10 bonus points if you can guess the band.
To conclude the final instalment of the three-part Enduro Series – yes, it was series – it was hot, which should come of little surprise as it appears to be an underlying theme of the races this year.
What didn’t help matters was the high-vis uniform I was wearing due to my role of ‘sweeper’ for the day. I’d originally hoped that I was going to be handed a soot-encrusted chimney sweep, flat cap and tap-dancing shoes so I would finally get a chance to break out some of the musical numbers I’d been working on, but alas.
For those that don’t know, the role of a sweeper is to check that the race stages are clear of riders and that no one gets left behind. This essentially amounts to milling about at the back of the race pack and patiently waiting for everyone to set off. You then continue to hang around for an inordinate amount of time in the hope that the racers in front of you have finished the stage – as no one wants a high-vis wanker chasing them down, shouting at them to get a move on.
I’d volunteered for the role as part of my ‘Ian has obviously done something bad in the past and is evidently trying to make things right by volunteering a lot’ push.
However, it was only the morning of the race that it dawned on me that I may not be well suited for the role of sweeper.
See, I average about a crash a run and have been plagued with all sorts of mechanical malfunctions during race day. What also didn’t help matters was that I was borrowing a mate’s bike.
So instead of attacking the race stages and inevitably maintaining my crash average, I decided to cruise, take it easy, go at my own pace.
After the second stage I noticed that I had a good flow going on. It seemed that taking the race pressure off had actually improved my riding. Things were going well. I was smiling.
And I know what you’re expecting.
But it didn’t happen.
I crushed stage after stage without incident.
This was by far the most successful Enduro to date.
I arrived at the finish line buzzing and high-fiving.
I collected my results and eagerly scanned the printout.
Normally, with racing, if I’m in the top 50%, then I’m happy. I was 30th out of 38.
God damn it!
“What’s that? You were stuck in a backcountry hut for three days with a crazy Danish guy?”
It’s not very often that an idea for a horror story, magazine article and blog post all arrive at once, but hearing the cabin fever-inducing experience of a couple who recently walked the New Zealand Te Araroa track sparked a few light bulbs.
I can appreciate the romantic aspect of walking for weeks on end through stunning scenery with only your thoughts for company. Although it can be a useful opportunity to sort out some life-admin, set a few life-goals, and mentally occupy yourself with other life-based chores, there is the other end of the spectrum.
As I’m sure we can all agree – people ruin everything.
So when you’re forced into several days of unwanted social interaction as you wait for the weather to clear, I can understand how people may get a little testy. I hate having to make elevator conversation for all of 20 seconds, so three days’ worth of it would be precisely 12,960 times worse.
It lends itself quite nicely to a horror story. A claustrophobic whodunit involving several people trapped in a small, backcountry hut. I can see one inherent problem though – how do you make what is essentially a boring, tedious experience exciting to read?
It’s going to be difficult to crowbar in a car chase or zombies to spice things up a bit while you kill time waiting until someone goes mad and feels the need to throttle the Danish guy.
Ah – Killing Time. That’s the title sorted.
I don’t know what all the fuss is about with selecting a captivating book title – these things just write themselves.
There’s even a pre-arranged soundtrack to accompany it:
Development, increase, growth, advance, gain, improvement, promotion, breakthrough, step, forward, advancement, progression, headway, betterment, amelioration.
As a result of the adverb debacle last week, which if you haven’t read, it’s here, I’ve now stumbled into another literature-based quandary – that of body language.
Gone are the days when I could just say something was undertaken slowly, or angrily, or happily or any other convenient adverb that summed up the context nicely and succinctly. Now I have to describe and imply. Which is fine, but there are only so many times people can scoff, shake their heads or roll their eyes.
To remedy this, I’ve spent the last week trying to take more of an interest in body language, and as a result, I’m starting to question whether it actually makes up 90% of communication.
Yes, in a dramatic scene when emotions are running high, there is plenty of arm flailing, gasping and swooning, especially if you’re writing a Jane Austin novel. But when two people are sat in a chair opposite one another chatting, the only thing I have so far noticed is “John agreed, swivelling his chair from side to side in a manner that implied that he agreed.”
Not the most compelling of implication I agree, as I’m basically just inferring how smooth the rotation is in the new office chair is, which I think detracts from John concurring.
Thankfully, I’m not writing an office based period piece, but the point still remains.
There is another issue when trying to note body language which is that it diverts your attention away from the conversation. So instead of listening intently, I’m staring the person down, studying the smallest of body language ticks. Which inevitably results in me ignoring their question and the person scoffing, shaking their heads and rolling their eyes – and I’ve used enough of those already.
