Mud & Beer

Everything is a little fuzzy and wandering.. .but here's what I can gather from my slowly awakening senses.. .I'm lying on my back, I'm beading and concussed, and the rain hammering on my face with the fury of Thor. 'Tree cover' is saturated to the point where by the towering redwoods bear droplets the size of marbles in a heavy, relentless downpour. It's a fecking miserable day to be out mountain biking, which causes more than a little confusion in me. Only a short moment ago I was laughing my ass off in a pub, thoroughly enjoying my brilliant choice of giving the finger to the mountain in favor of a warm fire and a pint of apple cider.

Events can easily become tangled in the mind by any number of concussive measures; a big rock or thick bottomed ale glass about the temple, or perhaps a lightning bolt to the frontal lobes.. .what did I do to deserve this? Why am I here? And why do I feel the pinch of very tight legionnaire undergarments about my mind?


In The Beginning.. .my friends and myself were all sitting in a warm comfy pub chatting about the crap weather and our friend Chris who is out braving it. He's on Mt Tam by himself, battling through the mud, the misery, and the ire of the gods. And most likely he's having a thoroughly miserable time. Meanwhile, we recline indoors quaffing our pleasure and laughing at what an idiot he is.. .but for our callous mirth divine retribution is at hand.. .

A large man and his girlfriend walk in. It's the, not unusual, sight of tiny girl with a massive, massive fellow that one can’t help but ponder over the physical mechanics of. She's petite and curvy, and he's about 6ft-4, built like a brick shit house, and clearly of un-Earthly decent. Through the skylight dark clouds are following him like meek apostles as he crosses the room, every brutal step begetting wines of mercy from the floorboards beneath his feet. Let’s call him 'Thor the Bringer of Thunder.' I'm looking at them over my friend Lukes shoulder, and I steal another quick glance at Thor's girlfriend before I look back to him. But he’s cottoned on to what drew my eye, and within moments his neck is craned 180 degrees, and he's fixed on the girls’ backside.

Thor is looking straight at Luke, as Luke gawks at Thors’ girlfriends’ ass; but Luke is completely oblivious to Thor seeing his leching. As she passes Luke makes a series of little puckering mouths, flicking his eyes between her ass and me, so as to direct my look there. I oblige him and look at her bum in the hope that 'playing along' might end his lechery, and save us from Thor exacting retribution upon one or both of us (well me really!)

Luke starts to sing a little song; ".. .dada. ..nice legs shame about the face!". He doesn't know how loud he is, and my palms instantly start sweating nervously at his volume. And so, in an attempt to defuse his singing, I try to engage him with a well thought out pun on the situation that sides with his observations. But instead, just as the music in the pub reaches an obliging lull in volume, my nervous disposition reaches my throat, and I splurt with a shrill panic;

       "Her Face is Ugly!"

Everyone in the bar looks in my direction and the music wilts to a hum in what is now. ..a desert of fear. I look back at them thinking 'No.. .I don't think she's ugly at all, I just want Luke to stop singing!'. But I realize that they're not looking at me at all; they're all looking over my shoulder at the Goliath rising behind me. I hear a creak and then the wincing of the boards that herald his approach. ..and after what seems like a thousand years, his journey across the floor of the pub comes to it's end, like the motion of a giant stone god arrested by a thousand tiny slaves. A thick finger taps me on the shoulder. I turn slowly to see a white button down shirt, and my eyes crane up to a face that doesn't fail to deliver its brutal intent. Bloated red, veins standing out in his temples, eye's bulging. I can see right up his nostrils - there pulsing, and flared so wide that for a moment I imagine his tiny Neanderthal brain falling straight out of those bacon caves onto my face. No such luck, the brain remains feebly attached to the neural system of this man that is about to strike me from life. Once more my brain and mouth conspire to the doom of my occasion.. .and with a big excited smile, I tell him.. .

       ". ..You have a big Ugly VaneEy FaCe.. .toO!"

. ..I've wasted my last few moments on this earth.. .

