I am 28 years old. Since the age of five, barring the last eighteen months, i have been in education; a dedicated task you might think, but i would disagree. At the age of sixteen, it was clear to me that i would be an historian, or possibly a journalist as a career. By seventeen, i had decided that i could change the world for the better by devoting my life to chemistry. On to university, and the endless memorising of rules, coupled with a complete inability to do practical science without spilling things made for a hasty exit, stage left, from the world of chemistry. Through the next archway i stepped, into the cosy world of mathematics, where the only hazard was over-sharp pencils. Unable to even contemplate the impossible infinity of careers that lay ahead of me, i kept going, doing a masters in applied maths, and then a PhD in string theory, each step in a different direction, leading nowhere but taken for the journey, not the destination.
At some point during my early time at university, having been the fat wheezy kid with a note from his mum at school, i decided i would make life more challenging by trying sport. I started with that most Cambridge of beginnings, rowing. And i sucked. Big time. It almost came as a relief when a crash with another boat left me unable to row, and once again i could exorcise the serial malcontent within by trying something else new. I blew what remained of my student loan on a shiny new road bike sitting in the window of the local bike shop, the neat, slick tyres, the tidy sweep of the handlebars appealed to the perfectionist in me. With no idea where i was going, my first few rides turned into grim marches through the windswept fens to the north of Cambridge, where the best reward for an hour’s slog into the wind was ten minutes with it at your back. I loved the purity of the effort, and the freedom it gave, but something was still missing.
And so it was that one afternoon, a few weeks into my fledgling attempts at cyclesport, my next door neighbour pointed out my error. “Looks like a nice bike, buddy, but the wheels are too big, and the tyres are too slick. Take it back, and see if you can get a proper bike”. And so it was that i bought my first mountain bike. The two of us rode out to the local woods, Ash the knowledgeable and competent dirt jumper, and me feeling very much like a fish out of water. In that first session, i managed to crash twice, bending my brake lever and causing my front wheel to resemble a pringle. I spent the rest of the week walking to lectures with a rather uncool swagger from the haematoma spreading over my left leg. But i was hooked – i had become that oddest of beasts, the Fenland mountain biker.
Over the last decade that i have lived here, as you might have gathered from my introduction, things have come and gone in my life, and yet bikes have remained remarkably constant. I have dabbled in cyclocross, cross country racing, road racing, crits, and even tried unicycling, and again perhaps my reluctance to make a firm decision shows through. And yet, never have i considered abandoning two wheels for anything else. Perhaps the pattern of life is reflected in the outlook of the cyclist; in daily life we can be too preoccupied with the destination to enjoy the journey. But really, the journey is everything that we have.