Adverbs. Who would have thought these pesky little grammatical creatures could be such a nuisance? On the surface, they sound quite fun, almost like a useful tool when one verb just won’t do. Say, if you were running juggling.
I was vaguely aware of their existence but wasn’t entirely sure what they were. Similar to Vitamin B, I know it exists and probably plays a role in my life, but I have no idea where it comes from or what it is.
For those of you who don’t know – and there’ll be at least one person, it can’t just be me – an adverb is something that modifies the meaning of a verb or adjective.
he moved quickly,
his heart beat furiously
The ‘ly’ word is modifying the verb ‘ran’ and ‘beat’ and gives it context. I always thought it was quite useful until I found out that it also provides a context of the type of writer, i.e. not a very good one.
Now, just like you, I initially scoffed at this suggestion – I play by my own rules, baby. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. It can be considered a lazy form of writing, telling as opposed to showing the reader. A strong verb is better than a week verb with an adverb thrown in to beef it up.
Using our earlier examples:
his heart pounded
It provides a better sense of context without spelling it out. As Stephen King apparently says “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
(Hopefully, by this point you’ll get the little joke I snuck into that sentence)
Now, I bring all this up because this nugget of grammatical knowledge would have been useful to know about six months ago, when I started writing a collection of horror stories. This post was meant to be an announcement of my new website and a load of books you were now able to download and buy.
Instead, I’m having to go through seven novellas removing 95% of words that end in “ly” and replace them with more interesting verbs. I guess it’s all part of the learning curve.
‘A lightweight camping mug, well I do have one already, but this one is insulated.’
‘A climbing knife, for cutting rope. I don’t have one of those. Quite cheap too.’
‘A woman’s ultralight, breathable running jacket. Well, my jacket is starting to lose its waterproofing.’
‘Spray-on waterproofing… I think I’d rather just have a new coat.’
This is how I now spend several hours a day. I currently have a part-time job at an outdoor shop uploading products onto their website, and I’m starting to understand how these types of stores can be so lucrative.
There is something about the outdoor industry that entices you to buy more. There is always something lighter, warmer, faster (yes, companies often describe their produces with verbs) available that is just a bit better than the thing you bought last week.
I’m currently sat in a financially dangerous place. Firstly, I’m quite suggestive, meaning that it doesn’t take a great deal to convince me of something. Personally, like to reframe it as, ‘seeing the good in people’ – because, why would someone lie? Unfortunately, most people would generally call it gullible, which used to be the standard term until sometime in the mid-nineties when it was revised to something less derogatory.
Secondly, part of the job is listing out all the reasons why a particular product is so good. So I’m sat there uploading details of an essential, don’t leave home without, game-changing, sexy pack of tent pegs, wondering how many I could buy with this week’s pay.
It’s a terrible combination, especially when my impulsiveness is added to the mix. Meaning that in the week since I have worked there, all I have to show for it is two pairs of running shoes (I don’t run), a foam matt for my knees when I’m kneeling around my cooking stove (because the ground can be wet sometimes), a pack of sporks (which in fairness, are awesome) and this blog.
I don’t understand how starting a new job has resulted in me having less money.
So, the Craigieburn Enduro. What a barrel of laughs that was. First off, if you don’t know what an Enduro is, click here.
Craigieburn is an area just over an hour from Christchurch. It’s where the mountains and adventures live. If New Zealand had to be condensed down to a specific area, then it would look like Craigieburn, but with a few rugby pitches, orcs and several other out-of-date stereotypes thrown in for good measure.
Of the many activities that are on offer, mountain biking features prominently due to the many excellent trails litter the area. There is an interesting quirk when riding at Craigieburn, which is its ability to completely drain you of energy at the end of a day’s riding. I don’t know if it’s numerous, short, sharp ascents, or the monotonous, endless ski field access road climbs, or the relentless, technical descents, or the early start, or the altitude you ride at. Could be anything, but it all adds up to an exhausting, but satisfying day’s riding. Similar to how it’s always sunny in Philadelphia, it’s always a good day riding at Craigieburn… unless you’re doing the Enduro.
The race consisted of five stages, and I’ll briefly break each one down:
Stage 1 – Cuckoo Creek
A trail everyone seems to love, except me. I find it bumpy, fiddly, awkward, devoid of any flow, and frankly the only time I enjoy it is when it’s over. I should point out that I’m very much the anomaly with this. When everyone else was high-fiving at the finish line, I was trying to replace a snapped gear cable, which may have slightly tainted my enjoyment of the trail. Oh, and I crashed.
