preparation

The perpetual search for better skills: there’s always something to work on

The perpetual search for better skills: there’s always something to work on

As someone who makes a living from riding a bike, I am always looking for ways to be a better rider. I look after my body and I stay fit, but the things I go away and work on when no-one is looking are my skills.

Why skills?

When you see cycling on the telly it’s usually the god-like aerobic fitness that sets the professionals apart from us mere mortals. Mountain biking is different: it’s the skills that mark the difference between winners and those making up the numbers.

Yes, the professional downhillers or enduro champions are supremely fit, but what makes them so much better than me is their skillset and the ability to use it when they need to.

Rio Olympic Mountain Bike- Men

I’m a big believer in improving my skills. If I sneak off to the woods to work on something the chances are that it’s something to do with honing my skills. There are lots of reasons having a better skillset can make you better, and this is why upskilling is so important.

Just plain faster: skills to get you from A to B

Sometimes the value of good skills is that they get you from where you are to where you’re going more quickly.

The best example of this I ever saw was an enduro race a Queen Elizabeth Country park. On a particularly steep stage there was a slalom between two fallen trees that everyone dragged their brakes round, almost taking off their rear mech. Then a rider came down who used the first one as a kicker to jump over the second. He just went straight through at speed where everyone else was slowing down, gaining about 5-10 seconds over everyone else in one 10 yard section. He had the skills to see the different line and the skills to execute it. Incredible.

 

Or easier: skills to keep you fresh

I have riding buddies who are much fitter than me. They should be able to ride way from me at the drop of a hat, but they can’t (always). So how do I keep up? Application of skills at the right time means you can go down the same piece of trail at the same speed using less energy. Simple really, if you can carry speed through a corner then you don’t have to get on the pedals on the way out.

Equally there are skills that allow you to take less of a beating over rough ground, so you’re fresher when you get to the next hill.

More relaxing: skills that give you confidence

Probably the biggest advantage of a better skillset is that I am more in control more of the time and that there is more of my awareness that is available for things other than hanging on for grim death. I have a mantra about confidence:

Balance leads to grip. Grip leads to control. Control leads to confidence. Confidence leads to relaxation. Relaxation leads to enjoyment.

Wansdyke singletrack

The more you are in control of what is going on, the more you can enjoy it. I find it interesting when I ride with some people and they claim that there was no grip on a particular bit of trail. Especially when I’ve gone down it with them, at the same speed and in control. The main difference is the application of skill to give balance & grip. The same is true when I ride with people more skilful than me and I’m at the edge of my comfort zone (you know who you are).

That’s why my first though when faced with a lack of grip is to wonder what I could do to make it more grippy. The same is true of something scary: it’s scary because I don’t have the skills to do it comfortably.

Working on skills

So, when I’m out on my own, I’m usually thinking about how I can ride better, not how can I ride faster (though the two often go hand in hand). I think about how I can apply lessons I’ve seen or heard. What if I put my weight just there? What if I push here rather than there? What if I try that line rather than the usual one?

Learning or honing skills can be like night and day. There are real lightbulb moments where you suddenly think “now I get it!” or “that’s what it’s supposed to feel like.” When I apply it to my normal social or work riding it feels great because everything is easier and smoother. And I can keep up with the racing snakes (most of the time).

The most recent one was a simple comment about whether I align my body to the front wheel or the back and the difference it makes to my balance. It sounds really simple but it made a massive difference to how I think about my posture.

I know I’m not perfect. I know what parts of my skillset need work. So, I work on them. It’s what I do.

Why is this important?

One of the most important uses of my skillset is in looking after my group. If I am completely in control of what’s going on with my bike, then I have mental space to be keeping aware of what everyone else is doing. I can see what people are finding difficult or enjoyable. I use this to tailor the ride so that everybody has fun, or to make sure I can give the level of support that people need to get the most out of their ride.

Changing seasons

I can also see if people are doing things that are making their lives difficult and help them try another way.