   'Unconscious now, I'm in Valhalla raging down a muddy gully next to my friend Luke. He doesn't see danger.. .just the thing he wants - his goal. It's his tunnel vision for lady bum, his ability to focus so intensity on what makes him feel things within his trousers that makes him such a good downhill mountain biker. On a decent that would turn most sane people to stone, he sees nothing but the path through the danger, all led out for him like the curves of Aphrodite's body. From the 'neap of her neck' to 'tip of her toe' he'll never sit down because he's literally wielding a massive trouser axe for the trail. I've seen it after a run, desperately trying to get out of his pants, which is why don't speak to him after a ride - I can't look him in the eye! It's something that admire about him.. .not his boner - his Olympian Focus.'


‘. ..last few moments on this earth’. ..or at least on that bar stool! It takes a few seconds for my faculties to return to me, and for me in turn to return to earth. I begin to realize that I'm not on the trail - I'm on the floor of a pub, drenched in beer, looking up at the thunderous rain hammering down on the skylight.

I roll my head towards the door just as Chris walks in, covered head to toe in mud. Eyes shot with blood, and through a face black with dirt he throws a gleaming teethy smile in my direction. A smile that he’s earned on the trail, but which falters in the dawning sight of this violent pub altercation. I follow his eyes, rolling my head over to see a large and scary looking man led out on the floor next to me, and just behind him a small feisty girl is being restrained by other strangers as she kicks and shouts. Nobody's backing down, Luke is crouched over me and pointing at everybody to stay back, he's been in scrapes like this before. So when he looks me calmly in the eyes to assure me; "Jay.. .I'm getting you out of here!" I trust him. Because Luke's tunnel vision for ass and, general lack of ability to see danger is greatly aided by the fact that he's an expert in kung fu.. .

. ..Luke punches me in the head, and I fall unconscious again. I'm in Valhalla, two wheels cranking up towards Olympus. ..and we roll out of there.. .

Sith Lord

There's always plenty of laundry to wash, hoovering and e-mails, piles of projects on the go. And it leaves me little time for the people that are important in my life, for my friends and my family.. .especially right now! This is the time for 'no time'.. .there's no room in my mind for anything other than this moment. Thoughts of relationships, chores, work are all just a cloud of dust in my wake. Usually my mind is the future or the past; never on where I am, what I'm doing! But this.. .you can't turn from 'the moment' when risk of serious injury is on the line because 'the moment' will stand up and slap you about the face.
My windy eyes are streaming and the hair on my arms is as alert and full of joy as the prevailing grin on my face. I'm leading a strung out pack of rebel bikers down 'Marsh' trail in Annadale park. It's a fun decent with lots of rocks for you to skim over if you're going fast enough, and I AM going fast enough! I have my suspension dialed to perfection, and it's chomping through a deadly sharp section of rocks like a ravenous beastie. Nothing is can stop me.. .
. .."I Eat Boulders for Breakfast.!"
A large man steps out onto the trail about 30 meters ahead. He's wearing a shiny black suit, with black a cape and a black helmet. My eyes are stinging with sweat so I can't focus well, but I think it's 'Darth Vader'.

