This COVID-19 Lockdown has meant balancing dog walks and seemingly allocating exercise time, which is pretty normal if your married with kids; spending precious time with family, but not going in the ocean and riding bikes like I want to doing. It would seem that many who are giving up our surfing is, as my friend so perfectly puts it, 'so others can have it all to themselves', but that's OK, I had my rant previously, and I'm happy with my decision, and consciously know it's the right thing to do. Strangely it's not my time in the ocean I miss the most, as I'm a surfer, and not just someone who goes surfing, I've made my own sacrifices to live by the ocean, and since sailing with my father when we were younger, the ocean benefits are firmly planted within me. To not be surfing right now, well that's just fine, it's not real hardship to go without for a while, as long as I can see it, hear it, and smell it.
What I do miss though is that my time on the hill, and this seems to be absent in my daily routine at present, I had to put that right. I'm not sure why, but I had put restrictions on my riding. Maybe I also thought, well if I'm not surfing, I shouldn't ride either, it felt like I needed to go cold turkey for a bit. It felt strange to have self imposed this on myself, when the rest of the world seems to be dragging their dusty. rarely or never ridden, unwanted bikes out of their garages, pumping up the tyres, and heading out like its something they normally do, and here I am doing the exact opposite. I've been cleaning, maintaining, fixing, re-tuning and then putting my bikes back in the shed. But all the time I'm really missing the solitude on the hill, often accompanied often by Kylo, my traildog in training, I'm not sure how long his apprenticeship is, but he's doing OK.
In contrast I can't remember the last time I had a surf without sharing the line up with a crowd of frothing surfers, hell bent on getting the next set wave, hassling for the peak, no regard for etiquette, a completely self-centred approach; Am I guilty of the same approach as a result of how surfing has developed? Probably-Sometimes-Maybe-Definately.
It sounds like a thing of the past, and it's only been a little over three weeks, but I like to ride the trails on the hill at every opportunity, especially if the waves are not exactly up to my middle aged liking, considering I would surf any old shit when I was younger. Sometimes it's too crowded with after school grommets, post work surf instructors, life guards, private lessons, tourists and wannabe pros, but I can handle that, I'll get my share of waves among the masses, it's just sometimes, I haven't quite got the energy to deal with all that. So, being alone on the hill, with my bike and my dog is, and will again, soon be my escape from this oceanic world when I choose. Saying all that, I would love a surf right now!!
This is why we ride bikes, because it's super relaxing to just go and ride, 'On or Off-Road', thinking of nothing but what's in front of you, and like Carl Rogers says, 'experiencing every moment', enjoying the escape from whatever it is your wanting to escape from. What I have been missing is also that process of going riding. Similar to going surfing where you get your gear together, board, wetsuit, wax and head out the door. The anticipation of what lies ahead.
I remember a trip we took in Lanzarote, where I was working as a surf instructor back in '98/99. I had a day off , so my friends and I took the ferry to the island of Graciosa in the North West. Once off the ferry we walked up the track that crossed the island, heading for a wave on the West Side, called El Corale. As we approached the crest of the island our anticipation grew as to what we hoped to see as the wave came into our view. That memory of a perfect left hander peeling down the reef will live with me forever. It was our Endless Summer moment, like Robert August and Mike Hynson reaching the crest of the sand dune in the classic movie, and seeing Cape St Francis reeling below them. On sight of perfection, we almost ran down the track towards the magical wave. When we got to the access point, we were frothing so much my mate tripped over and landed on his brand new board, putting about eight puncture holes in the bottom with sharp volcanic lava rock. We all lowered our heads not knowing what to say, but he didn't care right there and then, he just paddled out!! What a day, what a memory, what a wave. That's anticipation, that feeling every time you drive to the surf, not really knowing what awaits. Or it used to be, as the webcam has mostly stripped away that feeling for the average days surf and it's become too easy to just click online, choose your beach and make a decision. I like that feeling of leaving work on a summers evening, knowing that there are waves but you've not seen them, that feeling of just getting home, grabbing your kit and rushing out the door and scoring a surreal summer session with a few mates.