What it all boils down to is that my skills are being put to use to make sure you have a safer, more enjoyable ride. And, before you think that I find everything easy, I am also well aware of what it feels like to be out of my depth (been there) and scared (been there too) and how not-fun that is. So, I’m well tuned-in to what it’s like for other people and how to avoid it happening.

But what about me?

There’s no time like now to think about riding skills. They make riding safer, easier and more fun. There are loads of tutorials littering magazines, have a look at them and give their suggestions a go. It’s tempting to look at “how to jump”, but you spend far more time on the ground so look, instead for tips on posture, balance and weighting the bike. They will revolutionise your riding.

Doing the left-right shoogle

Doing the left-right shoogle

So, get out there and enjoy. Or come out for a ride with BackPedalling and let me look after it all.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Thoughts, Uncategorised, 0 comments
Let’s call the whole thing off…

Let’s call the whole thing off…

One of the hardest decisions in guiding is knowing when to cancel a ride. Learning when riding won’t be fun for anyone involved is difficult. Knowing when it just won’t be safe for the group is a key skill for a guide.

I love riding my bike, most of the time

I seem to have pent the entire winter on this column complaining about the weather, or its impact on the trails. If I’m honest it’s been a difficult winter from that respect.

But the fact remains: I love riding my bike. I take the slightest of opportunities to go for a ride. I even ride my bike to the hairdresser. Seriously. I love being out. Missing an opportunity to ride bugs me and gets under my skin.

I have been known to go out in miserable conditions because I can.

As I’ve got older, I have begun to realise and to understand that there might just be times when it’s better not to ride. I might just have more fun if I don’t ride. Right now, the rain is battering at the windows as it has all day and all yesterday. So, I’ve been in touch with my social ride to tell them I’m not coming out. It’ll be soggy, cold, dark and slow, hard work. In short it will be no fun. With age comes an increasing ability to judge which rides not to go on. Knowing from the conditions which rides won’t be fun, which rides will be downright dangerous. It’s important.

The view from Deepcut

It’s not all about me

Side by side with this understanding is my professional duty of care. If you go on a ride with BackPedalling, I try to ensure that you will have a safe, fun experience. Risk assessments lay the foundations for that, coupled with questions about the group so I know that the ride planned is one that is appropriate for the conditions and the group. I have a lot of tools I can call upon, altering the route to include or leave out particular trails, altering the length to suit the group, planning for a date when the weather and undergrowth are likely to be on our side are just part of it. A lot of thought and planning goes into this.

On the day I am due to take any group out, I’m pretty excited. I get to show people cool riding and give them a great day out, and I get to ride my bike while I’m doing it. What’s not to love. With any luck, my clients are also excited about the prospect of the ride.

No-one wants to cancel the ride.

MMmmmmud

Discretion is the better part of valour

Cancelling a ride will please nobody. The clients are unhappy that they aren’t getting their amazing ride, I’m not happy because I wanted to give them that experience and I’m doubly unhappy because there’s a significant amount of admin and infrastructure that needs to be moved or disposed of. Nobody wins. At least nobody wins yet.

However, and it’s a big however. Sometimes, it’s the right decision.

I’m a pretty optimistic person. In a previous job, I ran outdoor events for families and would hold out hope until the very last minute that the weather would come good. I really want to be able to do the brilliant thing I’ve scheduled. However, there are important caveats.

At the extreme end, it’s my responsibility to make sure that my rides never star in the news as “mountain bikers airlifted from mountains in atrocious conditions”. It’s my call if the conditions are just asking for an accident or being unable to get home safely. Actually, these calls are pretty easy. It’s usually blindingly obvious when it’s just too extreme.

Much more difficult are the borderline cases. These are the ones where it won’t actually be dangerous just to be out, but the conditions mean that it won’t be safe either.

What on earth do I mean by that?