'Oh Shit!!' - My eyes bulge with focus, and aiming for the smooth patches of ground I jump down on my saddle to cram my tire grip into the ground, breaking hard as the shadow of the Sith crosses my front wheel. Skipping over a tree root I cram my arse back into the saddle again, forcing the bike to skid to a halt inches in front of the dark lord. Off the saddle and onto tip toe, I throw my arms back for balance and barely manage to stop myself a breath shy Darths chest. Teetering there for a moment, my 'busy life dust cloud' catches up with us, tipping me forwards so that I push one of the buttons on the chest of his suit with my nose; and there I rest. The sound of a tiny Tie Fighter issues from Vader's control panel. It's an awkward moment for both of us.. .
I didn't know what to say.. .nose still pressed against his chest, I just look up at him towering above me thinking about how 'Big' and 'Darth Vader' he is. It's a very unusual moment - me and Darth standing toe to toe on the trail, not saying anything. Somehow very peaceful.. .just the sound of my heart beating and his deep menacing breath. We seemed to stand there for ever.. .both of us saying nothing.
Vader makes an attempt to break the uncomfortable silence. He straightens me up, and then himself, and coughing to clear his throat, he offers his hand towards me. But I can't move - I'm stood there staring at it dumb struck! Darth Vader; lord of the Sith, destroyer of worlds, more Medi-chlorians than Yoda want's to be my friend. It's my deepest fantasy come true.. .and I'm leaving him hanging?! I pinch myself hard in my mind to try to break the rigor mortis in my body, and to my relief my hand begins to lift towards his. ..but it's too late! Vader pulls back.. .
. ..he looks me up and down, and something in his body changes right in front of me.. .as if he grows another six feet. Vader raises his hand once more, but this time with his thumb and index finger forming the shape of a claw. The forest turns to a vacuum that pulls the hairs on my arms to stand up again; and he leans over me sucking all of the light from the world behind him.. .a scream rings through the trees.
Vader and I look around as Luke bursts into view, sailing through the air, whooping like a triumphant banshee. But from the increasing look of panic on his face he's just spotted the sharp rocks that are about to become his landing strip. The bike buckles, his left foot looses it's peddle, and his hand grabs desperately at nothing but air. He's almost hanging off of the front of his bike.. ."Fuu...cckck. ..!" he garbles. It's like were watching a disaster movie all wrapped up in a person. He sees us and he knows that he's screwed - were all are!
With his impending death staring himself in the face, Luke employs the only course of action that he can rationalize. Sprawled over the front of the handlebars and holding on with nothing but blind faith, he stretches out his free hand, looks up at us both with a purposeful calm. ..and then closes his eyes. 'Holy Shit.. .he's using the Force!!' I think to myself, tripping backwards over a big rock and falling against a tree. A branch breaks off, swings down and hits Vader full in the face. As he stumbles sideways Luke bounds and bucks between us - he's lost some speed and is moving up and down almost as much as is forwards, and I swear that he's not holding on with anything any more. Darth and myself watch him pass like some kind of crazy clown in a ovel wheeled car - he's still got his eye's closed and is concentrating hard on his 'force' with his hand wobbling out ahead of him. Despite the helmet it's quite easy read Darth's expression, it's the same as mine.. .jaw dropped, eyeballs wider than disbelief.. .Luke bounces off down the trail.
Moments later a blur darts between us, drawing a vortex of air and dirt that, sucks at Darths cape and sets my hair in its direction. It's Alison; "F*cking Nutters.. .!" she shouts.
We both turn, leaning and standing on tip toe to get a better view of her as she drops into a deep shadow of trees. "Darth Idiot more Like!!" she yells over her shoulder. We keep looking in the direction where she disappeared for a bit, and then Darth lets out a sigh, hangs his head and shoulders, and turns back to me.
"Er.. I'd better catch up with my mates" I say. And at the end of another depressed breath Darth nods in agreement. Without looking up he steps to the side and gestured for me to go on my way. With my head down, and nervously licking my lips, I flick my gaze between Darth and the trail. Then I drop my weight onto my right peddle and coast for a bit. 'Poor Darth.. .He ain't got no friends!' I think. I stop before rounding the bend that would sever me from this peculiar moment and look back to see Darth once more. Still hunched over, he kicks a large rock with his boot as one might absent mindedly kick a car tire to examine it. The rock rolls over and then floats up into the air, hovering there at 'half boot height' for a moment before dropping to the ground again. Darth sighs once more and mooches off up the trail.. .
I thought of Darth going home to do the laundry or the washing up. What's life like for him? Not the 'Sith Lord' thing.. .we all know that story; but when he's not at work. What's really going on inside when he's not swimming in the living breathing force, when he's doing the hoovering or checking his e-mail? I think that he's lonely and that he doesn't know how to meet people any more. Darth has been all about work for so long that he doesn't know how to do anything else. Meeting people and what not has become a mystery to him.. .lonely.
Darth is a bad man, he's destroyed star systems and he shouldn't be jumping out in front of mountain bikers.. .but that day I think that he was just looking for someone to be friends with. Trying to break that endless cycle of work and chores that we all struggle with, and I hope that one day steps out in front of someone that has the time give him the friendship that we all need; perhaps it will help to bring him back from the cold place where he lives.. .and so I try not to judge him too harshly for the things he's done

Gaia and the Trail

Her name is Alison, not Gaia. She named herself when she was 24 - when she realized that her parents didn't know her. That she was the only one who could chose a name that resonated meaning with herself. And this is the story of how she annoys me.. .