My anticipation had grown all day, my bike helmet and gloves were probably hanging on my freshly polished bike about lunch time, she was ready to roll... in seven hours time! Getting ready to ride my bike the other night was actually full of high emotion and excitement. The thoughts running through my mind were not about the new trail I've been working on, not riding as fast as this old body and ability, will allow on the descents. I wasn't looking forward to a weekly power hour session of interval training, when I'm actually not really training for anything so I'm not sure why I do them really, maybe just because it's fun, it makes you feel sick, and in my not so grown up mind, maybe I'm visualising, in my own childish way a winning run on the World Enduro Series, strange when I don't even compete...yet! This anticipation was nothing but looking forward to a simple ride up the hill. I cherish being on the hill, and everytime I'm on the hill, and looking over Wild West Cornwall, I feel pretty damn lucky.
At a speed of about 6 mile an hour, if that, there was no rush, my heavy duty, high grip enduro tyres are not really made for time trial speeds, and any risk of accident was totally under my control. In fact, if I'd drawn up a risk assessment prior to riding, (like my mate Freddy recently did regarding surfing), then the hazard was extremely low, beyond minimal. I had already sacrificed my daily dog walk for this ride, and my wife had agreed to take the to dog when she realised I would be like a bear with a sore head all day if I didn't get to ride to the hill. I really wanted to capture the golden hour, my favourite time to sit on the hill and just do nothing at all but take a couple of shots, listen to the quietness and then ride home.
Riding to Chapel Carn Brea from home is about a 1.5 miles along the main A30, past Escalls Church, which is the church with crossed surfboards on the gable end, possibly an attempt to attract a younger congregation, who knows but it's a pretty cool little place. I past Trevedra Farm, the busiest caravan and camping site in Sennen, usually full by now, but as empty as since time began. I rode along the only straight piece of road between Sennen and Penzance which is 9 miles away. One lone car passed me, and this was at 7pm on a sunny evening during the Easter holidays, in Cornwall, surreal but nice. The chances of being knocked off on a usual Easter holiday or summer would be a lot greater, and I never ride this on my road bike unless I absolutely have to, there are so many back lanes to choose from. April - October is also the LEJOG season, the endless stream of cyclists leaving Lands End to John O Groats or the JOGLE, the opposite way, when they begin to arrive. I will say this - I wish they many would learn how to line up, instead of riding 3 abreast, thinking they are invincible. I wish that the huge Deloitte 'Tour Across Britain' educated their riders on how to ride, I wish they would not send them off in groups of 20, and I'm amazed there has not been a fatality. I say all this as an avid cyclist who thinks that this one group ride does more for cycling's bad name on the road in Cornwall than none other, simply because of the large numbers and the disregard fro other road users. There said it!
But I divulge from my mellow, lock down, no traffic ride, to a special place. As I reached the hill, I swung off the main road and took a great little 'grass up the middle' lane to the entrance to Chapel Carn Brea. I rode through the gate, being careful not to touch the wooden surface, just in case, and then circumnavigated the hill. Winding my way up the easier trail from the main entrance to the top, the light was becoming golden, the sun lower in the sky and not a single sole in sight. This was going to be pretty special. The cuckoos are back on the Nature Reserve of Bartinney Hill, and that's another favourite spot to sit and another post. I also realised that I missed seeing Sam Buckle who's the font of all knowledge on these Short eared Owls. Sam has been living in his Land Rover documenting the the Owls that have been feeding there all winter and has 250 hours of the most unbelievable footage to edit. Sam is such a great bloke so please check out his instagram feed @landroverandhound and if you see his other edits from Scotland and Highlands you'll know what quality to expect.
The view is always stunning at the Beacon on top of the hill, the site of an ancient chapel which now lies in a pile of granite rubble. This vista possibly rivals anything I've seen anywhere in the world and it's a spot where on a good clear day, you to see for miles. The Isle of Scilly are 26 Miles away to the West, St Michaels Mount, 10 miles to the east away and The Lizard, our most Southerly point, clearly visible at 22 miles, and spin to the North, Cape Cornwall, and the East, endless miles of Cornish countryside, all divided into odd shaped parcels of fertile land, separated by granite stone hedges. Considering our hill is only about 657ft (198 meters according to the OS map) above sea level, it's hardly a mountain, but it's my mountain. Not that I own it, that would be pretty spectacular, but this where I can sit, it's where I ride trails, my training ground I share with a view others, it's my mountain with a view of the ocean, my mountain at the end of Britain, where in the middle of a global pandemic I can live 'The Good Life'.....That's what I was missing the most...but not now, I've had my fix until the sun comes back out!