These days I am up before dawn so I can get out on the bike at first light. There are several reasons for this. For one thing the temperature is beginning to creep up; we generally only get one week of spring in this neck of the woods. Last week I was still wearing thermals and a waterproof. Today I set off in t-shirt and shorts and the sweat was pouring off almost immediately.
Another problem is the traffic. Set out any time after 7pm and the roads will be full of cars and buses, and more importantly, the dump trucks will be hurtling along the single lane road around West Lake which forms a significant portion of any ride. This morning I almost collided with two breeze blocks that had become separated from their owner in the early dawn.
And the other issue is, how can I put it? I need sufficient time for nature to take its course.
When I lived in the US, I used to race mountain bikes. As far as I can tell, this isn’t like racing in the UK. I’ve only participated in one race, but I have heard stories told from fellow bikers,. Cold weather, mud filled courses and driving rain. We raced all over the Southwestern United States so even when it rained, it was warm rain. But the biggest difference was the races always seemed to be hosted in the middle of nowhere. Drive anywhere from 4 to 18 hours to get to where the race was supposed to be, and then spend two more trying to figure out where exactly the mule trail by the large cactus is located.
And of course, being hosted by a ranch in the middle of the desert means no running water. No running water means portapotties, and 30C+ heat means holding your breath.
Apart from the stupid pedals, one big difference between on and off road racing is the start. The start of a road race is a non event; riders slowly wobble off and saunter off into the distance. This is in stark contrast to a mountain race where there is generally a starter pistol at 60s, a countdown at 10seconds and then all hell breaks loose as 100+ riders go thrashing up a dirt road trying to get to the front before the trail drops into single track, or turns sharp right and up a 600ft climb if you happening to be racing in Oklahoma..
Just picturing in my mind again gets the adrenalin pumping. No wonder my tum was all a turmoil just before race start and more than once I’d have to ask a fellow racer “could you hold my bike for second, I’ll be right back” and nip into the forest. I don’t know about a tree falling in a forest, but I can tell you about the sound of a mountain biker with pre-race nerves.
The pro racer Paul Kimmage’s wrote a book called ‘Rough Ride’, about the pro-road racing circuit in Europe. I haven’t read it, but I did read “French Revolutions” by Tim Moore which quotes a passage from said book about Greg LeMond suffering from a spot of tummy trouble “’…Lemond was in trouble today. He had a bout of diarrhoea . . . God, the smell was terrible. It was rolling down his legs”
It’s one of the reasons I never fancied road racing. Get a spot of trouble in a mountain bike race and it’s a short trip to the nearest bush, have the same problem in a road race and there are a dozen spectators who will never view the sport in quite the same way.
It’s become more of an issue living in China. You never quite know what the effect of your previous meal might be, or how clean that bottled water you just bought really is. I had my LeMond moment one morning last summer. I was fine until I was about 20 minutes out when I began to feel the first protests. I was halfway between the lake (forests) and home (running water) and in the government district and if there is one thing that is frowned upon even in this city, it’s leaving a little package in front of a statue of Mao.
I opted for home comforts and turned around and my stomach dutifully kicked things up a notch. It dawned on me that I wasn’t going to make it and I bunny hopped the bike over the kerb and into a construction site where they were building a new petrol station.
It’s as if it opened a new chapter on my life, but I still can’t bring myself to go in there and fill up my moped. I’m so very sorry…