If you’re cold and wet you won’t be having fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re not concentrating, your reactions will be slower. In addition, cold fingers can’t feel brakes or shifters properly. All of this, combined with slippery trails are just asking for an accident. And that’s before someone hasn’t got the right gear on and, in spite of all the warm stuff I have in the bag for them, catches hypothermia.

Even more borderline is when I have a group who are relatively inexperienced. The conditions may not be that bad for experienced riders, but for these people, it’s a different story. Slippery trails can be terrifying, boggy trails can sap energy and rain can get to everywhere you’d like to keep dry. It all adds up to a memorable experience for all the wrong reasons. I would be failing in my duty of care to make sure they enjoy themselves and there’s a good chance they’d never want to ride a bike again.

Horror show

The least fun I have with a bike

It is always with a heavy heart that I pick up the phone to tell a client that the ride is off. There is always one person who is still enthusiastic about going out “regardless of the conditions”. Informing them that the ride is not happening today, regardless of what they think, is never fun.

I have developed a strong sense of when it is the right thing to do and am fairly resolute in sticking to that decision. I am sticking with it because it’s my responsibility as a leader to make these decisions and my responsibility to riders to ensure that they are as safe as possible. Sometimes this means that the bike stays in the shed.

The more attentive of you will have noticed that a couple of scheduled rides this spring have fallen foul of the weather. I wanted to give you a little peak into the thinking that goes into making that decision.

There are still loads of rides to join in with and, assuming the weather doesn’t get the better of them too, they will be brilliant fun.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Thoughts, 0 comments
You’re doing it wrong!

You’re doing it wrong!

It seems that everyone on the internet is telling everyone else that they are doing it wrong. Step back from that feeling and love the fact they’re doing it at all

I was out for a walk at the weekend. The weather was nice, my bike was in the stand waiting for a component delivery so I decided to embrace a slower way to experience the countryside.

Near my house there is a bridleway that is popular with all kinds of users: walkers, dog walkers, families, cyclists and equestrians. At the weekend this lane can be fairly slow going with all the people on it. It can become boggy through the winter but it’s definitely the best way to get from our house to the countryside. Which is why I was there.

As I approached it I saw a chap and his son out for a bike ride. For a potentially muddy uphill lane, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an ill-equipped pair. Son was on a BMX that didn’t really fit and had small block urban tyres. Son was also off and pushing before he even got to the mud because it was too much hard work to get the pedals to turn without spinning the tyres. If anything, dad had made an even odder choice: what appeared to be a flat-bar carbon road bike (from a popular Italian brand in their signature blue). This was complemented by skinny-skinny tyres and, most bizarre of all, only a single gear. What on earth was he thinking?

It seemed that what he was thinking was that attempting to unclip from your pedals whilst looking over your shoulder will lead to you landing unceremoniously in the bushes.

You’re doing it wrong

This is the point where I caught them up.

Dad trying not to fall in the undergrowth. Son pushing his bike whilst trying to catch up. Son complaining that it would be quicker to walk. Dad trying to persuade him that it wouldn’t be if he pedalled faster.

It would be easy for me to adopt the superior attitude of the experienced mountain biker and sneer at the roadie being hoisted on his own petard.

Except that both of them appeared to be having fun.

 

These are not the gents I am talking about

These are not the gents I am talking about

They were both out in the countryside “enjoying” each other’s company. It didn’t really matter that their bikes were utterly unsuitable for what they were doing: they were spending time together, in the open air, getting some exercise. They even seemed to be enjoying their argument.

So I left them to it and went for my walk.

Watching them struggle and flail in the mud got me thinking though. It’s very easy to look at someone else and say they are doing it wrong.

The other way!

That way. I think

That way. I think

I think a lot about my local trails. Too much, perhaps. I think about how best to stitch the best bits together to make the best rides. Partly for clients but also to maximise my own enjoyment out on the bike. It’s a thing I do.

