out. But now the slow pace of curiosity has stepped up a gear. Now me and team Dog are finding the edges of a loop. We’re refining it, running it and considering the climbs and descents. And here the kicker: I realise I’m looking at this as bike viable. I’m adjusting the trail to a challenging, tight, technical singletrack lap. 4.1km long with a thousand feet of up and a thousand feet of down and I want to ride, it I really do. I’m inventing names for the Strava segment, I’m relishing the idea of showing my mates a challenge on our doorstep suitable for a lunch hour competition.
Daisy starts to know the trail so now we’re moving faster, still only running it but already considering lines, already working out how to shave a few seconds off here and there. And I’m back. The ever reliable Eleanor (Trek Stache 8 29’er, my trusty, much loved bike of choice fondly referred to as Eleanor) is dragged from the shed where she’s been languishing in a pile of dust and sees the soggy end of the hose. I start cautiously suggesting to our Facebook riding group that I may be looking to ride, but only in short bursts due to time commitments etc….
The truth is there is nothing better to clear the stress of a busy week than a guilt-free blast on the bike, and D-Dog the crazy cocker has to run after all. So if you’re in a slump the message is simple, get off the bike. If your a true biker eventually walking/running trail will start to light the fires of pedaling desire. Don’t give in quickly, hold off, wait for the trail to look and feel perfect. You’ll get to the point where you just have to ride. And apparently the perfect accessory to the process is a barking (literally) mad puppy. Who knew…..