Stage 2 – Dickson’s Downhill
I love this track. It’s in the open. It’s in the trees. It isn’t overly technical. It has some cool features. It has ‘The Jump’. I didn’t crash. Things were good. I enjoyed it. Thankfully there was a climb immediately afterwards up a steep trail called the ‘Anti-Luge’ which nicely deleted that unwanted sense of happiness and joy.
Stage 3 – The Luge
Fast, flowy and loamy, this trail is a favourite on the Craigieburn scene. It was probably the fastest I’d ever ridden it, which doesn’t mean a great deal in the overall standings, especially when you factor in yet another crash.
Stage 4 – Dracophyllum Flat
Stage 5 – Cheeseman Downhill
With the few words I have left, I’ll sum this up as best I can. Putting aside the fact that you had to climb several hundred meters in the blazing sunshine just to get to the start of it, it’s an excellent track, ruined by fatigue. I crashed three times, was totally over mountain biking a third of the way into the run but I did manage to overtake someone, before being overtaken myself.
It was a day of mixed emotions to say the least. Bring on next year.
Some of the best comedy straddles the thin line between hilarious and offensive/bad taste. Get it right, and you can be ‘that guy’ – referenced in the positive, carried out on the shoulders of cheering strangers way, as opposed to the slightly more negative, police line-up type.
Get it wrong, however, and you’re ‘that guy’ – the one no one wants to talk too as he keeps saying weird, offensive things (not weird, offensive jokes. Weird, offensive things).
So when it comes to a group of people you’ve only met a few hours before the Craigieburn Enduro (this is what an Enduro is by the way), it can be tricky to find the right tone. I’ll try and explain the set up as best I can, and you can decide for yourself:
Mr A was having a coffee, with the coffee supplied in a sort of tea bag delivery system.
Ian was not aware of the existence of such a thing.
Mr A confirmed such an existence and went on to mention that sometimes they can explode, covering your bag in coffee powder.
Mr B said that if it gets into your socks, it could act as a slow release system throughout the day.
Ian said yeah, much better than sticking it up your ass
(Just to clarify, it was in reference to a suppository system)
Now at this point, the table became distinctively divided. The laughing camp slapped their thighs, and for the next few seconds I was known as ‘that guy’.
Unfortunately, the silent, smiling politely / confused camp also began to refer to me as ‘that guy’.
The point is, is it better to have a laughing minority or a chuckling majority? Personally, few people seem to remember who I am anyway, so my default position is ‘that guy’ regardless. So I may as well go down swinging as I’ve got nothing to lose.
As for the race itself, I’ll cover it next week when enough time has passed for my legs to recover, the bruises to heal and the memory of the torturous climbs to fade.
Last weekend we rode a bike track known as The Old Ghost Road. It is an epic, multi-day ride over on the west coast that follows a long abandoned gold mining route over punishing climbs, through spectacular scenery and down fun descents. It was the second time I’ve ridden it (the first time can be read via this helpful, first plug of 2018 link – Surviving the Old Ghost Road) and it was interesting to see how these trips have evolved – purely from a, ‘what can I get out of this?’ perspective.
Barely a month goes by without some sort of trip report, or thinly-veiled marketing piece, about the Old Ghost Road appearing in a magazine. In fairness, it’s a testament to the quality of the experience. But it does make things a little more difficult in terms of finding a unique angle. Long gone are the days of ‘we rode this, it was good, here are some photos.’ Which is a shame as they are much easier to write. The last one I read was about a guy who did it with only one arm, so me bitching and moaning about the difficulty of a few of the climbs and technical sections does seem a little… I dunno, ungrateful, maybe.
I was hoping to use some sections of the ride, when we had inevitably spread out a bit along the trail, for a bit of a mental brain-storming session while out in the native bush. Where better to think up inventive ways for people to be terrorised and die than in the beauty of the Kiwi wilderness? As it happened, the sections of trail when I was on my own were generally because it was uphill and hard, thus diverting the majority of my attention to questioning why I continue with mountain biking as an enjoyable pastime.
That said, some inspiration did unexpectedly arrive the night before we set off. We were camping in Lyell and in typical, west coast fashion, the weather was horrendous. As I listened to my mates’ battle with their leaking and rapidly collapsing tent from the comfort of my roomy, sturdy, two-man canvas retreat, some ideas did materialise. That was until their panicked shouting was keeping me awake and I had to put my headphones on to drown out the chaos unfolding outside.
And one of those backcountry huts would make an interesting location for a murder mystery. Was it the Kiwi, the Kiwi or the Kiwi that did it?
This will most likely be the dumping ground for the adventure. Although that inevitably means it won’t be completed for at least six months. So just be grateful for the last outlet, and I hope it tides you over you until then.
Blog Post / Newsletter?
Well, that one was easy – just ramble on for 500 words.