I often see people out riding those trails the “wrong” way. There’s a very strong part of me that wants to stop and ask them if they’ve considered riding the other way: it’s much more fun. And then you can link it to that trail, which brings you out…

Another, luckily stronger, part of me reminds me that it’s their ride and they can do whatever they want. After all people would probably look at some of the bits I love riding and think I was bonkers. So I smile, say hello and wish them the best of luck with their ride.

It just shows that I need to think less about some things, sometimes.

Live and let ride

Part of my job is to help people enjoy their riding more, to give them confidence. Not to tell them they are wrong: just highlight ways they could get more out of it. One of the ways I do this is to start to unpick long-held beliefs about the right way to go about things. Another is to suggest that their bike may not be set up quite right.

It can be a difficult transition. I know that when I have flaws in my technique questioned I’m pretty resistant. It can be hard to let go of things that I’ve been doing for years and embrace a new way of doing things. Eventually, though I can see that the new ways work better than the old ones, but it can take a long time before it becomes normal.

When it does take root, it can make an enormous improvement to confidence and enjoyment. It can make a huge difference to how easy some things feel. But it takes time and energy to make it stick.

Another part of my job is knowing when this advice will be positively received, and knowing when just shutting up and riding will allow a client to have more fun.

Damascene revelations

increasingly, I am coming to the conclusion that people being out riding at all is more important than them doing it right.

It still pains me to see people suffering with their saddles too low, or sitting down as they ride through obstacles, or riding a bike that’s too small/big for them. I can, now, let it lie and just rejoice in them having fun on two wheels. 

I can watch them having fun and just accept it. Not fixate on how they are doing it wrong.

So, my lesson for this week is simple: just get out and ride. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing it right or wrong if you’re enjoying it.

In fact, if you’re enjoying it, you’re probably doing it right. Doing it better can make it more enjoyable, but only when you’re ready for it.

And finally

Son was right though: it was quicker to walk. It took them about fifteen minutes to catch me up.

QE Park mud covered
Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Thoughts, Uncategorised, 0 comments
Braking Bad: The disc brake is an amazing thing. Right up until it isn’t

Braking Bad: The disc brake is an amazing thing. Right up until it isn’t

The joy of disc brakes

Disc brakes are just great. Right?

Disc brakes are fantastic. Apologies to any of my road-riding chums, but they are just streets ahead of all kinds of rim brakes, for a whole host of reasons. In fact, I can’t think of a single circumstance in which rim brakes are as good, let alone better. (Actually it does, apparently, take several seconds longer to change a disc wheel than a rim-brake one. This might be important if you are competing in a professional road race). They offer better modulation in the dry, they work at all in the wet, they are less likely to get fouled with mud, they almost never need me to spend hours realigning them, they don’t care if my wheel is slightly out of true and there are no cables to stretch or get gummed up.

They make mountain biking north of Watford Gap possible. I learned this the hard way away back in the early noughties when I lived in Glasgow. My disc brake equipped riding chums all stopped when they pulled on the levers while I had to wait for my brake pads to clean the rims enough to get a purchase. On one memorable occasion, this led to me heading off-piste and into a river. Oh what fun!

Until they (don’t) brake (sorry)

They are much more reliable than the alternatives right up until the point that they aren’t. Then they become a pain in the posterior.

I was heading home from a ride at the weekend when I heard the telltale sound of a brake pad that was past its best. There’s a particular “tink tink tink tink” noise it makes when something other than the pad contacts the rotor.

Which is why I have spent the morning sorting out my rear brake. It’s not a major faff to change pads: Pop the wheel off, take the old pads out, push the pistons back into the brake calliper and drop the new ones in. But there is always the chance that the brake will need to be bled as a result. And that is a major faff.

Modern discs use a hydraulic fluid instead of a cable. It has a lot of advantages: it’s reliable, it’s resilient and largely unbothered by anything you do to your bike short of splitting the hose. However, if air gets into the system they just stop working (ok, they feel really spongy first but that’s basically the same thing if you really need the bike to stop. Now!). So you need to purge the system of all those air bubbles.

