Flashing cursor, blank page. I stare down at my hands, with fingers poised over the keys, waiting for a bit of inspiration. The knuckle of my right hand is one large scab. Most others have smaller scrapes, my cuticles are raw, nails a little longer than normal, dirt stuck so far down them I’ll have to wait for it to grow out.
Elsewhere, my body has a collection of similar little knocks and bruises; slashes from bramble kisses and those mystery aches that you can’t even place how they occured. Look a little more closely and there are the scars born out of years of doing this stuff. Surgery, broken bones, little hollows in the skin and subtle discolourations.
It’s a couple of days since Trans-Provence finished. I spent six days working as part of the Mountain Staff team – setting off before the racers each day, checking course markings, timing them out at the bottom of one of the four race stages each day. We then swept the course, removing signs and tape as the last riders passed through. 04:00 starts and midnight finishes were the norm… each of us on a high from the day, and keen to enjoy the time spent in the remote Haute Provence and Alpes Maritime villages we stopped in each night.
This blog isn’t about the epic event – I do recommend you watch the daily videos on the website to get a real feel how incredible it was though. Six days of technical riding took its physical toll; whether it was scratches from removing course-marking tape that had been tied to the sharpest thorns known to man, accidental rock punches on narrow, technical trails or simple clumsy mistakes. Equally, my bike picked up the knocks and scrapes of use. My grips have been worn smooth, and I daren’t wash the layers of dust off the frame and components to discover what lies beneath. Every day brought new creaks and groans – to both bike and body.
While I’d never deliberately solicit these scars to myself or the tools I use, they are so much more than just a necessary evil of what I choose to do. They are a reminder that I am human… a bag of flesh and bones – fragile, but strong enough to take myself to amazing places, to push a little out of my comfort zone and experience the rewards that that brings.
Suffering is too commonly used to describe a tough day on the bike. Short term pain, self inflicted isn’t suffering – it’s luxury. We get to choose to do this, so many people in the world do not. In time most of the cuts and bruises will heal. My tired legs will recover. But the memories and friendships made on the trail will endure. We all have boundaries; they keep us safe and alive, but maybe we only truly live when we step a little beyond them.
All photos by Sam Needham