Twice Bitten

I remember the all encompassing excitement of that first trip to Glastonbury Festival. The journey there, crammed in Adam’s car, slightly late, unsure of the route, which way was quickest, worried about the cars ability to make it. There are a few moments in life that grab you and park themselves in your mind somewhere that is almost always visible. Walking over the hill from the car park and seeing the festival spread out in front of me with its city like scale, cacophony of music, bright colours and rising smoke mixed with every smell known to man was a truly special moment for the 22 year old me. This marked over a decade of trips to the mighty Glastonbury alongside countless other festivals, some years bagging up to half a dozen. Everything was always brilliant, the bands were amazing, DJ’s kept me entertained well into the AM, I consumed the ‘odd’ beer, and I shared some truly amazing times with friends. Some years had been sunny and super hot, others were wet, very, very wet. I rolled through them all – nothing could stop my enthusiasm for the mighty outdoors. Until that year. It turned out to be another wet one. I was a seasoned campaigner at this point but unbeknown to me there had been a small seed of doubt planted in my mind. Day two arrived with more continued rain. For the first time I remember looking down… the mud was knee height and I was unable to sit down (for the entire four days) I was feeling a little ‘drawn’ through lack of sleep, a little cold due to being wet through for the umpteenth time and struggling with a persistent hangover. Could this be … I wanted out, to be away from this place I’d loved, I knew what would be next … more mud, another crazed person wanting to be my friend, more fizzy scrumpy, rubbish techno… more mud, mud… mud. Things calmed down and the festival life slowly ebbed away, I still had my share of live music but mostly in buildings of bricks and mortar with sticky floors of beer now the only hazard. Crazed people still popped up but there was always a cab or night bus to take me home to a bed generally within a house. I picked up cycling again some years after my years in the fields of Somerset and slowly at first started to rekindle my passion with a sport I’d left as a teenager. I fell in love again with the freedom, speed, countryside, bikes and ultimately the competition. Road racing became part of my life again, I met fellow believers along the way, my soul felt revived and alive. The years passed along and the sport became part of my life and felt like a good fit. A few challenges were met along the way. During the journey I found myself in discussions about riding a cyclo cross season. This I convinced myself was a good idea, it made sense. It was off road, in the countryside, very competitive, technically difficult and fun … yes all the ingredients I loved. I was in. The early races of the season shared similar qualities to a speedy criterium, fast, exhilarating and hard. Most were warm and the surface dry and dusty. There was a great vibe at the events, everything you have at a road race but more family and a great sense of support and sharing of the occasion. It was around eight races in that inevitably the weather turned colder and wetter. I had of course planned for this and was looking forward to the challenge of mastering the more technical surfaces. I’d watched the big Belgian’s on TV racing on the sand and had some experiences of my own over the years riding through the farms and forests of Cornwall. The first race arrived after a considerable prolonged rainfall. Again I was ready and inevitably the course was a challenging slog through the gloopy surface, it was tough, the slipping and sliding added to the adventure the novelty almost. My training started to mirror these conditions returning home head to toe both body and bike coated in Hackney Marshes finest. The cleaning was extensive and very regular. My boys also racing meant a cleaning schedule not to dissimilar to a medium sized laundrette, minus the service wash… The next race arrived with similar conditions, shoes still drying from the previous session and grit in parts of man and machine that was destined to be there until the end of time. This course fought back, throwing in little obstacles that up until now were brushed away, it felt like Cyclo Cross itself, the pure body of the sport decided to toughen me up and give me some of the elements I had yet to experience. I fought though but felt like I had been taught a lesson. My positive attitude was dented by the mighty beast. With an edge taken from my cycling soul I found myself on the line of the next race. My friend the rain had been on the go for a day or so and was me, with us now at the start. I foolishly selected the incorrect kit and was ready for the starting whistle shivering … perfect. Lap one passed painfully my body was not happy, my mind the same. I’d been to this place before….. Lap two the same but worse, my eyes floated down, there it was…. the mud. The mud, could it be the same mud from all those years ago ? It brought back the same initial emotion, despair. No thumping music this time but a complete desire to be away from this place and never return, I didn’t want to be here… no. I’ve had time to reflect, apply some rational thought to this. The sport has thrown some hefty blows at me, it has hurt and I’m a little affected by it. This time I’m going to stay and not run from the brown monster, I know it can be tamed, it needs respect and understanding not a fight. Mike