All a bit Heath Robinson?

Oh, bleeding hell!

Bleeding (as that purging process is known) requires two syringes full of fluid connected to ports in the system so you can push out the bubbles. One at each end of the system. Which is fine for the front brake. The rear: not so much. There’s only so far my arms can reach and from just above the handlebars to just below the rear hub is too far.

Which is why Mel found herself standing on a chair, holding a syringe full of brake fluid attached to the lever whilst I knelt on the floor whilst I knelt on the floor with the other attached to the calliper. Fluid was duly passed back and forth, trying desperately to spill as little as possible.

Brake lever bleed

Brake lever bleed

There are several steps in the process. The final stage saw me, now standing on the chair, trying to flick the last few air bubbles out of the brake lever. Every so often I thought I’d got everything, only to have a massive bubble appear the next time I flicked it.

However, eventually it was cracked. I reassembled the bike, fitted the new pads and refitted the back wheel. This was the moment of truth: it’s hard to tell until you’ve put everything together whether the bleed has been a success. Fingers crossed. Spin the back wheel. Pull on the lever…and the wheel stops. Again: same result. Result!

Now to put everything back together again.

Now in front of an audience

The house over the road from us has been being rebuilt for the last year and a half. Over that time the builders have seen me do all sorts of strange things. They seemed to enjoy watching me do my half-hour of track stand practice every day on the drive. Today they were treated to me riding down the road and whamming on the anchors for no obvious reason, only to pedal on again and repeat the process. Then ride back up the road and do it all again. And again. And again. All this in the name of bedding in the new pads. This is the process by which you put a lot of heat into the pads to cure the surface. It’s supposed to help the pads brake better and last longer.

The truth of it is that it’s tedious and gives you arm pump. Which is no fun whatsoever.

However, the upshot is that, only a couple of hours after getting the bike out of the shed, it’s got a spanky newly set up back brake. And that’s worth it.

Rear brake bleed

Rear brake bleed

So, is it all worth it?

Yes.

It might be a pain, but it’s not really that much more of a pain than doing a similar job on the road bike. And it’s totally worth it for brakes that I know are going to work when I pull on the levers.

Brakes that work are a big part of making sure my bike is ready to take people out.

Oh, and that “tink tink tink tink” noise? That’s why I carry a spare set of pads when I go out riding.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in kit, Thoughts, 2 comments
Locksmithing and mountain biking navigation

Locksmithing and mountain biking navigation

Really? Locksmithing? Navigation?

I heard a story on the radio today*:

I got locked out of my house the other day, so I called a locksmith. He came around, fiddled with the lock for a couple of minutes and the door popped open.
I was very pleased until he handed me the bill: £120.
So I asked him: “What is the bill for?”
He replied: “When I started I really wasn’t very good. I grunted and swore for about twenty minutes and often broke the lock in the process. I charged the customer for both my time and a new lock. They were really pleased and often gave me a tip. Now I’m much better and quicker, people query the bill and never give me a tip.”
“So, this bill is for your expertise and how little time it took you?”
“Exactly.”
I gave him a tip.

 

It got me thinking. In many walks of life, we respect effort above results. We want someone to work hard rather than deliver.

How can this be applied to riding?

Prior preparation prevents etc etc

When I took my leadership exam, one of the most challenging things was the navigation. I was a boy scout, I’ve been a long standing hillwalker, rock climber and mountain biker. I’m a pretty competent mapreader. I am completely comfortable navigating so when I signed up for the course I thought (in spite of people’s warnings) that this would be the easy bit.

Mountain biker lost

Mountain biker lost. Courtesy 360guide.info  Photo AJB

But that’s not what they wanted. What they wanted was for me to navigate without looking like I was navigating. Think about that for a moment…No stopping to have a wee squizz at the map to check whether this is the right gate, no getting the map out to check which of the two paths ahead I should be taking, no chats about “where would you like to go”. The whole thing had to be seamless, unbroken and (more importantly) right. All this on a route I’d never ridden before so I was reliant on getting the mapreading spot on.