I first met Alison in the fall of 2006. It was a peaceful Sunday morning in south side hills of San Francisco. I had just finished climbing a steep, leafy, nameless road and was taking a moment to drink in the start of the day. It's a ritual of mine that helps to abate the feeling of 'impending Monday'. My mind had reached the desired state of restfulness when something crept in through a relaxed corner of it. Something that drew my attention to the thick bank of fog that had been following me up the road, and was now fixing to engulfed the whole of the ridge. It for some reason became curious to me, as if it held some mystery beyond the normal enigma of a fog bank. I stared for a long silent moment into the vapor until its visual enigma yielded to a faint squeak, followed soon after by the sound of heavy breathing. The mist spun as the shadow of a small girl emerged puffing and panting astride an over-sized mountain bike.

I think that 'emerging from fog' was how she had, and would, always appear to people.. . conducting about herself a sense of grace that introduced her as more like a myth than a real person. And I seem to remember that when she stopped to talk to me, the fog halted its advance a few meters behind her and just waited there like an obedient pup. An appreciation of odd weather and biking in common; I began to lay down my charming moves on her.. .or was it that invited me to. ..?!

However our dating ensued, it finished almost as immediately as it began, in favor of us remaining riding buddies. The undoing factor didn't come about when Alison began to share her religion with me, but because of how she geared that religion around biking. The further that she got into her ideology on riding, the further my eyes would roll back in my head form the drivel that she was spewing. It was the way that she acted like she 'knew it all', even when I first met her at the wise old age of 22. Eyes sparkling with wonder she would explain the universe from a perspective that threatened to infect something that was sacred and precious to me, something that was somehow a defining part of myself. But what was most annoying about the enlightenment that she would constantly sick on me was that there was something behind it that I knew was true.

                                 *   *   *

A group of us had just climbed 'The Dynamo' at China Camp, and were figuring our breaths before playing on the big 'drop off's' up there. I caught mine a little before Alison, pulled my notebook out of my backpack and ask her to tell me about her 'awesome' bike; making some stupid comment about it coming with a spare set of lungs (it's cheep, and heavy, and I'm being rude) "It does the job you cheeky monkey - I shredded your arse, and it joins me with the earth for a tenth of the cost or your 'arm and a leg' Stump Dumper." I assured her that I 'really did' want to hear about her thoughts on mountain biking this time and promised not to take the piss.

"I don't like riding bikes. .. their just hunks of metal!" Alison begins.

"Or carbon!" - I interject, but she ignores me with a glare.

". ..I don't get how they work and I don't care to. I just need mine to go when I start peddling and to disappear when I'm on the trail, and it does! It's like there's nothing underneath me, I mean nothing at all!? The bike is just a thing that connects me to the Earth, to Gaia, and when I'm riding the trail, I might as well be riding on air, or on a sandwich, or.. ." she looks very seriously and says in a very 'matter of fact' way; ". ..or your mum!" Then she smiles politely and punches me really hard in the ribs. "That hurt. ..Alison!" I say - it's my way of punching her back. I met her when she was still 'Alison' and I can't bring myself to call her 'Gaia', it just feels wrong to me. It rubs her up the wrong way, but it's the status quo now. We both know the score; on the trail we speak the same language, on the side of the trail we annoy each other.

"Well, maybe I'm a little hard on the 'bike' thing.. .it does do something. It goes like this for me; the earth is pulling us down all the time and some people call this gravity.. ." I want to say 'every people call's it gravity' but I hold my tongue; ". ..but this is Gaia - she want's us to become part of her. It's the way that God calls to us! Some people talk with their God in a church or by lighting josticks and saying 'Om.. .'" She makes an attempt at the buda-yoga, or what ever it is pose with the thumb and index finger touching and the soles of her feet together. ..and she dose a pretty good job because her cleats get caught in each other, and she topples sideways with a little and giggle; ". ..whoops!"

". ..yeah, talking to god. ..'whoops' are a good example! My body is going in a straight line, towards where I'm looking down the trail, but the bike is flowing up and down, into the earth, and then out again. Gaia asks me and the bike to go to her but I extend my legs and let her have have only the bike. Then I push against her a little; and as the rolling bike meets the rolling of her trail she throws me forwards.. .it's like were playing together. It feels like I'm leaning off the side of a boat, flowing up and down through the swells. My hand is hanging down and, the water is like Gaia's hair flowing through my fingers.

