My wife and I recently had a conversation about how we need to do more adventurous stuff together. We started our marriage by taking a year off work to go backpacking around the world, hoovering up any opportunity to enrich our travels with adventure and exploration. However, as children have come along, we’ve found ourselves in a shamefully stereotypical family model where I go off on the odd mini-adventure with friends, and Abi stays at home with the kids. I know, I feel abashed writing it as I multi-task replying to emails regarding an overnight trip to Snowdonia I’m planning with a group of mates – also husbands and fathers!
So, when my Mum offered to have the girls one Saturday morning, suggesting Abi and I go out for brunch or coffee, I snapped up her offer and asked Abi if she fancied going mountain biking!
Mountain biking has become my go-to drug for quick hit, endorphin releasing, outdoorsy me-time. I can blast around my regular trails in a couple of hours on a Saturday or Sunday morning, cramming in some exercise, satisfying a hunger for skills progression, and spending time with mountain bike buddies. But I don’t see it as adventurous. The trails are man-made. I know every berm and drop. And the Go-Ape’rs and Segway riders are a constant reminder that the cake shop is only a 19km loop away! But there is something adventurous about introducing your passion to a loved one who’s never done it before and is slightly nervous about what to expect. Once I’d loaded our bikes onto the car roof-rack and Abi had inserted wriggling limbs into toddler coats and car-seats (I know, I know!), we gleefully handed the girls over to their Grandparents and sped away towards Cannock Chase, Lifeventure travel coffee mugs in hand! (When it comes to adventures, the right coffee container is important!)
Mountain bike trail grading systems mimic that of ski resorts. Green being the easy family routes, blue a happy medium, and red generally considered the standard expected to ride to call oneself a proper mountain biker. The black trails tend to be smaller sections or features ridable as an option on a red run. We opted for the red trail. Ambitious for a trail virgin, but I know my wife and her refusal to admit defeat. She’d be fine. We set off into the chilly early spring morning.
Following a quick warm up section through the trees, the trail approaches its first feature. I’d actually forgotten how intimidating a rock garden can look to a beginner. The technique is pretty simple – keep your weight towards the rear of the bike and stay away from the front brake – it rarely fails. But many a new mountain biker have experienced their front wheels being swallowed up by a hungry rock garden, sending them over the bars of their shiny new steeds. I coached Abi and told her to watch me, stressing that there is no pressure to ride the section if she didn’t want to, especially in front of the crowd of mountain bike men that had chosen to regroup at this very spot! Gingerly, she set off down the boulders as I imagined the variables that could send her over the bars. Moments later she glided past me, telling me to hurry up as I picked my bike up off the floor and darted after her. Clearly, I had nothing to worry about.
The next two hours were spent climbing switchbacks then descending sweeping trails and tackling features, all of which entirely normal to me but entirely new to Abi. All of which she handled impressively well in her eagerness to give something a go despite any fears. The nerves she’d left the car park with failed to keep up with her as she gained more and more confidence with each section. On two occasions, poor line choice threatened to send my new trail companion in the opposite direction to her bike. But like a pro, she styled it out with a foot dab and corrected her course back down-trail. Snack stops were spent enthusiastically exchanging experiences – Abi recalling her line choices through the rooty sections and me telling her which mountain bikers she should follow on Instagram!
As our knobbly tyres rolled off the final descent of the red trail and back towards the visitor centre, we fist-bumped and congratulated each other on a nice ride, before heading to the cake shop to complete our quest in true form. Munching down a meatball panini, some cake and a coffee, we sat on a step in the early spring sunshine, beaming from our little adventure and full of that satisfying energy that you only get from doing something physical. For a couple of hours on a sunny Saturday morning in February, we’d won.