In effect, I had to look like I wasn’t navigating at all. Not only did I have to know where I was but also where I was going next at all times. I suddenly started feeling a lot of pressure. Thus I went away and practised the process of navigating as I went over and over again until I was confident I could do it when being assessed.

Why did I have to do this? Because I’m supposed to be leading a group and you’re supposed to be having fun riding your bikes. So every second I’m looking at the map you’re not riding or having fun. So I’m not doing my job. It also looks like I don’t know what I’m doing, which doesn’t really inspire confidence.

In the real world I’ve usually planned the route and then pre-ridden it so I’m not navigating blind. However, if the route has to change for any reason, I can still do it if I need to.

Back to looking busy

So the end result is that it never really looks like I’m working hard on the navigation, the planning or making sure everyone’s enjoying themselves.

That’s because I’ve worked hard to get good at it and make it look effortless.

That’s what you’re paying for: me making sure you’re having fun all the time.

 

*The story was from New York, so I paraphrase and change the odd detail here and there.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Rides, 0 comments
Hunting the Trail Snark part1

Hunting the Trail Snark part1

I’ve been doing a lot of exploring lately. I’ve been out searching for new trails and putting together new rides. Exploration rides are not normal riding: you wilfully eschew known quality trails in favour of a wilful trip into the unknown.

There are two ways this can go:

Sometimes it looks like this

Happy trail finding

Happy trail finding

 

It’s a sunny day. In front of you there’s a beautiful ribbon of singletrack in front of me snaking away down a valley. The scenery is amazing. No one else I know has ridden this and I looks amazing.

This is the fourth time today I’ve seen something like this.

I’m basking in the glow of success, fabulous riding and the joy of a ride well spent.

If there were anyone else here, I’d high-five them.

More often it looks like this

Dave gets angry

Dave gets angry

I’ve decided not to go out on his usual ride but instead to go out looking for new places to ride.

I’ve spent the last hour riding through brambles on rubbish paths that don’t really exist on the ground.

I’m now late home and haven’t ridden anything that’s any fun at all.

And now I have a puncture.

I could have been having fun.

Don’t be like me…

 

…unless that is your idea of fun.

I’m being unfair

I thoroughly enjoy the process of putting a new ride together, of looking for new places to ride, of sniffing out new trails. It’s an exploration, it’s unknown and it’s an adventure. When it comes off it’s one of the best feelings in the world.

But it’s not without its perils. That uncertainty means there’s a good chance that some, or all, of what you go out to ride will be rubbish. Some of it will be unrideable. Some of it will be miserable. Some of it won’t even exist on the ground.

Sometimes, you turn up an absolute gem. That lottery is why I do it.

Poring over maps

It all starts in the living room with a cup of tea/beer, usually with an Ordnance Survey map laid out on the floor, following those green dashed lines of bridleways (as well as restricted byways and byways open to all traffic) across the map, cross referencing them with the orange contour lines and patches of wood. Looking for the combination that might indicate a good trail.

To me, this is like poring over a catalogue wondering about Christmas presents. I love it. I can (and do) spent whole evenings doing this.

Then it’s out with the laptop to check google earth for the aerial photos to see what it actually looks like on the ground (streetview can be really helpful too) which could spell success. Then check Strava because there’s a good chance someone has ridden these trails before and recorded if they’re any good.

After all that, I’ve got the outline of a route.

There is, however, only one way to find out if the trails are actually any good and the ride works: to get out there and ride it.

Of which more next time…

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Rides, 0 comments
My little bag of answers

My little bag of answers

“What on earth are you carrying in that bag?”

My mentor, Richard Martin of Cyclewise, always refers to the pack he carries as his “bag of answers”. It’s a phrase that I really like because it tells me exactly why everything is there: it’s the answer to an issue or problem that might crop up. Equally, whatever issue I can think of has to be answered by the stuff I’m carrying. Simple really.