"So when your riding, your combing Gods hair!?"

"Shut up and listen. I see an obstacle down a trail and form an image of how to 'overcome' it in my mind, but when I get there it's much more about 'understanding' it - I become part of that place on the earth for a brief moment. I don't overcome anything, I've been listening, understanding and asking for safe passage - I've just been talking with Gaia. When I'm looking for the smallest lip on a fire road to help me through an 'off camber' turn; what I'm really doing is looking for 'her' to guide me through. But it's not blind faith, it's a two way thing - I believe in my connection to her and stay off the breaks, but I press down, pushing my wheels into her surface to connect even more with her. And she throws me out the other side of the turn like.. .I don't know, she rewards me with joy I guess..!" Alison pops up into a big cheshire smile, like she's just solved one line in a cross word and now the whole thing is complete. But then something occurs to her and her smile drops as she searches for a close by answer. She turns to me with a very seriously face and fixes my eyes.. .I feel a uncomfortable, like I'm about to be buried by an avalanche that is the rest of the puzzle.. ."And for me, threading a rock garden is like wiggling my body through 'Gaia's Vagina.. !" She's just looking at me with big bulging eyes, and I'm doing the same.. .neither of us are blinking or even breathing. ..we sit there for hours. Alison's face twitches a little, and we both fall about laughing. "Oh shit Alli.. .I'm crying.. .", "Yeah.. .I think that I just did a bit of wee on my God's face.. .!"

As much as I want to tell her where she can stick her 'Gaia's vagina', I just can't do it. I don't agree with the words that she uses, 'Gaia' and 'God' and rubbish like that, but deep inside I know she's right. I have to step up and own this frustration at her. Because through teeth gritted to the point of chipping - I agree with her. When you're riding you're one with the trail, and when your riding your best the bike doesn't exits. The highest function of your bike is for it to disappear entirely.. .you're on the earth and your a part of it, communicating with each other. Sometimes you argue and sometimes and on rare occasions you'll win, but that won't be a smooth ride - it'll be a desperate save. More often than not, when you don't listen.. .you'll lose!

I've not seen Alison put her face in the Gaia once in the 4 years that we've been riding together. She's not the quickest person on two wheels, but she is 'the' most graceful. She'll thread a man eating rock garden like she's dancing bare foot in the grass and I've seen her do both. For Alison, the earth as her friend whom she respects and listens to.

Alison. ..Gaia, I'm trying to listen more too, and not just to the trail, but to the people that I love.. .

James the Dog

Two ears are flapping up and down in the wind, following a wet nose and running like crazy on all fours - two on the handle bars, two on the peddles. Just for the love of it. James the dog was a mountain bike rider.. .
Life was good to James, he had all that he ever wanted; beautiful countryside, all the food he could eat, success in his endeavors, and his bed was a warm, comfy blanket of moth eaten 'cuddle me'. Life was good to James because James was good to life.. .he believed in it; he was true to his dog nature and he gave back to life by living as much of it, as fully as a dog could. But James knew that belief and betrayal are bed fellows. Ride it hard whilst the riding's good because there's something dark around the corner, something waiting behind this big rock.

Bounding over 'whoops', jumping up at 'table tops', and barking at the 'single track' with his tongue hanging in the wind, trailing a dodge of saliva in his wake. That's where he got his name from his riding buddies - 'James the Dog'. All through his life he never knew when he was doing it - hanging his tongue out. He was teased about it as a child and it hurt a lot then.. .the names and the jokes. Kids don't let up sometimes. And if you're the type to stand alone then you're vulnerable to the mob, and the mob will happily leave you in tears. James would step into his BMX bike and peddle like crazy until they were far behind him, his mind only a whirl of knobbly rubber on pavement - the still air bending to a cleansing wind in the face of his forwards locomotion, the looking glass would yield and the world would vanish to a pin prick over his shoulder. Even as an adult; when a friend would inquire after his habit, the small child in James would wince and shrink into a corner - yearning for his peddles. He would change the subject as soon as he could, pasting a laugh and a casual smile over the hurt.

