If you’re keeping up at the back, you’ll know that this week’s sport, mountain biking, is my THIRTIETH, which means that I’ve eight left to go and only four weeks in which to finish this ever so silly project. If you’ve been following me on Twitter (pros: updates are quicker, cons: frequently reference to R Kelly) however, you’ll know that I tried mountain biking two weeks ago and have crossed another sport off the list already, I’m just too lazy to have written either of them up. So actually, I only have seven sports left to finish in the next four weeks. EASY. Or something.
I’m not actually very worried about finishing in time, though. The truth is, it’s becoming easier to do the sports than it is to write about them afterwards. Maybe it’s because I’ve written so fricking many of these that I’m now struggling to make them witty and interesting. Or maybe it’s because I actually *whispers* like sport, now.
I was reminded at the beginning of the week, however, when I met Chris, who writes for the very very good Sportist blog (it’s about women in sport, is very good, and I encourage you to read it – not just because they’re writing something nice about me, either), of something I was worried about. With only four weeks left, I was going to have renew the vigour of my campaign to get that tweet from Mark Foster, from whom I’d still not heard a peep. So off I trotted, tweeting as I went at poor, handsome, beleaguered, Mark Foster, with a couple of followers echoing my rallying, digital cries.
I’d expected it to take a little longer, maybe even the full remaining four weeks, but when I awoke the next day, there it was, the holy grail of my Twitter career thus far: the Tweet of Foster. Maybe it was follower Nicola’s adept use of the hashtag, or perhaps 11 moths of relentless pursuit had just knocked the fight out of him, but Mark Foster had finally spoken to me. In a way.
And so began my most exciting Wednesday ever, except for the one on which I was born, which I’ll categorise as “significant”. A couple of hours later, an interview I’d done with some nice chaps from the BBC went up on the website of their new Inspire initiative and indeed, the front page of BBC sport. My day ended with Katherine ruddy Grainger calling me an Olympics “expert” on a 5 Live show about the Olympic Legacy. If I’m honest, a heady combination of hormones, nice messages from complete strangers and pushing the boundaries of my caffeine tolerance, meant I’d spent much of the time in between trying not to cry. You really are all awesome. Except you, Dave, who said my blog was boring. You’re a tit.
Some time before all this excitement, I was joined by cycling weirdo, Simon, who you’ll remember from my track cycling adventures, his lovely girlfriend Clare (who was at this point about to be whisked away on holiday to something like her third Grand Tour stage of the year), and one of my bezzies, Stef, for a spot of mountain biking.
Surprisingly, you’ve not met Stef (who’s confusingly a boy – Stefan, get it) properly until now. Stef LOVES the Olympics and he’s either the most supportive bezzie of all time or he loves these pretend Olympics a bit, too. I know it can’t really be the former, because we used to live together and he definitely wasn’t supportive of my actions when I got so drunk once that I got locked myself out of our flat one night in my pyjamas when he wasn’t home (no one knows how) and had to kip in our neighbour’s spare room – he did laugh at me A LOT, though. There are a few more like this, but I’ll summarise by saying he’s much more supportive of me spending my free time hurtling towards imminent death, on a dusty track in Bracknell, which is where we found ourselves on this occasion.
Stef is at film school, learning how to be amazing and win Baftas and that, so he can introduce me to Idris Elba and I can ask him what the what that Private Garden video was all about. In the middle of dissertation season, I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t taken some convincing to get Stef out there on that track. He kept wanging on about falling off and breaking his writing hand and not finishing his MA, etc etc and I started to think he was just trying to get out of it. But Stef did turn up on the day, and I began to understand his concerns a little better on the drive over to Bracknell.
It’s been well documented that I’m consistently under-prepared and never really know what I’m doing prior to the event, over the course of this project, and mountain biking was no exception to a trend that I really ought to be bucking, by now. As we approach our destination, on the hottest day of the year and the day of the Wimbledon Men’s Singles final, my companions discuss the variety of obstacles that we might find even on the easiest track, which is what we’re planning to conquer. Apparently rocks, banking, bumps and all sorts of things may be found on the track, which is why a mountain bike has suspension and tyres like a frigging tractor. With hindsight, it seems odd that these obstacles are news to me, as is the concept of falling off, which it becomes apparent is pretty much expected, rather than a possibility.
The “trial track” if you will, which is no distance at all, is great fun. It’s downhill, and the suspension makes the bike all bouncy, which is awesome. After this we move on to the beginner’s full-length track, which is only 6 miles long in total, so I guess we’ll be over it pretty quickly if I do find it horrendous.
Initially, I’ll be honest, I really do find it horrendous. The hills are STEEP. The banks are HIGH. And the guys hurtling past us with very little regard for our speed, or lack thereof, indicative of the fact that we are practically soiling ourselves, are TERRIFYING and I’m afraid that I have to loudly utter some expletives in the wake of one particular cyclist. Clearly, none of us feel all that comfortable with the descents from the big hills, though I think it’s fair to say that Clare is the most nervous – but she’s doing it anyway, which is epic.The downward hills aren’t the only problem. Some of the climbs are also pretty substantial and I start to fret a little over my lack of preparation for Ride London in a couple of weeks time. It is during this event, however, that I’m introduced to the concept of “magic gears”, as Stef calls them, for hill climbing, which is useful knowledge to have.
With the gears mastered, my day is improving, though it’s not easy and I dread to think what the next trail up entails. But I begin to relax into it. The fact of the matter is, there is only one way to get round this course, realistically, which is by just getting on and doing it. After this realisation, it becomes far more enjoyable and I soon find myself cursing all that time I spent getting pissed in my twenties, not engaging in wholesome outdoor pursuits of a Sunday, as I hear Stef’s giggles echoing around the forest.
In fact, we all seem to get braver as time gets on, and we become aware that we are missing more and more of the Wimbledon final, we speed up. Not only this, but we are informed, with about 20 minutes of our bike hire remaining, that we’re about halfway through, so we are really going to have to hurry. I judge this man’s distance perception to be poor – he’s telling us that we’ve only covered 3 miles in over 90 minutes, and ultimately, it seems I was right to suspect he was chatting nonsense, though watching the video back afterwards, I realise we may not have been belting it round as I had thought at the time.
As we start to pedal furiously towards the end, anxious to witness Murray’s anticipated victory with Simon’s patriotic parents, disaster strikes and Stef falls off his bike. Despite the profuse bleeding that follows, he gets back on the bike almost without complaint, bar that no one was there to video it, and starts wanging on about how life affirming it is to fall off and be ok. I’m not going to actively solicit the wasp sting that I pretty much have a pathological fear of, but perhaps he has a point.
So, this week I’m going to be more tenuous in my points allocation than ever before. Simon was clearly the best, but he’s a cycling mentalist, so maybe he should have been better. I don’t really mean that, Simon, but I have to be able to justify the bronze medal I’m giving you. I’m going to share a silver medal with Clare, because we bravely just got on with it, which is no mean feat. The gold medalists this week are, however, Simon’s mum and dad, for charitable golfing endeavours, and inspired deployment of “The Best Scottish Album In The World…Ever!”. But they share it with Stef, for getting involved despite his reservations and for being a truly awesome friend and supporter of this project, which has come to mean rather more to me than I might have imagined 11 months ago.
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