 

Richard and his bag of answers

Richard and his bag of answers

This was brought home to me in the strongest way possible last week.

Some of you know that I have another life as an education professional. Currently, I’m delivering some rivers studies sessions for Gilbert White’s House Field Studies Centre (FSC) The session teaches primary school children about how rivers work by getting them to stand in (a small) one. It’s a great session but, with my leader’s head on, there is a lot of planning goes on behind the scenes to make sure things are as safe as possible. We ensure that everyone is properly attired before we set off for the river. We brief people before they get wet and I have a throw bag in case someone falls over. I have an outdoor first aid qualification, carry a first aid kit and have a series of procedures for dealing with more serious accidents should they happen. As far as possible I have a plan for everything I can think of.

It’s the same process I go through planning and packing for a ride. Actually, I even carry the same bag.

DSC_5682

My bag of answers partially dismantled

Come rain…

Everything that is, except the weather. Being flippant, the wet weather plan is “if it rains: they get wet.” There is more to it than that but, simply, there is no alternative to being outdoors if the weather is wet.

The forecast for last Tuesday was miserable: properly raining. So I got all my wet weather gear out: full waterproofs, waterproof gloves, wellies. I also packed spare gloves, a spare waterproof, a couple of spare jumpers and a few hand warmers. I packed this stuff in dry bags. My bag of answers was good to go.

As I got to the river, the heavens opened. It was proper stair rods. I found myself standing, up to my shins in the river, with the rain pouring down my neck, trying to shout over the sound of the rain hitting the water. Two minutes and everyone was soaked, the rain had gone straight through my waterproof (in spite of having re-proofed it only weeks earlier). There was, however, no alternative to just getting on with it. At least it was warm.

Fortunately, the weather was so wet that everyone saw the funny side of it: I had drips hanging off my eyebrows and my nose. At lunchtime I denuded my bag of everything I could find that would make people more comfortable. The spare waterproof went to someone who had fallen over in the mud. The jumper went to someone whose waterproof proved not to be and their jumper was wringing wet. The gloves went to someone whose hands had got cold. I think I even lent out my hand warmers.

We got through the day. We got two more soakings but everybody kept their spirits up and we had a memorable but fun day out. When I got home everything got hung up: both waterproofs, the jumpers, the gloves, my first aid kit (which had proved less waterproof than advertised), my leatherman and my phone (which had happily proved to be every bit as waterproof as claimed), my trousers, my socks, everything. I tall dried out eventually but I learned a valuable lesson about EVERYTHING going in a dry bag. Everyone was happy, my bag had answers to all the questions asked of it.

…or shine

Thursday couldn’t have been more different.

Instead of rain there was wall-to-wall sunshine. Distrustful of the weather forecast, the gloves and spare waterproof still went in the bag but the other stuff was replaced by extra sun hats. The first aid kit contains both sun cream and midge repellent but both were checked before departure.

This time, the crunch came at the top of the hill we climbed in the afternoon. The children arrived at the top red-faced and complaining of thirst. Fortunately, as well as the sun hats I’d packed a big bottle of water and was able to give everyone a drink. The bag had, again, provided answers to the questions asked of it. The military-issue neck cooler proved unnecessary but it was there just in case.

And the moral of the story

To return to the matter in hand, there are some things that always live in my bag of answers: first aid kit, tools, waterproof and portable shelter to name a few. There are some things that are chosen based on the conditions or length of the ride (notably sustenance). Twice recently I’ve had some stiff questions asked of my bag and, on both occasions it contained the answers. That’s why I ask the questions before I leave the house.

My job is to make sure everyone is safe and having fun. My bag goes a long way to ensuring that’s the case.

So, next time someone asks me “what have you got in that massive bag?”

You’ll know why my response is simply: “answers”.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in kit, 0 comments