And so James was fast.. .really fast! Pumping every dip for speed and cranking against his peadles and bars like a dog in a fight. Perhaps he's still running from something, and maybe he'll alwayse be, until he meets that dark shadow on his trail. But for now the name fits, this time it's right and it seems like the pain has come full circle and given way to reason. A reason for life. Ups and downs.. .pain and happiness, cycles and bi-cycles of good and bad that start as a deadly roller coaster in childhood. The older we get the smoother the ride and then you die.. .freewheeling towards the grave. The roller coaster is what keeps us alive. In contrast lies perception and life distilled into the trail. 'Give me contrast and give me the trail' James thinks to himself as he drops his weight into a loose corner. His back wheel gives, but he deals and sticks the front through the turn.

Pump the dip, thread these trees, spin hard, pump, pump, peddle dodge.. .'oh god no!' The trail betrays him, or he betrays the trail.. .there's no way of really knowing who's to blame. 'But it's not about blame.' he reminds himself - 'Sometimes I just have to find my own way, to stand alone'. And in the blink of an eye James and the trail separate for just a moment, and James is flying off of the side of a steep ravine that drops into a shallow rocky brook. 'This is going to hurt a lot' he thinks, 'I might not be able to ride for weeks or even months'. But flight is freedom too.. .

. ..Jame's tongue is dangling in the wind and his face is bright and charged of life, he's as free as a bird, he's James the Dog.

The Rock and The Sister

'There was this Big Rock.. .' is the invariable start. For those interested in mountain bike riding this phrase is how they cut their 'mtb yarn spinning' teeth. ..and face and lip and generally start their blood sacrifice to the trail. And so my own story begins - as with clear investment in this moment I move through the air fixated on the surface of the small boulder upon which, in moments from now, my face will grind to it's inexorable halt. In what seemed like an eon, I pass through finely cut and imperceptibly divided slithers of time, and in this 'tardis' of the mind the world folds into something new around me.. .and something old too.. .

One pint of milk, one scruffy artistically inclined child and one heart beating like it's about to burst from his chest. Add a little sister on a stolen bike, tie the whole thing together in an 70's 'spider man' t-shirt and you have another moment in time. Another frozen moment that will eventually lead to this one. Not so much book ends, but more over pages - 'folded and notated' in the novel of a mans life.

Jeffery plummets down the heavy street, feet 'thwapping' hard on the tarmac with his arms and fingers desperately clawing far ahead of him, trying to bring the stolen bike in front of him to a stop. He's determined not to give up and let her win this time.. .she cant win! But she is going to win. He's chasing her not with his body, but with the whole of his will, and still she remains just out of reach. He knows that he's getting tired and that she is just getting into her pace, but this makes him push harder than ever. Can't win, can't win.. . if he doesn't catch her in the next second then he never will. She's laughing - this is a game to her, but to him this is a matter of right and wrong, all power and opposites and pain and life in a child's mind. His love for his sister, for his best friend, is only matched by this moments hate for her. Small finger tips fold over the rack at the back of the bike. He can't believe that he's catching her - it seemed impossible to him, and it is. For a as quickly at they began to curl, so these weak digit tips begin to uncurl against the bikes gaining momentum.. .and his final chance of success is pulled from his grip, leaving his hand pathetic and falling.

A boy crumples to the ground, blooded and weeping, his legs a jumble of spent frustration, lungs wheezing silently for air and justice.. .his heart wronged and broken.. .

Looking at a small boulder very closely now, so close that no light penetrates beneath his eyebrow. It's in the same place that it was when his eye fixed on it one second ago and now that eye is in pitch and the rocks intimately close surface is still a mystery. This boy isn't crying, he's not in pain; all that he feels is confusion. Why did I push so hard all those years ago? Why was that so important to me? In that moment life was a terrible thing, unfair and cruel. And yet here I am - most likely covered in blood and at best in need of hospital treatment and stitches - but no pain. My friend comes down the trail and does a well appreciated, if somewhat half arsed job of patching me up - looks like it'll be stitches at least. All blood and sweat to the eye, I clip into the bike and head off down the trail faster than before. I'm still chasing something, someone.. .perhaps it's my sister.. .so far away and lost to me.