I don’t know who first said that wisdom comes with age. Perhaps it was someone in the Bible. Or maybe it was Shakespeare, although I reckon he was too clever to say something like that. But whoever it was, I certainly don’t believe it, especially considering my recent cycling experience.
It all began last weekend, you see, when I went cycling in Wales with a couple of friends, something that we do from time to time. Usually we just mountainbike, but this time, for the first time, we also took road bikes. We stopped in the Midlands on Friday evening, where we had a casual ride through the Worcestershire countryside, a great leg loosener, especially for Tim, who was riding his road bike for the first time.
The next day we went to Bike Park Wales, a new mtb centre near Merthyr Tydfil that we wanted to try out. The riding experience there turned out to be quite different from what we were used to: instead of cross-country with a few downhills, BPW is all about a long climb, followed by a choice of downhills, graded beginner (green), intermediate (blue), advanced (red) and expert (black). Normally I would be quite happy to ride the red routes, but on this instance (fortunately) we opted to begin on the blue, and then planned to progress to the red. The ride up to the top was aptly named Beast of Burden, a 4.6km climb to the summit (rising 180m in the first 2km). I don’t mind the long climbs – somehow, they seem to suit me. It’s like Gabriel Garcia Marquez says: “Age isn’t how old you are but how old you feel,” and I felt great on the climb.
From the top we opted first for the 2.2km Sixtapod descent (there must be some history to these names, but we didn’t ask). Sixtapod, like all the descents, turned out to be a helter-skelter, rollercoaster, white-knuckle, spine-chilling bucking bronco of a ride, where we twisted through sandy berms, plunged into forest darkness to pinball between the trees, and were then spewed out onto rocky slopes that bounced us out of the saddle. Touching the brakes would have spelt certain disaster. Clearly I had forgotten the words of Charles M Schulz, that wonderful philosopher and creator of Charlie Brown: ”Just remember, when you’re over the hill, you begin to pick up speed.” Well, all I can say that in all of my 60 years, I have never gone downhill so fast on a mountain bike. Age certainly had not given me enough wisdom to say no, because we went straight back to the top to experience the thrills of Melted Welly, Blue Belle, Sixtapod again and then Willy Waver, all of them blue routes (we didn’t dare try the red). And that, folks, was more than enough excitement for one day.
On Sunday we decided to ride from Tredegar, where we were staying, up through Abergavenny and towards the Brecon Beacons. This was to be a nice, steady-paced road ride, nothing stupid, nothing outrageous, just a pleasant Sunday ride with tea and cake halfway – the antithesis of the previous day’s mountain mayhem. That was the intention, anyway. We hadn’t thoroughly checked out our route beforehand, we just allowed Tim to follow his iPhone as we went along.
And that is how we landed up climbing The Tumble, a 6km climb that tops out at just over 500m above sea level, and which will serve as a mountain finish in the Tour of Britain on September 8. In A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway spoke of “the great fallacy: the widsom of old men. They do not grow wise. They grow careful.” Well, I thought that Careful was my middle name, but on that descent, nearly 4km down windy, rough-surfaced tarmac, I proved that I am neither Wise nor Careful. Of course, I blame Andrew, because he set off first and I was just trying to catch up to him. It was about when my speed topped out at 72km/h that I remembered my skinny tyres were rather worn, and I no longer had the benefit of a mountain bike’s disc brakes. It wasn’t because my back wheel began drifting on a bend that I braked, rather, it was the thought of crossing a cattle grid at full pelt. A pinch-puncture going into a hairpin bend was not an edifying thought.
Which all goes to show, as you grow older, you don’t necessarily grow wiser, or even more careful. To become wise, or even just careful, you have to grow up first. And I’m hoping to do that sometime soon.